Back to the Moon 3: 2024 reality check

Well it was nice while the positivity lasted, but reading some more into the Orion/Lunar Gateway/Artemis situation, it’s clear that things are murkier than I’d hoped regards possibly returning to the moon in 2024, as this article indicates. I can’t say I was surprised, the manned space program since the days of Apollo has always been dictated to by the political establishment, its inevitable considering the funds involved but nonetheless as a keen enthusiast in stretching frontiers and exploration (hell, I was a Star Trek Original Series kid, it’s in our blood) I was pretty excited by the possibilities. You’d think I’d learn to curb my enthusiasm a little.

13 logoSo anyway, I’ve been spending my last several days listening to a great Apollo-related podcast, 13 Minutes to the Moon, which is really worth investigating if you are interested in Apollo and the upcoming anniversary. Its very similar to HBO’s From the Earth to the Moon series in approach, but there’s something nice and intimate at just listening to something, attentively considering what interviewees are telling us, it’s a different experience to just watching a documentary on television. Episode 8 has just been made available, so that’s what I’ll be listening to tomorrow.

The series has certainly been giving me the benefit of perspective each morning on the commute, before I suffer the pull of inevitability and return to my desk job, and conversations about the Women’s World Cup, the Cricket World Cup, or Wimbledon, or the Conservative leadership contest and Brexit. I tell you, it’s a warzone out there. Life wasn’t any simpler in the 1960s (1968 was proof of that, with two great similarly-focused episodes in both 13 Minutes to the Moon and From the Earth to the Moon will testify) but to a kid watching Star Trek back when Apollo was being put out to pasture, it seemed much simpler, and humanity sure seemed to just dream a little harder. The world just seems so strange now.

Back to the Moon 2: Eno’s Apollo

apollo2Sticking with the topic of July 20th’s anniversary, I thought I’d remark upon an interesting release timed to coincide with it- Brian Eno’s Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks is getting a re-release on July 19th, remastered (again? Hey, I’ve been here before) and now in an extended edition across two discs.

Written, produced and performed by Brian Eno with his brother Roger and Daniel Lanois, the album was recorded in 1983 for Al Reinert’s documentary, For All Mankind. The album is probably most famous for its beautiful highlight Ascent, one of the loveliest pieces of ambient music I ever heard (and the ‘inspiration’ I suspect for Eno’s contribution to David Lynch’s Dune, the Prophecy theme– no doubt Ascent was on the film’s temp track).

The second disc here is all-new music from the three musicians (their first reunion since the original album, apparently) and is a collection of new tracks designed as an alternative score to Reinert’s documentary. Intriguing prospect, but as I alluded to earlier, I’ve already bought this album twice on CD. Triple-dipping an album? I thought that nonsense went out with the umpteenth edition of Blade Runner. Oh well, here we go again.

One of the new tracks written and performed by Brian Eno can be heard here, sounds promising-

 

 

 

Back to the Moon

Hey, here’s some topical news I thought I’d mention here as we’re approaching a certain special anniversary this July 20th- NASA has today successfully tested their Orion spacecraft’s launch abort system, an important stage towards its goal of returning to the moon. What I found really interesting is the schedule they have in place, which currently has NASA returning to the moon by 2024. Which really isn’t that far away when you think about it.

orion

Orion looks similar to the Apollo capsule, but this is deceptive- it is larger, able to carry four crew rather than Apollo’s three, and thanks to an array of solar panels will be able to stay in orbit for months at a time. An unmanned test of the hardware will be repeated by a manned mission that will take its astronauts on a long orbit around the moon that will last about 25 days – a far cry from the 8-day period of Apollo 11 or the 12-day period of the final Apollo 17. This is clearly a ‘bigger, further, longer’ equivalent of the Apollo 8 mission, and I cannot see details of an actual  lunar lander other than this non-NASA link here so I suspect any lunar landing will be later.

I have seen reports of a Lunar Gateway, which is a planned space station orbiting the Moon and used as a bridge between the lander vehicle and the Orion capsules travelling to/from Earth, and also serving as an eventual launchpad to Mars. Heady stuff. Just thinking about a space station out there brings to mind Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and while the Lunar Gateway is obviously much smaller, I have to marvel at the sheer ambition of it; to my mind still the stuff of science fiction movies, but you never know.

Apollo was certainly ahead of its time and the technology we had; maybe the tech has finally caught up with the ambition of landing on the moon and the grand vision of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Such a pity both Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C Clarke aren’t here to see it – but I hope I’m still young enough to be around to see it myself…

Whats coming in July

Hey, welcome to July- and it’s going to be an interesting month, so I thought I’d add a post that looks ahead.

armOf course, the big thing this month (other than my wife’s birthday, hey, I know what’s most important) is that we going to have the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and as something of a space nut, it should indeed be a pretty fascinating time. So expect to see me post another look at First Man on 4K UHD, and review the documentary Armstrong on Blu-ray that’s due in a few weeks. Unfortunately, the widely-praised documentary Apollo 11 recently released on disc in America is region-locked, and its limited run in cinemas currently doesn’t include one near me, so I have to wait for its November disc release over here (unless I get pleasantly surprised by an airing on tv, as you never know with these things). I’m really excited about HBO’s brilliant series From the Earth to the Moon getting a HD release shortly, and really, really excited that it appears to have been properly remastered with a Dolby Atmos track and new visual effects shots. As I remarked awhile ago, the old DVD I have looks pretty much unwatchable, especially on an unforgiving OLED panel, so having this show in a great release is more than I could have hoped for, really.  You never know, if whispers are to be believed, we might even be getting a proper soundtrack set too, something which I’ve been wishing for since, well, I first saw the show back in 1998 (if I remember correctly, the show’s original dvd release in old-fashioned 4:3 was also my very first international purchase on the internet). I also intend to dust off some of the Spacecraft Films DVDs that I have, particularly the Apollo 11 set.

The same day that Armstrong and From the Earth to the Moon land on disc, so too does Captain Marvel, which I missed during its theatrical release. I’m curious to see what I think of it, as I gather it got a mixed response from fans (something also apparently true of Spiderman: Far From Home, making me wonder if the bubble is finally bursting for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, considering I had such misgivings regards Avengers: Endgame). The following week we get Alita: Battle Angel, which I saw back in February– I enjoyed it enough to have ordered the 4K release, so maybe I’ll post a review of how it looks at home, and see if I’m still hoping for a sequel.

gloryBeyond that, July 29th sees the release of Glory in 4K UHD and Chernobyl, the HBO/Sky limited series that everyone at work has been raving about. I guess those will be reviews posted in August.

Now, anybody who had the curiosity to read my post summarizing June will have noticed that I have reached 83 in my tally of ‘new’ film/television experiences. I also have a fair few items already waiting to be watched- films like The Nun, Rampage, Zathura, Lady Bird, Unsane, all kinds of stuff piling up on the Tivo or on Netflix/Amazon, and I really want to catch up with the second seasons of Star Trek: Discovery and Stranger Things.

But I really do think it’s time to go back and rewatch some of the discs/films that I’ve seen before that I just, well, kind of miss. I’ve quite enjoyed my (albeit limited so far) series of posts rewatching films from 1989 that are currently getting anniversary releases, and I’d certainly like to continue with that more, to which end I’ve got the 4K UHD release of Field of Dreams on the way and Spielberg’s Always on Blu-ray sitting on the shelf. So if all goes to plan, I will likely refrain from watching too many ‘new’ films in favour of going back and revisiting some of those oldies over July and August. If only to maintain my sanity. Good lord I’ve been watching some rubbish lately.

Part of that of course will be my rewatch of From the Earth to the Moon, so yeah, I hope to relax with some od favourites over the summer.

Unfortunately, this month is also the month of Wimbledon, and anyone reading this blog over the years may remember Claire is a big fan of Wimbledon and commandeers the television for the tournament, usually relegating me to Wimbledon Widower status, so it’s anybody’s guess how much of this stuff I have planned that I’ll get to watch this month all this month… Possibly none of the above. Hey ho.

 

Listening to First Man OST

firstmostThe soundtrack by Justin Hurwitz is as flawed as the film for which it was written (and I really should get around to posting my review of the film soon) and yet, also like the film, in spite of any misgivings, it does, ultimately, work. Just not the way one might expect. Its quite a stroke of genius in its use of harp and theremin, the latter an instrument so synonymous with spacey 1950s films and their aural wake through genre cinema for decades that it almost slipped into parody. Its a dangerous thing to use here in a drama about the first moon landing, the man who made the first step there and the grief and tragedy that (allegedly) propelled him there. But it works. Just. As a whole the score is a mixed bag of electronic soundscapes and those lovely harp/theremin interludes and a few more bombastic moments, but generally it is quite melodic and quite sophisticated and fresh-sounding. Its certainly a relief from the usual Zimmer drone we tend to get these days, and like the composers earlier La La Land score it really harks back to old-school scoring.

The problem with the score is, like the film itself, one of a blurred focus. Partly this is because the while the film pretends to be a dramatic study of grief and loss and a fractured life, it is also a fairly routine drama about how we got to the moon, of Apollo and its astronauts, and it couldn’t really do both satisfactorily. The score mirrors the films highs and lows- its sensitive moments are its best, although I particularly enjoyed the tense heroics of The Launch and the driving theme that is placed throughout the film and propels the End Title– unfortunately the noisy electronic soundscapes overly distract from the whole. Also, while most (possibly all) of the score is here, it is by its spotting in the film very ‘bitty’, most of the tracks too short to make for comfortable listening over 70 mins (the track total is 37 tracks, some tracks as short as 28 and 48 seconds). A shorter album of highlights would make for a far more enjoyable and focused listen- and yes, funnily enough, something similar could have been said of the film itself.

 

 

The Last Man on the Moon (2014)

last1This terrific documentary is a salient reminder of how much the world has changed since the 1960s and the glory days of Apollo. As a lad who grew up fascinated by the space program of that era, it’s hard to express what the future looked like back then, when everything seemed possible. Of course, I was a kid struck by the romantic adventure of going to the moon, I didn’t understand the political expediencies of budgets and a Vietnam War. The future I thought was ahead of us, that I thought we would inherit, was not what eventually transpired.

How can it be that the last time a human left a footprint on the moon, or even left low-Earth orbit, was back in 1972? What happened? How is it that the launch pads and all the NASA infrastructure is now left just rusting in the sun?

Such thoughts are inevitable, and the sentiments considered, watching this fascinating documentary film that is, as the title suggests, chiefly centered upon the life and thoughts of Gene Cernan, the titular last man on the moon, and his adventure on Apollo 17 in 1972. Its a surprisingly candid and emotional film that reveals much of those heady days of the space program, his life that lead to it and the cost to his private life because of it.  Of course there is a lot of ego demonstrated here- Cernan was not the reclusive type like Neil Armstrong was, but there are a few moments towards the end where Cernan reflects at what he lost by being so obsessed with his career. The knowledge that time is indeed finite – and that Cernan himself only had a little time left, as he passed away in 2017- makes his story rather poignant. How does one live anything like an ordinary life having been a part of something as massive as Apollo? When you are one of only twelve people in all of human history to have stepped on the surface of another world?

This documentary doesn’t really have the answers, but it is very informative and quite emotive and beautifully shot. It is indeed a very sobering reminder of what we as a species can do when the political will is there, but also a reminder of what can be lost when we lose our way. Was the expense and effort behind Apollo a folly? What was the point of it all? Will we ever follow in the footsteps of those original twelve? These are questions that rattle around in your head after watching something like this. Its all very inspiring but rather depressing too. The future isn’t what it used to be.

The Fall of Apollo

hatch1God, I’m really getting a bit peeved at having to write these memoriam posts. The news yesterday that Richard Hatch, the actor likely most famous for his role as Apollo in the 1970’s Battlestar Galactica tv series, died on Tuesday was another of those sobering moments that is becoming all too frequent these days. Must definitely be a sign of growing old and the cultural icons of my generation inevitably getting older- it was almost a shock to learn that Hatch was 71. I thought he was younger than that, but now that I think about it, it just makes sense, considering that BSG dates back to 1978.

So thats Carrie Fisher, Miguel Ferrer, John Hurt… and now Richard Hatch, in the space of just two months. I know other celebrities and authors etc have passed away in that timespan too, but on this blog I’m just noting the passing of those cultural icons that made some impact on me growing up. And I’m doing so all too frequently.

While he will be best remembered for playing Apollo in the original BSG, I much preferred him in Ron Moore’s BSG reboot, in which he played the terrorist/politician Tom Zarek, a  very complicated role which he gave a very nuanced and impressive performance in a recurring part through the series. Compared to the frankly one-dimensional part of Apollo, Zarek was a dark and conflicted character that you couldn’t really trust but you really wanted to be able to like. Maybe a part of that latter was his Apollo personna bleeding through. In anycase, I always enjoyed seeing him turn up in the BSG reboot and it always signalled an interesting episode.

I recently started a re-run of the BSG reboot, and not long ago watched the first season episode that featured the introduction of his Tom Zarek character. Yeah, he was just fascinating to watch in that, and of course he just got better in the role as he returned during the series. I must say he surprised me; I thought his casting was a bit of an obvious publicity gimmick at the time, and a clever one at that as the reboot struggled to gain a reputation and justification in the eyes of fans of the original show. But beyond that publicity thing I didn’t see much point, but I was proved wrong. I really didn’t expect to see him so good in such a different role, but he pulled it off and yes, I was always glad to see him turn up again later in the series. He certainly went up in my estimation as an actor.