Ninety-seven years ago today, an undersized rudder, brittle steel, faux smoke stacks, too few life boats and general human asshattery conspired to bring about one of the most widely publicized boating accidents in human history. “Iceberg, right ahead!” was the call and 37 seconds later the Titanic buckled her side plates below the waterline along the edge of a large floating iconoclast. These events would do much to change the course of human history, as tragedies often do. Radio procedures were changed. The type of steel used in shipping was altered. And of course, James Cameron would give up his director’s salary to make one of the most expensive movies in history called Titanic.
This leads me to wonder what movie is the most expensive ever made. Some people say that the horrific display of bad movie making known as Spiderman 3 was the most expensive movie ever made. Of course, at $258 million, it’s certainly in the running for largest waste of movie money ever. Others claim that 1963’s Cleopatra at $44 million ($295M in today’s cash) is up there.
Shot in Sovscope 70mm with 6-channel sound, War and Peace, made for the equivalent of $500-700 million in the Soviet Union in 1968, certainly takes the cake, right?
Consider for a moment what makes a movie. Idealistic filmmakers would have you believe that the intentional final product is the movie itself. But are movies made so that they can sell tickets? Or are movies made to sell the merchandising? Certainly Star Wars has made just as much or more from merchandising than it has from the movies themselves. Is the intention purely to tell a story? Was Commando made to tell that story?
There’s a movie that was shot between 1968 and 1972 and finally released in 1989. It’s a documentary unlike most documentaries you’ve ever seen. It cost billions of dollars to produce and shoot and the final product is a story that may make you believe in wonder and exploration and the hope of humanity again. It’s a documentary called For All Mankind. It tells the story of the Apollo missions to the moon. Pieced together from footage shot on all of the various missions, and narrated with short insights and stories from the astronauts, the movie is the equivalent of visiting your grandfather and listening to him spin a yarn about the scariest and best times he can remember. At a time when America and the world were enslaved by network news spilling guts into living rooms every night, something new came across the screens at home displaying a different kind of fight. A race, born of wonder, began to explore the sky firsthand as many have imagined doing before in the dark of a cold lonely night.
There were many reasons that America went to the moon. On the face of it, many say we went to beat the Russians, to prove our superior will, scientific engineering and method of political organization. We went to have a pure fight that we could all believe in, a common cause to get behind. We went to fulfill the wishes of a beloved president shot to death while in office. And perhaps we went to further the developments in transitors, computers, tang and freeze dried ice cream.
But if you think about it, twelve men went to the moon. Of the thousands and thousands of people and billions of dollars spent, only twelve hiked up gray ash hillsides and bounced down crater walls. They were trained in geology, photography, geography and many other sciences that didn’t seem to have a lot to do with piloting a spacecraft. Upon their landing, their training seemed to even span into poetry. And if you listen to the voices of those men in this documentary, they didn’t go just for America, they went for all mankind. Seeing a blue marble hanging fragile in the inky blackness of space rise above the colorless landscape of the moon, a viewer is reminded of the oasis that is the Earth. The recollections of these men and the science gained from their visit is vast but unfortunately finite. But the inspiration gained from this record is the real treasure. In my opinion, the main point of the entire Apollo program was the documentary that was going to be made from that invaluable footage. It’s the one thing that we all have because we weren’t among the twelve who could go.
So as far as I am concerned, the most expensive movie ever made was For All Mankind. Thankfully, it’s one of the best as well.