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First Man (2018) - Movie Review

4 stars

Perhaps the only task more difficult than putting a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth is making an interesting film about the rather uninteresting man who first set foot on the lunar surface. Yet Damien Chazelle (La La Land) does just that with his First Man, The story of Neil Armstrong and the program behind him that accomplished the impossible feat.

A notoriously private person – even considered reclusive by many, Armstrong rarely granted personal interviews during his life, and preferred doling out one word answers to the press back when he was hailed a true American hero for his accomplishments during the Apollo space program. But he apparently had a largely unknown duality that Chazelle manages to touch on in his film that explores what drove the astronaut, his family, and colleagues at NASA to accomplish the unthinkable.

"less an historical dramatization than it is a biographical melodrama with plenty of sentimentality"

Born form the pages of James R. Hansen’s book First Man: The Life of Neil Armstrong and adapted for the screen by Josh Singer, Chazelle’s film soars to great heights with strong visuals, big sound, and some of the most realistically depicted imagery of what it must have been like to be strapped onto the top of a Saturn V rocket headed to the moon. As the rocket’s engines come to life, the cockpit shakes, our seats rumble, and even the camera has a hard time keeping up with the chaotic hell taking over as the rocket lunges into its violent ascent into the sky. I recommend catching the film in an IMAX theater if available in your area. If ever there was a movie made for the all-encompassing scope that the format has to offer, this is it. You won’t be disappointed.

But as impactful as those blastoff scenes are, it is the moments when Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) is alone, or with family that are just as effective, and where Chazelle separates his film from others that have taken on the subject. The engineer-turned-astronaut spends a lot of time sitting alone at his dining room table double checking the data and verifying the calculations that will prove important once his journey into the unknown begins. Chazelle resists wide camera shots and sweeping pans for the most part, instead, making his story a personal one with close-ups and zooms that explore moods and emotions rather than panoramic landscapes.

Gosling, sporting a steely stare beneath a military buzzcut, delivers yet another memorable performance as the standoffish Armstrong. His measured calm and caution plays nicely against the frenzied grace-under-pressure cool of Armstrong’s instantaneous decision-making skills as all hell breaks loose and things go wrong on an almost regular basis in the early days of NASA’s Gemini and Apollo programs. {googleads}

As important to the entire NASA program as anything the astronauts, engineers, and the machines they built, were the wives and the families involved. Carrying that mantle is Claire Foy as Armstrong’s wife Janet, who keeps her bound-for-fame Neil Armstrong grounded in being a husband and father, while shielding their two boys from the mission’s danger. There’s an especially powerful scene as Foy confronts a couple of NASA managers who attempt to downplay a mission accident. When explaining that they have everything under control, Foy’s Janet reminds them, “you are a bunch of boys playing with balsa wood airplanes. You don’t have anything under control.”

As its titles suggests, First Man isn’t the story of man’s journey to the moon. It is the story of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. And as such, it is less an historical dramatization than it is a biographical melodrama with plenty of sentimentality that rests on Chazelle’s storytelling and the actors portraying the story. And like the teamwork needed to pull off a mission to the moon, everyone does their part in this story that explores what drove Armstrong, his family, and everyone in the NASA program. As well as how dangerous it was for everyone involved.

First Man (2018) - Movie Review

Though the film is over two hours long, it never lags or wanes as Chazelle manages to always keep his from-the-kitchen-to-the-moon story interesting, and Gosling’s Armstrong never feels like a mere passenger in his own story. Scenes of quiet calculation and introspection, are often followed by moments of armrest-grabbing frenzy as there is never a shortage of catastrophic malfunctions or deadly explosions.

Additionally, when Armstrong does crack the code and finally manages to make that fateful first step, only the old curmudgeons amongst you will fail to bask in the anamorphic beauty of Chazelle’s moon shots. Save for a minor melodramatic stumble, they are truly something to behold.

So strap in and hang on! This baby's going to the moon. But the real question is: do you have the right stuff for the ride?


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First Man (2018) - Movie Review

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some thematic content involving peril, and brief strong language.
141 mins
: Damien Chazelle
Josh Singer
Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke
: Drama | Biography
experience the impossible journey to the moon.
Memorable Movie Quote: "you guys have nothing under control."
Theatrical Distributor:
Universal Pictures
Official Site: www.firstman.com
Release Date:
October 12, 2018
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
January 22, 2019.
Synopsis: A look at the life of the astronaut, Neil Armstrong, and the legendary space mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969.


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First Man (2018) - Movie Review


Blu-ray Details:

Blu-ray + DVD + Digital

Home Video Distributor: Universal
Available on Blu-ray
- January 22, 2019
Screen Formats: 2.39:1
: English SDH, French, Spanish
English: Dolby Atmos; English: Dolby TrueHD 7.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital Plus 7.1; French: Dolby Digital Plus 7.1
Discs: Blu-ray Disc Two-disc set (1 BD-50, 1 DVD); Digital copy; Movies Anywhere; DVD copy
Region Encoding: Locked to Region A

The blast offs, the lunar landing, the X-15 near-disaster, the vomit-inducing zero-gravity trainer. So many iconic scenes with auditory and visual delights that grace this blu-ray release from Universal. If there has ever been a release to put your system through the ultimate workout this is it. Universal's 1080p blu-ray + DVD + Digital release is as near perfect as anything in recent memory.

Shot on celluloid, the richness and graininess of the film carries over to the transfer giving the entire experience a wonderful period feel with desaturated colors at times and rich vibrant hues when needed. As Neil Armstrong's rocket-powered dead-stick-piloted X-15 reaches the edge of space, we see the deep rich blacks of outer space, the vibrant cyan of Earth's atmosphere peeking over the horizon, and the drab grays and browns of the craft's cockpit... all on the same screen at the same time and all are handled perfectly.

And then there are the spectacular audio sequences which very nearly become the star of the show. As the Saturn V's engines roar to life before blast-off, the room shakes and rumbles as the Dolby Atmos 7.1 track and booming lows kick in from all angles. Buckle up and hold on! Your home theater is going to the moon.

The aforementioned X-15 sequence also gets a mention for its audio handling. As Armstrong begins his fateful descent back down through the atmosphere, his craft rumbles, whines, creaks and moans from every nook and cranny of the room giving us a fantastic realization of just how close the thing was to breaking apart. And then things go silent. Deathly silent. In fact silence is used to great effect throughout the film and becomes a significant player in the film's final moon landing sequence proving that silence is (even in a home theaters), indeed golden.



  • With director Damien Chazelle, Screenwriter Josh Singer, and editor Tim Cross.

Special Features:

Universal has clearly taken a ton of pride in this release and it shows with the abundance of extras and bonus features that grace the supplements section.

Deleted Scenes

  • House Fire (03:40)
  • Apollo 8 Launch (00:37)


  • Shooting for the Moon (03:40) - Director Damien Chazelle, screenwriter Josh Singer and others sit down to discuss the driving factors that inspired the team to take on the project. Special attention is paid to what the mission meant to Neil Armstrong and how the focus of the film should cover Armstrong's entire experience - from the "kitchen to the moon."
  • Preparing to Launch (03:39) - Takes a fascinating look at Armstrong the person and how introverted, and quiet he was, yet at the same time had many outside forces that drove him to his accomplishments.
  • Giant Leap in One Small Step (04:30) - Features some interviews with Armstrong's children who speak over actual NASA footage while Chazelle and Gosling speak to how Armstrong never considered himself a hero and who was, in fact, constantly thanking all the 400,000 employees who made the missions possible.
  • Mission Gone Wrong (02:42) - Gets into the details of the stunt sequences, particularly the danger of the lunar training vehicle which very nearly killed Armstrong. Provides details of Gosling performing his own stunt as his parachute drags him through a wheat field.
  • Putting You in the Seat (07:09) - Highlights some of the special effects, many of which were performed in gimbals with large LED walls displaying the exterior environment rather than shooting with green screen backdrops. Never been done before. Gives actors a better look and feel of what they are actually experiencing which transfers with better realism to the screen.
  • Recreating the Moon Landing (06:01) - Details the steps involved in putting together the film's climactic final scene - the lunar landing and Armstrong's famous walk. The scene was actually outside in an abandoned quarry rather than on set. Filmmakers used some of the actual lenses and film stock as was used during the actual landing.
  • Shooting at NASA (03:11) - Actors and crew were taken to Cape Canaveral and allowed to see and experience much of the sill-intact equipment from the real missions. Several key sequences were filmed there including many of the buildings, doorways, hallways that were immortalized on film at the time, and the actual vans that transported the astronauts to the launch pad. The crew allso visited a real X-15 and speaks with the last pilot to fly one.
  • Astronaut Training (04:02) - Crew is given access to NASA where they experience the actual Apollo 11 capsule, space camp, and a lot of the original equipment that was built specifically for the moon missions.


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First Man (2018) - Movie Review