My review of “First Man”

Taking a break from writing about advertising, I’d like to share my thoughts on the new movie “First Man,” which I saw today in IMAX.
The 1969 moon landing was a big deal when I was growing up. I was 9 years old at the time, and it filled me with inspiration and awe. I used to have a book about it, with pictures from the moon, that described the whole journey. It was probably one of those Scholastic books you could buy at school. I don’t know what happened to it, but back then, I read it over and over, and pored over those pictures. I can still see it in my mind.
At the time, there really wasn’t as much hype as you would expect these days about the man who actually first stepped on the moon, Neil Armstrong. We all knew his name, but we really didn’t know much more about him than that. If something happened today like that, he’d not only be all over the news and talk shows, he’d be pressed into political office, or some kind of big wheel in business. But as I recall, Neil Armstrong pretty much faded from view after the moon landing.
He never went on another space mission, and instead became an engineering professor. He did help NASA with investigations into the Apollo 13 problems and the Challenger disaster. He joined Sir Edmund Hillary on an expedition to the North Pole, but kept it completely out of the media.
He was a pretty boring guy.
That sounds contradictory; I mean, this is the guy who first walked on the moon. He would be fascinating to talk to. If, of course, you could get him to talk to you.
He was an engineer as well as a pilot, and he was more of a techie than a hotshot. So in a sense, he was your stereotypical engineer: more attracted to a good technical problem (or solution) than human interaction.
And that’s where I’ll get back to the movie. Before I went, I checked the reviews. The professional critics gave it high marks, but the moviegoers averaged middling ratings. When I looked further into that, it seemed like people either loved it or hated it. Many of the low raters said it was a boring movie.
In my experience, when people are split like that, it often means they had different expectations. And I have to say, the commercials certainly fed the expectation that the movie was all about the space mission, and had exciting scenes of problems in space. Those were certainly in the movie (actually more tension in the Gemini 8 scenes than Apollo 11), but that wasn’t what the movie was about.
It was about the “First Man,” as the title suggests. About the man, Neil Armstrong. And unlike the typical Hollywood treatment, it showed him as he was. Boring. Unemotional. When he gets told he’s been chosen for the Gemini program, he just tells article_full401xhis wife, played by the wonderful Claire Foy, “I got it.” And they grasp hands. That’s it.  Even his wife was fairly unemotional (except for one scene, where she has to demand he talk to his sons before leaving for the moon).
As far as I know, they nailed the character. Ryan Gosling played him well. I find it refreshing to see a movie that doesn’t try to make a historical figure more exciting than he was.
Oh, and as for that micro-controversy about not showing the flag planting, that was really stupid. The movie isn’t anti-American at all, and they do show the flag on the moon. It’s just that the movie wasn’t just about the moon landing, and had very little about actually walking on the moon.
Overall, I really liked the movie. They didn’t have to enhance the exciting scenes to make you excited (at least if you were into the moon landing as much as I am). The IMAX version truly did enhance the movie; I’m glad I paid extra for that.
The one complaint I would make is that they used the “shaky cam” style too much. It’s OK when a rocket is shaking with thrust and you’re showing how the astronauts can’t see their gauges because they’re shaking too much, but when it’s just people on Earth and their faces are bouncing around the screen (especially a huge IMAX screen), it’s just plain annoying.
By the way, fun fact: current rocket launches use a clever trick so the astronauts can see shaking readouts during launch: they flicker the displays on and off in synch with the vibrations, so the image appears in one place. You can read more about that here.
So, bottom line: if you are into NASA and astronauts and space missions, and you understand engineers, you will probably love this movie. If you want the typical Hollywood-enhanced thriller, this probably isn’t for you.
Have you seen it? Leave a comment and let me know what you thought of the movie.

Author: RickAAllenSF

Semi-retired engineer, now a SF author. Recently moved to Colorado Springs, where I work in front of a window looking out at Pikes Peak.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: