Richard Linklater on creating 'an animated universe' for Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhood
Richard Linklater used to think his childhood experiences didn't deserve the movie treatment. Autobiographical elements have seeped into the filmmaker's body of work over the years, but he says Dazed and Confused was more about capturing the fun of being a teenager in the 1970s, while Boyhood was his way of portraying what it's like to grow up.
Still, he couldn't shake a specific time and place in his life: a Houston, TX suburb down the road from NASA in the late '60s during the Apollo moon landing.
In the second year of making Boyhood, a film Linklater shot over the course of a decade starting in 2002, the director revisited memories of being captivated with the Apollo 11 as a second grader. "You started to see things as metaphors and what's worthy of a story in this world," Linklater tells EW. The challenge was how to pull it off. What the director ended up creating was "an animated universe," he says.
Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhood, Linklater's new film coming to Netflix this April 1, uses a blend of realism and fantasy to tell the story of the first moon landing in the summer of 1969.
Stanley, voiced as a kid by Milo Coy and as an adult by the film's narrator, Jack Black, is a boy from Houston who dreams of becoming an astronaut. Half of Apollo 10 ½ chronicles Stanley's boyhood fantasy: How two NASA officials (voiced by Glen Powell and Zachary Levi) recruit the kid because they accidentally built the lunar module too small for adults; how Stanley trains like an astronaut, and then walks on the moon as everyone down on earth watches on television in awe.
The other dueling half of this film serves as a snapshot of American life in the '60s, all told through animation, a medium Linklater tapped for 2001's Waking Life and 2006's A Scanner Darkly.
"I spent years thinking about the story and it didn't quite work in live-action," Linklater says. "That's my default mode. Once I started thinking of it animated — I was working with [producer] Tommy [Pallotta], who I've worked with on the two previous [animated] films — I was like, 'It's gonna be very different than what we've done.'"
Linklater tapped a 2D look for the animation to capture the textures of the time's analog world. "Once you make that decision, you never question it," the filmmaker notes. The visual aesthetic made the story at the heart of Apollo 10 ½ feel less literal to Linklater, which opened him up to possibility of making something more dreamlike. "That was a breakthrough," he says.
Both storylines helped each other. The more specificity the filmmaker brought to the realistic half of the movie — from the period-accurate Janis Joplin interview on TV to Stanley gathering with his family to watch episodes of The Twilight Zone — the more it helped make even the fantasy elements of Apollo 10 ½ feel "documentary real."
Linklater feels the Apollo moon landing has taken on even more cultural significance over time. It's not just because of the connection to the moment he felt living in such close proximity to NASA as a kid.
"It's like when your team wins the championship. You think they'll win it next year, and then two decades go by and they never win," he explains. "And again, you go, 'That was a great year.' We all thought we were gonna be on Mars by the end of the century. I don't think anyone realized at the time that it was fleeting."
The moon landing also marked a rare moment when, in Linklater's eyes, the world was united over something positive. "We tend to focus on our failures and things like that," he says. "That was a human accomplishment that we all went, 'Geez! We did that. People are walking on the moon.' When we try to get that out of things like the Olympics, that's so wound up in competition. It's hard to think of something that the whole world pays attention to that's so positive."
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