First Man is a film which I really wanted to see in 70mm IMAX scenes in full-height (1.44:1), for the lunar scenes, which is normally the preserve of 70mm screenings, such as last year’s Dunkirk. However, Vue Printworks have chosen this dumb time to ‘upgrade’ from 70mm to Laser IMAX, and while the upgrading aspect is fine, they won’t be finished until late November (provisionally) which means it’ll be too late for the ONE film this year which will show the difference!
Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), the first man on the moon, who went into the Project Gemini program (or ‘jemeny’ as they call it, here), which eventually led to his successful Apollo 11 mission, stepping on the dusty surface of that rock with those immortal words, “One small step for man. One giant leap for mankind”, and since those words sound much clearer in this film, it does sound like Gosling saying them, whereas there is original audio used during the film. I’m not sure at what point that happens but if, like me, you stay throughout the end credits, they close with various NASA communication going from one speaker to another, so do stay for that (the credits only last about 7 minutes, after all).
However, there is one major problem with this film – Ryan Gosling. I don’t know whether the reclusive Neil Armstrong usually shos less emotion than the Easter Island statues, but Mr G certainly does… unless if Neil IS in that camp, then that makes Gosling actor of the year and he should romp home with Best Actor!
In fact, since his momentous event, he’s pretty much stayed out of the public eye, while Buzz Aldrin has gone on to hawk his cheesy wares in crappy cereal adverts for Quaker Oats.
The film opens, in 1960, with Armstrong going up in the world’s first rocket-powered X-15 aircraft, and then going down a bit… and then back up… yes, it’s a rocky ride in a scene which gives us the jist of that, but only the merest jist. During that part, the camera was inside the aircraft with Gosling the whole time, and we were given no sense of what he was actually doing, so if you didn’t have prior knowledge of Armstrong’s early career, then like me, you were reduced to looking it up afterwards, or reading someone write about it in a review(!)
Along the way, we see them go through the motions (literally) of being exposed to centrifugal force, but it gets very technical at the times when you’d prefer things to be explained more in layman’s terms.
When asked by journalists what they would would take up to the moon, Buzz says he’ll take some jewellery for his wife, so she’ll get there, too. The ever-pragmatic Neil counters, “I’d take more fuel”, without a hint of sarcasm.
However, it takes 110 minutes before we actually see the moon, so it’s not as if the main event even dominates the third act. Then again, given how much the film is sold on that, you’d expect the entire second half of the movie to feature the moon, but no, it feels like they’re saying: “Hey, here comes the moon!”, then, “Hey, we’re walking on the moon!” (well, Neil does…. didn’t Buzz also do that? We didn’t see him join Neil) and then, “Hey, we’re leaving the moon!”
The atmosphere (if you’ll pardon the pun) was as flat as a pancake while this happened.
It also didn’t help that by the time we approached the grey, round thing, we were beaten down with 110 minutes of mostly overlong family drama, rather than concentrating more on the Apollo 11 mission.
First Man feels like much less of a big screen experience, and more of a soap opera drama – and one that hasn’t got enough of a story to tell for 141 minutes… or at least is mostly concentrating on the wrong things. We know that embarking on the ‘great space race’ is fraught with potential danger, but aside from those brief moments, we’re given a ton of pedestrian storytelling.
It’s just not exciting or engaging like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Interstellar, so check those out if you haven’t already, and are looking for much better examples of a great space exploration movie.
That said, it’s not a wholly unwatchable 141 minutes, but it is pretty tedious, and that is something I was NOT expecting to be saying about this film. I expect a counter-opinion will come from flag-waving Americans who whooped as they got one over on the Russians for a change.
Also, because the film concentrates mostly on Amstrong, you see other characters but you’re not made to make you think “Oh, that’s that important person”, so, for example, I had no idea that Pablo Schreiber (Den of Thieves) was playing Jim Lovell, who was more memorably played by Tom Hanks in Apollo 13.
Oh, and yes, I saw this at Vue Lowry again, despite my issues with them (see vlog below), but I have a couple of free tickets to use. The irony is that this time, the lights stayed off during the whole of the closing credits! And no staff member bumbled in to switch the big cleaning lights on. Has common sense prevailed? I doubt it. I expect it to be business as usual next time.
This is a shoe-in for Oscars, as it has the same lead/director as La La Land, which makes me wonder why this also didn’t come out in January, since Jan/Feb is the time when all those films are normally out, alongside those that are absolute turkeys.
Some further thoughts, and it’s only a couple of days after watching this, and someone has reminded me about how they don’t show the American flag being put in the ground. I didn’t think about the flag at the time, but thinking about it, that does seem odd. As I’ve mentioned with only showing Neil step on the Moon, the whole Moon segment felt more like an afterthought. Perhaps they’re saving up more moon stuff for the Blu-ray Director’s Cut(!)
Available now is the CD soundtrack
Running time: 141 minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures UK
Cinema: Vue Lowry, Salford Quays
Format: 2.39:1 (Dolby Vision, Super 16, Super 35, Techniscope), 1.44:1 (lunar sequences – IMAX Laser venues only), 1.90:1 (lunar sequences – digital IMAX)
Released: October 12th 2018
Director: Damien Chazelle
Producers: Marty Bowen, Damien Chazelle, Wyck Godfrey, Isaac Klausner
Screenplay: Josh Singer
Novel: James R Hansen
Music: Justin Hurwitz
Neil Armstrong: Ryan Gosling
Janet Armstrong: Claire Foy
Deke Slayton: Kyle Chandler
Jim Lovell: Pablo Schreiber
Buzz Aldrin: Corey Stoll
Mike Collins: Lukas Haas
Dave Scott: Christopher Abbott
Pete Conrad: Ethan Embry
Robert Gilruth: Ciarán Hinds
Edward Higgins White: Jason Clarke
Pat White: Olivia Hamilton
Chuck Yeager: Matthew Glave
Gus Grissom: Shea Whigham
Elliott See: Patrick Fugit
Himself (archive footage): Kurt Vonnegut Jr
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.