‘First Man’: Step-by-‘Small Step’ Review of Neil Armstrong Film Trailer

Houston, the “First Man” trailer has landed — and with it, a whirlwind of scenes that depict almost a decade of space flight history.

Universal Pictures on Friday (June 8) released the first teaser for director Damien Chazelle’s upcoming feature film about the first man to walk on the moon, starring actor Ryan Gosling as the late Neil Armstrong. Though not billed as a biopic, “First Man” focuses on Armstrong, his personal life and his NASA career as a research test pilot and NASA astronaut between 1962 and 1969.

Eagle-eyed enthusiasts may have picked up on all of the spacecraft, people and settings featured in the two-and-a-half minute video, but for those who did not, or have yet to read “First Man,” historian James Hansen’s 2005 authorized biography of Armstrong on which the movie is based, here is a step-by-“small step” review of some of the trailer’s key scenes.

The trailer opens with the dramatic launch of a Saturn V, the rocket that flew 24 astronauts on nine missions to the moon, including Apollo 11 crewmates Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins for the first lunar landing in July 1969.

The spectators shown here include Armstrong (Gosling) and Aldrin (Corey Stoll), which hints to this being the Apollo 8 launch in December 1968. Armstrong and Aldrin were members of the Apollo 8 backup crew and were witnesses to the launch, which sent the first humans to orbit the moon.

In the trailer, the Saturn V clears the tower in about five seconds; in real life, it took twice that time as the massive rocket lumbered off the pad.

The plume here also more closely resembles that of the space shuttle, with its two solid rocket boosters, than the exhaust of the five F-1 engines that powered the first stage of the Saturn V.

NASA director of flight crew operations Deke Slayton (Kyle Chandler) lays out what it will take to land astronauts on the moon, from the "First Man" trailer.

NASA director of flight crew operations Deke Slayton (Kyle Chandler) lays out what it will take to land astronauts on the moon, from the “First Man” trailer.

Credit: Universal Pictures

On April 10, 1967, NASA’s director of flight crew operations Deke Slayton convened a meeting where he told 18 astronauts, “The guys who are going to fly the first lunar missions are the guys in this room.” Slayton then proceeded to lay out the steps of the program.

“Only after we’ve mastered these tasks, do we consider trying to land on the moon,” says Slayton (Kyle Chandler) in the trailer.

Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) flies the X-15 rocket plane, from the "First Man" trailer.

Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) flies the X-15 rocket plane, from the “First Man” trailer.

Credit: Universal Pictures

“We are going to have to start from scratch,” says Slayton (Chandler) in the previous scene and the trailer takes that as a cue to jump back in Armstrong’s career to before he became an astronaut. Here we see Armstrong (Gosling) at the controls of the X-15 rocket plane, flying as a NASA research test pilot. Armstrong flew the X-15 seven times between 1960 and 1962, reaching a maximum altitude of 207,500 feet.

A note about the audio in this scene: just after the X-15 drops away from its B-52 mothership, a bit of dialog can be heard from a different era of spaceflight: “Go at throttle up,” and then “Roger, go at throttle up.”

This is one of the few times that the trailer incorporates archival material, and in this scene it is the unfortunate choice of the last audio before the loss of space shuttle Challenger in 1986. Despite Armstrong later serving on the commission that investigated the tragedy that claimed seven lives, the use of the recording here is inappropriate and is presumably limited to the trailer and not included in the film itself.

 

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