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First Man: A Lukewarm Conservative Defense

First Man: A Lukewarm Conservative Defense

“While it misses opportunities for patriotism and character depth, it highlights the sacrifice these men made on behalf of their country”

Damien Chazelle has been a hot commodity in Hollywood ever since his freshman script Grand Piano was adapted into a surprising small scale thriller in 2013. Since then he’s been propelled into the limelight with the success of his critically-acclaimed thriller Whiplash and his Oscar-winning musical La La Land.

Following such huge success in Hollywood, Chazelle was approached by Universal/Dreamworks to direct First Man, a biopic about Neil Armstrong and the 1969 moon landing. He signed to direct as his first work-for-hire directing gig and started shooting the film in November 2017 based on a revised script by Josh Singer (The Post, Spotlight).

The Conservative Backlash

During the runup to the film’s release over the fall of 2018, a lot of controversy accrued amongst conservative moviegoers when comments by lead actor Ryan Gosling and the director suggested that the film was going to lean far to the left.

As reported by Dailywire, the movie excluded the planting of the American flag on the moon and regarded the Apollo 11 moon landing as a human achievement instead of an American achievement. For good measure, the director went on a twitter tirade in the leadup to the film’s release lambasting Trump’s comments about the Charlottesville Rally as implicit support of Nazism.

For many, the film’s overt globalism was a sign of progressive tampering. As vlogger Bill Whittle put it, the movie was diminishing America’s role in humankind’s greatest achievement at the same time that America’s accomplishments were being memory holed generally.

The backlash however wasn’t universal. Conservative critics like Kyle Smith at National Review Online and Christian Toto both praised the film’s overt Americanism and regarded it as one of the best films of the year.

Having recently used a free Redbox coupon to watch it again, I would suggest that the controversy is overstated. While there are political themes in the movie, they are all relegated to scenes where they’re appropriate. It’s true that the flag planting is missing, but the movie doesn’t remove the American flag from any place it should be otherwise. We see the flag on at least a dozen occasions including on the side of the rockets, space suits, at funerals, and at the lunar landing site.

Proportionally, First Man is a significantly less progressive film than most of Hollywood’s recent output, as evidenced by the overt anti-Soviet sentiments, the profamily themes, and the regular uncommented upon references to tobacco use, which is unheard of in modern Hollywood films.

The only scenes in the film that directly attest to the politics of the space race are scenes involving the public backlash to the space program. In the most notable such scene, a group of anti-war protestors sing a song called Whitey’s on the Moon as the Saturn V rocket is prepared for its July 1969 launch. Even in this scene, the politics ultimately prove to be insubstantial as the moon landing becomes regarded as the most important achievement in human history. These themes are frequent in any film about space, as a cursory viewing of From Here to the Moon or The Martian can attest. Historically, space travel has never lacked controversy.

What Doesn’t Work?

To me, the more pressing issue with the film is its prioritization of story and spectacle. The film’s actual plot isn’t all that substantial in comparison to the film’s stellar space flight scenes which rank amongst the best-filmed suspense scenes in the history of the genre.

The actual story in between these scenes however is rather perfunctory and underdeveloped. Following the death of his daughter in 1962, Neil Armstrong begins pouring himself into his work as a test pilot as the space race is ramping up and winds up behind the wheel of more and more dangerous space flight experiments that increase pressure on him and start causing tension in his marriage. In real life, Neil Armstrong divorced his wife in 1994, and by the end of the film, you start seeing that very real fracture in their lives as they’re literally separated by a glass wall.

It’s a rather insubstantial ending to the troubled and painful personal life the real Neil Armstrong had to deal with before and after the moon landing. Unfortunately, that’s ultimately the film’s problem, it doesn’t logically shift between these underdeveloped scenes and the most engrossing space flight scenes. The whole point of the story is undermined by this lack of focus. It’s a very distant, uninsightful view of Armstrong’s personal life. By focusing more on the intensity of its action set pieces, First Man becomes more of a Neil Armstrong simulator than a biopic.

A Lukewarm Defense

On those terms however, I think First Man’s truest strength comes into focus. While the incredible cinematography finds new and exciting ways to emphasize the immense power and danger of being at the helm of these dangerous rockets, the film’s best scenes are those that emphasize the loss that was incurred by NASA in the runup to the moon landing.

Maybe the best scene in the film is when Ed White’s widow is seen by Janet Armstrong on the street near their home staring into space. It’s a powerful scene of grief wherein her own personal suffering is punctuated by a fake smile. On a second viewing, Claire Foy’s performance as Janet Armstrong becomes the standout performance as you visibly see her emotional degeneration and anxiety flare the closer the couple gets to Apollo 11.

The action scenes themselves focus uniquely on the perspective of being in the driver’s seat of these space crafts. Until Apollo 11, you see the ships take off only from the internal perspective of the ships. This is something previous Space Race movies like The Right Stuff and Apollo 13 didn’t focus on.

As a movie, First Man is unique in that it uses the cinematic experience to make you feel what it was like to be an astronaut where in every moment of your journey was vital and potentially life ending.  There are multiple scenes where Neil Armstrong comes within seconds of death and is only saved by his nerve and quick thinking.

First Man isn’t the best NASA film ever, but it is an excellent testament to the life-threatening situations Americans who went into space endured. While it misses opportunities for patriotism and character depth, it highlights the sacrifice these men made on behalf of their country.


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I have not watched it. I will not. As to the flag was it on the space suit?

I did notice the trailers all had grand scenes of the flag. Include old fort of the flag on the moon.

Not sorry it bombed

Depraved Hollywood’s Neil Armstrong movie, “First Man”, omits the American flag being planted on the moon, and Canadian celebrity and over-rated Hollywood professional pretender Ryan Gosling defended that decision with typical Hollywood celebrity hackneyed glibness claiming: “Armstrong’s moon walk transcended countries and borders. I don’t think that Neil viewed himself as an American hero.” Well, büllcrap, Canadian dipshìt Ryan Babygoose! It was a uniquely 100% American accomplishment and event! It’s not like America was claiming the moon solely for its very own in any way, shape or form.

Plus, Neil Armstrong was most definitely American, but perhaps Neil Armstrong did not perceive the royal “himself” as a “hero”….. because the American space pioneer Neil Armstrong was incredibly patriotic, diligently dutiful, and immensely humble. The first manned moon landing was not just about Neil Armstrong and the Apollo crew, but all Americans, the entire nation of the United States of America who made it happen from President John F. Kennedy’s mandate to the US taxpayers to the engineers to the scientists to the manufacturers to the assemblers to the Mission Control staff to the Astronauts themselves….. and America is still the first country and the one and only country to have landed on the moon and walked on its surface. That’s what the planting of the American flag on the moon was all about, and that’s why it was so important for Neil Armstrong to do it!

I’m quite certain that Ryan Babygoose and essentially all of Hollywood is exquisitely comforted and delightfully amused by the knowledge that the sun’s radiation beaming into the unprotected American Flag that was, in absolute historical fact, planted on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission has turned the American flag into a blank white flag.

The movie “First man” essentially flopped at the box office, and I’m damn glad it did. I hope “First Man” continues to flop and that it never recovers.

he had the right to make the movie anyway he wanted.

he deliberately made a political movie

we, the American public, have the right to decide to watch it or not.

obviously, neither the leftards who agree with his politics & world view, not those of us that disagree with it, did.

i don’t care how good a movie it is: i don’t give money to people who hate me, my country or my beliefs.


amatuerwrangler | February 3, 2019 at 3:50 pm

I watched the original event; I don’t need watch a re-make.

And I thought La-La Land sucked. Lasted about 15-20 minutes past the opening freeway-dance-scene thinking, hoping, it would become something worth watching. Didn’t happen. I have to assume that its award was some kind affirmative action thing. Fortunately I did the attempt on DVD, thus avoided a financial hit.

Do people still to movies?

You patronize hollywood, and you pay for their leftist propaganda.

Hollywood has always been a sick place, but it’s pediophiles, pervs, rapists, pimps and exploiters of people have never tried to destroy our country outside of their little group.

Now, it’s war.

Hollywood can F**k up anything. They tear down greatness and elevate the mediocre. That’s what they do.

I suggest a recent NOVA, s45, e17 on “Apollo 8” as a great TV ep to watch. I don’t imagine that humanity will ever undertake such an impossible task for the times again.

And this is one of my favorite vids from that era:

In fact, I’m going to watch it again right now.

CaliforniaJimbo | February 3, 2019 at 9:34 pm

In full disclosure, I love space movies. Good or bad.
I didn’t see this as a first man on the moon movie. I saw this as a man who lost his daughter to cancer and dove into his work. All the historic weight in the world could not rescue a dad from losing his baby girl.
Had this been the only movie on the space race, I’d have been disappointed. What I found was this is a story I did not know about. I combine this story with the series from the earth to the moon and the movie The Right Stuff and I get a more complete picture.
I compare the home tensions of this movie with the home tensions in Apollo 13 and with what the war brides were going through in We Were Soldiers. It makes for a fascinating story.
Not the best single space movie ever. I still love Capricorn One. However, this adds to the tapestry of the space race story and the many people who made it happen.
Thanks Neil for your heroism and your courage.

P.s. was it me or did Buzz come off as a dick in the movie?

    Virginia42 in reply to CaliforniaJimbo. | February 4, 2019 at 7:50 am

    Buzz came off as kinda dickish. This is in other films, too, like the HBO From Earth To Moon–but maybe not dickish, but insecure, and brilliant, and having trouble juggling all those things and worrying. He and Neil did not approach things quite the same way. Alan Cranston did a brilliant job of playing him in that miniseries.

    Capricorn One! “Keep your g*ddamn head down!”

American Human | February 4, 2019 at 8:40 am

Wow, I saw the movie and I thought, for a movie, it was just fine. No they didn’t show the “planting” of the flag but it was shown just about everywhere else. There was a wide shot of the moon landing shot and by golly, there was the planted flag.
The movie was about Neil Armstrong, not the moon landing. It showed his human side and his scientific side. It showed how resourceful and steady he was when the pressure mounted. Notice during the scene he was trying to land on the moon, Buzz was giving him the read outs and he was trying to find a place to land, there was no shouting and no yelling. Neil was concentrating on what to do and Buzz was helping him. The same when he was flying the X-15, trying to get Gemini to stop rotating, and when he was trying to fly the landing gig that crashed. He was cool as a cucumber.
The only thing I didn’t like about the movie was how the camera seemed to be someone’s video camcorder and was shaking with close ups most of the time. I wish they’d just had a regular camera and lose the shaking.
Buzz Aldrin was sort of a weirdo and not the stoic type that Neil Armstrong was.

    Virginia42 in reply to American Human. | February 4, 2019 at 8:48 am

    While I liked the movie better than I thought I would, some things made no sense–for example, the spacecraft were one-time use vehicles. They were like new cars inside. In the film, the Gemini, Apollo CM and LEM looked like somebody had trod mud in them. There was grime on the panels and switches; the lighting was so bad they needed lanterns.

    The only time one of the ships would have been really dirty was when the LEM returned to dock with the CM–all the moon dust and grunge was everywhere.

    In From the Earth to the Moon, the CM Pilot (Gordon) made Conrad and Bean strip off before letting them back in the CM. It’s a rather humorous scene but highlights how dirty the LEM got–a opposed to the CM.

There is an “Apollo 11” movie coming.
The good news: it has some recently rediscovered 70mm footage of the launch and mission control.
The bad news: the promo shows it to be associated with CNN.