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The Astronaut Farmer by Mark Polish (writer/director)
Review by Rogan Marshall
Film  ISBN/ITEM#: B00005JPLC
Date: 23 February 2007

Links: Official Site / IMDB / Show Official Info /

When a NASA astronaut (Billy Bob Thornton) leaves the agency to save the family farm, he can't quite give up his dreams of space, no matter how much the government might want him to...so he sets about building a rocket in his barn. Though it tries to be a "Spacefield of Dreams" it winds up being a cautionary tale...about how not to do a movie about private rocketeering. (EL)

I saw The Astronaut Farmerlast night, or at least most of it (I actually hated it so much that I walked out on the last twenty minutes, because I was so angry at the movie for pinning its entire narrative to whether or not the rocket works right, that I refused to wait and find out).

It's very poorly written, for one thing. The main thing is it's a certain kind of poorly written movie that always fires me up, because I've worked in Hollywoodland, and I know how it happens: the slower two-thirds of the guys in development like to read "treatments" (polished plot summaries for as-yet unwritten screenplays) that work great in one page - "give me one page on it," these guys like to say... and a side effect of that, is, that a lot of writers get work, who are really good at writing the one-page, and then don't know how to add more story and character, when the time comes to write 100 pages. The Astronaut Farmer just sort of keeps circling the same several story beats, without ever fleshing them out, or moving them forward faster than it absolutely has to...

The writers haven't done any research, at all. Every time the script runs up on any research point, science, legal, historic, psychological, it carefully dodges the kind of details you'd get from reading up on the subject, even lightly... which is particularly damaging, to the astronaut/homemade rocket thing: I mean, it's a story about a "dreamer" who flunked out of the NASA program, for psych reasons, who literally hocks the farm to build his own rocket... it has a warm feel-good tone, and largely hangs on the twin dated platitudes, that madness and genius and vision and wisdom are all pretty much the same thing, and that anyone can do anything if he only tries hard enough... then it fails to address the psych material in any interesting way - I mean, careful research could make the question of whether he's a madman or a genius become ever more absorbing, as his character, and what its details imply, unfolds, right? No... but more importantly, in fact it's crippling, there's not a word of technical detail on the rocket itself.

I'm no bug for space travel, but I'd become entranced by a movie that set out to explain how, and whether or not, a guy could build a one man orbital vehicle in the barn and fire it... how much it would cost, the equipment necessary... etcetera. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's impossible... but the guys who wrote this movie didn't even look into it.

Every time someone tells Billy Bob it's impossible, it's for, you know, ideological reasons... and so he can make another speech about following his dreams... it's frankly insulting: in one scene, one of the expert friends Billy Bob allows to see the rocket (which has been completed except for the fuel before the movie started, so we never see him working on it, really) looks up at the thing and says, "That's some expensive metal, you got there." Billy Bob says, "Well, you got to have the good stuff, for something like this." Honestly: that's almost word for word.

What's really weird, is that Billy Bob Thornton would get involved in something so palpably mediocre... I mean, the guy does really good work in interesting movies most of the time, and he's a writer, himself. I figure maybe it's been a long time since somebody offered him a lead role in a starring vehicle like an A-list leading man, and he couldn't bring himself to pass up the opportunity.

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