A Space Program (2016) Movie Review

By: Bill Arceneaux (Two Beers) –

There’s something I will always appreciate about DIY craft work. To be able to put together, from scratch, something you only imagined, is amazing and truly talent-filled. I, for one, have a hard time drawing and understanding shapes and spaces, so industrial arts is very much a fascinating subject to me.

So is going to Mars. So is going to Mars using DIY equipment.

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A Toast

A Space Program is more art installation / performance than film, though it still works as a film. It captures one such exhibit by Tom Sachs where he and a team of “scientists”, “engineers”, “military”, and “astronauts” – but really fellow artists and aficionados – launch a mission to Mars, search for life, grow life, leave and return to Earth. It all takes place on a makeshift soundstage / part “control room”, part “spaceship”, part “Mars”, in front of an audience of onlookers, space lovers and craftsmen.

The closest movie I can compare this to would be Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then, which too had a DIY love attached. A Space Program brought in me such heavy nostalgia for a time when I was younger – middle school days – when building up and building to worlds was a compulsion. It’s satisfying, watching a group of men and women, grown ups, that haven’t lost this quality to time.

Its sense of humor is something else entirely. Dry and completely serious, the narrator will explain the goings on of the mission, with no idea how ludicrous his words are. For example, to pay for the trip, the astronauts begin planting poppy seeds on Mars to harvest heroin. Yes, heroin. It is explained in the most deadpan and totally reasonable of ways. Every aspect of this trip is done the same way. Not quite satirical, more playful. These moments remind me of a public speech I wrote in college where I made a Presidential campaign announcement, suggesting my policy of Iraq reparations by way of renaming their capital city “Pepsi”.

At its core, A Space Program is a holy creature, making praise to the gods of craft. There is a spirituality associated to the proceedings, suggesting that taking part in any kind of art project, where you must build a world or even a universe, is a goal higher than oneself. And reaching for this goal is a soul-defining event.

After watching, I would have to agree.

Beer Two

The only misgiving I can name here are the ditches of dullness that come about every once in awhile. Voice over and expository sequences shake up the stagnation, but not enough to keep full attention throughout. You may find yourself itching for the fast forward button, but I recommend not giving in – every moment counts. EVEN AND ESPECIALLY the “boring” ones.

Verdict

Just like a trip to Mars might end up being, there are sleepy points. Outside of those, you’ll behold an adventure as unexpected, as loopy, and as stupendous as possible. Remember The Astronaut Farmer? It might be time to revisit that.

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Or not. Whatever.

2Beers

About Bill Arceneaux

Independent film critic from New Orleans and member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA).

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