Jump to content


Photo

Countdown, Robert Altman film, 1968


  • Please log in to reply
10 replies to this topic

#1 Slim

Slim

    Advanced Member

  • Hat Award Winner
  • PipPipPip
  • 3,728 posts

Posted 22 January 2018 - 03:20 PM

Late one evening in November 1979, my roommate Chris and I returned from the pub to find several of the other students with whom we shared a house gathered around the communal television, watching a man in a spacesuit wandering across what looked (a bit) like a lunar landscape.

 

“What’s this?” I asked.

 

“Giant steps are what you take!” exclaimed one of my fellow residents by way of a reply of sorts, cleverly referencing the Police single Walking On The Moon which had been released earlier that month.

 

It was in fact Robert Altman’s 1968 film, Countdown.

 

I only caught the last ten minutes of the film, unfortunately. But I promised myself I’d watch the whole thing one day and last night, I did.

 

The events of the years which followed it have made something of a mockery of this film, which concerns a secret backup project to Apollo called Pilgrim, hurriedly put into operation when it’s discovered that the Russians are planning to land a man on the Moon before NASA. One of the Apollo 3 astronauts, a geologist called Lee Stegler (James Caan), is given three weeks to get trained up to go to the Moon on the Pilgrim spacecraft, where he must locate a special shelter due to land there a few days before he does. Once he does get there he is to stay put, receiving supplies from Earth every couple of months until an Apollo mission can be ready to come and bring him home.

 

 

countdownsnap003.jpg

 

 

The first part, dealing with the angst of Stegler’s wife, conflict between his colleagues, will he be ready in time, will the Soviets get there first and all that is actually a bit dull, predictable and overdone. I understand that the British release of this pic was 30 minutes shorter (I watched the original 101 minute version) and I do not suppose that the plot suffered in the slightest at the hands of the editor’s knife.

 

countdownsnap001.jpg

 

Nonetheless I quite enjoyed the whole thing, especially after our hero blasts off for the Moon.

 

Of course it’s impossible to watch this film without experiencing it as taking place in a sort of bizarre alternative universe, and I don’t just mean the ’60s. Altman’s depiction of Man’s first steps on the Moon is utterly different from the actual event that took place about a year after the film was released, but for me, that only served to make this part of the film more unsettling and compelling.

 

countdownsnap002.jpg

 

 

Stegler just climbs down from the hatch in the subdued lunar gloom and sets off on foot to look for the shelter. No TV camera, no speech, no Buzz Aldrin, no radio contact with Earth. Despite clear shadows on the surface it’s somehow almost dark, adding to the general feeling of isolation and eeriness. He doesn’t actually know where the shelter is apart from its rough location, and lied to Mission Control when they asked him to confirm that he’d sighted it from lunar orbit.

 

While hiking across the surface of the Moon, Stegler finds that the Soviets did get to the Moon first, when he comes across the wreckage of a Russian Moon lander and the bodies of three cosmonauts, wearing helmets emblazoned with CCCP. This made me laugh because the surface area of the Moon is about twice that of the continent of North America, and even allowing for the notion that the Russians were aiming for the same general area it seems fantastically improbable to me that he’d simply happen upon them.

 

Does he find the shelter? It's quite a watchable film, so I won't spoil the ending. You can always Google it.

 

By the way, giant steps are not what you take when Walking On The Moon in this film.



#2 fenderjazz

fenderjazz

    Insert witty title here

  • Administrators
  • 6,198 posts
  • LocationNYC Area Suburbs

Posted 22 January 2018 - 03:26 PM

Interesting.  Isolation, loneliness has historically made great films, despite what you'd think.  Just look at Castaway and Gravity as examples.



#3 Slim

Slim

    Advanced Member

  • Hat Award Winner
  • PipPipPip
  • 3,728 posts

Posted 22 January 2018 - 04:01 PM

Now you mention it, Gravity is quite similar in theme except that where the Sandra Bullock character has the difficult circumstances forced upon her, James Caan only has himself to blame.



#4 Slim

Slim

    Advanced Member

  • Hat Award Winner
  • PipPipPip
  • 3,728 posts

Posted 22 January 2018 - 04:21 PM

The Moon fascinates me, probably because I was a kid when all the exciting stuff was going on. I often try to imagine that moment that Armstrong and Aldrin opened that hatch, to look out onto a brand new, utterly desolate world. Millions of square miles of untouched, sterile rocks and dust, bathed in harsh sunlight.

 

That and the moment they felt the feet of the Lunar Module clunk on the surface, to touch the untouchable, bright object of the night sky that humans had gazed upon for the entire lifetime of our species.

 

It annoys me a bit that there's about 175 tons of man made stuff lying around on it now, not to mention a few dozen plastic bags full of faeces and urine.



#5 Three Eyes

Three Eyes

    Advanced Member

  • Peeps*
  • PipPipPip
  • 10,456 posts

Posted 22 January 2018 - 06:25 PM

Interesting.  Isolation, loneliness has historically made great films, despite what you'd think.  Just look at Castaway and Gravity as examples.

 

Right. 127 Hours starring James Franco is another example (I have not seen it but it got good reviews). A literary example would be Jack London's To Build a Fire.


Hey there goes Alex. He's loaded with money. Wow he's really set himself up great.


#6 chemistry1973

chemistry1973

    Advanced Member

  • Peeps*
  • PipPipPip
  • 5,076 posts

Posted 22 January 2018 - 09:26 PM

Can’t forget Silent Running, which is influenced by this film I think.

#7 Three Eyes

Three Eyes

    Advanced Member

  • Peeps*
  • PipPipPip
  • 10,456 posts

Posted 23 January 2018 - 11:08 AM

Interesting.  Isolation, loneliness has historically made great films, despite what you'd think.  Just look at Castaway and Gravity as examples.

 

Funny you should mention this. Just this evening I watched episode 5 of season 4 of Black Mirror which features a woman in a post-apocalyptic world pitted against a dog-like robot programmed to kill anyone who tries to steal from a supply warehouse it's guarding. The robot quickly eliminates her two companions and for the rest of the episode she's on her own battling this thing in the woods and eventually a house. Quite a good watch.

 

Trailer:

 


Hey there goes Alex. He's loaded with money. Wow he's really set himself up great.


#8 Slim

Slim

    Advanced Member

  • Hat Award Winner
  • PipPipPip
  • 3,728 posts

Posted 23 January 2018 - 01:04 PM

Is that Maxine Peake? I hope the robot dog gets her.



#9 Three Eyes

Three Eyes

    Advanced Member

  • Peeps*
  • PipPipPip
  • 10,456 posts

Posted 23 January 2018 - 08:11 PM

^^ lol. Why? What's wrong with her?

 

Anyway, you'll have to watch it to find out. It's a shorter episode. Only about 35 minutes.


Hey there goes Alex. He's loaded with money. Wow he's really set himself up great.


#10 Slim

Slim

    Advanced Member

  • Hat Award Winner
  • PipPipPip
  • 3,728 posts

Posted 23 January 2018 - 10:52 PM

She's a supporter of extremist politics I'm afraid.



#11 Three Eyes

Three Eyes

    Advanced Member

  • Peeps*
  • PipPipPip
  • 10,456 posts

Posted 24 January 2018 - 06:57 AM

Oh politics? That's probably a jar best not opened in this thread.


Hey there goes Alex. He's loaded with money. Wow he's really set himself up great.





0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users