The Farthest

 

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A popular tone is applied in this record of mankind's exploration of the galaxy and beyond.

 
Farthest, The

  

Assessing this film is unusually difficult because so much depends on the temperament or taste of the viewer. Nevertheless, quite a lot can be said that is clear-cut. The subject of this documentary is the exploration of the solar system by the two spacecraft Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 launched by NASA in 1977. The film's historical value is all the greater because the story of this operation going back to its inception in 1972 is told by those who were involved. One key figure, Carl Sagan, died in 1996 and is represented here by his son, Nick, and that underlines the benefit of getting personal testimonies from so many of the others now in relatively old age. It is also self-evident that the film's images of the solar system gain immensely from being seen on a big cinema screen (not for nothing did the director, Emer Reynolds, opt to make The Farthest in colour and 'Scope).

 

Being rather long (virtually two hours), the film benefits from being clearly shaped. The launching of Voyager was a scientific project to ascertain through photographs the nature of distant planets starting with Jupiter and Saturn, while Voyager 2 was able to continue its outward journey reaching Uranus in 1986 and Neptune three years later (such being the extraordinary time-scale involved). Thereafter it would go interstellar, leaving our own galaxy in 2012. By then the secondary aim of the project took on extra importance: the presence on the craft of a record made in metal to give any alien beings who might find it some idea of the nature of life on Earth. The Farthest finds variety by breaking up the chronicle of Voyager's progression by inserting at intervals information about what was put on the record (music selections from classical to pop, greetings in 55 different languages, about 100 pictures portraying this planet).

 

The Farthest is certainly informative, but the fact that it defines the date of the first launch as 14 days after the death of Elvis make one question just what audience it is primarily aimed at. The pop music heard sometimes sets the chosen mood, as with the inclusion of the song 'Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft'. Those who are scientifically minded may reasonably expect a more intellectual approach, while credits at the close for CGI and visual effects leave one questioning to what extent they were used. But the authenticity is doubtless 100% when it comes to the disclosure of unexpected scraps of information (no licence could be obtained to include a Beatles song on the record and a ban was placed on including a proposed full frontal nude picture of a couple even after it was decided to show a pregnant woman to play down any salacious element). In a work that sometimes brings to mind 2001: A Space Odyssey (a film with better music!), the most memorable moment comes near the close when a picture from space offers a reverse angle shot showing the white smudge that is Earth.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Frank Drake, Carolyn Porco, John Casani, Lawrence Krauss, Timothy Ferris, Edward Stone, Nick Sagan, Charley Kohlhase, Heidi Hammel, Jon Lomberg, James F. Bell.

 

Dir Emer Reynolds, Pro John Murray and Clare Strange, Screenplay Emer Reynolds, Ph Kate McCullough, Ed Tony Cranstoun, Music Ray Harman.

 

Crossing the Line Productions-Wildcard Distribution.
121 mins. Ireland. 2017. Rel: 1 September 2017. Cert. PG.