26th Jul2019

‘Armstrong’ Blu-ray Review

by Jak-Luke Sharp

Features: Harrison Ford (Narrator), Neil Armstrong, Mark Armstrong, Dave Scott, Gerry Griffin, Christopher Kraft | Directed by David Fairhead


In conjunction with the fiftieth anniversary of humanity’s achievement of the moon landing in 1969, the world of late is currently inundated with cinema revolving around anything Apollo 11. Audiences were treated to a stunning portrait of Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong in Damien Chazelle’s academy award-winning First Man in the latter half of 2018. This year audiences were once again treated to perhaps the most complete experience of the defining moment itself with Todd Douglas Miller’s masterful documentary Apollo 11. Two pieces of art that compliment both the extraordinary complex mission of landing man on the moon but also the blood, sweat and tears that pushed the three astronauts and the team to succeed.

To cap off an unofficial trilogy of sorts is David Fairhead’s Armstrong. A biopic of Apollo 11 mission leader Neil Armstrong, narrated by famed actor Harrison Ford (more on that a little later) reading through Armstrong’s private diary, ranging from his upbringing and family roots in middle America, his time as a fighter pilot in Korea, and ultimately the personal toll of universal declaration as world hero with the events of Apollo 11.

Armstrong is no doubt the weakest of the three films when compared to Apollo 11 and First Man, that unofficially cover the central plot of the moon landings. However, that is by no means a negative as David Fairhead’s film is an inspiring and informative exploration of Neil Armstrong in a detailed and eye-opening account of his sculpting as a person. The film fantastically opens up the often-reported recluse of Armstrong in a series of home video, interviews with friends and family and readings from his private diary. The level of home video is somewhat lacklustre, but considering the events (often tragic) that unfolded within Armstrong personal life, it is an understandable omission.

The level of interviews is impressive. Aside from one notable exclusion of one of the three-team members of the Apollo mission. Hint: it is not Michael Collins. There is a vast and terrific amount of insight into the personal and working life that builds upon the limited public notion of who Armstrong was. Co-workers and lifelong friends discuss the small intricacies of his character. More intriguing is his often-muted personal life explored via his two surviving children Rick and Mark, as well as pre-existing footage of ex-wife Janet Armstrong. The three interviewees discuss an astonishing and often hidden weight that squashed Armstrong due to the early death of his daughter and the chaotic fallout of Apollo 11. The film only lightly touches upon such threads as the wounds are still raw. However, the film does not help itself by desperately wanting to get back to the central mission itself.

Made more unfortunate is the narration of the film. Utilising a narration throughout, not to propel the film forward with exposition, but a narration of Armstrong’s letters to his family and personal diary that covers his war and space exploits, to its credit opens the film up for a more compelling journey. That being said, the narration by Harrison Ford is nothing short of a disaster. As any fans of Blade Runner knows, Ford does not deliver narration too well and often leads to disastrous results, and Armstrong is no different. Ford delivers a passive, monotone voice with no charisma or gravitas. He sounds as if it’s more of a chore than an honour to bring the subject to life. As the film progresses, the audience will undoubtedly soon begin to tire with such a lifeless vocal presence, and will no doubt bore the pants off anyone who has any desire to be interested.

It is clear the film wants to exploit the anniversary of the mission but by virtue misses the mark of what could make this documentary go from good to excellent. It goes over the same repeated actions of every and all documentaries or narratives that follow the moon landings and with that covers nothing new — made more peculiar with having everything to explore at its fingertips of its titular subject character. It often enough feels like a missed opportunity to craft the definitive documentary, and with that disappoints.

Armstrong is out now on Digital, DVD and Blu-ray from Spirit Entertainment


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