After getting all musical with “Whiplash” and “La La Land,” Oscar winning director Damien Chazelle now travels into outer space with “First Man.” Based on the book of the same name by James R. Hansen, it stars Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong, the first man ever to set foot on the moon, and it depicts the years leading up to his mission aboard Apollo 11. With this movie, Chazelle appears to be stepping outside his comfort zone as “First Man” does not look at all like a musical, and it represents his first directorial effort where he is working from a screenplay he did not write.
From the outset, this trailer looks amazing as the visuals it shows us are stunning, and this makes me believe the filmmakers really did their research here as this is not a story you can portray without any realism. Seeing Armstrong travel into the atmosphere and beyond is exhilarating, and the moment where the hatch is closed on the Apollo 11 capsule as the crew are left alone in darkness with only their thoughts and the sound of their own breathing is enough to illustrate their isolation. While those who watched breathlessly on July 20, 1969 when Armstrong made that “one small step for man” and felt very much a part of this amazing mission, I imagine he felt like one of the loneliest people in the universe even with the eyes of the world on him.
At the same time, I wonder how “First Man” will compare to other films which have captured an astronaut’s journey into outer space in unforgettable ways. The first film which comes to my mind is Ron Howard’s “Apollo 13,” still his best work to date. Howard took the events of this particular space mission which we all knew the outcome of, and he turned it into a most riveting cinematic experience that had me on the edge of my seat throughout. Furthermore, Howard filmed his actors working in a reduced gravity aircraft to realistically depict the weightlessness astronauts experience in outer space. Did Chazelle do the same? Well, we will eventually find out.
Then there is “The Right Stuff,” Philip Kaufman’s cinematic adaptation of the late Tom Wolfe’s non-fiction novel about the test pilots chosen to be part of Project Mercury, the first manned spaceflight in America. I still have vivid memories of seeing this movie as a kid when it came out back in 1983, and the scene where the capsule containing John Glenn (played by Ed Harris) descended into the atmosphere like a meteor remains forever burned into my consciousness. Can Chazelle match the attention Kaufman paid to even smallest historical details?
And let us never forget Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity” in which he made us see the real perils of being in outer space to where James Cameron had to admit someone made a truly realistic film on this subject before he did. For those who watched this Oscar-winning film and remembered its opening titles which exposed us to certain facts about outer space, we could not walk out of the theater and say we did not know what it is like to be up there.
So, while this trailer shows us how “First Man” looks to be very promising, I wonder if can stand up to those three movies as each set the bar high for filmmakers in capturing the reality of outer space and space travel. Well, we will all find out if it does when it is released on October 12, 2018.
Please check out the trailer below.