Fantastic Review: Man on a Mission

By  · Published on September 25th, 2010

For $30 million, you can visit space. You will have to urinate upside down, but there’s an incredible view.

Video game pioneer Richard Garriott became one of a handful of civilians who made it past the wild blue yonder, fulfilling a life long dream of becoming an astronaut, following in his father’s footsteps, and helping to propel the idea of space travel heading into the private sector.

Unfortunately, the documentary Man on a Mission has trouble telling an interesting story because it has to condense over a year into a normal run-time while focusing on a nice enough man who’s not exactly a compelling figure.

The biggest issue with the movie is that it’s an overt vanity exercise. It’s mildly intriguing to watch one man’s journey toward space – the process is a severe commitment which requires extensive language, scientific and physical training. However, the movie does more to show him speaking his journal entries and thoughts about the process than to show directly the interesting parts that might make a space nerd’s heart beat faster. Even when on the International Space Station, there are shots of Garriott showing particular sections, explaining why they are interesting and then not displaying it.

In a way, it all seems like the slide show that they played at the middle school graduation – so much so that I expected to hear Green Day’s “Time of Your Life” playing at some point.

There are some touching moments, but nothing beyond a casual sweetness. Garriott’s father was an early astronaut, and there’s a special connection to seeing a second generation going into space that calls to mind what the future may hold. Sadly, the claim repeated by Garriott about space travel coming to the masses seems absurd in light of its current price tag.

It’s slight, and it’s the documentary version of a sugar pill without most of the sweetness, but it’s a good enough curiosity. Strangely, it’s hard to imagine taking something like launching men into space and making so banal. Space is an infinitely fascinating realm, and although the film might have been better to show more of it and less of Garriott, the movie is still okay. Praise beyond shrugging and “okay” is hard to muster, but then again, the view is pretty good.

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