The Farthest (2017)
Dir: Emer Reynolds | Doc | US | 121′ | With Nick Sagan, Edward Stone, Lawrence Krauss, John Cassani, Carolyn Porco, Frank Drake.
“We are attempting to survive our time, so we can live into yours” said President Jimmy Carter. With this quote begins Emer Reynolds ‘out of this world’ documentary that explores the endlessly evolving story of the NASA’s pioneering Voyager space mission that catapulted two unmanned spacecraft into the unknown in 1977.
In an opening segment that feels bitty in bombarding us with information about the project, what emerges from the onslaught are three salient facts. First is that the spaceships embarked on their journey during a once in a lifetime beneficial alignment of planet (taking place only every 176 years) after five years’ research. Secondly, that the Sun is the size of a tiny grain of sand placed on a 6ft wide table, that roughly represents the Universe. Finally, it takes decades to get out into the Solar System, and that is where the pair are travelling.
The various astronauts at NASA have loaded the mission vehicles with a ‘message in a bottle’ in the shape of an almost weightless golden photograph record (looking like a old style LP recording) that contains two hours worth of information including music, sounds and images aiming at representing the human race, to be picked by any forces beyond our planet.
This is all explained by a series of talking heads who continue to bamboozle us with chestnuts of information which sound fascinating but collectively really mean little to the uninitiated. We gradually find ourselves tuning out as our brains go into overload with the facts, figures and intermittently buzzing sound effects. Fewer commentators would have been more effective, and also some silence to allow us to step back, admire the images and contemplate the enormity of it all. It’s overwhelming. Much of the film features scientists talking about the process behind selecting the soundtrack for the voyage and pictures for the ‘voyager record’ and there is much discussion about the ideal images to represent us as humans. The naked photos were eventually dropped – are they politically correct in Space too?. The only phrase that really sticks out is “it turned out that Uranus wasn’t particularly photogenic” (hadn’t they heard of anal bleaching?). More significantly, the best statement is Sagan’s graceful one about our planet being a place where axiomatically: “everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives … on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”
Witticisms aside, THE FARTHEST feels rather alienating in both its form, delivery and subject matter which is a great shame because space travel and exploration are clearly highly relevant to the future of mankind. I realise I should be moved, yet I somehow found the whole thing vaguely underwhelming – interesting but terribly unmoving. MT
ON RELEASE FROM 31 AUGUST 2017