From the Earth to the Moon is a twelve-part HBO television miniseries (1998) co-produced by Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Tom Hanks, and Michael Bostick, telling the story of the landmark Apollo expeditions to the Moon during the 1960s and early 1970s in docudrama format. Largely based on Andrew Chaikin's book, A Man on the Moon, the series is known for its accurate telling of the story of Apollo and the outstanding special effects under visual director Ernest D. Farino.
The series takes its title from, but is not based upon, the famous Jules Verne science fiction novel From the Earth to the Moon. Hanks appears in every episode, introducing each of the first eleven. The last episode is represented in a pseudo-documentary format narrated by Blythe Danner, interspersed with a reenactment of the making of Georges Méliès' film Le Voyage dans la Lune. Hanks narrates and appears in these scenes as Méliès' assistant.
The miniseries has a fairly large cast, driven in part by the fact that it portrays 30 of the 32 astronauts who flew, or were preparing to fly, the twelve missions of the Apollo program. (The only two Apollo astronauts not portrayed by credited actors are Apollo 13 Command Module pilot Jack Swigert and Apollo 17 Command Module pilot Ronald Evans, who had a brief appearance in the liftoff scene of Apollo 17 in the final episode.) Members of many of the astronauts' families, and other NASA and non-NASA personnel, are also portrayed.
Several fictional (or fictionalized) characters are also included, notably television newscaster Emmett Seaborn (Lane Smith) who appears in nine of the twelve episodes.
The twelve episodes, each directed by different individuals, use a variety of viewpoints and themes, while sequentially covering the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. Lane Smith portrays Emmett Seaborn, a seasoned reporter for a fictional television network, who covers the U.S. space program from its earliest days, providing continuity for most of the episodes.
The miniseries, concentrating on the Apollo space program, was produced with an intent not to repeat other dramatic portrayals of events of the space race.
Project Mercury, which was portrayed in the film The Right Stuff, was briefly summarized in the first episode. Miniseries producers Hanks, Howard and Grazer, who had previously produced Apollo 13, shot the episode "We Interrupt This Program" from the perspective of the media covering that flight, as the film had already covered the story from the point of view of the crew and the mission control team.
Many of the actors had opportunity to interact and form friendships with the real life astronauts they were portraying. Brett Cullen, who played Apollo 9 Command Module pilot and Apollo 15 commander David Scott, was invited to the Scott family home each time an episode he appeared in was first televised. Two short clips from the final scenes of Apollo 13 were used in "That's All There Is"; a splashdown sequence, and a view of the recovery ship USS Iwo Jima (portrayed by USS New Orleans).
The original series was shot in 1.33:1 aspect ratio, intended to be viewed on standard television sets. The series was released on DVD as a 4-disc set. With the proliferation of widescreen flat-panel TV sets the series was remastered in 1.78:1 aspect ratio and re-released in 2005 as a 5-disc DVD box set. New framing causes loss of top and bottom parts of the frames from the original movie. This is not always noticeable because of careful transfer process, but in some scenes important details are lost. For example, in Disc 1, when the Gemini 8 / Agena assembly is tumbling around the sky with a stuck thruster, the thruster is not visible in the new widescreen version as it is cut off by the top of the frame. Some captions have also been compromised.
Parts of the mini-series were filmed at the Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney's Hollywood Studios) in Orlando, Florida. Scenes of the moonwalks were shot inside the blimp hangars on the former Marine base in Tustin, California. Approximately half the area inside was converted to the Moon's surface, with the remainder used to hold production trailers. To simulate lunar surface gravity, weather balloons filled with helium were attached to the backs of the actors playing the astronauts in the lunar extravehicular activity scenes, effectively reducing their Earth-bound weights to one-sixth.
The score of "Spider" prominently features an imitation of the main title theme from the 1963 World War II movie The Great Escape, and Tom Kelly jokes about having a crew digging a tunnel out of the Grumman plant. The episode also featured a real Apollo Lunar Module (LM-13), which had been built for the Apollo 18 mission but was never used due to budget cuts. Blythe Danner, who narrated the final episode, had previously worked on location at the Johnson Space Center for the 1976 movie Futureworld, filmed in the same buildings where Apollo moonwalkers had recently trained.
The series won 3 Emmy awards for Outstanding Miniseries, Outstanding Casting for a Miniseries or a Movie and Outstanding Hairstyling for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special. In addition, the series won a 1999 Golden Globe Award for Best Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV.