Everyone has looked up into a clear evening sky to conduct their own survey of distant pinpricks in the regularly-occurring blackness. Passing aircraft, the stars and that which is always largest in the night sky - the Moon.
July 20, 2009, marks the 40th Anniversary of man landing on the Moon, and to showcase a different flavor of that same obsession, Screen Rant's newest writer (yours truly), dons his newly-minted writing/explorer spacesuit to provide a listing of the Top 5 Astronaut Movies - a look back at the best storytelling that put you into the shoes of those who have TRULY gone boldly where we hope many more men (and women) will eventually go.
Cultures that predate written records have told stories of the moon. From the legendary tales of ancient African tribes, to the technology-laden yarns of NASA and the men of Apollo, we have become familiar with the process of learning more about the moon. Whether it's the cyclic paragraphs of the moon's perpetual chase of the sun, or the detail conveying 12 brave men who set foot on the moon in the late 60s and 70s, our obsession with the moon and human spaceflight continues to this day, in the form of modern cinema.
Read on below and be sure to chime in with YOUR thoughts on other great astronaut/space movies that make your heart soar even higher than a Saturn 5 rocket breaking Earth's gravitational bond.
5.) Apollo 13 (1995):
While I had only just been born when the events of Apollo 13 unfolded in real life, this movie (courtesy of director Ron Howard, and a star-studded cast of "root-for" actors) provides you with great (though at time dramatized) perspectives that truly showcased what the American Space Program meant back then and how it should serve as a shining sample of teamwork and problem-solving. The soundtrack by revered composer James Horner serves as a double helping of astronaut-based greatness that didn't win the Academy Awards that year, but surely could have. It's a movie that captures the best of America, of technology and the can-do spirit - which might be why I love all of these human spaceflight films in general.
SPECIAL MOMENT: When Tom Hanks (as Astronaut Jim Lovell) explains to his youngest son not only how the LEM (Lunar Excursion Module) will couple with the Command Module (CM), but also explains how advances have been made to ensure that another disaster like the one that befell the astronauts of Apollo 1 on a crisp January morning never happened again. Magical.
4.) Magnificent Desolation (2005):
Tom Hanks - who has always been a dedicated and zealous human spaceflight maverick himself - provides you with what I can only WISH I had seen in IMAX format. Magnificent Desolation offers up a quick, no-holds barred educational immersion in the efforts of the American space effort that got us literally from "The Earth to The Moon," and conveys just about every aspect you'll hear about traveling to and from the Moon. With some landmark special effects and brilliant voiceover work, this program is sure to make any American swell with pride, understanding and the hope that we will eventually get our collective space-faring asses back in suits and head to the stars.
SPECIAL MOMENT: One of the children that is a pseudo-host of the program (and folks, I try DESPERATELY not to get caught in children-based emotional traps) looks ahead to what awaits us on the Moon of the future. I didn't have a box of tissue big enough, mostly because I have a 6-year-old daughter that not only watches all of these great films with me - but wants to BE that older child on the moon when she grows up. Again, magical.
3.) The Right Stuff (1983):
Every now and then a movie comes along that truly shows you not only how well great stories hold up, but how GREAT a pool of acting talent we had (and have) in Hollywood. The Right Stuff provides you with firey moments: Not only from the mechanized effort to get the experience and technology ready in order to get to the moon - but from the actors themselves, who convey the often-difficult choices faced by every astronaut and astronaut family - and even the decision makers that want to get us from the Earth to the Moon. The acting meter is off the charts for this film and it gives you a decidedly real taste of what it was like to be one of the "7".
SPECIAL MOMENT: I can't possibly narrow down a single moment from the cachophany of actors in this film, so I'm going to go the special effects route. Not so surprisingly, this film was done before Computer Generator Imagery (CGI) and the F/X offerings here are some of the best of the time. The breaking the sound barrier scene alone will provide at least 4-5 pints of brand-new oxygenated blood instantly.
2.) In the Shadow of The Moon (2007):
I am a professional podcaster and have been for 5 years. I'm terribly familiar with the power of first-person perspective storytelling and this film, In the Shadow of the Moon, offers some of the best ever perspective storytelling from the people that were actually DOING THE THINGS WE ONLY DREAM OF. Hearing people "tell tales that sound like science fiction" that are actually real accomplishments is more than magical - it transports you to a time, a date, and series of events that held the attention span of everyone on our planet. The perspectives of Michael Collins and Gene Cernan in particular are moments that will stay with me until I die - not because they're "so important" but because they inspire me to be more than I am and to convey things that are important so others can learn from my efforts, mistakes and perspective.
SPECIAL MOMENT: You will NOT BELIEVE the visually stunning real-time mission elements that are used in this presentation. They are one-of-a-kind and could all be posters that I would like to adorn every single inch of space in my home with. For those of you that have any interst in space, astronauts, rockets and more, you have something special that awaits you with this film.
1.) From the Earth to the Moon (1998):
It might be that this series from HBO came out when I was going through one of the most difficult times in my life (a terrible car accident leaving me disabled for 3 months), but this series of 12 episodes offers some of the most captivating, inspirational and educational stories in entertainment - ever. This series continues to guide me while I'm working on projects, working in the yard or - dare I say it - compiling a listing of all-time greatest Human Spaceflight-inspired entertainment.
The brilliance of all of this series isn't just that it's about space - it's not even that it conveys the inner-workings of the Astronaut corps. The brilliance of From the Earth to the Moon is that it provides a sense of TRUE TEAMWORK - working towards a common goal, whether it be in your personal life, in your community or in your career, where the decisions you make really do mean something. The soundtrack here is also something to revel in. Mason Daring (who provided much of what you hear in this series) is well showcased and while I've overused the word "magical" in this review already, his compositions here make every single episode not only start and end with brilliance, but pushes the pulse of every episode in a direction that requires you tend to it.
SPECIAL MOMENT: (exhales) Damn me for only allowing ONE MOMENT for a 12-part series! Probably the most played disc of the series (in my house) is disc 2, featuring an episode called "SPIDER" that details the culmination of thought, work and real-life must-dos to get men on the moon in the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM). I admire this episode mostly because it showcases what I wish I could have more of in my life - both in my workplaces and beyond: planning and teamwork. I've been a pioneer of a lot of hard work and projects in my time, but the sense of accomplishment, growth, and success that I see in this episode is something I will truly cherish when I achieve it for myself. Those of you that have not yet been graced with the viewing of this series are in for a real treat. The closed-captioning provided in From the Earth to the Moon is some of the best ever, conveying not only the dialog, but sound effects, music lyrics and environmental sounds that help to push this series to the top of my listing.
And thus, you now have at least enough to keep you entertained on a real-life trip TO the Moon, as well as enough education required to complete a series of equipment-cycling maneuvers during a real human spaceflight (ok, so maybe not the latter). As this review closes, I wonder (to mirror the narrating words of Tom Hanks towards the end of From The Earth to the Moon), When will we go back?
Chime in with your thoughts on the list, as well as other Astronaut-inspired films that I may have missed and thanks again for taking the itme to read my column here at Screen Rant.