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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » First Man (Blu-ray)
First Man (Blu-ray)
Universal // PG-13 // January 22, 2019 // Region A
List Price: $39.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ryan Keefer | posted January 25, 2019 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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The Movie:

Four years ago when American Sniper came out and was racking up a pile of Oscar nominations, I was annoyed for a myriad of reasons. I think being far from it now, it was the fact that there was a needless controversy surrounding a film that frankly, wasn't very good. And here we are again, with a film that garnered some awards season buzz, and I'm annoyed all over again, but for different reasons.

First Man was directed by Damien Chazelle (La La Land), who directed Josh Singer's screenplay (Spotlight), an adaptation from James Hansen's book of the same name. The eponymous first man is Neil Armstrong, (Ryan Gosling, The Nice Guys) and his experience as a test pilot in 1961, followed by his work in the Gemini program and culminating with his landing on the moon as part of the Apollo 11 mission in 1969. We see his trials and tribulations within the program and with his wife Janet (Claire Foy, Unsane), and the stress, turmoil and tragedy that the Armstrongs and their friends endured through the course of those eight years.

In a funny way, Gosling is perfect for the role of Armstrong, given the apparent general private nature of the two; Armstrong did not publicly reveal a trip to the North Pole he took along with Mount Everest climber Edmund Hillary, Seven Summit climber Patrick Morrow and earth circumnavigator Steve Fossett. That kind of stoicism is perfect for Gosling! Kidding aside, Gosling's work as Armstrong was superb. Pragmatic emotionally, almost even deliberate, he manages to run the gauntlet with emotions and physicality, and his work with Foy brings a muted tender side to the astronaut, especially with the things he went though.

Chazelle made the decision of putting the viewer in Armstrong's chair from the outset which is brilliant because in identifying with Armstrong's experiences you get so further appreciate the nature of space travel in the ‘60s. It's one thing when you see the NASA origin stories in things like The Right Stuff or of the Apollo missions in From the Earth to the Moon. Whether this was planned or not, by allowing the viewer to focus their attention on Armstrong, Chazelle builds on the stories told from those, to show you how hard it was for him and how much of a brotherhood the astronauts shared. To that end, contributions by Corey Stoll (Black Mass), Jason Clarke (Everest) and Kyle Chandler (Argo), all of whom inhabit various key character positions at NASA, make the job even easier.

For those who don't know the significant events behind NASA and the Gemini program then you're going to be in for an emotional roller coaster that you may not be prepared for, but you buy into the film early on and go for the ride. If you have some familiarity with those events, at times you find yourself wondering how Chazelle is going to approach them, because he's going to have to approach them, specifically the Apollo 1 pad fire that took the lives of three astronauts. He doesn't introduce much artistic influence into these moments, telling them matter of factly, leaving you devastated or in the case of the moon landing, awestruck. Either way, you're going to be in tears for different reasons and left wanting to see what happens next. At 140 minutes, First Man doesn't show it.

So yeah, here we are a few weeks before the Oscar ceremony, and First Man has 4 nominations: Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Design, Best Visual Effects and Best Production Design. The film got more bandwidth because of what it didn't have (American flag) than what it did (everything else), and a lot of people made the choice to skip it, which is a shame. What they missed was quite possibly the best film of 2018.

The Blu-ray:
The Video:

Put simply, First Man is stunning on Blu-ray. Most of the film appears in 2.39:1 widescreen, with the last few minutes switching over to IMAX for obvious reasons once they are discovered. There is more handheld (or the appearance of) than I was expecting and shot on film, which reproduces image texture and other detail consistently to help convey the docudrama feel of the movie. When the moon gets closer in the window and landing occurs, image detail on the surface is fantastic. Chazelle's third film couldn't be more different than the other two and they all look good, this being the best.

The Sound:

I watched the film during the day when I knew that not a lot of people were around not because I wanted it to be a secret, but because I had the presumption that the soundtrack would blow the proverbial doors off and in sum, job done. The film opens with Armstrong's flight of the X-15 rocket and the ship piercing the air before hitting an additional booster almost puts a hole in you. His Gemini flight is just as convincing, with radio chatter making for directional effects and channel panning of the activity from front to back and side to side. Softer moments such as dialogue are just as clear and consistent and the subwoofer does heavy labor throughout. An amazing production of reference-quality work.

The Extras:

There are a good amount of extras, starting with a commentary from Chazelle, Singer and editor Tom Cross which is one of the better tracks in recent memory. It's consistent and active through the film, and gets into scene intent and shot breakdown, speculates on historical details both in Armstrong's life and the tentpole events in the film. It talks about the choices they made with the story along with some they didn't and how the actors worked on set and how Chazelle works, and how IMAX was worked into the film and the change of pace for the crew on it. It's a nice addition to the disc and makes up for some of the extras here.

Speaking of those, two deleted scenes (4:17) include a house fire suffered by one of the astronauts and from there, eight featurettes follow, some are good, some could have been done a little better, most are self-explanatory. "Shooting for the Moon" (3:40) looks at the idea for and approach to the film, and the cast and crew share their thoughts on it. "Preparing for Launch" (3:39) covers the missions, and "One Giant Step in One Small Leap" (4:31) include some recollections on Armstrong from his children, and the cast share their opinions on him. "Mission Gone Wrong" (2:42) include the near disasters, and "Putting You in the Seat" (7:09) show the efforts done to do so by the crew. "Recreating the Moon Landing" (6:01) does this while comparing film to newsreel footage, and "Shooting at NASA" (3:11) and "Astronaut Training" (4:02) look at the work the actors put in and the work that NASA and the Air Force included. A standard definition disc and digital copy complete things.

Final Thoughts:

The only thing I could find even a little fault in during First Man was a film score that was a touch intrusive and ironically, received a bunch of nominations and critic praise, so I'll shut right the hell up. The story is one not many know, executed by people who care for the subject and it shows in the work. Set against an incredible transfer and lossless soundtrack, the extras are a minor blemish on an otherwise fantastic movie experience. Absolutely worth your time to pore over all of it. Twice.

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