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Review: Man on a Mission

Man on a Mission
Photo: First Run Features

It must be nice to be rich. If you happen to be as wealthy as RPG software pioneer and IT entrepreneur—not to mention NASA scion—Richard Garriott (in other words, if you happen to be a mogul with substantially more stable coffers than, say, Lance Bass), you can found your own space-tourism company and throw enough money at the Russian government’s astronautic division to buy a roundtrip ticket to a research satellite. You might even get a filmmaker (a local one, with a healthy military and aerospace background) to document the venture, as a kind of whimsical plum and a way of proving to the ever-curious public that the investment has more than the average space-crazed six-year-old’s lofty rabidness behind it. There’s a fondly Oedipal dimension to the undertaking, as you’d explain in less self-analytical terms. It might even be a kind of unguent for some subconscious socio-political confusion, given that you were born in Britain and raised in Texas by a U.S. Southerner—thus the sternly regal avatar “Lord British” in your computer games, the appeal of which you’d mostly leave unexplained in the film about your interstellar adventure. Your movie wouldn’t really be about you, it’d be about an ineffable experience that no other father and son in history have shared, with a few tips of the diplomatic glass helmet to international accommodation. (A strangely unsettling montage about the USSR’s “unheralded” ingenuity during the space race would sew the latter theme up proper.)

But what you’d forget to address in this highly personal endeavor, aside from narrative structural competency, is the question of the sustainability of civilian space travel, daddy issues notwithstanding. A co-founder of Google might arrive as a talking head to endorse the business model, but that wouldn’t quite convincingly defend the practice of non-scientists buying seats in rocket ships away from trained professionals. Sure, you’d haul some protein up with you for crystallization research, the significance of which you wouldn’t bore us with, but you wouldn’t really be much more than a deadweight sack of eyes-agog cash. You, being wealthy and emotionally invested in this kind of research, likely see it as the most fun form of philanthropy ever, but surely to make it a viably public entertainment would require offsetting the intelligence cost with massive monetary gains. So your film, especially in the third act payoff when the training day countdown ends and you blast off into the heavens, would wind up looking a bit like a plodding advertisement for a product that no one but you, and a few very select others, can afford. (That is, when it wouldn’t look like a very strange piece of filler supplement for a The Right Stuff Blu-ray.) But the accusations of hubris would be worth the opportunity to broadcast the climactic, tin-can conversation between yourself and your once-distantly orbiting papa, wouldn’t it? Oh, the things that money can buy.

Cast: Richard Garriott, Owen Garriott, Sergey Brin, Stephen Colbert, Anousheh Ansari, Greg Olsen, Mike Finke, Greg Chamitoff, Mike Barratt, Russian Cosmonauts, Yuri Lonchakov, Sergey Volkov, Oleg Kononenko Director: Mike Woolf Distributor: First Run Features Running Time: 83 min Rating: NR Year: 2011 Buy: Video

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