Category: Fiction
Reviewed by: Ken Murphy
Adapted from Ken’s Out of the Cradle website with permission
Title: The Astronaut Farmer
Actors: Billy Bob Thornton, Virginia Madsen
Director: Michael Polish
NSS Amazon link for this DVD
Format: DVD
Run Time: 104 minutes
Studio: Warner Home Video
DVD Release Date: July 10, 2007

One of the perquisites of being a member of a space organization like the National Space Society is that often we get invites to special events not available to the general public. This was how some members of the North Texas chapter, of which I am a member, got to see The Astronaut Farmer before it was released to the general public.

Astronaut Charles Farmer had to put aside his childhood dream of spaceflight after his father killed himself and Charlie had to return home to assume the note on the family ranch. We’re introduced to Charlie while he’s out rounding up a stray calf while trying out his new (old) spacesuit. We quickly meet his kids, Shepard, Stanley, and Sunshine, as well as his wife ‘Audie’ who works at the local restaurant in the tiny one-light town of Story, TX. Or has he put aside his dream?

It turns out the man is building a Mercury-Atlas rocket in his barn, just like the one that sent the first Americans into orbit. This is the real deal, fine American milling and the works. He’s spent years building it, and is nearing completion, but the real world keeps intruding. He’s getting behind in the mortgage on the ranch. Members of the local community start questioning his sanity. When he starts sniffing into buying the rocket fuel, the Feds decide to take a look at what’s going on down in Texas.

Well, you know how us small-town Texas types are (pre-Dell Round Rock, myself), when self-important types from the coasts start getting pushy, we start getting a little…testy, or feisty, or otherwise gettin’ our hackles up. The pressures keep mounting, and how can a man have faith in himself when no one else seems to believe in him?

But he’s an American, and liberty is his birthright. He’s done no wrong. If he gives up his dreams, what will his children have to look up to? Can Charlie live with being a failure to his children the way his father was to him? Can the power of love conquer all?

This is a solid, meat & potatoes, middle-American, red-blooded, real person movie. A lot of the characters have less-than-perfect teeth. The women are pretty, but not necessarily Hollywood gorgeous. The characters have real-world problems to work through, and it reminded me in many ways of October Sky. This is a solid story-telling movie about a man building a rocket, not just for himself or his dream, but to show his children the heights they can achieve if they are strong and work hard, one of the deepest cultural values here in the U.S. I’ll definitely be adding the DVD to my extensive Lunar Library.

The movie was still good the second time around.

© 2006 Kenneth Murphy

Ken Murphy is an investment analyst and underwriter for a private bank in the Dallas area and was co-chair of NSS’s 2007 International Space Development Conference.

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