Yesterday, I was able to see First Man at the IMAX theatre in Jordan’s Furniture in Reading, and wow.
Now, I know that this is a movie and that this blog is about writing, so let me direct you to my post: The Space Blog. I kind of love space a lot, and it shows up in small forms in pretty much all of my writing, so I thought it only fitting to include a review for this movie on my blog, particularly because I’ve been so amped about it’s release. As a preface, I have not yet read Neil Armstrong’s biography, though I do plan on it within the next year. This review is going to be broken down into a few different pieces: what I loved/didn’t love, cinematography, the soundtrack, casting, accuracy, and my overall thoughts. Credit for all gifs used will be linked at the bottom. Here we go!
What I Loved:
A lot. This blew my expectations out of the park. I really tried to go into it without my hopes too high just in case, but right from that first scene, I knew this was going to be good. Throughout this review, I’ll kind of talk to different points of what I liked, so here are some of my highlights:
- The beginning! I loved that it started with Neil in a plane, and that barely five minutes in we get to see his reaction to looking down at the Earth.
- How quiet and reserved Ryan was; it was a perfect portrayal of Neil, and it really spoke volumes of what he was feeling on the inside, but wasn’t able to outwardly express.
- So many astronauts! There aren’t as many named as I might have liked, and we don’t get a lot of explanation for who some of them are (Deke, Jim, Pete, and Gus mainly), but we do get a heck ton more than I was expecting. I mean, Elliott See? My dudes, there was no chance I thought we were going that far back.
- The continued narrative of Neil & Karen. I was so pleased they didn’t just let it go, and that they actually continued it all the way until the end, which, really, makes more sense.
- The accuracy! Which is a point below, so I’ll leave it at that.
- The docking with the Aegena was not only not played down, it was terrifying. That was probably the most stressful part of the film for me, especially because I’ve only ever read about it in reference, not as an actual thing that the moment is focused on. Ryan played it so well, and it was especially poignant because of the training they showed on that awful spinning device.
- Just so many things. I really enjoyed this movie. I’m so happy that it got made, and I got to see it, and that it was well done.
What I Disliked:
There was really only one thing in the entire movie that I disliked, and if you know me in real life, you’re probably not surprised about what it is: Mike Collins. Toward the beginning of the year, I read Mike’s biography and then taught a yoga class where our savasana contained a small story from his amazing life. After class, every single student said they’d never even heard of him before, that it hadn’t occurred to them that there had to be a third person that went to the moon on Apollo 11. That said, I was really hopeful that First Man would include a fair amount of screen time about Mike; at least the same as what Buzz would get. All three of those incredible men went to the moon, and though Mike didn’t actually walk on it, they wouldn’t have gotten there or gotten home without him, and I was left really disappointed by the amount of screen time he got. I feel like we really got to know Buzz, and even my mom said afterward that she didn’t understand why control of the Apollo craft was handed over to Mike after they left the Earth’s orbit. He kind of felt like a throwaway character in this, someone we weren’t meant to care deeply about, and that’s a bummer. He was a truly cool individual, and I would have really enjoyed getting to see more of him.
Okay, first things first—-the piece of cinematography that I enjoyed most in this movie was not the moon landing, but something very beautiful that happened with every flight. Every time Neil was flying, he would look out the window and watch the sky turn from cloudy to light blue to dark blue to black. Every single time. By the time the Apollo 11 flight was happening, I was actively waiting for it, and I so enjoyed that repetition in watching the sky change because so many astronauts talk about it. It was also super cool (!!!) to see the fire through the window when the stages of the Saturn V rocket detached because (!!!) it’s a thing every astronaut I’ve read about mentions in their biographies; they say it looks like a really neat, unexpected lightshow happening outside their window. The (!!!) is because I’m honestly so excited that that happened, and I totally did not expect it.
I also love, love, loved the way the flights were filmed. In so many space movies, we get these really smooth, really well done, beautiful shots, and that’s just so not realistic? But this movie (and you’ll see this more in my overall thoughts) decided that rather than dramatizing it in a Hollywood fashion, they were just going to use the drama that was already there. All of the flights are a little blurry, contain very fast and hard to discern camera work, difficult to understand dialogue beneath the rocket sounds, and are just generally rather scary and overwhelming to watch. And! The only time we actually see a launch outside of the cockpit is for Apollo 11, but even that cuts very briefly to the fire and the rocket launching back to the crew looking like they’re about to shake apart.
And then there’s the moon landing. Every single shot of Neil walking on the moon was fantastic, but my favorite was definitely the long-awaited shot of him turning around to find the Earth. Just every moment where we’re above the Earth, every time we get to see Neil’s face of awe looking at the Earth from above, is gorgeous.
Thus far, I’ve only listened to it once (working on a second time now) outside of the movie, but even before that, I was really impressed with it. After, I’m even more impressed because I didn’t realize that some of the rocket sounds were actually going to make it into the soundtrack. Not a lot, but some of that wailing is snuck in there. I like how the soundtrack fit around the natural sounds of space flight, as well. It wasn’t overdone. It was really subtle at times, lending more toward what was actually happening in the rockets rather than amping it up with this wild music. The Apollo 11 launch music was fantastic, though, and I kept feeling this big swelling of emotion through my shoulders and chest. It was gentle, subtle, and overall very fitting and well done.
Oh man. Right from the announcement, I was excited about the prospect of Ryan Gosling playing Neil Armstrong. He kind of looks like him, and he’s got that all American boy look to him that fits. He’s also got that quiet demeanor that Neil has, and I just had high hopes for his portrayal, and he went above and beyond any expectations. He was a fantastic choice for Neil, and I thought he really captured him well. I was also very pleased with Buzz & Mike’s actors. I thought they looked like them, carried their personas well, and generally made me happy anytime they were onscreen. I would have liked to have known or at least been able to see some of the other astronauts’ names, but for the amount that we got, I’m happy.
Okay! Guys! Again, this will be detailed more in my overall thoughts, but WOW! This was so well done. Look at those suits! Look at them! They’re so good! My dad leaned over when this scene happened and asked if they were accurate, and I just excitedly pulled up my sleeve like YES LOOK IT MATCHES! For those of you wondering, this is my forever friend below. Everything was so, so well done. Like I said at the beginning, I haven’t read Neil’s biography yet, so I can’t really talk to the accuracy of his story, but what I can talk to is the accuracy of everything else. What really did it for me was being able to see the docking with the Aegena. I just? Never expected to see that, and to see it done so well. There were so many pieces of this movie that I thought they would just gloss over, but they included all of the important parts of going from NASA accepting astronauts to landing on the moon. It wasn’t just oh Neil’s an astronaut now here he does some flying and yay we’re on the moon. No, they took time to explain the Gemini program, included the Apollo 1 fire and gave it its own specific (and lengthy) screen time, even touched briefly on the Apollo 10 success, and then gave us Apollo 11. So much was in this, and all of it was so well done! The Saturn V rocket was perfect even down to the boosters & stages detaching and the O rings! Like! We literally saw some of the O rings, what. The details, man. That’s what got me.
Yes, the suits were perfect and the lunar module was well done, but it was the details that made this so good. Down to the yellow rubber shoes on their boots and SOMEONE ACTUALLY SAID YAW (!!!) and just ugh this was good.
Alright, I’ve mentioned a few times that I’m going to talk about something here, and that’s that this movie was not Hollywoodized. Have you ever gone to a movie based on real life, and it’s just the most obnoxious thing in the world because they’ve taken all these liberties and made it super dramatic and not included the nitty gritty bits? Not so with this movie. This was more like a documentary than a dramatized film, and it was fantastic. It was exactly what I wanted and never thought I’d possibly get. I’m so happy.
And here’s the thing. Space flight is already dramatic. The Apollo program was full of death and danger and injury and sorrow—-we don’t need anything extra added. Perhaps one of my favorite moments of this, too, was the Apollo 1 fire. They spent a decent amount of time with the Apollo 1 crew, with them hanging out in the cockpit, and then did not downplay or overplay what happened at all. Man, even right down to Ed reaching for the hatch.
This was a really excellent film. It was very intense, right from the beginning, and it was a little overwhelming at times, but it was amazingly done. If you’re interested in space or even just in Neil or heck if you like Ryan Gosling, go see this movie. You’ll learn a lot, and you’ll also be fortunate enough to see something honest, raw, and inspiring.
Credit for gifs: Neil on the moon, astronauts begin training, Eagle landing on the moon, view of the Saturn V rocket, Neil in helmet, Neil & Buzz & Mike arrive, meeting with the Aegena
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