Movie Review: First Man

First Man follows Neil Armstrong from 1961 to 1969 on his journey to be the first man to step on the moon.

We are in the space capsule with Armstrong and his fellow astronauts as they are launched, and we are in the homes and at backyard BBQs of the men and women in the early space program.

In the media, and in our nostalgic memories, we think of going into space as a romantic endeavor. Watching First Man changes this, as we witness the tremendous forces acting on the fragile human body as it is strapped into a couch on top of a gigantic rocket. We see the fear and the emotional and physical stress in the eyes of the astronauts as they embark on missions where a million moving parts have to hold together, and a million sequences of events have to work perfectly, over a period of many days, and where any failure of any type results in catastrophe – and death of the astronauts.

Armstrong was a cool dude who did not get rattled, either by a crash during a test flight of his experimental craft from which he bailed out literally a fraction of a second before it exploded, nor by the fury and agony of his wife who chastises him when he does not want to face his boys before leaving on his historic journey. History has shown that Armstrong’s steel nerves and calm under pressure made the mission successful.

I was a twelve-year-old boy who was allowed to stay up all night on July 20, 1969. Armstrong stepped onto the moon in the wee hours of the morning local time in Germany. And I remember being in awe, and being inspired, and looking forward to a life where I knew I would eventually be able to travel to the moon as tourist and visit the Apollo-11 landing site as a historic museum exhibit. It is now over 49 years later, and I realize that I had no idea that the Apollo landings would not just be the first landings on the moon, but  possibly also the last ones – in my lifetime.

I enjoyed First Man a lot. I have come criticisms. This is a movie review, after all:

I liked the flying and technical scenes, and I didn’t care too much about all the stuff at home and in the back yard. The acting was okay, but didn’t blow me away.

We saw a lot of footage of shake, rattle and roll, first in 1961 when Armstrong did a test flight in an X-15 where he literally skipped outside of the atmosphere by accident, then during the Gemini launch, then when the capsule went into an uncontrolled roll, and finally, when Apollo-11 launched. There was too much footage of launches from the point of view of the astronauts, but no re-entries, no landings, no recovery on the water, all the good stuff. The missions jumped forward days at a time skipping sequences that would have been interesting to me. There wasn’t a single shot of the large, looming moon during the journey there, nor any expression of awe by the journeyers. The real action that I was there to see went by too fast.

We caught glimpses of the life of Neil Armstrong and his family, but we didn’t get a good enough look at the space program, and that’s what I went to see when I bought the ticket for First Man. It was a long movie, at 138 minutes, and those minutes could have been used more effectively.

That being said, I am glad I went.

5 thoughts on “Movie Review: First Man

  1. For my book, The Pocket Lint Chronicles, I researched the moon landing. I also corresponded with NASA man who looked after all the material from the moon.

    I asked him about “lint” (moon dust) in astronauts “pockets” (pouches) and thought for the book I’d add Armstrong’s descent onto the moon. They first spent the “night” in the capsule (after doing the dishes) and stepped out in the morning. The first thing Buzz did his space suit on the moon was pee — charming.

    Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth by Andrew Smith.

    Along with Smith, I re-lived (even when we knew the outcome) the breathless minutes of the so-nearly-catastrophic first fragile landing set-down, saved at the last ten seconds of fuel by the heart-racing (150 bpm), but cool-headed, hands-on piloting of Neil Armstrong, Jr. and why it took so long to emerge…and that Armstrong swore for years (then gave up) that he DID say “one small step for
    A man….”

    The phrase one small step for man (without the A, or THIS man) makes no sense because MAN and MANKIND are equivalent.

    The book was full of details like this: Aldrin revealed that the condoms they used for collecting urine were a source of great anguish as “our legs weren’t the only things that atrophied in space.”

    Author Smith eventually sees Armstrong’s unwillingness to tell us what it was really like standing for 14 minutes on the moon — alone — as unABLEness, or, as Armstrong’s original “childish wonder” — far from being an impediment to understanding Apollo — had been the whole point of it and that perhaps it should be the point of more things, more often.

    From your review, it seems the movie missed the awe and joy of such an inspiring feat of mankind, being united on that wonderful night. It brings me to tears that the short-sighted, mean little “man” now in power is ripping the possibility of such a thing happening again to shreds, but we must rally…

  2. Ah, Barbara, you’re full of surprises.

    First, I didn’t know you were an author. I am sure you told me many years ago at first, but I must have spaced that out since. I just checked if I could buy your book on Kindle, but only found a paperback at $53…

    Then, your interest in the space program. I didn’t realize that you had a keen interest in that. And your comments made me realize that rather than finding the satisfaction of the experience in a movie, I should get some of these books. I just ordered Smith’s book and will start reading as soon as I am done with the one I am currently working on.

    Yes, the movie did not give the awe of the experience I was waiting for. Not whatsoever. Not even a trace of it.

    But a good movie nonetheless. I think you’d enjoy watching it.

  3. My partner and I have stopped going to movies. Instead we pay $$$$/mo for HBO and the movie channels. Figure we come out waaay ahead.

    And that you ordered the Smith book. You’ll love it.

    I am thrilled you found my book (originally in paperback) on-line for $53 US. wow
    I had 400 printed and have sold 360 of them — 40 left. So, if you do want one, I charge $35 US + shipping. It’s 450 pages and a laugh or arcane fact or illustration on every page.

    Pocket lint took me from macro to micro — it’s how stars are formed…just like lint in a pocket forms into “balls”. I was also given a day & technician to find creatures (or whatever) in “captures” pocket lint by a Scanning Electron Microscope. Everybody wanted to contribute — first their pocket lint — and then some expertise. It was a great 2.5 years. Hundreds of hilarious stories — who would have thought?

    The index is 13 pages long and includes everything from Abraham Lincoln to Jesus. It took 600 pieces, BTW, exactly, to fill the ex-paperclip box.

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