January 28, 2019  (Web Review)

First Man

Universal, 141 min., PG-13, DVD: $29.99, Blu-ray/DVD Combo: $34.99, 4K/Blu-ray Combo: $39.98, Jan. 22

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

Re-teaming with La La Land director Damien Chazelle, Ryan Gosling stars as enigmatic, inscrutable aeronautical engineer Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. Armstrong’s inspirational story begins in 1961, when he was an X-15 test pilot, trying to tame a tumbling plane 140,000 feet over the Mojave Desert. Returning from the stratosphere, ever-stoic Armstrong faces an even greater challenge: his daughter’s fatal brain tumor. After her death, Armstrong joins NASA’s Gemini-Apollo program, moving to Houston with his then-pregnant wife (Claire Foy) and son. During a Cape Canaveral test, Armstrong’s closest friend/colleague, Ed White (Jason Clarke), is incinerated in a cockpit fire, along with Gus Grissom and Roger Chaffee. Armstrong’s taciturn, self-effacing demeanor can be off-putting, as is the abrasive cynicism of Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll). Based on James R. Hansen’s First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong (2005), the film focuses on Apollo 11, America’s first successful manned Moon mission. Some may recall that that there was some opposition, particularly regarding the expenditures involved, voiced by Kurt Vonnegut and in Gil Scott-Heron’s poem “Whitey on the Moon,” which pitted NASA spending priorities against poverty/racial inequality. Unlike The Right Stuff, which jauntily depicted John Glenn and the Mercury astronauts, this authentic biopic is rife with astrophysical detail that helps underscore just how high the stakes truly were in NASA missions. Recommended. [Note: DVD/Blu-ray/4K extras include audio commentary by director Damien Chazelle, screenwriter Josh Singer, and editor Tom Cross, the behind-the-scenes featurettes “Putting You in the Seat” (7 min.), “Recreating the Moon Landing” (6 min.), “Giant Leap in One Small Step” (5 min.), “Shooting for the Moon” (4 min.), “Astronaut Training” (4 min.), “Preparing to Launch” (4 min.), “Mission Gone Wrong” (3 min.), and “Shooting at NASA” (3 min.), and deleted scenes (4 min.). Exclusive to the Blu-ray release are bonus DVD and digital copies of the film. Bottom line: a fine extras package for this solid bio-pic.] (S. Granger)