Friday, February 9, 2007

Review: The Astronaut Farmer

This is a movie that everyone's inner libertarian will enjoy. It is too bad for me that I stole my inner libertarian's gun and shot him years ago so that I could join the human race. But I'm going to have a very fun time reviewing this movie.

This movie has the perfect metaphor for a dream, a big rocket ship built in a barn. Well it is a perfect metaphor for the dream that the title character, Charles Farmer, has or the way that Hollywood writers or NBA stars think of reaching for dreams. Unlike an experimental fighter jets rockets cannot have ejection seats, just wouldn't work. Once lit the dream, er, rocket either goes up just fine or something goes wrong and anyone on board or possibly even nearby dies in the tragic accident. And that's exactly the sort of way that Charles Farmer goes for his dream through this whole movie.

It makes sense that Hollywood writers would think this was a good movie. After all they are living the dream. Each one of them is one of the few who made it into the lofty orbit of the movie system while so many of their comrades failed in their attempt to reach the heavens. So naturally they don't think about, "Well what would have happened if I didn't make it?" If Farmer was just a crazy single building a rocket out on his ranch and going bankrupt as a result of his overspending I probably would not react quite as negatively to this movie, but he has a family. And he has put everything at risk for the his dream, offered up all of their lives on the altar of the sacred dreamer, not just his own.

This movie is the epitome of the selfish, irresponsible idiot who believes in platitudes like, "It is important to reach for your dreams." A sane person who was unhappy with his life would not simultaneously try to keep the life he hates and putting it in hock for a joy ride. But he wants his joy ride in space more than anything and he doesn't even try to excuse it, as NASA does, by saying that he's doing science.

Through out the movie he says he never wanted to be a rancher, that was his father's dream. So why the hell is he doing this? Why not sell the ranch and take the money to start a new life working with Burt Rutan? For that matter this movie seems about three years too late. There already has been private space flight, a fact that the movie just ignores in favor of the tired old plot line of the big bad evil government standing in the way of private citizens. And there are a lot of other tired plot devices that are picked up and toyed with for a few minutes before being dropped without being resolved. The overprotective social worker after the children of the big dreamer she doesn't understand. The menacing government agents using whatever law they can to stop the hero. And, of course, the stupid hyperactive 'news' media.

Now for some physics criticisms and spoilers.

First off he tries his rocket and it fails. That isn't so surprising. The fact that he survives is totally surprising since if there really was enough punch to get him to orbit going sideways across the landscape on that thing would have reduced him to a red smear when he crashed to a stop. Secondly, wasn't that barn just a little to close to the house? Wouldn't a real aeronautical engineer have put it far enough away that if the fuel went up it would not reduce his beloved family home to a pile of lumber? For about five minutes after his first rocket failed I thought Farmer was about to grow up, but no his wife becomes as crazy as him and gives him a bag full of money from another plot device to build another rocket in a unrealistically short space of time.

And for that matter it does no better with his injuries and rehabilitation. In classic Hollywood style he ends up with cracked ribs, a broken leg, concussion and so on, but as soon as he's got the cast off and goes through some training/running montages he's right as rain. As with gun shot wounds apparently there are no consequences to crashing a rocket in Hollywood World.

In short I found this movie to be a big ol' pile of steaming clich├ęs and characters I hated. I recommend this movie to no one.

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