Academy Award nominated filmmaker Richard Linklater revisits rotoscope animation to portray a slice-of-life narrative in Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood.
The film centres on a mischievous Houston student named Stanley (Milo Coy) as he’s suddenly recruited for a top secret mission by NASA officials (Zachary Levi, Glen Powell). The mission would precede the much-anticipated Apollo 11 launch, and would require Stanley to take a smaller-than-exepected lunar module to the Moon. As any curious kid feeling stuck in their suburbs would, Stanley accepts the offer and begins training. Training is put on hold, however, for the audience. Guided by the narration of an older Stanley reflecting on his childhood (voiced well by Jack Black), movie goers are given glimpses into Stanley’s upbringing in a nation swept up in the excitement of landing on the moon.
Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood is like shooting fish in a barrel for writer/director Linklater, who has made some of the best coming-of-age flicks such as Dazed and Confused, Boyhood, and Everybody Wants Some!!. The ambition is no different for his latest movie, as well as the admiration and nostalgia Linklater has for this specific era. While the movie resembles the artistic merits of Linklater’s Waking Life, the lead character is also similar – a seemingly ordinary, lost soul who quietly observes everyone around him. Practically every angle of Stanley’s life is covered during these extended flashbacks; from his favourite pastimes to his everyday rituals to special family outings.
Through these flashbacks, we learn that Stanley has a big imagination which further adds to the intergalactic pipe dream Linklater sets up early into the movie. The most interesting memories are the ones that are obviously fuelling Stanley’s fantasies, such as his fondness for science fiction seen on TV, the distain he has towards his Dad’s boring pencil-pushing job, and fun times with friends where Stanley was put at risk. However, Linklater can’t help but completely dive into this era, painting the movie wall-to-wall with detail that distracts him from the fairy tale audiences are waiting on.
Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood sets itself up for a Where The Wild Things Are-esque fantasy where reality is left behind for an escape that’s larger than life. Especially with the use of rotoscope animation that has the ability to embellish reality and send a kid on a big adventure. But those fantastical elements are often put on hold for Linklater to relive his past. The rotoscope animation is still used to embellish effects, and is used with expertise to transport the viewer to the 60s, but the film simply shows Richard Linklater “playing the hits”. I wouldn’t accuse Linklater of being lazy, but I believe the filmmaker knows how good he is at making this type of movie. While it’s understandable that Linklater would want to keep returning to this kind of slice-of-life narrative, I would’ve rather seen the filmmaker lean into the more challenging aspects of portraying Stanley’s transcending ambitions and emotions.
Still, a middling time warp from Linklater is nothing to complain about. But, as someone who really appreciates what the writer/director can bring to the table, I want to see something different.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie