Sunday, October 14, 2018

"First Man"

I caught a matinee this afternoon. I've been very excited about this one, because (a) duh, aerospace engineer and life-long space geek, a movie about Neil Armstrong is like catnip and (b) the author of the original biography, James Hansen, was my history professor at Auburn, and he is an all-around great guy. 

The movie was not at all what I'd expected, which is not the same thing as saying I didn't like it. It's very claustrophobic up until the last act on the Moon (I trust there need be no spoiler warnings about the most famous event of the latter 20th Century), which seems like a strange artistic choice for a movie about space travel, but when you consider the tight confines of a cockpit or space capsule, which are vividly emphasized throughout the movie, it makes sense. 

The movie is obviously very heavily influenced by Kubrick, in visual style, tone and narrative. There's very little exposition, considering all the heavily-technical aspects of space travel, which was fine with me, but I always wonder if people who aren't immersed in the field will be able to follow it. I also don't think the script adequately captures Armstrong's quiet and extraordinary humility, but then again, that might have made for a dull movie, and this (unlike Hansen's book) is drama, not history. 

Anyway. I was particularly glad to see the (very) dramatic focus on the Gemini/Agena near-disaster, Armstrong's crashing of the LEM simulator (he actually crashed two of them), and the very-near crash-landing on the Moon itself. Entirely too few people today know anything about what a near thing Apollo and the '60's space program in general actually were, and this is a fine, and unusually accurate by Hollywood standards (I think we can thank Jim Hansen for that; he's credited a co-producer) primer on what went on behind all the "Right Stuff" gauzy portrayals. 

So check it out. I liked it, and much more importantly, Jim Hansen likes it, and Neil Armstrong himself trusted Jim. That should be more than good enough for anybody.


  1. Will, thanks for the great review. As another aero guy, I figured I'd enjoy this but wasn't sure. Also, you've made the big time with your Tyndall tweet on Instapundit. Hope you are doing well.

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