Film Review: “Fly Me to the Moon”

On August 3rd, the new animated movie “Fly Me to the Moon” premiered at the Directors Guild of America Theatre in Hollywood, LA. In a very fortunate turn of events Fraser sent me there to watch the first US screening of this “made for 3D” space-exploration adventure. I’ve been bursting to write a review on the experience, but I had to wait until the film went on general release on August 15th before I could spill the beans. Now the day has come, here’s the inside story of this visually stunning tale about three flies (yes, the insects) that hitch a ride on the 1969 Apollo 11 mission to the Moon…

The launch of Apollo 11; CGI versions of Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin (© nWave)
The launch of Apollo 11; CGI versions of Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin (© nWave)

Firstly, I have to say nWave 3D technology is astonishing. The company uses 3D stereoscopy technique to, quite literally, make the characters in the movie jump out of the screen (with the help of polarizing glasses). If you’ve been to an IMAX theatre or a digital 3D studio before, you’ll know what I’m talking about, the characters look solid and very real. This was my first 3D experience, so I’m glad it was a space adventure experience too. OK, I’ve never reviewed a movie before, so I hope I do it justice…

Right at the start of the animated adventure, we begin with some history. In faux black-and-white, we are in one of NASA’s labs, preparing a monkey for an experimental trip into space. It is the late 1950’s or early 1960’s when it was commonplace to launch animals into space. So far, so good. The 3D looks good, and the 3D characters look crisp, looks like we’re in for a fun 84 minutes (the kids in the audience had a good laugh at the monkey’s expense as he was launched into space, the director was careful not to indicate the primate may not return!).

The Saturn V launch sequence (© nWave)
The Saturn V launches, beginning the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon (© nWave)

But the film, nor the 3D animation, had really begun. Part of the opening sequence, in colour now, involves a long sweep over Cape Canaveral, with the Saturn V rocket central to the scene. Moving over the water, your eyes take a while to focus on the shapes; you need to learn to relax your focus and treat the screen with more depth (especially when wearing a pair of unfashionable polarizing 3D glasses). Suddenly a dragonfly flies into shot and the 3D effect pops into being. There was no one in the audience who didn’t jump; the insect looked as if it was two feet away from your face, hovering above the seat in front (I was ten rows back from the screen). The kids in the audience (plus me) reached out to touch the animated creature, only for our hands to pass in front. Its effects like this that typifies the whole film, long tracking shots, 3D characters jumping out of the screen, vibrant colours bringing crisp clarity to each shot. Without the nWave 3D, the characters would probably be pretty bland, after all this doesn’t have the gravitas of a Disney-Pixar or Dreamworks production.

Scooter floats around, drinking spherical blobs of an orange liquid (© nWave)
Scooter floats around, drinking spherical blobs of an orange liquid (© nWave)

Sometimes you realise that the director wants you to experience everything the nWave technology can provide, sometimes making the fly-point-of-view flying sequences a little too long, but still delivering a visual delight. Unfortunately, this is probably the biggest drawback of the movie. Languishing in wonderful animated sequences, but filling the time with a basic script where even the rendered characters can seem a little wooden. I think the director misses the mark a little when trying to build up an audience rapport with the central characters; you find yourself thinking “get to the Apollo 11 launch already!”

Nat looks through Armstrong's helmet to the lunar surface (© nWave)
Nat looks through Armstrong's helmet to the lunar surface (© nWave)

That said, the youngsters in the crowd thoroughly enjoyed the antics of the three young flies: Nat (sensible yet adventurous, voiced by Trevor Gagnon), I.Q. (brainy and geeky, voiced by Philip Bolden) and Scooter (loud and brash, voiced by David Gore), it’s just a shame nWave didn’t build a little dual-humour into the plot which the likes of Toy Story or Finding Nemo were so good at (where a joke means one thing to an adult, but something totally different to a child – after all, you can only have so many burp jokes). But, this is a poor comparison; Fly Me to the Moon isn’t in the same league as these blockbusters. There is more of a focus on the big, space scene animation rather than plot or script. The 3D animated space sequences are what make this film, most certainly beating anything Pixar or Dreamworks can generate on a 2D screen.

The second stage fires and our six explorers head to the Moon (© nWave)
The second stage fires and our six explorers head to the Moon (© nWave)

For the first 20 minutes or so, we are based in the flies’ world; in the undergrowth and in the air, but as the story develops the fun really begins to start. Once Nat and co. find a way to join the Apollo 11 astronauts (after some entertaining encouragement from Nat’s Grampa, voiced by Christopher Lloyd, or “Doc” from his 1980’s Back to the Future fame), we arrive at some of the most visually stunning rendered scenes I have seen in an animated feature. For starters, the Saturn V lift-off is detailed with painstaking accuracy, reminiscent of Tom Hanks’ Apollo 13 launch sequence, only a little cleaner. As the rocket blasts through the atmosphere (probably a little too quickly for my liking), we’re suddenly in space and the Saturn V begins separation of its first stage. My second favourite part of the whole movie is the separation and re-docking of the lunar module whilst in lunar orbit, this will probably the closet you will come to actually “being there.” If you see the movie for one thing and one thing only, go and watch it for the wonderfully executed space vehicle scenes.

Lunar module separation (© nWave)
Lunar module separation (© nWave)

During the Apollo 11 voyage, the fly trio have a lot of work on their hands. For starters, mission control discover they have “contaminants” on board the command module, so throughout the film our miniature heroes are trying to dodge Armstrong’s bug spray can. There are some funny scenes, mainly focused around the always hungry Scooter, voiced by the very talented David Gore (although the “wind breaking escape scene” was a bridge too far for me). Nat, I.Q. and Scooter were also responsible for fixing a glitch in the Apollo 11 control panel apparently, replacing unplugged cable, leaving the crew to think they repaired the electrical fault. All the way through their adventure, the trio are being watched by their anxious Moms on Earth, managing to catch a glimpse of their young explorers via NASA footage (Nat’s mom, voiced by Kelly Ripa, constantly fainting and exclaiming “Lord of the Flies!” when ever a crisis unfolds; funny the first time, a bit tiresome after the third). There are also some evil Soviet Russian flies on Earth trying to undo the American flies space efforts; of course there needed to be a few “bad guys” (which, unfortunately, were surplus to requirements. If it wasn’t for the buxom Russian love interest, Nadia, there would be no point in including any baddies). The 1960’s era is captured wonderfully however, down to the fashion and music at the time.

'The Eagle has landed' (© nWave)
'The Eagle has landed' (© nWave)

Although this is obviously aimed at a younger audience, the stunning in-space animations will keep the 15+ crowd interested. And the entire movie is worth it for the famous Moon landing. There are a few technical inaccuracies, but they pass largely unnoticed as the astronauts touch down and Armstrong says his famous speech (although the producers did not use the archival transmission of Armstrong’s “One Small Step For Man…” line, which I thought was a strange decision). I really did feel excited by the lunar landing, seeing the command module in orbit, lunar module landing (“The Eagle has landed”) and animated Buzz and Neil hopping around in the Moon dust; it (almost) felt you were there.

Armstrongs first footstep on the Moon (© nWave)
Armstrongs first footstep on the Moon (© nWave)

All in all, this is a wonderfully valuable animated film that will engage kids more than adults, but it certainly isn’t boring, in fact, the time flew by. The fight sequences are too long and contrived, and a lot of the script is weak, but the voice talent is superb (especially Christopher Lloyd as “Grampa,” the lovely Nicolette Sheridan as “Nadia,” legendary British actor Tim Curry as evil “Yegor” and the young fly trio voices) and the 3D effects are incredible. Watching this movie was more of an “experience” than anything else, and although I felt my eyes getting a little tired from the changing focal depth for 84 minutes, the wonderful animated set-pieces kept me hooked.

Armstrong realises he has company inside his helmet (© nWave)
Armstrong realises he has company inside his helmet (© nWave)

Space exploration needs movies like this to engage and interest the next generation, and with cameo appearances by the likes of Buzz Aldrin only make movies like Fly Me to the Moon more valuable. Right at the end of the movie, Buzz makes an entertaining speech. Starting off with ‘Despite what you might have heard about the Moon landings…’ I thought he was referring to the flawed allegations of the faked NASA lunar landings, but he humorously continued, ‘…there were no contaminants on Apollo 11, flies did not land on the Moon!

For a preview, see the theatrical trailer (via Yahoo!) »
Go to the Fly Me to the Moon Official site »

Buzz Aldrin, ex-astronaut, second man on the Moon and all-round nice guy (Ian O'Neill)
Buzz Aldrin, ex-astronaut, second man on the Moon and all-round nice guy (Ian O'Neill)

The best thing about the whole premier experience was to meet and chat to the legendary astronaut himself, such a polite and friendly guy who has a lot of time for fans, reporters and photographers. I also met Tim Curry, an actor I’ve enjoyed for many years, ever since his infamous appearance in the 1975 cult classic “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Most of the rest of the cast was there for the screening, including the young voice talents (Gagnon, Bolden and Gore) with Nicolette Sheridan (famed for her Desperate Housewives character), Christopher Lloyd, Kelly Ripa (“Nat’s Mom”), Adrienne Barbeau (“Scooter’s Mom”) and Ed Begley Jr. (“Poopchev”), and probably quite a few I didn’t see. Besides, the after party was fun, involving lots of ice cream and cookies…

So, if you want to see a fun and wonderfully animated film with lots of entertainment for your kids, this is the film for you. Although some of the dialogue can be a little cringe-making, with fight sequences too long and “cheesy,” the animation makes up for many of these flaws, making this an entertaining family animation that can only help boost enthusiasm for space travel in the younger generation. Interestingly, the 10-year old sitting next to me in the screening asked his dad, “Why aren’t we still on the Moon?” At least Fly Me to the Moon has already gotten one young mind thinking…

also, you’ll never look at maggots in the same light ever again

As Nat, I.Q. and Scooter would say: “Adventure forever! Dreamers get swatted? Never!

Fly Me to the Moon is now on general release in the US and Canada, but only in IMAX and 3D digital theatres.

For more information about Fly Me to the Moon:

10 Replies to “Film Review: “Fly Me to the Moon””

  1. To Minion:

    I totally disagree with you on that point. 100%.

    What’s the first thing you do with a child to help them learn? You play with them. You introduce education through toys. As children grow, their imagination grows with them, a large part of their experience and learning is through play and enjoyment. When I was growing up I loved cartoons and science fiction, they shaped my imagination and willingness to learn. In fact, it was sci-fi that taught me to question the accuracy of science; experiencing something you wouldn’t normally imagine expands imagination, it doesn’t hinder it.

    Yes, we need good teachers to teach the facts, method and structure, but we also need a medium to stretch imaginations. Movies like this one gets kids talking, it makes them excited, gets them asking questions. Plus they have a great time where parents can get involved with their education. I see nothing wrong with animated films like this, and I see nothing wrong with TV as long as it is not abused.

    Thank you Tavi! Happy you enjoyed the review 🙂 You’re right on the mark with your comments, thanks. And yes, I have washed my hands since meeting Buzz, I shook many other hands that day…. 🙂

    Cheers! Ian

  2. We don’t need movies like this to engage the next generation. We need real science teachers, places where kids can tinker and experiment without running afoul of the “get off my lawn” crowd and we need to get rid of the TV.

    Movies like this are part of the problem, not the solution.

  3. Excellent review – thank you! You gave me a perfect picture of what this movie is about. It sounds like exactly the kind of movie that my children and I will enjoy.

    I agree with Minion that we do need more “real” science teachers and hands-on opportunities for children, but I strongly disagree that we don’t need movies like this.

    Entertainment is important to our well-being and it is here to stay. Why not “be smart” about it by including a little educational encouragement and the realistic kinds of characters and heroes to whom our children can aspire.

    Ian, you lucky Man. You better never wash that Buzz Aldrin hand again. 😉

  4. How about a movie about the microbes that hitched a ride to the moon aboard a camera on Surveyor 7. Just picture the challenges faced by these hardy microbes in the harsh lunar enviroment, to be followed by the heroic rescue mission of Apollo 14! Could be a riveting microbial escapade, 3D or not.

  5. So is it coming to the UK?

    Erm also, when did any Apollo mission disengage the LEM from the S1VB stage whilst in lunar orbit? !!

  6. In a really cool piece of scheduling NASA put some men on the moon to celebrate my 5th birthday. I distinctly remember kneeling in front of the old B&W TV to watch Armstrong and Aldrin jump about on the moon.

    We need movies like this to connect the next generation with the real science and to inspire them to dream.

    My daughter, for a time, wanted to be on the 1st manned mission to Jupiter and this after watching Apollo 13. While her goals may have changed the fact that she dreams hasn’t.

    BTW She also asked, “when are we going back?”

    Besides if this film is part of how today’s kids learn about the real-life amazing achievements the Apollo program (“yes Virginia men did go to the moon “) then more power to it.

  7. Ian, you are awesome!!! Your review of FLY ME TO THE MOON is spot on!! Minion, you obviously didn’t get it! My kids came out of this movie asking a million questions. Now they want to be an astronaut and a scientist!! Should our kids not watch the Olympics because god forbid they could be inspired?? Where the heck is NASA??? They should have been on this bandwagon! Where are the parents?? Get everyone to see this film. I am screaming from the rooftops to get every person I know and don’t know at any age to see this movie!

  8. The characters in fly me to the moon (Nat, IQ, and Scooter) have the same personalities as the Chipmunks! I first saw this preview when I went to see Wallie! I was pissed!!!!!! I’m NOT going to see this movie no matter what! Anything that copies The Chipmunks, I do not appreciate! Nat=Alvin IQ=Simon Scooter=Theodore. In the theater I stood up and was yelling, “OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD!”
    My dad and I picked it up right away. I’M STILL PISSED!

  9. Whoever wrote this script, is an idiot!!!

    -Russians are trying to ruin it for Americans,
    – Nadya has a thick accent and calls a gild “babushka” [granny]

    What in the world is this?!!! Are we still stuck in 80s? Why would you teach your kids that part of embarrassing history?

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