We began the week with the president of the United States honoring Columbus’ “discovery” of America.
We’ll end the week with the opening of the film “First Man” — which purports to tell the story of how Neil Armstrong became the first person to “walk on the moon.”
Will the fake news never end???
Look, I appreciate a well-told outer space yarn as well as the next moviegoer. But if Neil Armstrong really did walk on the moon in 1969, how come he didn’t cross paths with Joseph Levitch at the United States’ lunar weather station that was depicted in the 1966 docu-drama “Way Way Out”?
As any student of American history knows — particularly those who know that Columbus never stepped foot in Ohio — the lunar landing that’s the centerpiece of the new effort by “La La Land” director Damien Chazelle was said to occur on July 20, 1969.
Chazelle was drawn to the project because the story seems so unbelievable.
“It’s just the closest thing that history, reality, has given us to myth,” the director said in a GQ interview. “Too fairy tale, you know?”
Oh we know.
Instead of being released next summer to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the famed hoax, the film is being released in mid-October of 2018 to commemorate the start of Academy Awards season.
Reviews of advance screenings indicate that “First Man” will have the sort of special effects wizardry that puts “The Reluctant Astronaut” to shame. Most of the moon scenes were shot in a studio in Atlanta whereas we all know that the actual footage of Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the lunar surface was shot in a studio outside of Taos, New Mexico.
The prevailing theory is that the “moon landing” was a Disney production written by Arthur C. Clarke and directed by Stanley Kubrick ... made plausible by a late-evening broadcast — complete with snow-like static, breaks in the audio reception and horizontal-hold fluctuations — that convinced a nervous and tired American public of its veracity.
And if you somehow remain unconvinced by that research from the Flat Earth Society ... well, Walter Cronkite cried, for heaven’s sake. The most trusted man in America broke down in tears watching grainy footage of a guy in a spacesuit hop onto a landscape that looked every bit like the Lava Lands Visitor Center outside Sunriver — so, who are we to say it wasn’t one small step for man one giant leap of faith for mankind.
“First Man,” meanwhile, has caused an entirely different sort of controversy in these times where every action is met with an equal and opposite over-reaction.
Despite the presence of American flags through the film — after all, this was a mission from NASA in the days when feeling patriotic wasn’t a political litmus test — the film does not show the actual moment when Aldrin planted the flag into the surface.
Aldrin, among others, was perturbed by this lack of respect perhaps not getting the point about the film not being called “Second Man” or even “The First Two Guys.”
This, of course, elicited the internet ire of the historian in the White House, who took time away from blaming the struggles of restructuring NAFTA on lingering resentment over Canada burning down the White House during the War of 1812 to call “First Man” a piece liberal revisionist history.
(No word yet, by the way, from the two Democratic members of the House of Representatives who five years ago filed an actual piece of legislation that would establish a U.S. national park on the moon apparently based on some “We got there first” corollary to the Intergalactic Law of Finders Keepers.)
The bigger challenge for “First Man” is likely to be establishing what separates it from other space exploration films.
Before he faked the moon landing, Kubrick essentially ruined for future filmmakers the ability to create the awe of the cosmos when he released “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
“The Right Stuff” gave us the true American heroism of the Mercury and Gemini astronauts set against the buffoonery of outside political and media forces. “Apollo 13” displayed the resolve of all involved in NASA missions as a small army of horn-rimmed glasses and pocket protectors saved Forrest Gump and Ren from Footloose from frying during re-entry.
And, of course, the concept of a faked space mission already was covered in the cult classic “Capricorn One” — the film that had us believe we’d a) had a manned Mars mission and 2) decided O.J. Simpson should be part of the team.
All “First Man” has going for it is the collective fear of a nation as we decided to ignite rocket fuel beneath a tin can and send three souls off to a rock 238,900 miles away ... fulfilling a challenge set forth by a president who would then be assassinated, and giving Americans one collective respite from the political, cultural and racial tragedy and turmoil that divided us.
How something like that is supposed to compete with the tribal pride experienced by burning Taylor Swift albums because she spoke her mind ... I just don’t know.
When you get lost between the moon and New York City, contact Mail Tribune senior designer Robert Galvin at firstname.lastname@example.org.