REVIEW: First Man
We’ve become accustomed to movies about American heroes to have grand moments that catch our breath, make our pulses race, and bring forth an audible cheer throughout the auditorium. So, when we’re presented with a film about a grand achievement that is fairly level in its intensity regardless of human or heroic moment, we’re somewhat nonplussed.
Damien Chazelle put heart and soul into La La Land and followed it with this past fall’s First Man, an intimate look at Neil Armstrong who went from test pilot to the first man on the moon. The real Armstrong, who died in 2012, was famously private, almost taciturn. He was unflappable whether he was watching his daughter die from a brain tumor to rescuing his family from a house fire (in a deleted scene) to crashing a test model of the lunar lander. It was those qualities that made him a standout in a field of brash, crew-cutted astronauts and why NASA easily chose him to command Apollo 11.
The movie, out today from Universal Home Entertainment, fills in a lot of information about Armstrong (Ryan Goslnig), his wife Janet (Claire Foy), and the NASA family, demonstrating there was a plan and little would derail it. Armstrong apparently bottled everything up, pouring himself into his work rather than express his emotions to anyone, even his wife, who wrestled with the relocation and requirements of being an astronaut’s wife. There’s a telling scene where she has to force him to sit their two young sons down and talk about the moon mission and the possibility he might not return.
The pacing and approach to the story matches Armstrong’s personality but robs you of the feeling of exhilaration I recall when I watched the grainy television broadcast on July 20, 1969. Yu want to cheer out loud but find yourself holding your breath. This even-handedness may be why the film failed to connect with audiences and prove a box office disappointment despite the story and stellar cast.
Writer Josh Singer tells the story in a series of snippets and scenes that don’t appear to connect but before you know it, you fele something for the friendship between Armstrong and Ed White (Jason Clarke) so perhaps the most emotional moment in the film is watching Armstrong receive the news of White’s death while testing Apollo 1.
Chazelle does a terrific job recreating NASA, the astronaut neighborhoods, and the grueling testing that had to happen prior to flying into space. The 1960s is well recreated and adds much to the overall feel of the film.
It’s a worthy story with some heart and soul but in need of adrenaline.
The film comes in the usual assortment of combinations including the Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD edition being reviewed. The 1080p transfer nicely captures the look and feel, the colors and textures of the film’s subject. There an equally strong Dolby Atmos track that captures all the nuance.
The Blu-ray comes with an assortment of features that adequately serve the film but could have been stronger. First up are the Deleted Scenes: Included are House Fire (3:37) and Apollo 8 Launch (0:37); Shooting for the Moon (3:40) with Chazelle talking about why he chose the film; Preparing to Launch (3:39), routine background on the making of the film; Giant Leap in One Small Step (4:31), all about Armstrong; Mission Gone Wrong (2:42), exploring the stunts; Putting You in the Seat (7:09), looking at the production design; Recreating the Moon Landing (6:01); Shooting at NASA (3:11); Astronaut Training (4:02); and, finally, Audio Commentary with Chazelle, Singer, and Editor Tim Cross, which offers some good insights to their thinking during production.