'First Man': Step-by-'Small Step' Review of Neil Armstrong Film Trailer

Houston, the "First Man" trailer has landed — and with it, a whirlwind of scenes depicting almost a decade of spaceflight history.

Universal Pictures on Friday (June 8) released the first teaser for director Damien Chazelle's upcoming feature film about the first man to walk on the moon, starring actor Ryan Gosling as the late Neil Armstrong. Though not billed as a biopic, "First Man" focuses on Armstrong, his personal life and his NASA career as a research test pilot and NASA astronaut between 1962 and 1969.

Eagle-eyed enthusiasts may have picked up on all of the spacecraft, people and settings featured in the two-and-a-half minute video, but for those who did not, or have yet to read "First Man," historian James Hansen's 2005 authorized biography of Armstrong on which the movie is based, here is a step-by-"small step" review of some of the trailer's key scenes.

Giant (and swift) leap

Saturn V launch from the "First Man" trailer. (Image credit: Universal Pictures)

The trailer opens with the dramatic launch of a Saturn V, the rocket that flew 24 astronauts on nine missions to the moon, including Apollo 11 crewmates Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins for the first lunar landing in July 1969. [The Apollo Moon Landings: How They Worked (Infographic)]

The spectators shown here include Armstrong (Gosling) and Aldrin (Corey Stoll), which hints to this being the Apollo 8 launch in December 1968. Armstrong and Aldrin were members of the Apollo 8 backup crew and were witnesses to the launch, which sent the first humans to orbit the moon.

In the trailer, the Saturn V clears the tower in about five seconds; in real life, it took twice that time as the massive rocket lumbered off the pad. 

The plume here also more closely resembles that of the space shuttle, with its two solid rocket boosters, than the exhaust of the five F-1 engines that powered the first stage of the Saturn V.

Icon vs. enigma

Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) and Janet Armstrong (Claire Foy) hold hands, from the "First Man" trailer. (Image credit: Universal Pictures)

From the launch, the trailer transitions to the first of several scenes with Armstrong's wife Janet (Claire Foy). Later clips also show their two sons, Mark and Rick. 

Chazelle has been quoted saying that he was drawn to "First Man" because the public only knows the astronaut; the "human himself is a little bit of an enigma." The trailer suggests that the film will be as much about Armstrong's private life as it will show his exploits in flight.

Rigged shot

A glimpse of the multi-axis space test inertia facility, from the "First Man" trailer. (Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Armstrong became an astronaut in 1962 while the Mercury program was still underway. In this scene, we catch a glimpse of the gimbal rig, or multi-axis space test inertia facility, which simulated the tumble-type maneuvers that astronauts might encounter in space. 

"It is this thing that kind of sends you ass over tea kettle. [The astronauts] would only do it for maybe 20 minutes at a time, but in the movie, because we had to get a lot of shots, I was in it for like six to eight hours," Gosling told late night host Jimmy Kimmel in an interview on Friday (June 8).

'Guys in this room'

NASA director of flight crew operations Deke Slayton (Kyle Chandler) lays out what it will take to land astronauts on the moon, from the "First Man" trailer. (Image credit: Universal Pictures)

On April 10, 1967, NASA's director of flight crew operations Deke Slayton convened a meeting where he told 18 astronauts, "The guys who are going to fly the first lunar missions are the guys in this room." Slayton then proceeded to lay out the steps of the program. 

"Only after we've mastered these tasks, do we consider trying to land on the moon," says Slayton (Kyle Chandler) in the trailer.

Rocket plane

Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) flies the X-15 rocket plane, from the "First Man" trailer. (Image credit: Universal Pictures)

"We are going to have to start from scratch," says Slayton (Chandler) in the previous scene and the trailer takes that as a cue to jump back in Armstrong's career to before he became an astronaut. Here we see Armstrong (Gosling) at the controls of the X-15 rocket plane, flying as a NASA research test pilot. Armstrong flew the X-15 seven times between 1960 and 1962, reaching a maximum altitude of 207,500 feet.

A note about the audio in this scene: just after the X-15 drops away from its B-52 mothership, a bit of dialog can be heard from a different era of spaceflight: "Go at throttle up," and then "Roger, go at throttle up." 

This is one of the few times that the trailer incorporates archival material, and in this scene it is the unfortunate choice of the last audio before the loss of space shuttle Challenger in 1986. Despite Armstrong later serving on the commission that investigated the tragedy that claimed seven lives, the use of the recording here is inappropriate and is presumably limited to the trailer and not included in the film itself.

Continue reading the review of the "First Man" movie trailer at collectSPACE.

Follow collectSPACE.com on Facebook and on Twitter at @collectSPACE. Copyright 2018 collectSPACE.com. All rights reserved.

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: community@space.com.

Robert Z. Pearlman
collectSPACE.com Editor, Space.com Contributor

Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for Space.com and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.