Man on a Mission
Somewhere between the world’s ultimate travel documentary, and the home movies of the world’s biggest geek you will find today’s movie, Man on a Mission: Richard Garriott’s Road to the Stars. The film follows Hall-of-Fame videogame developer Richard Garriott in his journey to the International Space Station as a privately funded “space tourist.”
Richard Garriott is a really interesting guy, the creator of Ultima and its array of sequels, he’s traveled the world and done all kinds of interesting things, but as we meet him, he’s on the verge of doing the one thing he’s always wanted to do, traveling into space. The son of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen Garriott, Richard grew up in a world where, “I want to be an astronaut,” wasn’t some childhood pipe dream, but just going into the family business.
When he was thirteen years old, he was informed that near-sightedness would disqualify him from the space program. However, Richard Garriott is clearly not someone who’s easily discouraged, and he instead began to cultivate the dream of commercial spaceflight.
As fortune would have it, he turned out to have a talent for creating video games, and as that industry boomed Richard prospered. He continued to harbor his dream of traveling into space, and in 2008, he was able, at a cost of over $30 million, to secure a seat on a Russian rocket to the ISS.
The film has a lot of things going for it. It begins with Garriott, he’s the kind of quirky but passionate and obviously talented guy, that is hard not to root for. The private space travel industry is, to say the least, a nascent one, but freed of the obligation to provide value to the taxpayer for his seat, a commercial space traveler is able to slow down and really share the experience with the documentarians. Of course, as not just a customer but a major investor and relentless advocate for the industry, Garriott makes the most of this.
Beyond Richard’s presence itself, there’s a much to this film. Richard is the first second-generation American space traveler, and his father is featured extensively in the film as a mentor, and the leader of his ground-support team. This provides the film with an interesting father-son angle. This is also the first Western film to really take a look behind the scenes at the Russian space program. We see where and how it is simultaneously very similar to NASA, and yet also so very different.
All this said, sometimes the film does feel a bit like watching a friend’s video travel diary. It’s concise and well-edited, but the production isn’t as polished as it could have been. It’s exciting to see the training and space travel, but it doesn’t quite become immersive, so it’s more like watching someone else have a fabulous adventure, than actually coming along with them.
This film is clearly something of a vanity project, but it’s one that, for the most part, works. The behind the scenes footage of astronaut training is much more intimate and personal than what I’ve seen before, and there are some nice, touching, moments between Richard and his father. More than anything, Richard Garriott’s enthusiasm is somewhat contagious, and seeing him achieve his lifelong goal makes the movie Worth Seeing.
[Man on a Mission: Richard Garriott’s Road to the Stars (2010) – Director: Mike Woolf – Not Rated]