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If you enjoy For All Mankind, you should watch … For All Mankind

Just don’t expect any firefights on the moon

Two astronauts standing beside an American flag on the Moon in For All Mankind. Image: Criterion Collection

The third season of For All Mankind, the alternate history space drama created by Ronald D. Moore, Ben Nedivi, and Matt Wolpert, premiered Friday on Apple TV Plus.

The new season, now set in the early ’90s, once again focuses on the race between the U.S. and Soviet Union to colonize Mars, now joined by a third competitor in the form of charismatic tech billionaire Dev Ayesa (Edi Gathegi of The Harder They Fall and X-Men: First Class).

An astronaut posing in front of the Earth in For All Mankind. Image: Criterion Collection

Alternate history stories are fun, quintessential examples of speculative fiction, exploring our world and our nature outside of the limits of present reality, physical nature, and recorded history. However, some of the storytelling decisions and the creative choices behind them don’t mean as much if the audience isn’t familiar with the history in question as it actually occurred. This is all to say: If you enjoy the drama of engineering, space exploration, and the profound human connection between the two, why not take a shot on the 1989 documentary For All Mankind?

Directed by journalist-filmmaker Al Reinert (fun fact: he wrote the screenplays for Apollo 13 and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within), the film opens with footage and audio of President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 Address at Rice University declaring the United States’ intent to land a man on the Moon before 1970. Combining archival footage of the Apollo manned spaceflight missions from the 1968 Apollo 7 launch to 1972’s Apollo 17, as well as audio testimonies from 24 of the astronauts who participated in the program, Reinert’s For All Mankind is the antithesis of a hyperbolic space drama. It is instead a serene and inspiring testament to the marvel of space exploration and the power of human cooperation, and a sobering film that puts the existential fragility of our own planet into stark relief.

A capsule detaching from the shaft of a rocket in For All Mankind. Image: Criterion Collection

Accompanied by a beautiful score courtesy of the legendary Brian Eno, For All Mankind is not only a feature-length love letter to the pioneering achievement of the Apollo space program, it’s also the rare cinematic experience that can inspire an intense aesthetic reaction not unlike the overview effect. For those unfamiliar, the overview effect is a cognitive shift in awareness reported by several astronauts as they observe the relatively small scale of Earth when compared to the vastness of outer space. It’s a moving sentiment, one that resonates throughout every minute of the film’s run time.

If you’re looking for a profoundly tranquil and inspiring space movie to watch that will balance out the bombastic action and character-driven suspense of Apple TV Plus’ series, there’s simply no better choice than 1989’s For All Mankind.

For All Mankind is available to stream on the Criterion Channel.

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