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Subtitle Space Cowboys

"Space will never be the same.".Frank Corvin, "Hawk" Hawkins, Jerry O'Neill and Tank Sullivan were hotdog members of Project DAEDALUS, the Air Force's test program for space travel. Their hopes were dashed in 1958 with the formation of NASA and the use of trained chimps. They blackmail their way into orbit when Russia's mysterious Ikon communications satellite's orbit begins to degrade and threatens to crash into Earth.

subtitle Space Cowboys

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Our story begins in flashback. It's the late fifties, and we meet four pilots testing supersonic aircraft, each as disparate in personality as they are bonded in friendship. The impressive opening sequence cues us in perfectly on who these men are: a breathtaking shot cuts from a laid-back country tune to the sight and sounds of a jet plane breaking a high-altitude speed record. It is also at this precise moment that United States was inspired to embark on its space program, which was to become the ultimate irony -- as our nation moved full speed ahead into the space age, it deemed it necessary to replace our greatest pioneers with chimps.

'Space Cowboys' is less akin to more realistic, factual space movies like 'Apollo 13' than it is the senior citizen's version of 'SpaceCamp,' a very polished, well-constructed piece of pop-myth filmmaking. Quite frankly, the story has plot holes the size of Texas, and we can hardly believe that NASA is going to send up a troupe of sixtysomethings to repair a satellite that any pilot who went through basic flight school could fix. But logic doesn't really matter here. Eastwood wisely takes his time, letting us marinate with the characters, so by the time of the big climactic space-rescue scenes, we are so won over by the charms of the curmudgeonly crew that we want nothing less than to see them zip off into space, blow up the Death Star and kick Darth Vader's ass two ways until Sunday.

The plusses are many. Great source print, with solid blacks and strong contrast. I did notice a very slight number of blemishes -- a couple of dropouts here, a speckle or two there -- but it's really very minor. Film grain is also in check, and the transfer has a very pleasing sense of depth and detail throughout. The outer space sequences are especially impressive -- the film's third-act CGI effects hold up quite well, and the many panoramic vistas, with various spacecraft and planetary bodies framed against rich black starfields, can make for some startling imagery. Colors are also very well rendered, with no chroma noise or bleed, and fleshtones are accurate throughout.

However, though 'Space Cowboys' is one of the better Blu-ray transfers thus far, it suffers the same slings and arrows as the HD DVD version. There is a softness to the image that while not atrocious is still not razor sharp. I also spied a slight bit of edge enhancement, which is most apparent on dark backgrounds with highly-contrast objects, such as the space scenes. Though the edginess was meager even on my 65" screen, I suspect it might be even more noticeable on jumbotron front projector screens. So depending on the size of your display device, you might find it an irritant.

It is based on a "true story" featuring the Haus robbing a jewelry vendor, exploring the urban landscape, and facing betrayal and having a reunion. The soundtrack consists of songs from The Fame (2008), including a song that was scrapped from the album, and with additional arrangements by DJ VH1 and Space Cowboy. Narrated by Gaga, the film is dubbed in French with English and Chinese subtitles.

In a year of debacles and big budget implosions like Supernova, Mission to Mars, and the unforgettable Battlefield Earth, the task of creating the most satisfying science fiction movie (to date) has been left to veteran director Clint Eastwood. While his overlong Space Cowboys is not a portrait of cinematic perfection, it is consistently engaging, features likable, irascible characters, and does not descend into the shoot-and-scoot idiocy that has marked far too many recent outer space endeavors. While there are definitely a few plot point similarities between Space Cowboys and Armageddon, in tone and approach, Eastwood's effort owes more to Contact.

During the course of a long and productive career as an actor, producer, and director, Eastwood has worked in a wide variety of genres. As the Man With No Name, he strode through several of the best-known "Spaghetti Westerns." As Dirty Harry Callahan, his lips spat out one-liners as quickly as his gun spewed lead. He has also been a secret service agent in In the Line of Fire, an investigative journalist in True Crime, a thoughtful photographer in The Bridges of Madison County, and Clyde the orangutan's best friend in Every Which Way But Loose/Every Which Way You Can. Behind the camera, he has directed such well-respected movies as Heartbreak Ridge, White Hunter Black Heart, and Unforgiven. However, before Space Cowboys, he has never been into outer space, nor has he worked with such a lavish special effects budget. (Virtually every shot in the last 45 minutes appears to have been visually enhanced.)

In 1958, the four men of Team Daedalus were the most experienced and daring that the Air Force had to offer. With their eyes on some day reaching outer space, they piloted prototype airplanes that broke speed and altitude records until their boss, Bob Gerson, shut them down when NASA was created. The team broke apart, each of them heading in separate directions - until 40 years later, when the orbit of the Russian communications satellite Icon begins to decay. The satellite has only five weeks before it burns up in the atmosphere, and the Russians are worried that its loss will cripple their telecommunications infrastructure and perhaps start a civil war. Gerson (James Cromwell), now a bigshot at NASA, sees an opportunity to help the Russians save face. But Icon's antiquated guidance system will not respond to commands sent from Earth and no one currently at NASA knows how to fix it. So, grudgingly, Gerson approaches Frank Corvin (Eastwood), the leader of Team Daedalus and the creator of Icon's "dinosaur" guidance system. Frank agrees to help, but there's a condition: he and the other three members of his team - pilot Hawk Hawkins (Tommy Lee Jones), navigator Tank Sullivan (James Garner), and structural engineer Jerry O'Neill (Donald Sutherland) - must be on the space shuttle when it launches. NASA counters with terms of its own. Frank must agree to take two current astronauts, Ethan Glance (Loren Dean) and Roger Hines (Courtney B. Vance), with him, and the members of Team Daedalus must be able to qualify for the trip by passing the training program.

The longest portion of Space Cowboys is the setup, which comprises about 60% of the running length. While I appreciate movies that take the time to introduce the characters and situations and slowly ease into the action, Space Cowboys lets this part of the film run too long. Some of the material presented during this portion is redundant and unnecessary, such as the lengthy sequence in which the Team Daedalus members are reunited and the obligatory barroom brawl which emphasizes interpersonal friction we're already aware of. The same degree of character development and background material could have been presented in about two-thirds of the time. Once the action shifts to the space shuttle, however, things move at a taut pace.

Those going to Space Cowboys expecting aliens and space warfare will have wandered into the wrong theater. The film's intent is not to challenge the likes of Independence Day and Star Wars. The premise is not designed to test a viewer's willing suspension of disbelief. Space Cowboys uses technology that is currently available, and, as an engineer, I didn't notice any obvious goofs. But, as Apollo 13 taught viewers, it's possible to have a low-key space adventure with a great deal of tension - all that must happen is for something to go wrong. And that's exactly what fuels this movie's climactic segments.

The second half of Space Cowboys is special effects-laden. These are not cutting-edge, Star Wars visuals; they're merely designed to convince viewers that the action is transpiring in space. Except for an occasional glitch, they succeed at that, and the few awkward moments do not distract for long. There is, however, one instance in which postproduction work creates an odd effect. During the ten minute, black-and-white, 1958 prologue, the five main characters (the Team Daedalus members and Gerson) are played by younger actors, but their dialogue is dubbed by Eastwood, Jones, Garner, Sutherland, and Cromwell. This generates an unusual audio/visual disconnect.

Undoubtedly, the return of John Glenn to space was the inspiration for Ken Kaufman & Howard Klausner's screenplay. In the movies, putting senior citizens in space is nothing new (consider the crew of the Starship Enterprise), but this is the first time it has been done semi-realistically. The screenplay incorporates a lot of material, including secret cold war politics, cover-ups, political infighting, melodrama, media manipulation, male bonding, and, of course, science fiction action/adventure. Some of these elements work better than others, but, taken as a whole, they make for an entertaining ride. Space Cowboys is a blast for those who don't mind geriatric heroes.

When a Russian satellite orbiting the Earth starts to veer off course. It seems like the guidance system in the satellite is of American origin. It's important to try and fix it before it comes into the atmosphere. N.A.S.A. man, Bob Gerson (James Cromwell) tries to find out who designed it, and discovers that it was designed by Frank Corvin (Clint Eastwood), an Air Force pilot who, forty years ago, was part of a team who was originally suppose to go to space, but when N.A.S.A. was formed and Gerson's influence, they were dropped. Gerson asks Frank to help, but Frank still holds a grudge. But after some prodding, he agrees but only if he and his team can go there so he can fix it. Gerson reluctantly agrees, so Frank recruits his former team members, "Tank" Sullivan (James Garner), Jerry O'Neill (Donald Sutherland), and "Hawk" Hawkins (Tommy Lee Jones) to join him. After some strenuous tests, they're cleared. And they go up with two other astronauts and check out the satellite and discover that they weren't told the whole truth. 041b061a72

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