First Man reminds us how sci-fi movies distorted the idea of ​​space travel

adminOctober 18, 2018

"Because here I am sitting in a can, well above the world. The planet Earth is blue and there is nothing I can do. "
-David Bowie, "Space Oddity"

From Damien Chazelle First man He did not achieve the box office escape speed last weekend, but over time, it will be recognized as a great movie. Part of its virtue derives from being a psychological investigation of Neil Armstrong (it is a man rather than his mission) balanced with some hallucinatory sequences of interplanetary danger that express, perhaps better than any other previous film, the claustrophobic danger. of the first space voyages.

This does not mean that visiting the stars seems easy in most films, but our conception of it has moved significantly away from the truth, largely thanks to science fiction.

Take the franchise with the longest dilithium footprint: Star Trek. The USS Enterprise of the original series (1966-69) would occasionally have a submarine quality in some episodes (and again in Nicholas Meyer's 1982 film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan), but when we come to The next generation, The beige interior of the ship, the conference rooms and the planters made it look like an office building in space. With a proto-Alexa that could tell you where all your friends were (in the Holodeck, pretending to be Sherlock Holmes!) And a machine that could make the soaked Earl Gray tea appear out of nowhere, almost no rivets were noticed or pieces of metal that separate Counselor Troi and her chocolate ice cream from instant suffocation.

Yes, our heroes occasionally encounter the dangers of space vacuum (such as Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres in Traveler'S the episode of season 4 "Day of Honor", or Narada's attack on the USS Kelvin at the opening of J.J. Abrams & # 39; 2009 restart). But only in rare moments are we reminded that we are all just inches from the void of immediate death!

Flight to the space station in 2001: a space odyssey

2001: a space odyssey
Photos of Warner Bros.

Even in a damaged shuttle, the size of a mini school bus, there is always a class M planet in the system in which to land. Science fiction literature has the trope of the Big Dumb object. Huge spaceships like the Enterprise or the Discovery (2001: a space odyssey) or the Nostromo (Alien) or Star Wars' Imperial Star Destroyers or Battlestar GalacticaThe titular boat places our characters in the Big Safe object. (To the extent that no one shoots or throws acid that melts the skin, that is).

As Professor Lawrence Krauss writes in his 1995 book The physics of Star Trek, every time that Captain Picard says "participate", the G forces, even of subliminal speed, would turn it into "thick sauce" against his padded central chair. The star trek the writers occasionally slip into a reference to the "inertia buffers" that prevent such a frightful fate, but in reality, special suits are needed to keep the blood circulating from the legs of a pilot to prevent the person from fainting during the sudden accelerations.

We take a look at this a little bit during First manThe initial action sequence. When Armstrong is still a test pilot, he takes his X-15 rocket-propelled aircraft as high as he can, and then finds himself jumping through the atmosphere like a rock. This extreme altitude is filmed with a creepy lighting and a spooky silence. And we have not yet reached the space.

We all remember the grand finale of Star Wars: Episode IV – A new hope, which one recreates a fight of dogs of the second world war in the trenches of a small moon. (Oh, wait, that's not moon, it's a space station.) The X-wings of the Rebellion (and Battlestar GalacticaVipers) are agile, elegant and adaptable. Make buzzes by making the returns to your R2 unit work well for a generation of viewers created in video games. The real deal was and, unfortunately, it's still little different. With First man, Chazelle makes sure you have a tactile idea of ​​how our initial space program dismissed men like Armstrong in orbit tied to a can of tuna.

First landing sequence of the moon of man

DreamWorks Pictures / Universal Pictures

The coupling of Gemini 8 (the great sequence halfway). First man) finds a problem with "drag" or suborbital drag, or perhaps drift. If I had understood what was happening, I would have done better in AP Physics. But in IMAX, and with a good sound system, the important thing is that everything starts spinning like crazy. Instead of being traditional, clarifying broad shots, we're all in Armstrong's face, the camera shakes everywhere. Ryan Gosling is practically an abstract expressionist painter, since he coldly finds out the problem and finds solutions.

The style does two things: it reminds you that Armstrong is a rude guy (most of us would be throwing our Tang), and it gives you a stroke of existential fear. At least when it is launched at sea, there is the potential that could perhaps Survive a while with a lifeguard. The Gemini scenes really sell how crazy it is to go into space and hope to survive the simplest of problems.

It's a bit of exciting cinema, and that's why a recent essay on Variety depresses me. The critic Owen Gleiberman (who liked First man) says that the general public can not relate to a moon landing movie because their bets are too low in a post-Star Wars market.

"In 1969 [the moon] "It had a quality of astonishment, but now it had the aura of an ancient dusty prequel to the space kinetic opera we all had on our heads," Gleiberman writes. Ultimately, this is unfair to Chazelle and to the public, which I think will grow to respect this film.

In terms of emotion, little can match this year. First manThe last reel. We're glued to Ryan Gosling's face while the Eagle makes his final approach. There are beeps and squawks (what the hell is a "1202 error"?) And it booms. Buzz Aldrin sees the huge and menacing craters of the moon, but calmly feeds Armstrong the information he needs. We hear Justin Hurwitz's heartbeat of rapidly spinning scales, first a melodic line and then another that intersects, almost away from its natural conclusion. Then, the screen explodes to fill the entire IMAX picture and Armstrong redeems his emotional arc with a nice symbolic gesture.

Gleiberman is right that some extra work is needed to convince modern audiences that going to the moon was a daring adventure. And maybe First manThe marketing department zigged where I should have zagged. But from an artistic point of view, and for giving us a jolt with respect to how we think of space travel, is the mission accomplished.

Jordan Hoffman is a writer and a member of the New York Film Critics Circle. His work can be read in The Guardian, New York Daily News, Vanity Fair, Thrillist and elsewhere.

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