Space Cowboys Crashes

Space CowboysLast night I watched Space Cowboys, Clint Eastwood’s film about a group of old men who finally get their chance to go into space. It reminds me of something Andrea said after the very similar movie The Crew came out. “These films about old men reliving their glory days are really interesting. I wonder if we’re going to get a movie about four old women reliving their glory days of doing dishes and taking the kids to soccer practice?” It’s a good point. I do tire of seeing these old actors pretending as if they really are the hunka hunka burning love they used to be. But I still recalled the movie being fun, so I put it on. Boy was I wrong.

The problems with this film are extreme. And they start, like so many films, with the script. There are some genuinely funny lines in this movie. But without exception, the set-ups are so ham-handed that they almost kill the humor. It’s like watching an airplane land: turn the plane to be parallel to the runway, reduce speed, reduce altitude, lower landing gear, joke! But okay, most people watching are just glad to be in the company of these actors who we’ve loved in the past: Dirty Harry, Agent K, Rockford, and Hawkeye. Alas.

Although I don’t think much of three of these actors, I think that Donald Sutherland is fairly good. And the other three are rather good at being minor variations of themselves of screen. But in this film, I thought that pretty much all of their acting was awkward. I suspect this was not their faults. Rather, I think it was Clint Eastwood’s directing. He’s known for shooting very quickly. In this film, there were a lot of special effects. This no doubt slowed him down. Did that mean he rushed the non-special effects scenes more than usual? I don’t know. For whatever reason, the actors (Especially Eastwood himself!) were weaker than they usual are.

There were many other problems. It is always hard to tell, but the editing seemed choppy for the first half and then the pacing seemed ridiculously slow at the end. The science was laughable. The plot was stupid. The resolution was unfulfilling. Eastwood’s melodies are charitably called uninteresting. The whole thing is lit like it is taking place in a sports arena. But perhaps I’m nitpicking, and I certainly wouldn’t bring these things up if it weren’t for the major problems. Plus, there were things to like.

I especially liked seeing Marcia Gay Harden and Blair Brown. Despite whatever was holding back the men, they gave good performance. Plus, I’ve had a crush on Brown since I was a teenager. Actually, overall the supporting cast seemed pretty good to me, with the exception of James Cromwell who was uncharacteristically weak. Again: I’m sure it’s Eastwood’s fault.

Regardless, if you want to see one of these “old men reliving their glory days” films, skip Space Cowboys. Instead, watch The Crew, which certainly isn’t a great movie, but it’s better made and it has a fantastic comedy script.


Speaking of bad science, twice during the film, a character makes this argument about hitting a baseball to moon. “You just need to knock it halfway there, about 100,000 miles, and the Moon’s gravity will take it from there.” Uh, no. Gravity is directly dependent upon mass. The earth’s mass is a bit more than 80 times the moon’s mass. Thus, halfway between the earth and the moon, the earth would have 80 times as much force. (BTW: I calculated that by entering (earth mass)/(moon mass) into Google and it spit back the answer “81.2800178349.” Typically, Bing provides a nice picture of the moon, but not what I actually wanted. You do know that about Bing, right? The reason that people “prefer” its search results is that they provide more images?)

I’m not going to work out the equations for you because I know that you would just skip them. The result is that the baseball would have to be 90% of the way to the moon when it runs out of energy in order for the moon to pull it home. My former (and in some ways current, because I bug him from time to time) physics professor Joe Tenn recently told me, “If you want movies to obey the laws of physics I am afraid you are going to be disappointed.” He’s right of course, but this stuff is too fun not to do.

Are you not entertained?

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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