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Todd Herman

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‘First Man’ returns a sense of wonder about space travel

“First Man” returns that sense of wonder, an excitement of space travel, that puts you on the edge of your seat. I give this film 3.5 out of 4 stars.

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The film is gripping to watch. It places you right there. I loved it. The recreations of space travel are actually much better than we’ve ever seen before. And you see the technology from 50 years ago. The idea these guys were going into these little spaces where they are strapped in; where terrible things could happen. And then they are exposed to extraordinary variations of temperature and pressure. It’s small and you get a real sense of that here.

“First Man” focuses on Neil Armstrong, the commander of that Apollo 11 expedition that actually made it to the moon in July of 1969.

The performances in this film are universally strong. Ryan Gosling teams up against Director Damien Chazelle, the same director who worked with him in “La La Land.” Gosling’s performance as Neil Armstrong works remarkably well.

“First Man” is not like what others may expect, like “The Right Stuff,” or other space exploration movies like “Hidden Figures.” It is not obsessed as much with the space program as it is with the very personal life of Armstrong.

The irony here is that Armstrong became a world hero, but he was a very inward guy, who was sparing with this emotions.

The whole film begins with what filmmakers and writers behind it (Steven Spielberg is one of the executive producers) assume the most influential event in Armstrong’s life — the death of his daughter Karen. She was two years old and died from a brain tumor before her third birthday. According to many sources, that actually scarred Armstrong and led him to be the withdrawn, moody individual that he was.

But they wanted him for space missions because he was stable. He would not take risks. He could respond well under pressure. There was one sequence that was a true event, where it is Armstrong’s coolness, his inability to be rattled, was what actually saved the lives of him and his crew.

Part of this movie struck me very personally. The film goes into some detail about Armstrong’s involvement with the Gemini Program, which preceded the Apollo Program. My dad, may he rest in peace, was the experimental director for the Gemini program and he knew Armstrong and many of the people who appear in the movie.

And one final point, Damien Chazelle has directed “Whiplash,” “La La Land” and now “First Man” – three very different films. All have been masterfully handled by this young director.

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