marthawells: (Stargate)
[personal profile] marthawells
We watched First Man last night because we love space movies, and it was not good. If Neil Armstrong had been forced to go to the Moon because NASA was holding his wife and children at gun point, some of the directorial choices might have made sense. I think the actual idea and story was good, and it showed things some of the other space movies (like Apollo 13) didn't. (Like the protests against the cost (in money and lives) of the space program and a couple of quick shots of black engineers working the launches.)

But the editing and the cinematography stepped on the actors' performances in what I thought was an unprecedented way. It felt like it was deliberately obscuring them when they tried to show anything other than stoic angst, to the point where it was like the sound dropped when anyone said anything funny, or they switched to a long shot whenever anybody had an expression. It's like, why did you put in bits with people making jokes and enjoying themselves if you're going to make it nearly impossible for us to see and hear them during those parts? When they land on the moon, Aldrin and Armstrong look at each other and you can't see most of their expressions because of reflections off the helmet glass. And why do you hire Ryan Gosling if you don't let us see the full range of his performance? Or even like part of the range of his performance? I felt like I was trying to look at him through binoculars. And it made it really hard to keep track of who the other actors were playing.

Neil Armstrong was a taciturn guy who had some tragedy in his life, but there's plenty of video of him talking and laughing with friends and co-workers, and he was an actual badass, and we didn't see much of that at all. (My two favorite scenes: when Armstrong is having his interview to join the astronaut program, and other candidates are sniffing at him for being a civilian, and it's obvious his giant cast iron balls will hardly fit through the door. And later, when Buzz Aldrin is being a butt and the other astronauts are getting upset, and Aldrin says, "I'm just saying what you're all thinking." Armstrong looks at him for a beat, smiling slightly behind sunglasses, and says something like, "Maybe you should stop." And everybody shuts up. And even that scene was edited in a way that it minimized the impact.)

Other things:

1) not nearly enough talking between the ships and mission control
2) NO LIGHTS in the capsules, HARDLY ANY INSTRUMENT LIGHTS. It made the powerless capsule in Apollo 13 look like the bridge of the JJ Abrams' Enterprise.
3) Very bad at communicating what was going on during the space scenes. Apollo 13 and Hidden Figures were very good at explaining complex technical ideas without slowing the story down and First Man absolutely was not.

Basically I thought it was essentially well-written but so badly filmed and edited it was like watching an unrestored 1920s era film where I was just trying to guess at what was going on. And because of it, it'll be years before we get a good film about this period.
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