Sometimes Hollywood gets it wrong. Sometimes rather a lot really. Sometimes we do, too. Get things wrong. Growing up, I really really really wanted to be an astronaut. I knew the history of the space program, the good and the bad, as much as we could know back then.
I probably watched this film in school during Audiovisual hour. The official “Animals in Rocket Flight” film from 1953.
I knew spaceflight would be dangerous. I knew the animals we were sending up into the atmosphere, into space, would probably die. But in dying, maybe they would help men live. In reality, I knew that men and women would still probably die.
I had read about Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov. His Soyuz 1 capsule crashed onto Russian soil in April of 1967, a scant three months after the Apollo 1 disaster. Astronauts Gus Grissom, Edward White II and Roger Chaffee had all perished during a supposedly “non-hazardous” grounded test of the command module on Jan. 27, 1967.
I heard a recording of the audio as a child, played for me by one of the most amazing teachers a young reader could ever ask for. I won’t link it here. I heard it once. I have no desire to hear it ever again. I will link to the official NASA report.
I remember the first lunar landing. The lead up to it, anyway. Apparently I fell asleep just as Neal Armstrong descended the lander ladder and uttered those famous words “Okay. Engine stop.” Later I was one of those glued to the TV during the harrowing Apollo 13 mission.
“Houston, we have a problem.”
Arguably the definitive movie on spaceflight. Let’s face it, it is very hard to find fault with anything in Ron Howard’s mega docudrama. Especially the technical details. Which is precisely why “First Man” is such an outstanding movie.
Like Apollo 13, it is a hard movie to disparage. First Man is unapologetically not about the technical details. It is a movie about people. About Neil Armstrong. It captures his life, and the lives of the people around him, leading up to and during the lunar landing. It captures us at our worst. And at our best.
Many of the audience goers remembered the seventy-three seconds and eternity that followed the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. They saw or later watched the Columbia disintegrate over Texas and Louisiana.
“You’re a bunch of boys making models out of balsa wood”
Director Damien Chazelle and screenplay writer Josh Singer manage to make those same people wince as the events in the Apollo 1 cockpit unfold. And lead Ryan Gosling channels what we all are feeling.
As strong as his performance is, and it is Saturn V booster strong, it is almost overshadowed by Claire Foy’s. Almost. She is positively amazing as Janet Armstrong.
Thank you, Hollywood.
Hooray for you. And hooray for those reaching once more for the moon, for Mars, Europa, and points beyond.
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