Thursday, January 12, 2012

Mike Woolf's MAN ON A MISSION: Space travel can be yours (if you can afford it)

TrustMovies had an interesting thing happen to him at the press screening for MAN ON A MISSION: RICHARD GARRIOTT'S ROAD TO THE STARS (which should win the Lengthy-Title compe-tition for this year). The projectionist at the screening venue, with whom TM occasionally chats pre- or post-screenings, mentioned how much he had enjoyed this particular film. As this was the first time I'd heard a projectionist talk about actually enjoying a film, I asked him why. "Oh, I've just always loved space travel and NASA and rockets and all that." Then he looked at me and noted, "You're the right age for that, too. Didn't you grow up loving it all?"

Well, not so much, actually. Oh, I loved fantasy sci-fi and space travel, all right, but give me too much of the science and not enough fiction, and you'd lose me. As an older adult, the reverse seems to be taking place. And so I did indeed enjoy Man on a Mission, and I suspect that many older adult males (and maybe some females) will do likewise. Yet, because the film won the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the 2010 SxSW film fest, it evidently has a "draw" factor for the younger set, too. Director Mike Woolf, shown at right, tells his main character's story simply and well: Richard Garriott (shown below), the son of one of the earlier American astronauts, Owen Garriott, was a bright kid who excelled at early video games (not only playing them -- but creating and designing them). He made a literal fortune from his Ultima series (unknown and unplayed by yours truly, who last handled a joystick in the era of Pac-Man), but Garriott's strongest desire through the years was to follow his father into space.

To get thrust into orbit, as dad did via NASA, however, you cannot be near-sighted (Richard always was), and so he invests his fortune (or certainly a lot of it: $30,000,000!) into planning and preparing for space travel via Russia -- the only country that has a space program offering space travel (for a hefty cost) to private citizens. This is not, however, simply a matter of paying your money and taking the trip. There's a lot of training, pre-flight, much of which we see here. And it is pretty interesting. Via his dad and NASA, Richard also creates some experiments aboard the space station and brings along his high-def movie camera to record them (and other transactions) below. So this is indeed, as the unduly nasty review in this week's Village Voice points out, a kind of "home movie." (What is it with the V V's increasingly negative, second-string reviewing staff? Angry, smart-ass youth in action...)

The movie is mostly a straight-out, how-I-got-there-and-what-happened-when-I-did kind of thing, without a lot, it must be said, of surprise along the way. Yet I think you'll find most of it interesting and quite possibly be moved by what Garriott has to say regarding what he learned most and felt strongest about during his space trip. (This probably accounts for why he continues to support private space advancement and environmental causes.)

Man on a Mission, from First Run Features, arrives tomorrow, Friday, January 13, in theaters in New York City (Cinema Village), Detroit (Detroit Film Theater), Chicago (Facets CINÉMATHÈQUE), and Lake Worth, Florida (Lake Worth Playhouse) -- and elsewhere through the country in the weeks to come. Click here to see a complete roster of scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

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