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  Warner Bros' The Astronaut Farmer

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Author Topic:   Warner Bros' The Astronaut Farmer
Robert Pearlman
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posted 02-23-2007 08:20 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The Dream is Alive: The Astronaut Farmer

It's a story that should be familiar to any space exploration enthusiast.

In spite of the obstacles, including the laws of physics, political pressure and a limiting budget, a small but spirited group launches their dreams.

It's the story behind the current New Space movement. It's the story behind NASA's past and future.

It's the story of The Astronaut Farmer.

A man, his horse and his rocket

Charles Farmer -- portrayed with just the right mix of quirkiness and sentimentality by actor Billy Bob Thornton -- was well on his way to being an astronaut when he gave up on his dream of flying in space to return to his family's Texas ranch. Years later, he is married to a supportive and beautiful wife (Virginia Madsen) and together they have three children.

Farmer's fascination with space is far from a distant memory, though. His first born, a son, is named Shepard after the nation's first astronaut. Farmer has acquired his own vintage spacesuit, which he is happy to wear for a visit to his daughter's classroom.

And oh yes, he's built a rocket in his barn.

Not a model rocket, of the type many astronaut-hopefuls build and launch from cardboard tubes and balsa wood fins, but a towering, faithful and hopefully working replica of NASA's first man-rated orbital booster, the Mercury-Atlas.

It is here that we, the audience, join Farmer as The Astronaut Farmer begins. We don't know how he built the rocket, though we learn it was at a great expense. And if his financial troubles aren't enough of a challenge, Farmer has just drawn the attention of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which doesn't quite know what to make of the ex-astronaut turned cattle rancher, but is adamant about dashing any dreams of Farmer's rocket ever leaving the ground.

NewSpace vs. NASA vs. the nation

Farmer's plight could easily be interpreted as analogous to the NewSpace movement. Privately funded rocket developers seeking to launch private payloads and space tourists know all too well the struggles presented by tightening budgets and political regulation. It was only within the past several years that the industry and government have come to agreements that allow forward movement on the development of private space-bound rockets.

Farmer's FAA is far less forgiving, though those in the industry may find familiarity with actor J.K. Simmons' portrayal of agency chief Jacobson.

A stronger parallel between the film and real life is far subtler.

Farmer's success or failure is based on his belief in a dream. As he passionately defends his flight plan, Farmer says, "If we don't have our dreams, we have nothing."

Beyond any of the justifications given for NASA's present and future programs is the hope of a better future for humankind. Like Farmer, NASA faces the challenges of engineering new designs based its prior successes, a shrinking budget and a government that seems pre-occupied with deconstructing the past rather than exploring the future.

Farmer's family, who dreams with and for him, is not unlike NASA's workforce and its supporters. They understand the dream, even if those around them -- Farmer's neighbors and the media who flock to his ranch -- do not.

"Somewhere along the line, we stopped believing that we can do anything," says Farmer. So, could be argued, has the nation, if not the world. We went to the Moon in 1969 because we didn't know we couldn't do so. Today, politicians and the public are too quick to assume that if a dream seems impossible, then it likely is.

Whether filmmakers Michael and Mark Polish had NewSpace or NASA in mind while crafting their story is unknown, though there are hints for the latter. The use of the iconic Atlas rocket and Mercury silver spacesuit elicits the glory of NASA's past, nearly 50 years ago. If The Astronaut Farmer were a NewSpace parable, one would expect a rocket design that derives little from government influence.

Said Mark Polish in Warner Brothers' production notes, "The story was sparked by our interest in space exploration, but beyond that, it's about a need to dream of adventures, whether it's Neil Armstrong or Lewis and Clark. I think that, as a society, we've stopped dreaming about exploration."

The dream is alive

Even if you ignore the potential metaphors presented by the film, it is difficult while watching The Astronaut Farmer to not start dreaming alongside Farmer and his family.

With its inspirational cinematography, which transforms the southwestern desert into as foreign and yet, at the same time, familiar setting as the lunar surface, the film's greatest strength is its strong cast of characters -- characters with whom anyone who has dreamt of achieving the impossible can relate. Thornton and Madsen deliver in their roles, as does the two young girls who play the incurably sweet Farmer daughters.

The Astronaut Farmer is an engaging fantasy that draws upon the American spirit for exploration: a spirit that was once strong within the nation's support for NASA and could be again, today.

Enter to win an official The Astronaut Farmer movie poster and Mercury-Atlas memorabilia in collectSPACE and Warner Bros. Pictures' contest. (Contest entry deadline: 11:59 p.m. CST Friday, February 23.)

KSCartist
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posted 02-23-2007 09:46 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for KSCartist   Click Here to Email KSCartist     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I've watched a number of interviews Thornton has done to promote the film. The common thread is that this is the type of positive message film that Frank Capra (It's a Wonderful Life) used to make.

Some where many of us lost the ability to dream and believe in ourselves. Few of us today seem to take responsibility for our situation. "It's not my fault..." and "I'll sue" seem to be the mindset.

Anything IS possible if you work hard enough to earn it. But if you take shortcuts or try to cheat, eventually it will come back to bite you.

I want every Young Astronaut I've ever mentored to see this film because we need messages of hope and heroes in our lives. I'm so sick of (pop, movie and sports... insert your own) "stars" and their over indulgences being the role models that the media pays attention to.

spacecraft films
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posted 02-23-2007 06:52 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for spacecraft films   Click Here to Email spacecraft films     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Ok. So with apologies to everyone waiting on Apollo 1, Apollo 11, etc. etc.... I've been kind of working around the clock lately so I asked my wife this afternoon if she'd like to go see a movie (before the kids got out of school). Naturally... this was to see Astronaut Farmer.

First, I liked it a great deal. But I had to cut it considerable slack to do so. I'll explain:

The characters were pretty full and I cared what happened to them, so this made for a compelling story. What I liked best, though, was some of the things that this movie said that aren't said in movies much anymore. One of my favorite things about the movie was that it protrays a family... and as a married (one time to my current and only wife!) father of three (all mine!) you just don't see this in the media much anymore. I liked seeing that... alot. One of my other favorite things was the roll of fatherhood was acknowledged... and in this day of the "single mother as hero" culture this was a pleasant change in storyline as well. Now on to the space stuff.

****** POSSIBLE SPOILER INFO BELOW*****

I liked the idea that this lone trek into space could be done. As I said to my wife, it was "Field of Dreams" but wasn't executed quite as well. I think its failing was that there were too many "crises" the screenwriters felt were necessary. The first attempt which resulted in his injuries (and needing to build another rocket) was an uneeded crisis. A better tension-builder would have been the original storyline about the impending foreclosure and how to launch beforehand. But they lost me a little with the first launch.

Then they felt as though they had to put him in peril again on the mission. I think I would have liked it better if the mission had been without peril, showing just how well he'd built and flown it... but maybe all of this is just me. After all, one of our (my wife and I) hobbies is talking about how scripts could have been improved, so maybe this is coloring my view of the movie.

***************SPOILER INFO ENDED**********

But overall I really liked it.. mostly for the things it said if not for the execution of the movie. I'm willing to cut it a great deal of slack. Overall... very worthwhile. Go see it. Suspend disbelief. And go into space with him. With all of the flaws I found, I still felt the chills up the spine at the appropriate moments.

John K. Rochester
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posted 02-23-2007 09:37 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for John K. Rochester   Click Here to Email John K. Rochester     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Plus... Keep an eye open for some very prominent homages to a couple of other Space Movies, especially "The Right Stuff"!!

Suspend your knowledge of all things logical that you know about launching manned spacecraft, and just enjoy the film for what it is, and Mark's synopsis was right on.

Moonpaws
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posted 02-25-2007 03:56 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Moonpaws   Click Here to Email Moonpaws     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Tim, I echo your sentiments. Loved it, loved it, loved it.

collocation
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posted 02-25-2007 05:51 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for collocation   Click Here to Email collocation     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Guys, let's be realistic, this movie was a good DVD choice at best, as much as I wanted it to be a good movie, it was not, pedestrian as best, let not turn this forum into a Star Trek convention

John K. Rochester
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posted 02-25-2007 06:20 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for John K. Rochester   Click Here to Email John K. Rochester     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Going back and looking at our comments, I don't see where anyone insinuated it to be an epic piece of film worthy of an Academy Award. It's comforting to know there are differing opinions and that you are concerned for our mental welfare as not to become "Farmies".

collocation
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posted 02-25-2007 06:43 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for collocation   Click Here to Email collocation     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Comparing it to the Right Stuff??

spacecraft films
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posted 02-25-2007 06:56 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for spacecraft films   Click Here to Email spacecraft films     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Actually, I think John's mention of an homage to the Right Stuff (I think he means the one shot of Farmer in his suit walking toward the camera in slo-mo) is a far cry from "comparing" it to the Right Stuff, if you're saying he is "comparing it" as in "it is as good as." That's not what he said.

The Right Stuff was a better-crafted film, albiet a flawed one as well (mostly in terms of getting things factually correct)...

Since this film was one of complete fiction, it doesn't require living up to that standard, and falls short in terms of construction (as I have noted above).

I wish it had been better executed. As one reviewer noted, it would have been much less if not for the caliber of the two leads, Billy Bob Thornton and Virginia Madsen.

poolman18
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posted 02-25-2007 07:10 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for poolman18   Click Here to Email poolman18     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Saw the movie last evening and at best it is A DVD rental. I was hoping for more, but I found it boring...especially when I had to wake up my wife.

collocation
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posted 02-25-2007 07:12 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for collocation   Click Here to Email collocation     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Your right without Billy Bob and Virgina the movie would not have been made. I have the same concern in the type of praise the forum is giving this movie, very similar to the Armstrong/Hansen book that really was not that good with the exception of the Lowell revalation, just an opinion and we all know about opinions

SCE to AUX
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posted 02-25-2007 07:24 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for SCE to AUX     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by spacecraft films:
After all, one of our (my wife and I) hobbies is talking about how scripts could have been improved, so maybe this is coloring my view of the movie.
Mark. Maybe you and your wife could submit the script for the missing first half of this movie. I have no problem with a good "suspension of disbelief" exercise now and again, but I felt like the curtain opened to AF part 2. Very weak on main character motivation and background. The thing was already in his barn! I don't wanna get down on the nuts & bolts level (geek alert), but it would have been fun and would have helped the storyline to at least show a time lapse of the discovery and collection of some parts and a little more about Farmer's Nasa background and departure. Oh well!

spacecraft films
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posted 02-25-2007 07:39 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for spacecraft films   Click Here to Email spacecraft films     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Well, since you've mentioned it, here are the changes we discussed, with an understanding that this contains SPOILER material, so to speak:
  1. There is some needed exposition in terms of how it got there, background, etc. but that can be achieved within the story. That didn't trouble us too much.

  2. The foreclosure storyline was kind of dropped (solved) quickly, even though it was a considerable part of the first of the movie. I kept thinking the first "launch" was a dream. Sadly it wasn't. They didn't need this, since it was the most unrealistic part of the whole movie, and was, frankly, just silly. Why not build the tension through continuing the foreclosure storyline, getting some money from advertising, charging the people to see the rocket, AND then having the death of her father... all focused on the one story arc.

  3. The FAA head wasn't multi-dimensional enough. He would have been much more interesting if in public he was the hard-*ss "you can't launch this thing" and then in private was pulling for its success. He could have even been in partner with the Bruce Willis character pulling for him behind the scenes. The way it played out was too cartoonish. Much more interesting to build characters like this deeper. Even adding a bit to Farmer's speech before the board and having the board rule in his favor based upon his passion is a bit more hopeful than the easy route of going with shallow stereotypical portrayals. And you don't lose much because the tension of the impending mission is always with you...

  4. By the time Farmer launched it should (and would) have been a worldwide press event. And if the FAA head had been more multi-dimensional, once he was up the whole flight could have been a huge climax. Imagine really working the orbital flight. The huge press frenzy causes Perth to leave on their lights for him. He sees the "fireflies" and reports them. One might have even plugged in a few cameos. Man, you could have really worked with this! Right down to a spectacular landing scene back on the farm. With the FAA head and the Bruce Willis character finally stepping out from behind the official roles and congratulating Farmer on the flight. I mean if you're going to pay it off... pay it off like Lindbergh landing in Paris... pay it off big.
We had a few other discussions, but that's the big picture.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 02-25-2007 10:05 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by collocation:
Guys, let's be realistic, this movie was a good DVD choice at best, as much as I wanted it to be a good movie, it was not, pedestrian as best, let not turn this forum into a Star Trek convention
For what it's worth, I saw the film a couple of weeks ago at an preview with NASA employees, contractors and 20 Houston Chronicle readers (I was among the latter).

The audience broke into impromptu applause three times during the screening and the comments heard exiting the theater were positive. Afterwards, the Chronicle readers went to dinner together and even though our ages and background varied from teenagers to an ISS flight controller, all shared being entertained by the film.

Was it my favorite movie of all time? Of course not. But I found it much easier to ignore the technical problems with the plot during the film then I did during Armageddon, for example. But then, I viewed The Astronaut Farmer more as a modern day fable...

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posted 02-25-2007 11:39 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Gordon Reade   Click Here to Email Gordon Reade     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I just returned from seeing the movie. I tend to think that anything that gets people thinking about space flight is good but there were two lines by Billy Bob that I found disturbing. At one point he says, "I think the government is good at assassinating people with dreams." Gee is that a reference to JFK or MLK? At another point he says, "If another county decided to go to the Moon I think we'd declare war on them." This seemed gratuitous to me.

P.S. I did however laugh when the government guy asked, "How do we know you aren't building a WMD?" He replied, "If I were you'd never find it."

Wehaveliftoff
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posted 02-26-2007 10:58 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Wehaveliftoff   Click Here to Email Wehaveliftoff     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
This Billy Bob Thornton film is a great step forward for mankind at this exact time. After the bad press NASA's burdened as of late it's very positive about man's step AHEAD to the future of space exploration, & turning away attention about the faults of NASA or it's astronauts faults/programs...

It's a funny film and a plus for the G-rated film audiences. Good timing and harmless fun.

tegwilym
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posted 02-26-2007 12:00 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for tegwilym   Click Here to Email tegwilym     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I saw the movie this weekend, definitely a Netflix movie rather than the $20 it cost me for me and my girlfriend to see it.

My sister has a movie review site, I wrote up a review for her.

Six or more "pie slices" makes it a recommended movie. I gave it 5.

spacecraft films
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posted 02-26-2007 04:38 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for spacecraft films   Click Here to Email spacecraft films     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I took the assassination quote not as a reference to an actual assassination, but a comment upon the nanny state creeping into everyone's lives.

spaceman1953
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posted 02-26-2007 08:11 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for spaceman1953   Click Here to Email spaceman1953     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Gordon Reade:
... but there were two lines by Billy Bob ...At one point he says, "I think the government is good at assassinating people with dreams." Gee is that a reference to JFK or MLK? P.S. I did however laugh when the government guy asked, "How do we know you aren't building a WMD?" He replied, "If I were you'd never find it."
Saw the film Saturday with my Mom and former spouse... I stayed awake for the whole time.

Thought the assassination comment was appropriate. Yeah, my government probably did kill President Kennedy...

What is more interesting to me is that this topic NEVER dies...

***SPOILER CONTENT FOLLOWS:***

I hoped the first launch was a dream.

The farmhouse DID have the FIELD OF DREAMS look to it...

Not sure ANYBODY in the film counted how many orbits he must have made, correctly.

The satellite he almost ran into was glossed over too much... didn't know if he was supposed to be shot down by it, dock with it and visit whoever might be inside, etc.

***END OF SPOILER STUFF***

Overall it was an OK film... there were a whole 12 to 15 peeps at my viewing... early Saturday afternoon. So it probably ain't going to make a lot of money.

Bruce Willis character was good...

Guess I thought that I did not expect a lot out of this movie. I was not surprise nor disappointed.

I expected October Sky to be a big disappointment, but it far surpassed what I expected. Just to compare two.

KC Stoever
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posted 02-27-2007 10:20 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for KC Stoever   Click Here to Email KC Stoever     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I'm looking forward to seeing the movie -- think the Polish brothers are terrific.

One outtake shown on television, with the Billy Bob Thornton interviews, made me think the directors/writers were deeply steeped in the fiction written about early American manned spaceflight.

One scene in particular reminded me of Tom Mallon's coming-of-age novel about a space-crazy kid set in 1962.

In the film, Farmer is in the cockpit with his two younger children (how did they all fit!) dreaming of spaceflight.

In the book, young Gregory has built a facsimile Mercury capsule in his suburban Long Island backyard (the 1962 version of a tree fort!). He has recruited his best friend to be Mercury Control. His friend goes home for lunch just as Gregory is facing reentry... OMG!

Except for this one serious suburban betrayal, the boys play and dream for hours.

The book, like the movie (I suspect), is about the power of dreams.

John K. Rochester
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posted 02-27-2007 02:18 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for John K. Rochester   Click Here to Email John K. Rochester     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
There were a few homages to "The Right Stuff"... yes, one was the slow motion walk in the space suit. Another was after the second launch when you saw the image of the feet running down the hallway into the FAA meeting room, with the person braking into the meeting and announcing "He's Up There" (or something to that effect).

tegwilym
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posted 02-27-2007 03:07 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for tegwilym   Click Here to Email tegwilym     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
***spoiler***

Yeah, what was the deal with that satellite that took out his electrical system? At first when they showed that, I commented to my girlfriend "Oh, he met up with the Russians?" thinking it was a Soyuz, but then it just got confusing when he passed it and went dark.

Definitely a DVD movie or a matinee.

mdmyer
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posted 03-06-2007 06:47 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for mdmyer   Click Here to Email mdmyer     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Miranda and I missed the movie when it was a the local theater. I checked the webpages of nearby theaters only to learn the movie was no longer being shown. Our only other option was to drive the 93 miles, one way, to see it at the Studio 30 in Olathe, Kansas.

I worked a midnight to eight shift Monday morning and after a 4 hour nap I picked Miranda up after school and we headed to Olathe. The showtime was at 7:30pm and as it turned out we were the only ones at this showing. That was great because we could talk as much as we wanted about the movie. As the credits were being shown I was singing Rocket Man along with Elton John. It is probably a good thing that no one else was there to "experience" that.

Miranda and I really liked it. Even though I had not slept much I had no trouble staying awake. I also hoped the first launch was a dream and that was the only thing about the movie that I did not like. I told Miranda that I did not like the first launch and how a rocket would not fly in the horizontal position so close to the ground. That is when she told me that it was not flying but that it was on the ground being pushed by the engines. I did not go expecting to see a documentary and it wasn't. If it was playing locally we might have tried to see it again. No doubt we will get it on DVD the first day or two that it is out.

Topping off the gas tank. $14
Supper at Cracker Barrel $24 (tip included)
Cost of the show for two $12
Large popcorn and soda $10
Spending an evening with your daughter. Priceless.

Glint
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posted 03-06-2007 05:55 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Glint   Click Here to Email Glint     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Overall, I liked it and so did my family, including daughters aged 20 and 21.

I liked it too, but since it's more fun to criticize...

The misfire seemed confusing and utterly preposterous. I've seen enough Spacecraft Films (tm) footage of rockets tipping over to realize that a rocket that does so is guaranteed to fireball and not go off on a merry sled ride sliding around on the ground. And the barn was hardly touched, not torched?

Also, could have done without the political pandering of the writer/director/whoever. Silly talk about assassinations (mentioned in the thread above), plus was it really necessary to inject the sinister "Patriot Act" (boo! hiss!) into the script not once but twice? Pu-leeze. If only Hollywood could ever resist the urge to politicize.

sts205cdr
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posted 03-06-2007 06:28 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for sts205cdr   Click Here to Email sts205cdr     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
When I realized the mis-fire wasn't a dream, my first thought was how little regard or thought he had given to his family's safety. His wife could have been cut to pieces by flying glass and debris! After that, I was on the government's side. He *was* being reckless and dangerous.

dsenechal
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posted 03-08-2007 06:46 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for dsenechal   Click Here to Email dsenechal     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
We like Audie.

FFrench
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posted 03-23-2007 10:49 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for FFrench     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I found Seth Shostak's review of the movie an interesting read.

DavidH
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posted 07-10-2007 08:58 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for DavidH   Click Here to Email DavidH     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The Astronaut Farmer comes out on DVD today and includes among the special features "A Conversation with NASA Astronaut David Scott."

Rick
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posted 07-10-2007 05:09 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Rick   Click Here to Email Rick     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Don't get too excited about the conversation with Scott. It lasts just 2 minutes, 44 seconds.

I've not watched the "making of" documentary yet, but it clocks in at nearly a half hour. That's a decent bonus.

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