‘Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood’ Review: A Magical Tale of Nostalgia And The Moon Landing

'Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood' Review: A Magical Tale of Nostalgia And The Moon Landing

Lately, many famous directors have taken on the mission of creating films that call back to their past as people. These movies move between the lines of fiction and reality, having an important autobiographical element that fills the whole film from beginning to end with huge amounts of nostalgia. 

Alfonso Cuarón did this when he released Roma, followed very closely by Kenneth Branagh with Belfast, and then Paul Thomas Anderson with Licorice Pizza. All these films are great, very well-made, and very personal for their individual filmmakers. Now, with Netflix supporting his effort, it is the turn of Richard Linklater to do the same. However, in typical Linklater fashion, the director knows that it needs more than just nostalgia to make an interesting movie, and he goes back to a technique that served him well in the past. The results are charming and quite unique. 

Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood is written and directed by Richard Linklater and stars Milo Coy, Glen Powell, Zachary Levi, and Jack Black. The film tells the story of a man as he tells the audience about his childhood growing up in Houston, Texas in 1969, close to the moon landing. The child version of the man will guide the audience through a fantastical recreation of what happened around and during that day.

'Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood' Review: A Magical Tale of Nostalgia And The Moon Landing

So, yeah. Linklater is following what could be called a trend for middle-aged directors nowadays, but the director makes the execution of the piece entirely its own by combining excellent writing with powerful visuals. In 2006, Linklater directed a film called “A Scanner Darkly” by Philip K. Dick, an adaptation that was peculiar for its use of rotoscoping, giving the film that was shot in live-action the appearance of being an animated movie. The film became a cult classic, and even now, its style makes it one of the most interesting films out there. 

Now, with Apollo 10½, Linklater comes back to the rotoscoping technique that served him so well in 2006. This time, instead of serving a story full of darkness and lots of drugs, the technique is used to give Linklater’s memories of growing up in the late 60s a sense of wonder and magic.

In the first half of the film, Linklater makes use of a huge amount of narration. The narration gives the details of the man’s family and his everyday life with such energy and charm that it is impossible not to smile. It is clear that Linklater loved being a child during these years, and all the memories are relatable and wonderful to behold. Even if some events are very far away from what kids experience now, the sense of wonder pushes the narrative during this first half, and the pacing is excellent.

The second half of the film slows things down quite a bit, and it does lose some of its major strengths. The pacing becomes slower, and the events are just more mundane and weird at the same time. It doesn’t make the movie bad, but it lacks the energy of the first part, and it might lose the interest of some audience members. 

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It could be said that Linklater could have chosen to make the movie entirely like the first half but maybe the trick could have overstayed its welcome. It is all possible. Nevertheless, Linklater proves once again that he is a master at crafting dialogue that feels and sounds completely natural. Not even one line feels forced or out of place, and that helps to enhance the reality of a movie that wants most of all to look like it isn’t reality, but the space of memories and imagination.

Rotoscoping has been used for many decades in different forms. The result mostly gives the animated scenes this sort of fluidity that is very hard to achieve in normal animation. But because this film started first as a live-action document, the movements of the actors and the placement of the camera are all like live action. The look might turn some people off, but as you watch it, you will become accustomed to it very quickly. Towards the end, the strange style feels natural and is the perfect choice to tell this kind of story.

Apollo 10½ also has a great number of named actors, but most of them are working in very minor roles. So, don’t think you’ll get tons of Jack Black in here, for example. However, the cast is still a sign that many great names in the industry trust that Linklater will always deliver a fantastic film, and that they are not wrong. 

Apollo 10½ is charming, funny and incredibly nostalgic. For those who lived in the late 60s or early 70s, it might even feel like traveling inside a time machine. It won’t be for everybody, but no one can deny that it is magical.

SCORE: 8/10

  • Nelson loves all things related to storytelling. He has spent most of his life studying narrative, applied across all mediums; film, TV, books, and video games. Mulholland Drive is his favorite film.