A miniseries that offers astonishing depth and detail, "When We Left Earth" is a 6-part documentary produced in collaboration with NASA that was aired on the Discovery Channel earlier this year. The series was done in order to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of NASA.
The documentary episodes ("Ordinary Supermen", "Friends and Rivals", "Landing the Eagle", "The Explorers", "The Shuttle" and "Home in Space") offer an enormous wealth of behind-the-scenes NASA footage, allowing viewers a previously unseen level of access to the preparations and discussions that went on before and during the early Mercury and Gemini space flight missions.
The documentary provides a rather remarkable look at mission control in those early years - while one may be surprised that the technology (by the looks of it) could be even relied upon - it does provide a reminder of how far we've come in the years since. The behind-the-scenes archive footage (and we do does an astonishing job painting the entire picture of the missions, offering a solid discussion of the arc of the mission, from development onward. We even see some fascinating in-flight footage.
The middle of the series focuses on the Apollo missions, including a lengthy look into the Apollo 11 mission in "The Explorers", which offers interviews with Aldrin, Armstrong and many others involved in the mission, too. The documentary also covers the tragedy of the Apollo 1 disaster, as well. "The Explorers" takes a look at the tension and technical troubles of the "Apollo 13" mission, as well as other Apollo missions and Skylab. The final two episodes ("The Shuttle" and "A Home In Space") of the series focus on the first shuttle flight, the tragic 1986 Challenger disaster, the repair of the Hubble telescope and the construction of the International Space Station.
Overall, I thought the series was not only outstanding in its depth and detail, but for its presentation, as the material is presented in a way that is anything but dry. It's also remarkable that, given the massive amount of material that was likely made available, that what has been pieced together here from the wealth of available footage flows quite smoothly. Those with even a passing interest in the history of space travel should consider flying to their local store to pick up this outstanding set, especially given how remarkably well this historic footage has been restored.
VIDEO: "When We Left Earth" is presented in 1.78:1 (1080p/AVC) and was originally presented in HD when first broadcast on the Discovery Channel. Those who sit down to watch the documentary should not expect a pristine-looking picture - this series is pulled together from archive footage, some of which has gotten up there in years.
Still, given the fact that some of this footage is 40-50 years old, one has to be rather impressed with how fresh a lot of it does look. While some minor specks and marks are occasionally seen on the older footage, much of it looked free of such issues. The most recent NASA footage and interviews look outstanding, with excellent clarity and impressive detail. No edge enhancement was seen throughout the proceedings, nor were any instances of artifacting. Colors could understandably look a touch faded at times, but otherwise, colors looked natural and precise. Overall, I was quite impressed (and occasionally astonished) with this presentation, and I have to wonder if some of this footage has ever looked as good as it does here.
SOUND: The Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation is mainly "documentary audio". While there are a few instances where the surrounds come into play for ambience or reinforcement of the score, the majority of the audio is spread across the front speakers. Audio quality was terrific, with crisp, natural dialogue/narration.
EXTRAS: Over four hours of extras are included, many of which can be found on the bonus disc, which includes a group of NASA Films: "Freedom 7", "Friendship 7: John Glenn", "Proud Conquest: Gemini 7 & 6", "Apollo 8 Debrief" and "The Flight of Apollo 11". Each of the other three discs also includes additional film clips, interviews and mission clips.
Final Thoughts: "When We Left Earth" is an amazing look into the history of mankind's voyage into space. The series offers an incredible amount of historic NASA footage, including some astonishing behind-the-scenes looks at the inner workings of NASA, as well as the a comprehensive look at the triumphs and tough moments that NASA has encountered in the last 50 years. The Blu_Ray edition boasts outstanding video quality, terrific audio and a wealth of supplements. Highly Recommended.