When We Left Earth

When We Left Earth (2008)
Image Entertainment
Extras: Interviews, NASA Films, NASA Film Highlights, Mission Clips

When you are a reviewer, every once in a while you will stumble upon a release that so utterly amazing and impressive that it takes your breath away and you just can't pull yourself away from it. "When We Left Earth" is such a release as it kept me watching "just another episode" and "just another one" until the wee hours of morning. Say what you will but to me that is the hallmark of any release.

Narrated by Gary Sinise, "When We Left Earth" is a multi-part documentary telling the story of the American space program since it's inception all the way to its current state. Starting out with the earliest attempts in the Mercury program, followed by the Gemini program and ultimately the Apollo missions that were designed to take man to the moon, the documentary has an incredible pace that took me by surprise a little. At the same time, the way it is edited and put together perfectly illustrates the pressure these programs were under, as they were constantly in competition with Russia and itself in order to fulfill John F. Kennedy's mission to land a man on the moon and safely return them.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the film, especially during the earlier missions I found, is the usage of archival footage. While reconstructions, such as "From the Earth to the Moon," are awe-inspiring and cool, seeing the actual people in action, makes it s unique and emotional experience. When Gus Grissom dies in the Apollo 1 capsule alongside his fellows Ed White and Roger Chaffee, for example, the moment becomes tremendously tragic even now over 40 years later. The reason is simple. We have seen Grissom in person many times, going through preparations, going into space and simply being a very likable human being and then – bang – he and his friends are gone within the blink of an eye and as a viewer you are right there.

After the Apollo missions the documentary moves on in history and covers the emergence of the Space Shuttle and its success story – as well as its tragic failures such as the Challenger disaster. Once again it is amazing to meet the real people and see them at work. From there the subject of space stations is picked up bringing us to the state of affairs of today.

I have pointed out repeatedly that the use of archival footage for this documentary is one of its greatest strengths as we can relate to these people like never before. Perhaps most amazing of all, the new interview footage that complements the stories adds even more appreciation and weight to their work. Seeing Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in person, now at the age of 78, you simply can't help but hold your breath and listen to every word they say. These guys are not only living legends, I mean, they have been on the moon! The moon!!!

I was eagerly looking forward to "When We Left Earth" and I was every bit as impressed as I had hoped I would. The fact that it is in high definition adds to it even more. significantly I would say. We all have seen images from outer space before, the moon landing, the Earth rise, the moon up close etc. However you have never really seen it until you have seen it in high definition, I swear. The footage of the Earth rise is quite honestly one of the most impressive pieces of film I have ever seen. The sheer beauty of it is dazzling and if you add to it the sense of fragility that overcomes you once you see it hanging there in the middle of a black sky, you can't help but wonder. The footage is so amazingly clear and detailed, as if it were shot yesterday. The same goes for a lot of the archival footage used throughout the documentary no matter how old or obscure. The love that went into this film and this release is the reason why we all love the Discovery Channel.

Image Entertainment put together a wonderful Blu-Ray set for the film, serving it up in 1080p high definition all the way through. As I mentioned, the image quality is simply remarkable and will have everyone who is fascinated with space shivers of joy. The video presentation is accompanied by a wonderful 5.1 channel Dolby Digital audio track that is also impressive. Of course, this is a documentary and as such very narration-driven, but overall the surround usage has been nicely integrated, particularly in the newer segments where the recording technology allowed for much better source elements.

As extras you will find hours of additional footage and it is all presented in high definition on its own disc. There are the original NASA films as well as NASA film highlights. You will find Mission Clips here and full interviews. Enough to satisfy even the most starved fan's wishes.

Image Entertainment and the Discovery Channel have created a landmark with this release by which documentaries should be measured. It is perfect in every respect and will put you right in the middle of history. Just when you thought you had seen everything there is to see about the space missions, here comes a film that lets you see it all through a fresh pair of eyes – in high definition. Could it get nay better than this?