Keep Your Eye On The Grand Old Flag – by Mark Larson

With all due respect to many fellow conservative commentators, let me say this:

Stop it.  See the movie, then tell me what you think.

The flap over the new “First Man” film went viral before anyone knew all the facts.  Most critics had seen nothing but a  promotional trailer. Someone noted that there’s no “planting of the American flag” in the big new Universal film starring Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong, the first human being to set foot on the Moon.

That was all it took.

Suddenly all of the buzz (no offense to Buzz Aldrin) was all about “Hollywood values” stamping out patriotism and intentionally editing out anything pro-USA.

Even one of the Trump sons tweeted about this and the President mentioned at a rally.

Here’s the problem. It’s not the full story.

Recently I was given a private screening of “First Man”, thanks to NBC Universal and the Armstrong family.  As Chairman of the San Diego Air & Space Museum, I’ve been blessed to know many of the people who made history in America, including those portrayed in the movie.  I knew Neil Armstrong personally, introduced through my buddy Gene Cernan (Gemini 9, Apollo 10 and Apollo 17)  I know his sons, who are dear friends, and his late wife Janet.  I was honored to be able to see the final cut before the film opens October 12th.

The story, based in part on James Hansen’s  excellent (and authorized) Neil Armstrong biography “First Man”, is gripping from the start.   Armstrong’s career as a test pilot, notably the X-15, is worth a separate feature film.  I found myself nearly breathless during the first few minutes.  It’s a part of Neil’s life that has not been detailed on screen until now.

The untold story of Gemini 8 (with fellow astronaut David Scott) is also grab-your-seat action, with beautiful photography and editing. Had that mission failed, the USA may not have made it to the Moon.

The Apollo 11 launch and landing is shot in a way that it’s never been done. It transports the viewer to what Aldrin called a place of “magnificent desolation”. And we’ve all seen the planting of the flag scene. But we haven’t gone inside Neil’s head, with the personal background we experience through this epic story.

And that’s the point.  This is a film about Neil Armstrong, the man, his demeanor, his professionalism, his dedication. It’s a very human story about the toll such lofty endeavors took on family and his own psyche.

See this film in IMAX if you can. You will feel like you are on the moon with Neil and Buzz, hoping all works well so Mike Collins in the ColumbiaCommand Module can take them all home when the adventure is complete.

Here’s some of the random thoughts I wrote in my notes, right after seeing the movie: Riveting, New images of a story we thought we all “knew”. The casting is phenomenal. Historical accuracy is everywhere. The ending is somewhat disturbing, but revealing. Powerful. But then…

 If you’re expecting a non-stop couple of hours of action, that’s not the case.  There are stretches in the film that are slow, thought-provoking and sometimes frustrating. Viewers may ask why Neil Armstrong (as portrayed by Gosling) was such a man of few words, poker-faced, quiet.  But that was Neil. It’s a near-perfect portrayal of the man who changed history.   It’s a compelling human drama, with a very obvious reminder that he was the best choice to make that “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.

And about the flags. No, you won’t see the typical “Neil-and-Buzz-plant-Old Glory-on-the-lunar-surface” images.  But you will see a view of the Lunar Module and the flag planted next to it. And the American flag is in many places, on the rocket, on the spacesuits… so many that I lost count.  It’s also in a scene where young Rick Armstrong posted a flag in honor of his Dad.

And there are references to beating the Soviets. We were in a very clear space race with the Russians. And we won.  Period.

One of my favorite moments near the end is where a French woman says something like “I knew America could do it”.

And we did, backed by more than 400,000 men and women who fueled Project Apollo.   That was something Neil Armstrong pointed out every time I was with him. It wasn’t about him, it was about us.

This is a must-see film. And one of a handful I have seen during my lifetime that I want to experience again. And again.


Mark Larson is a contributor and AM760 San Diego radio host. He’s also a political analyst on KUSI NEWS TV and Chairman of the San Diego Air & Space Museum.

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