review: a funny thing happened on the way
  to the moon
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Conspiracy theorist Bart Sibrel's principal work is his original film entitled A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Moon. Recalling the the Sondheim stage classic of similar name involving a tangled web of deception, the film is built around a clip of videotape allegedly proving that the Apollo astronauts never left Earth orbit, and therefore had to fake their telecasts showing the distant Earth in the window.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Moon can be ordered from Bart Sibrel's web site,, or from

But that's at the end of the 46-minute film. Before we're treated to a few carefully-selected snippets from Sibrel's claimed hour of telltale "backstage" NASA footage, we must sit through all his Bible-thumping, his blatantly emotional rhetoric, some irrelevant allusions to other conspiracy theories, and ham-fisted attempts at historical analysis and scientific criticism. Normally a smoking gun doesn't require half an hour of intense emotional setup; it usually speaks for itself.

To make matters worse, the film is so liberally endowed with Mr. Sibrel's personal interpretations that little room is left for the viewer to draw any other conclusion. A Funny Thing treats its baseless claims as if they were foregone conclusions and repeats them as often as possible. Little wonder that Sibrel can claim 75% of the people who watch his video believe it.

While many conspiracy theories try to rewrite history, A Funny Thing elegantly ignores it. Historians of the space program find it difficult to write about Apollo without also writing a little about Mercury and a lot about Gemini. Bart Sibrel spends five seconds on the former and doesn't mention the latter at all. It's not surprising then that Apollo comes across in his treatment as a miraculously successful program that just sprung out of nowhere. It's easy to call something suspiciously successful if you just don't bother to investigate how it was done.

Below and on the following pages we present a detailed review and rebuttal to A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Moon.

The film begins not with one or two, but with three quotations from the Holy Bible and the Sunday School story of fallen angels and wars in heaven. This slides smoothly into scenes of modern-day nuclear brimstone and war on earth, which the narrator suggests is inevitable to the human condition. Consistent with Mr. Sibrel's conservative and outspoken Christian views, humankind is portrayed as depraved and arrogant in the face of God.

The Tower of Babel portended the loss of RMS Titanic, billed as the ship "God himself could not sink."

Fig. 1 -RMS Olympic, the White Star liner and sister ship of Titanic that God forgot to smite, shortly before her retirement in 1935.
Fig. 2 -Titanic sister ship RMS Britannic in her hospital livery before being sunk mysteriously.

And here we run up against Mr. Sibrel's first arguable allegation of fact. Although widely attributed after the tragedy to White Star Line owner J. Bruce Ismay, that defiant statement is one of many urban legends surrounding the loss of the famous ship. And although the liner was billed by some third parties as "practically unsinkable" and "virtually unsinkable", the Line never advertised Titanic that way. Those qualifiers -- "practically" and "virtually" -- are important. The public naturally forgot them. But they leave room for such things as acts of God and thus rob Sibrel of the hubris he intends to pin upon them.

Mr. Sibrel similarly ignores the dissimilar and ironic fates of Titanic's two nearly-identical sister ships, Olympic (Fig. 1, built before Titanic) and Britannic (Fig. 2, built to replace Titanic). Olympic served a long and illustrious career as the flagship of the White Star Line -- starting even before Titanic -- until she was retired in 1935, all without being smitten by God. She was so like her doomed sister that films of Olympic are still often shown to the public as Titanic footage. Britannic, on the other hand, was serving as a hospital ship in 1916 when she mysteriously exploded and sank. If God smote Titanic for the (disavowed) arrogance of her builders, why not also Olympic? And why, apparently, did God smite Britannic on her errand of Christian mercy? The film portrays this loss as ironic justice, but the only irony is in Sibrel's highly selective view of history and his arbitrary interpretation of it.

The Soviets had five times more hours in space than the U.S.

No doubt this was true at some point, but Sibrel neglects to mention when and for how long. Because the film relies on the unsupported contention that there was no hope for the U.S. to catch up to the Soviets, Sibrel doesn't want the reader to know that nearly a decade elapsed between this 5-to-1 advantage and the Apollo landings.

Neither an early interview with Wernher von Braun nor a statement from John F. Kennedy supports Sibrel's skepticism that the gap could not be closed. Yet the film from this point on takes it as a given that the U.S., once behind, would always be behind. The witnesses are upbeat and optimistic, but Sibrel sees only inevitable failure.

Von Braun said, "Only the future will tell." His future is our past; we can see what the future held. According to the recorded figures by early 1969 the Soviets' five-to-one advantage had been soundly reversed to a three-to-one shortfall. Simply put, the Soviets fumbled. But all Sibrel's viewers see of this is a brief reference to a last-ditch Soviet effort to retrieve a moon rock using an unmanned probe, after abandoning their plans for a manned lunar landing. They hear nothing of the stepping-stones in Project Gemini, nor the early Apollo qualification flights. They hear only instead that the U.S. suddenly and suspiciously landed on the moon.


The length to which A Funny Thing goes to distract its viewer from real history is much longer than its three-minute montage of rocket crashes, almost none of them related in any way to NASA. Instead of a statistical analysis of failure rates or anything else that might help the viewer objectively understand just how successful NASA rockets were, the viewer gets only 1950s Air Force fireballs accompanied by Dinah Washington's "Destination Moon". And the emotionalism picks up again for two and half minutes as scenes from Apollo 11's launch are intercut with shots of starving children and war atrocities underscored with somber music. Such obtrusive emotional manipulation should make the savvy viewer wonder what he's being distracted from.

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