On first glance its premise is high-concept and some would say gimmicky: what if the fable of Neil Armstrong and his journey to the moon were true? What if, in 1969, instead of collaborating with filmmaker Stanley Kubrick to fake the moon landing on a lunar studio set, NASA actually had the money and scientific skill to pull it off in real life? What if we are actually living on a spherical planet?
It seems absurd, but as we know outrageous science fiction premises are often fertile ground for relevant commentary about our current real, dull, flat, disc world.
First Man spins the tale of Neil Armstrong, a mythic figure who works his way up the ranks to be a top NASA astronaut on the globe-shaped Earth and the first man to fly through space to the similarly spherical moon and – get this – walk on it.
The world it asks you to buy into is unbelievable, of course, but that’s part of the fun if you have the good humour to go with it. It initially seems absurd and jarring to imagine that humans would be able to do something so extraordinary with chalkboards, pen and paper, and less technology than exists in a cellphone.
But this fictional vision of humanity is actually inspiring.
In the face of unthinkable odds: a space race with a competing nuclear superpower, pressure from politicians keen to cut spending, regular deaths during training and test flights, these scientists and visionaries were able to push the boundaries of people’s hearts and minds and give the people of this spherical Earth a new perspective on their world – what brings them all together, and ultimately, how connected is the fate of every person on their globe.
It’s a beautiful imagining of Earth, and such an idea and such an achievement would surely be enough to change such a world – if only it were true. Oh well, forget it.
Nevertheless, First Man‘s attention to detail is remarkable, featuring extended sequences of space flight which, although impossible in real life, seem incredibly believable and almost documentary-style.
“It’s sort of a steampunk envisaging of a fictional past where these things were possible,”
one movie-goer said after the screening.
Steampunk is right: and with Peter Jackson’s Mortal Engines premiering this summer, it looks like we can enjoy even more unbelievable and enthralling tech fiction in the months to come. Mobile, carnivorous cities and simple space flight. What ridiculous, marvellous ideas.