Looking Up: Neil Armstrong at the movies

I took the opportunity to see the movie “First Man” this past week, a film that focuses on Neil Armstrong and the first moon landing. It’s based on a meticulously researched biography by James R. Hansen called “First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong” and I really feel like you can tell the nonfiction nature of the base; there do not seem to be a lot of Hollywood liberties taken with the film.

The movie takes place over the span of 1962-1969, hitting all the highlights of the space race at lightning speed. It does a great job with this honest coverage, but it also means the movie skips around quite a bit as it zooms across the years, which can be a little disjointing.

Another aspect of the movie that’s a bit disconcerting is the bumpy camera. This effect has been used to great success to make people feel like they’re right there in the movie, but at times it made things unclear and difficult to see.

But at other times, it was used to magnificent effect for that exact reason. There’s one particular scene where Armstrong is in a capsule in space, trying to locate an object visually out the window. The camera stared out into space long enough to make me as a viewer squint to try to make out if there was something there, just as the astronauts were doing.

The space portions of the movie were absolutely gorgeous. You definitely feel like you’re out there flying over the moon, especially if you shell out for the IMAX version. I read one review that joked about how those who insist the moon landing was faked could hold up this movie as an example of how it could be done.

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Hopefully, given the historical aspect of this movie, you won’t consider it too bad of a spoiler if I mention that they do successfully land on the moon in the end.

The moon exploration portion is made all the more dramatic by the silence of it; it’s broken by some beeping and occasional words by the astronauts, such as Armstrong’s famous “That’s one small step for a man.” But we actually get to hear the entirety his words, starting with Armstrong climbing down the ladder and describing the appearance of the lunar soil.

How accurate is this move? Pretty. For the actual missions, it’s easy to confirm word for word what was said by the astronauts and mission control, as recordings of them still survive today. Buzz Aldrin is apparently pretty outspoken in real life too, according to many who have met him. And much like the other famous mission to the moon movie, “Apollo 13,” the truth is dramatic enough.

I wouldn’t go comparing “First Man” to “Apollo 13” too much, though. The latter movie had a lot more of the typical Hollywood excitement and drama; while “First Man” has some of that, a lot of it seems similar to the portrayal of Armstrong himself as the strong and silent type. There’s a lot of personal emotion in the movie, a lot done with glances and lip quirks.

Armstrong’s two sons, who advised on the film were extremely complementary about the level of detail and the great lengths the movie went to get everything right. Everything that was changed was changed for a reason, and was recorded by Hansen, to be published in an annotated script of the film.

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I’d recommend this movie for NASA history buffs, for sure, and for those who want a tiny bit of that feeling those astronauts get when they’re out there flying over the moon. I wouldn’t say that this is a great action entertainment film, for those thinking it’s another “Apollo 13,” but it was definitely enjoyable to me.

LOOKING UP THIS WEEK — Jupiter will be low in the southwest sky, with Mars in the south, and Saturn right between the two. The moon is currently a waning gibbous and will be third quarter on Halloween.


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