- Nikki Baughan
- 8 July 2019
Expertly framed and fascinating portrait of groundbreaking astronaut Neil Armstrong
Fifty years after he became the first man to walk on the surface of the moon, astronaut Neil Armstrong becomes the subject of an enthralling, expansive documentary about his life before, during and after the moment he made history. Combining contemporary interviews with family members, friends and colleagues with archive footage and – most thrillingly – Armstrong home movies, filmmaker David Fairhead presents a fascinating, moving portrait of the unassuming man who changed the way we look at the stars.
Harrison Ford lends an appropriate amount of gravitas to the narration of Armstrong's own words, which recount his time as a naval aviator, astronaut and historical icon – memories that are no less powerful for the man's inherent humbleness. 'It was a bit dicey,' is the low-key way he describes a 1966 test spaceflight that went terrifyingly wrong, the craft spinning dangerously out of control hundreds of miles above the earth.
Indeed, there's something altogether charming about Armstrong, a laconic family man who, behind his quiet demeanour, had a long-standing ambition to go further than any human had gone before. And his trajectory is nothing short of fantastical; the film follows him from his childhood in Ohio (there's a neat shot of a marquee for First Man, Damien Chazelle's 2018 Armstrong biopic, adorning a cinema in his hometown of Wapakoneta), through his involvement in the Korean War, to becoming a NASA test pilot and, eventually, the most famous astronaut in the world. This was partly due, it's posited by those in the know, to Armstrong's complete lack of ego.
Crucially, plenty of focus is also given to his family, in particular first wife Janet, who was – as her son Mark describes her – an 'unsung hero' when it came to giving Armstrong the love and practical support he needed to pursue his dreams. And the bravery and, often, sacrifice of Armstrong's colleagues is also rightly honoured.
Armstrong's story is unendingly compelling, and it's expertly framed by Fairhead. Soundtrack choices are excellent: the Penguins' 'Earth Angel' accompanies Janet's recollection of meeting Armstrong at college, for example. And intuitive edits from Paul Holland link Armstrong's forays into space with his ties on earth, reminding us that it took unimaginable courage not only to take that first small step from Apollo 11's lunar module, but also to travel the long and dangerous path to get there.
General release from Fri 12 Jul.