Robert’s Reviews: First Man

Hello Clever People! Welcome to my review for the new Damien Chazelle movie First Man. This film follows the story of Neil Armstrong and the years of torture and pain that lead up to the moon landing. Click the video below to watch the review!

Robert Burke
Robert Burke is a 15-year-old film critic currently attending Shasta High School. His love for film started when he was very young, and grows as he learns more and more about it. Robert expresses his love for film through reviews, which can be found on this website every Saturday. Film is not his only passion, as he also loves to act in local productions with Cascade Theater, Shasta College and Riverfront Playhouse. He currently lives in Redding, CA, and hopes to one day be a film director. To view all of Robert’s reviews go to theclevercritics.com.
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3 Responses

  1. Beverly Stafford says:

    Thanks, Robert. This is definitely an anticipated film by many. As an aside, I think my husband and I were about the only two people who weren’t impressed with La La Land. We came away with not much more than ho-hum.

  2. Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

    One of my best friends from Army flight school, Sherman F. Morgan, wrote a review of First Man and posted it on Facebook. I thought his review was interesting, since he was writes from the perspective of a retired Air Force “full bird” colonel. He’s presently a senior U.S. Air captain and an attorney. He focuses on the differences between the book and the movie. I’ve posted his review here with his okay.

    “Apparently James Hansen published his authorized autobiography of Neil Armstrong in 2005. I was completely buried in 0-6 jobs at Ramstein Air Base, Germany that year, (including a short deployment to Iraq), so I don’t recall hearing anything at all about the book—which is pretty unusual for me, since this is exactly the type of book that I seek out.

    “I was also unaware that Spielberg was making a movie out of the book when I started reading it a couple of weeks ago. Well, I finished the book last night, so today Brenda and I took the afternoon off and went to see the movie. I liked the movie, (although I liked Spielberg’s other space movie Apollo 13 better), but as usual the book is always better than the film. So, here are a few takeaways that occurred to me as I read the book with an eye towards, ‘If I was still the commander of a military flying squadron, what would I find useful in this book?’

    “I think the first thing that jumped out at me was, as great a pilot and person as Neil Armstrong was…he was far from perfect either in the cockpit or in the office. In fact the movie begins with a scene from the book where Neil flies a less-than-stellar profile in an X-15 that causes him to skip off the earth’s atmosphere instead of reenter the atmosphere as planned.

    “Another example that I thought was great in the book was shortly before Neil left his test pilot job at Edwards and joined the astronaut corps he was doing touch-and-goes in a T-33 (with Chuck Yeager in the back seat) on a ‘dry’ lake bed that had recently been inundated with rain to see whether it would support flight operations, and he got a little slow on the roll out and the T-33 sank into the lake bed, marooning him and Yeager in the middle of nowhere.

    “In a zero-tolerance-for-mistakes environment that might have been enough to keep him out of the astronaut corps, but it didn’t. So I think the takeaway is that even your best people, Neil Armstrong in this case, are going to make some mistakes along the way, and it would be a leadership mistake to toss away great talent because they’re not perfect all the time.

    “Another interesting point in the book is that Neil actually missed the deadline for submitting his application to be an astronaut. Normally, if an applicant is not motivated enough to make a submission deadline that pretty much eliminates them from consideration. But in this case, NASA leadership recognized his potential, so they decided to overlook the late submission.
    The movie made a pretty big deal out of Neil’s Gemini 8 debacle, but it didn’t flesh out that story nearly as well as the book did. Basically the big objective for Gemini VIII was to prove that two spacecraft could successfully dock together in space. (Geminis VI & VII had already proven that they could rendezvous in space, but Neil’s crew was the first to attempt a docking.)

    “The book did a good job of explaining that NASA had low confidence in the the unmanned spacecraft they docked with (Agena). In fact Agena was only finally cleared to fly 11 days prior to the launch date. Also, just after docking with Agena, Neil got a call from CapCom in Houston (I believe it was astronaut Jim Lovell working the desk that day) in which Neil and his copilot David Scott were told that if the attitude control system in Agena goes wild, to send in a computer command of 400 and take control of the spacecraft. So both Neil and Dave were pretty spring-loaded to think that if anything goes wrong with their attitude systems, it’s most likely the Agena spacecraft.

    “Well, in fact it turns out that one of the roll thrusters on the Gemini spacecraft stuck in the open position and put the mated spacecraft into a roll. Unbeknownst to Neil and Dave, the attitude systems on the Agena were helping them stay somewhat stable. But, thinking the Agena was the problem, Neil disengaged the Gemini from the Agena, which resulted in loss of control, and very nearly loss of consciousness for Neil and Dave.

    “The movie did a good job of dramatizing the situation, right up to the point that Neil disconnected the malfunctioning control system and activated their backup system that they normally used for reentry. With no redundancy now, the mission, (which was scheduled to last 70 hours and 55 orbits), was forced to abort at the 8 hour point.

    “The movie briefly addressed the post flight investigation, but the book gives a lot more detail as to all the Monday morning quarterbacking and second-guessing that went on after that flight. At the end of the day, the leadership takeaway remains the same…even if Neil might have screwed the pooch a bit when he decoupled from Agena…he was still a first rate astronaut and it would have been a leadership mistake to scratch him from the program. (In fact, the book and the movie address the fact that Gus Grissom was probably going to be the first man on the moon, even after blowing the hatch prematurely on his Mercury flight, but Gus and Ed White and Roger Chaffee were lost in the Apollo 1 fire.)

    “For years in military aviation we were always required to remove any jewelry, (including wedding bands), before we approached our military aircraft. How interesting would it have been to know that following his successful moon flight in Apollo 11, Neil Armstrong ripped his ring finger off when he jumped off the back of a piece of machinery on his Ohio farm and his wedding band caught on a nail? His finger was successfully reattached and he regained use of the finger (except for the tip), but what a great comeback that would have been every time some prima donna objected to removing their jewelry on a military jet.

    “Finally, I was surprised to learn how difficult things were for Neil following Apollo 11. His long time marriage ended when his wife, Janet, left him. And he somewhat famously became something of a recluse, although he did continue to perform public appearances at times and he did find happiness in a second marriage. Still, the book emphasizes that some people felt he could have done much more to promote the space program, and in fact some people felt that in retrospect John Glenn should have been given the honors, given how strongly he continued to perform in public life for the remainder of his career.

    “So I guess my leadership takeaway from that part of the book is to look beyond the immediate task and evaluate not only what harm might befall a person given the honor of the performing the task, but also which candidate might be most useful to the program after the task is done.

    “By the way, I don’t mean to imply any disrespect or criticism of one of my personal heroes, Neil Armstrong. In fact when Neil passed I collected news stories about him and put them in an envelope with a letter to my grandson explaining what a huge impact he had had on my life. I gave the package to my daughter with instructions to give it to my grandson on a specified date in the future. Perhaps some day years from now Henry will complete that part of the story…

    “So, the next time I’m involved in a debate as to what to do with a good player that has made a mistake or two, whether it’s in a cockpit or in a courtroom, I’m going to have my ‘Neil Armstrong wasn’t perfect either’ card ready to play.”

  3. Steve DuBois Steve DuBois says:

    Robert, I think your comment “Slow-paced” is an understatement. I saw the movie before your review. I was very excited to see it. But I don’t think a movie has bored me more. I know it was about Neil’s life, but it seemed more like I had watched a boring tragedy when it ended. It was very hard for me to care about the main characters. I would’ve liked something in the movie that was uplifting and made it feel more like an American achievement and patriotic. When I walked out of the theater I was wishing Ron Howard had directed. Even if Howard hadn’t made it with a sense of American achievement, I still think he would’ve had me on the edge of my seat with worry between Armstrong and his wife. I never ask for my money back, but I did on this one.

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