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Astronaut Farmer, The

Astronaut Farmer, The (2006) Movie Poster
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  •  USA  •    •  104m  •    •  Directed by: Michael Polish.  •  Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Virginia Madsen, Max Thieriot, Jasper Polish, Logan Polish, Bruce Dern, Mark Polish, Jon Gries, Tim Blake Nelson, Sal Lopez, J.K. Simmons, Kiersten Warren, Rick Overton.  •  Music by: Stuart Matthewman.
        Texan Charles Farmer left the Air Force as a young man to save the family ranch when his dad died. Like most American ranchers, he owes his bank. Unlike most, he's an astrophysicist with a rocket in his barn - one he's built and wants to take into space. It's his dream. The FBI puts him under surveillance when he tries to buy rocket fuel; the FAA stalls him when he files a flight plan - it's post-9/11, after all. His wife is angry when she finds out their bank is initiating foreclosure. Charlie fears failure and decides, precipitously, to launch. Are twenty-first century American dreams just a sign of insanity? Are those who believe in dreamers only fools?


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Image from: Astronaut Farmer, The (2006)
Image from: Astronaut Farmer, The (2006)
Image from: Astronaut Farmer, The (2006)
Image from: Astronaut Farmer, The (2006)
Image from: Astronaut Farmer, The (2006)
Image from: Astronaut Farmer, The (2006)
Image from: Astronaut Farmer, The (2006)
Image from: Astronaut Farmer, The (2006)
Image from: Astronaut Farmer, The (2006)
Image from: Astronaut Farmer, The (2006)
Image from: Astronaut Farmer, The (2006)
I think you can pretty much gauge whether you're going to like this film by deciding whether you think these lines (Farmer's thoughts during a funeral) are good:

There are no stop signs up there. There is no defining space. We have always defined our space. A wall here, a room there. A hallway, a road. We have this way of dividing our space until it equals a direction. We even created a space for the dead. Space is a difficult thing to grasp.

To me, they read just like Bush speaking off the cuff, where he's got an idea he wants to take a stab at but doesn't bother trying to (or perhaps can't) put the stab into coherent form. Here the writer clearly wanted to connect the funeral with outer space somehow, and just figured any old combination of words would do.

I really liked the part during the credits, when Farmer is on the Leno show. That seemed so real that I almost thought Billy Bob Thornton himself had ridden a rocket into space. I'm assuming that was improvised. Good job, Billy Bob! I also like what Farmer said to the guy appraising his property.

But that's it. To me this is a textbook example of a movie make by people who think that movies are commodities. I could go on and on—there are examples of bad movie throughout—but here is just a small selection:

  • I've got this theory that a movie gets to feed you one impossible to swallow thing and still be good, or great, even. But that thing has to be mitigated as much as possible, and you don't get to include a second impossible to swallow thing. I'm gullible enough to buy the premise of one guy sending himself into orbit. But with just his 15 year old son for technical help? I don't think so. I'd prefer they had a team of engineers, but if it's gotta stay within the family, at least make the kid older, maybe a 22 year old engineer. And have Farmer consult with some technical people occasionally. It would take hardly anything away from his achievement. And if you're going to sell the idea of 1.5 people building a huge rocket, you've got to convey the incredible amount of work involved. They say he works on it a lot, but jeez, show us a montage of him working, or him being too exhausted or sleepy to move, or something.

      • Why am I supposed to like this guy? He puts his family at risk of complete financial ruin, after seeing what that did to his father. He rents (or buys) a carnival ride to put on the property for the kids to play with, when there is literally no money for groceries. He throws a brick—hard--at his friend who works in a bank. The first time he launches, his wife, in their house and unaware, is so close that the windows explode all around her. He doesn't warn the crowd hanging out outside his ranch, comes within feet of killing them, then doesn't express regret or warn them the second time. He carelessly loses his wedding ring and doesn't give a rip or spend time looking for it (and he has a surprising amount of free time), even though it bothers his wife. And he yanks his kids out of school for a month to help him; Tell me those little girls are going to be of any use beyond bringing him sandwiches and lemonade. And there's talk about how what he's doing is for the whole family, but he seems to be in it completely for himself. For example, he's not shown taking any photos to share later.

          • Getting access to fuel is the main thing holding him back (the other being permission to launch). When he gets the idea for an alternative fuel, he tells his son, "we got all the stuff right here in the barn," by which apparently he means a rocketful of fuel components, because you never see anything delivered. Then, to get fuel for the second launch, he uses the tired guy-dressed-like-him ploy to send all of the people surveilling his place on a wild goose chase, so the tanker can just drive right in unnoticed. Sure, I believe that would work just fine.

            • -When they're building the second ship you hear an audio montage of technical talk, to convince you that they're, well, doing technical stuff. They slip in an overly-obvious "Oxygen could last three times longer than needed. But let's not put that to the test." Smooth, writers Polish! Then, in the event, Farmer stays up in orbit way more than three times the planned amount, and does just fine.

              • Virginia Madsen (who overacts in the film, BTW) brings home money from the bank to build the second rocket, apparently in cash, in a paper bag, like she stole it. And in the span of one gesture, the light switches from midday to sunset, something you can't avoid noticing. Why didn't they fix that?

                • -Tell me that crash wouldn't have killed Farmer really, really, dead, no matter how good his capsule protection was.

                  • I'm tired of films with a technical aspect making tons of gross errors that would bother an average 8th grade science student. Why the writers don't consult an 8th grade science student to patch that up is beyond me, but I'd bet that if I were to point the errors out to them, they'd say something like "This isn't a film about science. It's a film about how 'Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream '" (which is an actual Bush quote, not a typo.) Well, it can be about families and dreams and still not yank people out of their suspension of disbelief.

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