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‘Last Man on the Moon’ a stirring, true space tale

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Gene Cernan is the subject of the satisfying documentary “The Last Man on the Moon,” which screens at the Roxie. (Courtesy NASA)

Tainted by cold-war politics but still amazing, the lunar missions of the 1960s and 1970s still stir viewers, and that happens in “The Last Man on the Moon,” a documentary about former astronaut Gene Cernan.

Cernan looks back on his professional and personal lives in this intimate film, which covers his days as a military test pilot to his joining NASA’s astronaut team to his inclusion on the crews of Gemini IX, Apollo 10 and Apollo 17 (the last manned mission to the moon).

Cernan recalls numerous challenges and triumphs, from the extreme physical exam he underwent to ensure that he possessed the right stuff to potentially disastrous problems during a space walk.

He lost friends in a fatal 1967 launch-pad fire. Like many of his colleagues, he let his demanding calling and worldwide fame destroy his marriage.

He describes literally other-worldly experiences, such as waking up in a spacecraft and seeing the earth outside the window, or being the last human to leave the moon and writing his daughter’s initials in the lunar sand.

At 81, Cernan remains an avid proponent of space exploration and expresses sadness at how the government no longer appears to champion it.

Combining talking-head interviews with archival footage, writer-director Mark Craig doesn’t score points for originality, and this certainly isn’t the first film about the trials and thrills of astronauts.

But Cernan is an engaging, insightful storyteller, and his colleagues and family members provide valuable background details and commentary. The memories and observations add up to a vivid and satisfying personal portrait, history lesson, nostalgic ride and glimpse of the astronaut psyche.


REVIEW

The Last Man on the Moon
Three stars
Starring: Gene Cernan, Dick Gordon, Gene Kranz, Chris Kraft, Barbara Cernan Butler
Written and directed by: Mark Craig
Rated R
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes