Hey C-movies fans! Sorry for the delay in posts. I’ve been rearing a child and it turns out that some of you actually read this thing, so I’ll try to be more consistent!
Let’s dive into the latest flick I saw in the theater, First Man. Hollywood has punched out more space movies in the last few years than Brett Kavanaugh punched out women at Yale, so you would understand if movie goers have a bit of space fatigue as of late. By nature, and because I’m super smart and science was my true calling (not really – my toddler has a better understanding of physics than me), I have an abundant interest in space and space exploration. Where did we come from? What is out there in the vast universe for us to discover – what’s BEYOND the universe? Why haven’t the Vikings won a Super Bowl in this version of our universe? Do my friends actually respect me in another dimension? Because of these questions, I am captivated by movies and books about the final frontier and what we’re doing to explore it. That last sentence isn’t really true. I’ve only read one book about space written by Stephen Hawking and didn’t really understand it. It might as well been written in Mandarin. Because of this, I tend to rely on film for my knowledge about space, which probably isn’t smart, but I digress. 8th grade science was actually fun for me when we studied the solar system and I thoroughly enjoyed Astronomy 101 at the prestigious Minnesota State – Mankato. Plus, I follow Neil deGrasse Tyson on twitter and watched his fantastic 10 part documentary, Cosmos. If you haven’t seen Cosmos, you’re forgiven, but you’re not taking your space knowledge serious enough and I hate you.
Anyway, as stated above, the world of film has recently given us the likes of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, Matt Damon’s The Martian, Jennifer Lawrence’s Passengers, and Gravity, starring a talented yet unattractive Sandra Bullock. Interstellar gave us insight into why one day we may need to leave our planet and why space-exploration beyond our solar system may be inevitable, mainly because Trump thinks Climate Change is as real at Batman. The Martian gave us an interesting ride about the first planet that Earthlings may surface, and Matt Damon is cute. And Sandra Bullock gave us, well, a too dependent CGI driven space survivor story. Gravity was like watching a dick go limp for me outside of the special effects, but it did give us some insight into how dangerous and desolate space can be. So, with all of these recent space movies, how was First Man going to stand out? What’s the differentiator here?
The good news is that it WAS different. Rather than take us to a futuristic world, say from Passengers, where the characters are set in a space-sleeper ship traveling 120 years to a new planet, we go backwards. We’re dropped into the early 1960s before man has even learned to orbit (note – the Russians actually achieved first orbit in 1961 by fueling their spaceships with vodka). What First Man does is set the stage to all the aforementioned flicks and for the first time in recent film, asks why? Why was space travel important at its conception? It also shows us the barriers that the government, NASA and its fearless astronauts faced from the general public. Why spend valuable tax payer dollars on something as ‘stupid’ as landing on the moon? How many lives must be sacrificed before we give up on this ridiculous notion? Will getting to the moon help Buxton and Sano realize their potential in 2019? Solve balding issues for many of my 36-year-old friends? No, probably not. But without our fearless pioneers Neil Armstrong and the rest of the NASA crew, we wouldn’t have taken that first giant leap for mankind. Neil Armstrong’s personal answer to the question of ‘why,’ when being interviewed by NASA? He explains that “leaving the planet, and seeing how the thin the atmosphere is all that is protecting us, seeing it with one’s own eyes, gives a different perspective to how fragile human life is.” That’s good enough for me!
With that said, the dilemma with already knowing the ending to this film – part of me wanted the Millennium Falcon to shoot Apollo 11 out of the sky before orbiting the moon – is we already know the moon landing was a success. Well, unless you’re a conspiracy believer and are certain the moon landing was filmed on a sound stage in London directed by Stanley Kubrick. But because we know the moon landing was successful, what can keep us engaged? Well, an unfortunate family catastrophe and some serious claustrophobic scenes certainly keeps the viewer locked in, and then some. Before First Man, I never knew Neil Armstrong had a daughter that died of a brain tumor at the young age of two. As a father to a daughter, I’m glad I can’t empathize with the pain Ryan Gosling (who plays Armstrong) is carrying throughout the entire film. It gives us a deeper understanding of his motivation, and why doing something so extraordinary can be originated from such a tragic event. It makes you feel for the characters, especially Armstrong’s wife, who has already lost a daughter, and is forever in fear of losing her husband in a fiery space explosion. This all sets the stage for a rewarding finale on the moon with Armstrong by his lonesome (I won’t ruin what this is).
In addition to helping us identify with the characters, Damien Chazelle (Director) gives us some insane space sequences. The genius with these scenes, and what makes it unlike other recent space scenes, is that most of these scenes are shot from inside the space shuttles or rovers. We’re given a taste of what it’s like to be sitting horizontally in a cockpit which sits upon 203,000 gallons of jet fuel before hitting 24,000 miles per hour in less than 20 seconds. I’d pass out harder from those G-forces than I did at my 21st birthday. Also, you can hear the screws and metal shaking from inside a shuttle that had less technology than a TI-85 calculator from 1990. It’s an unnerving feeling, as we begin to relate to a time when space travel was in its infancy and simply going beyond our atmosphere was not the standard practice that it is today. As a viewer, you now know the danger Neil Armstrong was in and the courage it took to be the First Man.
So, in the end, should you see it? As my buddy Nate pointed out, it’s not nearly as realistic as Armageddon, but it’s pretty damn good.