Back to Space Review: Netflix Doc is a dull commercial for Elon Musk

The directors of “Free Solo” and “The Rescue” stumble upon an uncharacteristically boring film about SpaceX that looks like sponsored content.

A boring, airless Netflix documentary by an Oscar-winning duo whose brilliant films about the ups and downs of human exploration (“Meru”, “Free Solo” and “The Rescue”) have been shaken from the heart to the neck your. The intensity of riding a ragged wooden train, “Return to Space” by Jimmy Chin and E. Chai Vasarhelyi attributes Elon Musk’s mission to Mars with all the rigor and enthusiasm of a two-hour infomercial for SpaceX. While I can not talk about how this project came about or the purpose it was intended to serve, “Return to Earth” smells so much of sponsored content that it does not matter who actually paid the bill for it.

Which does not mean that Chin and Vasarhelyi will not have to voluntarily come to Musk or the astronauts who risked their lives to lead the first SpaceX crew launch into orbit. The filmmakers’ previous work has been galvanized by a high-intensity approach to Erzogia’s characters – from a rich affinity with cave divers, free climbers and anyone else who refuses to compromise on the simple comforts of terra firma – and a neuro-deviant who on Mars seems so natural to Chin and Vasarhelyi that Herzog, who is not unfamiliar with the idea of ​​concealing content presented as a more organic form of documentary, is probably kicking himself because he did not first reach Musk. Or not.

Regardless, “Return to Space” does not really work for him. Instead, this film is about the richest man in history from such a subtraction that distance could only be measured in light years. Chin and Vasarhelyi aren’t limited to the fact that Musk is basically a bold suit with bottomless pockets (his awful uselessness in the SpaceX control room is probably the most humane thing for him), but their camera tends to scare him with the reverence of a winner of the fan contest or the deadly awe to see Prometheus steal fire from the gods.

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Not that a little awe is not required here. Like Musk’s company, “Return to Space” is inspired by the idea that we must bring the stars back to Earth before we can take humans to the stars – that the impending possibility of space travel must be rethought in the collective unconscious before NASA can to rekindle the same enthusiasm that fueled her on the Moon in 1969. Musk has always had a knack for sparking the world’s imagination, and this documentary is an extension of that.

“Return to Space” tries to distill the size of what SpaceX has accomplished so far and share its surprise at what it hopes to achieve in the future, but the film’s scattered focus — in stark contrast to the immediacy that cuts “The Rescue” breath – and the advertising tone diminishes the absolute thrill of watching the company land an orbital rocket for the first time. Although we have made efforts to identify the dangers of launching into orbit (the Challenger and Columbia explosions are being re-examined in sick detail) and recommend the families of the two men who paid for the Dragon on the International Space Station and back in 2020, the big of the film The finale is made with all the excitement of your place in a press release.

Chin and Vasarhelyi still find ways to excel in such life-or-death emergencies, with their cameras sharpening the undisputed nervous faces of SpaceX engineers in control of the mission in a way that reminds you how much risk there is with each launch. But their documentary stops whenever it’s to explain the end of NASA’s Space Shuttle program or place Tesla CEO as the hero who redeemed it through the power of a historic public-private partnership. of which are on Musk’s payroll).

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And that’s exactly what “Return to Space” does for most of its execution time, as NASA’s low-key archival footage is combined with dotcom-era excerpts from Musk launching rockets into Burning Man (all of which are placed below from Musk’s recently recorded sound saying things like “Earth is the cradle of humanity, but you can not stay in the cradle forever”). His “all-or-nothing” bet on SpaceX’s success is told with mythical admiration, while Neil Armstrong – who briefly appeared to oppose public-private sponsorship at a congressional hearing – is rejected as a dinosaur whose imprint past did not give him any special authority for the future.

Maybe it didn’t happen. Maybe Elon Musk, who once thought it would be funny to sell flamethrowers on Twitter for $ 500, was really the only person with the wealth and vision needed to revitalize America’s space program and push humanity a lot closer to becoming a multi-planet species. Even (or especially) in its mildest propaganda, “Return to Space” makes it clear that one must do the job. Technology does not invent itself, and every moment of invention that changes the pattern requires an unsearchable degree of perseverance to evolve into something more.

But this pointless documentary – made even more annoying by the elementary appeal of its subject matter – does not do enough work in return. She does not question the cost of Musk’s efforts, she does not reflect the consequences of her obsession (apart from being a clear company she talks about how SpaceX’s failures are crucial to her success) and she does not wonder if the richest people are necessarily the right ones to take us to another world. Instead, he collides with someone in the SpaceX control room who uses the word “jabroni” at a critical moment in the Dragon landing, as if retrieving the world for the common man. As if the rest of the movie contained convincing evidence that Elon Musk was running on Mars for anyone but himself.

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Grade: C-

“Return to Space” is now airing on Netflix.

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