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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 2.35:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer (RSDL 1:07:58)
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  Subtitles
    English - Hearing Impaired
  Extras
  • 1 Theatrical trailer
  • 3 Featurette - Up Close with the Editor, Tonight on Leno & The Effects
  • 3 DVD-ROM features - Space Shuttle Challenge, Original Theatrical Website & Theatrical Trailer Sampler
  • 1 Documentaries - Back at the Ranch: A Look Behind the Scenes
  • Filmographies - Cast and Crew: Selected Highlights

Space Cowboys

Warner Bros./Roadshow Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 125 mins . PG . PAL

  Feature
Contract

Arguably still one of the most powerful and influential people in Hollywood, actor, producer and director Clint Eastwood has never been one to skirt social issues. In the lead-up to the release of Space Cowboys, he fired a scathing broadside at the major Hollywood studios, accusing them of age discrimination. An indignant Eastwood observed that “you get a little older and they want you to play roles 20 years younger, which is ridiculous. They want you to play a 40-year-old guy. You don’t want to play a 40-year-old guy any more.”

Hollywood, he continued, “is a very faddist community.” In an industry which seems to becoming increasingly obsessed with youth, physical perfection, and developing half-baked melodramatic comedies for the teenage market, it is of little wonder that the screenplay for Space Cowboys - which features geriatric astronauts coming out of retirement for one final mission - would take two-and-a-half years to bring to fruition.

Written by Ken Kaufman and Howard Klausner, the script for Space Cowboys was brought to Eastwood’s attention by the Warner Bros. studio in 1997. The charismatic film icon’s first reaction did not seem encouraging; the script was deemed to be politically incorrect in its depiction of the elderly and there was some skepticism as to whether or not there was a potential audience for the film. However, after reading the initial script, Eastwood became interested in the relationship between the lead characters and decided to film it.

During the shooting of Space Cowboys, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration announced that Senator John Glenn Jr. - who, in the Project Mercury Gemini capsule Friendship 7, became the first American to orbit the earth - was to be sent into space once again. At the age of 77, Glenn was simply part of an experiment conducted to determine the effects of weightlessness on the elderly. No doubt this news was greeted with enthusiasm on the film’s set; not only was Space Cowboys' somewhat ludicrous story given credence, but, more importantly, it became socially acceptable.

With a budget of $65 million, Space Cowboys earned $18 million upon its opening weekend and received an Academy Award for Best Sound Effects Editing in 2001. Mick Clark's comments in USA Today seemed to typify the positive reactions to the film: "You have to take the whole movie on faith. Nothing is remotely possible or realistic... The joy of Space Cowboys is spending quality time with some favourite old actors who obviously enjoy working together."

"I can't fill a space shuttle with geriatrics!"

Space Cowboys begins in 1958 when a quartet of elite US Air Force pilots - Francis ‘Frank’ Corvin (Clint Eastwood), William ‘Hawk’ Hawkins (Tommy Lee Jones), Jerry O’Neill (Donald Sutherland) and Tank Sullivan (James Garner) - are being groomed to become the first Americans in space. Named Team Daedelus by NASA’s officials, the astronauts-in-training have their aspirations dashed when the organisation’s officious administrator Bob Gerson (James Cromwell) decides to abort their mission.

Gerson believes that the advancement of the space program will be served better by instead sending a chimpanzee into orbit. Consequently, Team Daedelus is disbanded and forgotten to history...

Forty years later, the opportunity to resurrect the Daedelus team presents itself in the form of a pre-Glasnost Soviet telecommunications satellite, IKON. Its rapidly deteriorating orbit ensures that, without assistance, the Cold War relic will re-enter the earth’s atmosphere within thirty days. For their own private reasons, the Russian authorities will not entertain the prospect of IKON's imminent destruction and seek NASA's help in repairing and repositioning the satellite into higher orbit.

Unfamiliar with IKON’s antiquated production design, NASA - in conjunction with the Russian space administration - decide that their best course of action is to consult the expertise of Corvin, one of the few astronauts alive that possesses a knowledge of Cold War technology, and send him into space to repair it.

NASA's intention is to launch a space shuttle mission to IKON and, through the use of the shuttle’s robotic arm, capture the rogue satellite. Reluctantly, Corvin agrees to NASA’s plan - on the sole condition that the other members of Team Daedelus accompany him. However, the mission soon becomes more than just a personal goal for Corvin and his colleagues to ascend into space; it eventuates into a quest to discover exactly why Corvin's system designs for the defunct US space station Skylab have been incorporated into those of IKON’s.

  Video
Contract

Space Cowboys contains an exceptionally crisp transfer, exhibiting the high technical standard that we have come to expect from Roadshow Home Entertainment. It is presented in its original 2.35:1 theatrical screen aspect ratio and is 16:9 enhanced.

Blacks are impenetrably solid, providing great depth - in particular, during the film’s latter half when the action is transferred into space. Shadow detail is superb, evidence of which can be found in the scenes where the Daedelus crew commence their capture operation of the IKON satellite. Neither too opaque or too solid, they seem to strike a perfect balance.

There are no evident MPEG artefacts and, except for a small black dot located in Chapter 24, no apparent film artefacts. There seemed to be no grain present - if there was, it is remarkably unobtrusive. Details are very sharp, providing excellent definition.

Instances of aliasing were noticed throughout the film, afflicting the most usual objects - such as venetian blinds, automobile grills and, for a moment in Chapter 1, the tapered wing of the X-2 experimental aircraft. Moiré was occasionally seen affecting computer keyboards, a striped polo-neck shirt in Chapter 5, and some wood paneling in Chapter 8. However, these are minor nuances with which only the most anally-retentive would be concerned.

There is no colour-bleeding or over-saturation - not even in the scenes featuring Hawkins’ cherry-red bi-plane in Chapter 9, and those involving the astronauts in their lurid orange flight training suits.

The layer transition is situated at 1:07:58 and placed in the middle of a confrontational scene between Corvin and Gerson. Occurring just after an exchange in dialogue with no background music, it is barely noticeable. In fact, it was not detected until upon the third viewing.

  Audio
Contract

There is but one audio selection available, that of the English Dolby Digital 5.1.

Dialogue is always very clear and easy to understand, with a clarity that is, at times, almost crisp. Sound, too, is exceptionally clean, exhibiting great depth and pitch. Other than a peculiar staccato crackling in the film’s forty-fifth second, I did not detect any audio distortion, anomalies or sound drop-out.

The front speakers provide the bulk of the aural experience, delivering dialogue and sound effects which travel cleanly between the forward channels. The surrounds produce ambient noise and subtle music throughout most of the film. However, they definitely come into their own element during the action scenes - in particular, the latter portion of the film involving the Daedelus’ encounter with IKON and the shuttle’s atmospheric re-entry. There is some aggressive use of split-surround effects in these sequences, often involving shards of debris and the bellow of ricochets off metal surfaces.

The subwoofer is also used to great effect in these scenes, often exhibiting heavy resonance. Together, all five channels create an encompassing environment, rich in texture and depth.

  Extras
Contract

Roadshow have acquired a reputation in presenting their DVD titles with a plethora of extras, and Space Cowboys is no exception. It should be noted that all of the following features, excluding the theatrical trailer, are non-anamorphic.

Cast and Crew: A text-based filmography containing 29 pages of selected career highlights from Space Cowboys' cast members. However, it should be noted that the cast entry of Courtney B. Vance (Roger Hines) cannot be selected.

Up Close with the Editor: Presented in a 4:3 screen aspect ratio and Dolby Digital 2.0, this small featurette provides some illuminating insights from the film’s editor Joel Cox. Despite its brevity, some fascinating information - such as the CG shots involving the depiction of Space Cowboys' space walks and Eastwood’s involvement with Lennie Niehaus’ film score - is unveiled. Up Close with the Editor’s running time is 7 minutes, 5 seconds.

Tonight on Leno: This segment is simply an expanded version of the scene featured in the final cut, interspersed with conversations with Jay Leno, the host of the NBC Tonight Show. Running for a length of 11 minutes and 39 seconds, it is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 with a 2.35:1 screen aspect ratio. However, the footage containing Leno's recollections are displayed in a 4:3 format.

The Effects: This featurette, presented in a 4:3 screen aspect ratio with a Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track, is comprised of an absorbing series of discussions with ILM visual effects supervisor Michael Owens. Although brief at 7 minutes and 11 seconds, I found The Effects to be relatively informative.

Back at the Ranch - A Look Behind the Scenes: The highlight of the extra features, this documentary is presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio and Dolby Digital 2.0. It consists of conversations with the stars of Space Cowboys, integrated with behind-the-scenes footage, and includes recollections from the film’s director of photography Jack Green, production designer, Henry Bumstead and NASA consultants. Featuring illuminating insights in the rigours of astronaut training and the effects of G-forces on the human body during lift-off, Back at the Ranch, runs for 28 minutes, 12 seconds.

Theatrical Trailer: Running for 2 minutes and 17 seconds, this extra is presented in a screen aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and contains a Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track. Although some minor grain is evident, the trailer is of good visual quality.

Extra Features for DVD-ROM: Included on this DVD is a supplement of extra material which can only be accessed via a DVD-ROM drive. These features, to the best of my knowledge, are comprised mostly of links to on-line sites, two of which are linked directly to the Warner Bros. website. Their contribution to the DVD's total package is negligible and seems to be more of a gimmick, rather than something of substantial value.

Space Shuttle Challenge: This feature supposedly allows the participant, who apparently assumes the role of the mission commander, to perform a variety of tasks on a standard Shuttle operation.

Original Theatrical Website: As its name suggests, this seems to be merely a link to the official Space Cowboys website and contains a series of connections to various other Warner Bros. sites.

Theatrical Trailer Sample: Nothing too spectacular here, with a series of theatrical trailers and DVD title listings for Space Cowboys, Contact, Mars Attacks!, among others.

  Overall  
Contract

In some respects, Space Cowboys shares a common affinity with films as diverse as Armageddon, The Right Stuff, and Apollo 13; the script seems to merely borrow elements from these films and attempt to present them in an innovative way. Needless to say, the film is not successful in this regard as it often confuses drama with tired, well-worn clichés. I am not suggesting that Space Cowboys is entirely predictable - for instance, the revelation of IKON’s true nature is somewhat of a genuine surprise - but anyone who has seen Armageddon will no doubt be able to determine what is going to happen in advance.

There are several plot threads which are not adequately explored and subsequently leave the audience scratching their heads in bewilderment. Potentially intriguing questions - such as the enigma of how Skylab’s schematics find residence within a Soviet satellite - are answered with vague, even trivial, explanations. The long-standing rivalry between Corvin and Hawkins, established within the first few moments of the film, is resolved far too quickly, leading to a poignant - but ultimately unsatisfying - dramatic climax.

However, Space Cowboys strength derives solely from the chemistry of its lead performers, and it is this reason that the film succeeds as much as it does. It seems that everything - even the much anticipated launch into space and the subsequent encounter with IKON - has been sacrificed for the sake of establishing the camaraderie between the film’s stars. Given the limitations of the script and the predictability of it all, the scenes involving Eastwood, Jones, Sutherland and Garner are nothing short of celluloid gold.

Despite my reservations about the film’s structure and plot resolutions, I found myself warming to Space Cowboys. It is certainly not one of Eastwood’s best efforts - acting or directorial - but I can think of more unpleasant ways in which to kill two hours of my time. I would recommend renting this title before purchasing it.


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      And I quote...
    "... A perfect example of the bubblegum genre... Space Cowboys is an amalgamation of both Armageddon and The Right Stuff... "
    - Shaun Bennett
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Panasonic SC-HT80
    • TV:
          Panasonic TX-43P15 109cm Rear Projection
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          standard s-video
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