Richard Linklater has been making movies for over thirty years now and throughout his career, his movies have ranged in budget, genre, tone, and style, making remakes of 70s comedies to making a movie whose production took twelve years to complete. Despite working in different genres of varying budgets and filming lengths, Linklater has often made movies that look at male fantasies, specific times, and places in people’s lives and coming of age films that have a laid back, Texas vibe and setting to them.
Think of Dewey Finn in Linklater’s 2003 hit School of Rock. Dewey’s journey in the film has him going from an immature loser rocker to finding his gift as a teacher of music and starting a band. In 1993’s Dazed and Confused, Linklater focuses on an important night in one future Texas high school freshman’s life, as he hangs out and drinks beer with the seniors. And then there is Boyhood, a movie that took Linklater twelve years to make that focuses on key moments in a young Texan boy’s life from age six to eighteen. These movies are perfect examples of the ideas Linklater wants to explore as a filmmaker.
Linklater’s latest film, Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood, is a summation of everything that he is as a filmmaker. This is a gorgeous, amusing, animated slice of life fantasy set during one fateful summer in 1969 Texas.
It’s the summer of 1969 in rural Texas and we are told this story through the voiceover of adult Stanley (Jack Black). Stanley tells us the story of how NASA officials (voiced by Zachary Levi and Glenn Powell) approached the young Stanley (voiced by Milo Coy) about going to space to fix something before the now legendary Apollo 11 moon launch.
The movie isn’t just focused on Stanley’s journey to becoming an astronaut. We do get scenes of him in the training facility getting ready for the launch and then him getting up to the moon, but the movie really focuses on Stanley’s life that summer and what it was like growing up in Texas in 1969. We learn about his family and growing up with his five other siblings and his stickler, but loving parents. He explains the functionality of the neighborhood, how he and the other kids played, the pranks they would pull, the parties that took place in the neighborhood, and overall life in a time when everyone was focused on the space race and the importance of America getting to the moon. All while Stanley secretly trains and goes to the moon without telling a single soul.
Black narrates nearly the entire film and his voice is very soothing and comforting. It feels like adult Stanley’s children asked him to tell them a story about his childhood and Stanley gathered them up around the fireplace to tell them this story. Linklater chose to use animation to tell the story of Apollo 10 1/2 and he made the right decision in doing so. Like Linklater did with his other animated films, Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, he used a process called rotoscoping, which saw him shoot the film in live-action with real actors and then animate over the action. The rotoscoping animation gives the film life and a more fantastical feel. Life looks brighter and more alive with the animation, probably how Stanley imagines it.
The greatest trick Linklater pulls in Apollo 10 1/2 is that, even with the movie taking place in 1969 Texas, it brought me back to moments from my childhood. It had me thinking about growing up in the suburb that I did, playing with the kids in the neighborhood where I grew up, moments with my siblings and parents, and events that happened while growing up. The fact that Linklater can make us understand and feel what it was like to be a teenage boy in 1969 Texas while also bringing us back to our own childhoods is a testament to Linklater’s brilliance as a filmmaker and his obsession and understanding of time and place.
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