Compiled at the end of the 1970s from NASA’s archives by British director/editor Tony Palmer this visual history of our first tentative steps into space would have been a feast for the eyes by itself. But, nervous of Mike Oldfield being at a potentially damaging creative loose end following competition of Ommadawn, Richard Branson brokered Oldfield’s involvement as soundtrack composer. The result was a compelling and moving marriage of visuals and rock music, a space equivalent of the use of Floyd’s Echoes in surf-classic Crystal Voyager.
Oldfield found music to hit all the right keynotes by using symphonic tones from Tubular Bells and Hergest Ridge and reworking part of Incantations. There’s his updating of Blue Peter’s Barnacle Bill signature tune for the ramshackle early attempts at flight that open the movie through to the subdued and contemplative moods that accompany the stunning film of flaming ascents and fireball destruction. Each step of the way, every moonscape and earthlight is richly delineated in sound.
Viewing this celluloid sense of wonder in these more risk adverse days, with manned space-exploration no longer the brave new frontier but fading history, Palmer and Oldfield’s montage of visuals and music has a moving beauty that illuminates once again that pioneer spirit.