‘First Man’, the Movie Telling the Story of Neil Armstrong, Is Out Today

The First Man, a film adaptation of James Hansen's Neil Armstrong biography will be released today.

Today is the official release date of Damien Chazelle's "First Man". This is a film about the life and times of astronaut Neil Armstrong and the NASA's Apollo 11 Moon landing mission on the 20th July 1969.

Steven Spielberg serves as the film's executive producer.

The film has been adapted from James R. Hansen's novel (by the same name) by Josh Singer and stars Ryan Gosling as Neil, Claire Foy as Janet Armstrong and Jason Clarke as Edward Higgins White.

The film is set between 1961 and the fateful events of 1969 and follows Neil's journey to become the first man to walk on the moon.

It explores the sacrifices made and costs to the United States, and Neil personally, throughout this time. 

James Hansen wrote the book

The film is based on James R. Hansen's book "First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong". It was published by Simon and Schuster in 2005. This was the first official biography of Neil Armstrong's life and was written to mark the 40th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission in 2009.

The book, as the title suggests, describes Neil's involvement in the U.S. Space Program as well as including details of the man's personal life and childhood.

Once published, it received a warm reception from the public and well prominent members of the Astronomy and Spaceflight worlds. 

These included the venerable broadcast journalist Walter Cronkite (who died in 2009) and much-missed English public intellectual Patrick Moore (who died in 2012). 

James R. Hansen is a Professor of History at Auburn University, Alabama. He is a well-respected expert in the history of Science and Technology and has written about a variety of subjects from the early days of aviation to the environmental impact of golf courses. 

The First Man Book
Source: Amazon

The book spent three weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list and won a variety of awards including:-

- The American Astronautical Society's Prize for Astronautical Literature,

- The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics' Outstanding Book Award and;

- CHOICE Magazine's Outstanding Academic Book of 2006.

It has since been translated in Japanese, Chinese, Turkish and Croation with a Bulgarian version in the works.

James is a two time Pulitzer Prize nominee and his 1995 book "Spaceflight Revolution: NASA Langley Research Center from Sputnik to Apollo" was also nominated for this prestigious award. 

His 1995 book was nominated by NASA's Langley Research Center and was the first book NASA has ever done so. 

Clint Eastwood originally wanted to make the adaptation

Interestingly, though for many disappointingly, Clint Eastwood was originally billed as the Director but production stalled in the early 2010's. Clint and his production team at Warner Bros. had bought the rights to the "First Man" way back in 2003 just before the book's publication.

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This was nothing really new for Clint after all he has previously worked on space-based films in the past. In 2000 he directed and starred in the very popular "Space Cowboys" movie, for example.

As soon as production started it became mired in issues including Neil Armstrong and Clint Eastwood not seeing 'eye to eye'.

According to Hansen:-

 “Neil didn’t like the violence in Clint’s movies and Clint apparently appreciated space cowboys more than he did real engineer-astronauts".

Neil's death in 2012 was the final nail in the coffin for the original adaptation and production stalled and the project abandoned. 

Ambitions for the silver screen adaptation were revived in the mid-2010s when Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures took over the mothballed project. 

Damien Chazelle, who was critically acclaimed for his 2016 "La La Land", signed up for production as soon as he was able. Actor Ryan Gosling also announced he was interested, Gosling also starred in "La La Land". 

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The First Man Directo
The film was directed by Damien Chazelle (left) Source: Activités culturelles UdeM/Wikimedia Commons

The book's author, Hansen, was also brought in by the production team to help co-produce the movie. 

The film includes real footage and audio

The film includes audio from the original NASA landings. If you pay close attention when watching it, you should be able to make out some of the voices from the actual space program in the 1960s.

For example, when the "Eagle" lands on the Moon in the film you will actually hear the original reply from Houston. This voice is that of astronaut Charles Duke whose role during the mission was to liaise with Neil and the team on Apollo 11 as the missions designated Capsule Communicator (CAPCOM).

Neil Amstrong (Ryan Gosling in the film) says:-

"Houston, Tranquility Base here, the Eagle Has Landed". Charlie Duke (from historic audio) replies "Roger, Tranquility, we copy you on the ground. You've got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We're breathing again. Thanks a lot."

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The film already has some controversy

General Moon Landing conspiracy theories aside, the film has already met some criticism for omitting the planting of the American Flag. Although this might not even register as a problem for many the decision has been defended by actor Ryan Gosling.

"[The mission] transcended countries and borders...I think this was widely regarded in the end as a human achievement [and] that's how we chose to view it."

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But even historically there were some problems with the flag on the actual mission. According to James Hansen's book the astronauts' actually struggled with the malfunctioning flagpole, which "nearly turned into a public relations disaster". 

Director Damien Chazelle also explained his decision.

"In First Man, I show the American flag standing on the lunar surface, but the flag being physically planted into the surface is one of several moments of the Apollo 11 lunar EVA that I chose not to focus upon,”

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To be honest this might have added some comic relief to the film but it's an understandable decision to omit it - maybe we'll see something in the Director's cut? 

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