Originally broadcast in April and May of 1998, the epic miniseries From the Earth to the Moon was HBO's most expensive production to date, with a budget of $68 million. Hosted by executive producer Tom Hanks, the miniseries tackles the daunting challenge of chronicling the entire history of NASA's Apollo space program from 1961 to 1972. For the most part, it's a rousing success. Some passages are flatly chronological, awkwardly wedging an abundance of factual detail into a routine dramatic structure. But each episode is devoted to a crucial aspect of the Apollo program. The cumulative effect is a deep and thorough appreciation of NASA's monumental achievement. With the help of a superlative cast, consistent writing, and a stable of talented directors, Hanks has shared his infectious enthusiasm for space exploration and the inspiring power of conquering the final frontier.
NASA's complete participation in the production lends to its total authenticity, right down to the use of NASA equipment, launch locations, and even spacecraft. The re-creation of the lunar landscape is almost as impressive as the real thing and is further enhanced by the use of helium balloons to lighten the actors playing moon-walking astronauts. (These and other backstage details are revealed in the "making of" featurette, along with a wealth of supplemental materials, on a bonus disc in the miniseries' DVD package.) With a fictional, Walter Cronkite-like TV reporter (Lane Smith) serving as the dramatic link for all 12 episodes, this ambitious production may not be a great work of art. But as a generous and definitive example of nonfiction drama, it's full of the same kind of awe, inspiration, and humanity that led to "one giant leap" in the all-too-short history of 20th-century space exploration.