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Why it's Better to Be a Real Astronaut than a Movi
by Summer Wood

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Neil Armstrong - 1930-2012

Neil Armstrong - 1930-2012
Neil Armstrong passed away this past weekend, just a couple of weeks past his 82nd birthday. I heard someone say that he will be one of the few people sure to be remembered 1000 years from now (assuming, of course, that the rumors about the Mayan Calendar are wrong) since he was the first human to walk on a non-Terran celestial body. I hadn't thought about it that way, but there's a lot of truth in that position.

For those who weren't around in 1969 and whose history and science courses petered out immediately after 1950, Armstrong was a member of NASA's Apollo 11 mission and the first man to walk on the Moon. It was he who uttered the famous phrase, "One small step for Man; one giant leap for Mankind." Since that momentous event, he lived quietly, generally eschewing celebrity and attempting to keep himself private.

So, in honor of Neil Armstrong, here are ten reasons why it's better to be a real astronaut than a movie astronaut:

10. You know with whom you're sharing your mission. Armstrong's colleagues on Apollo 11 were Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. There was some question as to whether Aldrin would be removed from the mission in favor of another astronaut. Armstrong, as mission head, made the decision to keep Aldrin on. Aldrin, long before Michael Jackson ever thought to remove one glove, joined Armstrong in moon-walking and ultimately became the second man to walk on the Moon. Nice, neat and everyone knew their teammates. Contrast that cozy scenario with the hell that Sam Rockwell lives through in MOON. Talk about split personalities! To tell you more would be to tell you too much. Just see the movie, but don't watch it under the influence of anything stronger than Fresca, at your own risk.

On a side note, I love Sam Rockwell! There is no more natural weirdo actor working in movies today. He always seems to have wandered on to a movie set in the aftermath of an LSD jag, after getting lost trying to deliver a pizza.

9. You don't have to land in anyone's eye. Apollo 11 was aiming for something reasonable to land near, shooting for craters or whatnot. In Georges Meliers' early silent film A JOURNEY TO THE MOON (recently revisited in last year's HUGO), the spacecraft pulled a Three Stooges move and jabbed the Man in the Moon squarely in the right eye. Can you imagine what you had to wipe off your boots after disembarking from that?

8. You don't go mad from stress/despair/megalomania. By and large, Armstrong and his comrades seemed sane and well-adjusted and remained that way through their lives, even during their time in space. Apparently, no one hiring film astronauts bothers to do psychological screenings. In almost every space movie, someone goes utterly bonkers. Steve Buscemi in ARMAGEDDON, Walter Pidgeon in FORBIDDEN PLANET, Ricardo Montalban in STAR TREK: THE WRATH OF KHAN, almost anyone who's ever met Sigourney Weaver. And let's not discuss the crazy in artificial intelligence we'll save that for entry number 3.

7. You get to retire. As mentioned before, after the Apollo 13 mission, Armstrong retired from active service in the space program and lived a long and peaceful life. A space jockey is not allowed such privileges in the movies. In SPACE COWBOYS, just because the new generation is ill-equipped to handle things like TV antennae, rotary phones or Sputnik, NASA has to drag four old coots back into the space service to rescue a Soviet satellite before it plummets to
Buck emerging from his spacious craft.

Buck emerging from his spacious craft.
Earth. Head coot, Clint Eastwood, you see, designed all sorts of space systems when they were still using wires and punch cards, so he and his old (literally) comrades are the only ones who know how to handle the decrepit satellite. So he, Donald Sutherland, James Garner and Tommy Lee Jones get to be prodded and poked by Dr. Marsha Gay Hardin, while they're mocked by pimply faced young astronauts. But it ends well for them...well, all except one. Let's just say Tommy Lee Jones should have stuck to chasing down Harrison Ford.

6. You have chairs to travel in. Big chairs with lots of belts and other devices to keep you secure and have a fabulous reclining function to boot. They seem comfy. Comfort was not an option in early cinematic rocketing. In the original BUCK ROGERS serials (the ones with Buster Crabbe from the 1930's or so), the space travelers journeyed standing up in a narrow tube, while hanging onto ceiling straps, as though they were in the New York City Transit system. By the time they reached Alpha Centauri, their feet must have been screaming!

5. Dinner time is relatively peaceful. Sure, the food is dehydrated and all there is to drink is Tang. But wouldn't that be preferable to watching John Hurt's torso explode, releasing an alien infant, all in the middle of your spaghetti dinner? At least, I think it was spaghetti; it could have been John Hurt's intestines. (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, rent ALIEN. Watch ALIEN. At least two hours after dinner. Trust me.)

4. No one is going to satire you. An astronaut like Armstrong was considered a hero, a figure to be admired and emulated. A movie space man has to watch his back. Look at poor Darth Vader. Not only did
HAL, having a moment.

HAL, having a moment.
he have to suffer the indignity of Rick Moranis as Dark Helmet in Mel Brooks' SPACE BALLS, but he went on to endure near endless STAR WARS' parodies, satires and just plain crummy jokes, finally to be portrayed by some guy's thumb. You'd think they'd give the guy a break after Lucas wrecked his childhood by sticking him with Jar-Jar Binks.

3. Your technology doesn't try to kill you. As far as I remember, Apollo 11 was a pretty placid expedition. There was a brief issue with landing the module, but, all in all, things went pretty smoothly. It would have been much different if their on-board computer had been named HAL. In 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, the "infallible" ship's computer begins to believe the human crew is plotting against it...him?...and decides to protect its own existence by wiping out the humans. As if coping with zero gravity wasn't hassle enough, now you have to wrestle a homicidal PC?

2. Well, not usually. See APOLLO 13. At least there, the technology didn't have a paranoid grudge against anyone.

1. You don't need to be saved by a trash compacter. Astronauts should be pretty brave and self-sufficient and certainly seemed to be in Armstrong's day. The future, not so much. If you believe PIXAR, eventually, we will go into exile from an overly polluted strip mall and all turn into overgrown babies with a Slurpee habit. If not for WALL-E, we'd still be up in space, regressing to an amoeba state. That's just humiliating.

On that merry note, take a moment to remember Neil Armstrong and the days when it seemed our destiny to be traveling the stars. Now our greatest ambitions seem to involve getting on a reality show. Well, at least, Curiosity made it to Mars...

Happy Labor Day!

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Mike Thomas
Sep 3, 2012 1:35 AM
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Clever column. Thankfully, in this case, life does not imitate art.

Sep 5, 2012 10:23 AM
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Considering all of the modern conveniences we enjoy today, like cell phones, Skype and credit cards for calls, watching 2001- A Space Odyssey to see them in 1968 before they actually existed is still a thrill. Nice column

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A Musing in Movieland
Every other Sunday

One woman's attempt to find meaning in movies, from movies, and between movies and to figure out why movies should matter to us, all while trying to find a laugh in the whole, screwy business."

Other Columns
Other columns by Summer Wood:

American Gods (With apologies to Neil Gaiman) Pt 2

American Gods (With apologies to Neil Gaiman) Pt 1

Most Beautiful Woman Alive!

The Jazzier Age?

Happy Easter, Doc!

All Columns

Summer Wood
I'm still cautiously optimistic that there really is a pattern to our lives and am striving to find mine, although I secretly suspect that life is really just about a Big, Space Baby. Which would be disappointing. And confusing. But, hey, you gotta have a sense of humor about it all, right? Philosophical stuff aside, I am an attorney, an artist and a performer and, if I could figure out a way to make the last two pay the bills, I'd dump the first one tomorrow.

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Summer Wood by clicking here.

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