many, the Voyager Program is best remembered as the inspiration for the rogue
probe V’Ger in Star Trek: The Motion
Picture. That is rather sad, because but its true legacy is much more significant.
There were only two Voyagers launched, but they radically reshaped our vision
of our galaxy. The scientists who were and remain involved in the Voyager
Program explain their challenges and breakthroughs in Emer Reynolds’ The Farthest (trailer here), which screens during
the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.
1977, the planets literally aligned, allowing the Voyager probes to fly in
close proximity past Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, as well as several
of their respective moons. It was an opportunity that only occurs once every
176 years or so, but fortunately, Pres. Nixon had the foresight to authorize
the program in 1972 (say what you will, but RMN generally “got” the space
thing). Despite the subsequent administration changes, NASA managed to stay the
course, launching first Voyager 2 and then Voyager 1, to the utter bafflement
of the media.
solely on interviews with surviving Voyage team-members and archival media and
NASA footage, Reynolds chronicles the immense drama of each planetary pass.
Frankly, it is remarkable just how much of the planetary images we now take for
granted came from the Voyagers. Uranus and Neptune in particular were basically
just white and blue dots in the sky. Viewing them through terrestrial
telescopes was a lot like observing Iceland through binoculars from the coast of
the Voyagers keep going, carrying the “Golden Record” of music and greetings
from the people of Earth to maybe nobody or perhaps beings we can only imagine.
Arguably, the Voyager Program is more intrinsically big-picture-speculative and
purely scientific than the Apollo Program (one small step, what’s not to get?),
so it really ought to be addressed in more philosophic and frankly poetic
terms. Fortunately, Reynolds and the Voyager veterans are more than equal to
the task. Indeed, Farthest is an
unusually eloquent documentary that puts the truly cosmic proportions of the Voyagers’
journey into perspective.
The Farthest is also extraordinarily
cinematic, especially by doc standards, thanks to the captivating images provided
by the Voyagers themselves, as well as the CGI renderings of the probes in
flight. The Voyager scientists and technicians are also tremendously insightful,
often offering up surprisingly poignant memories of the mission (particularly
the planetary pass overshadowed by the Challenger tragedy).
doc will also bring back fond memories of Dr. Carl Sagan (whom many primarily
remember from the classic Cosmos series,
but was a real deal astrophysicist) and the recently departed Chuck Berry (whose
“Johnny B. Goode” was included on the Golden Record and played at the
final-pass party). You could say Berry had more global and galactic perspective
than the Beatles, who refused to license any of their songs for the Golden
Record (in contrast, Pink Floyd were willing to license “Us and Them” for
Earthly use in the documentary).
This is simply an exceptional documentary. It is
often visually spectacular, but its mind-expanding scope is even more
impressive. Sadly, it is impossible to imagine a project like Voyager getting
green-lighted in today’s political and media environment, which is truly
impoverishing. American filmmakers should also be a little embarrassed it was
an Irish crew that documented this endeavor on the big screen, but Reynolds deserves
credit for recognizing its inherent drama and fascinating implications. Very
highly recommended, The Farthest screens
again tonight (4/21), tomorrow (4/22), Sunday (4/23), and Monday (4/24), as
part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.
Labels: Documentary, Tribeca '17, Voyager Program