This fall, audiences may find their options for stories about spaceflight a little confusing as there are two similarly named and styled projects on the way: the film First Man, from La La Land director Damien Chazelle, which is about the Apollo 11 mission, and Hulu’s TV series The First, from House of Cards creator Beau Willimon, which is about the first mission to Mars. Coincidentally, new trailers for both projects hit the web today, and while they’re about radically different missions, they hit the same point: space pioneering has a huge cost on astronauts and those around them.
First up is The First, which follows astronaut Tom Hagerty (Sean Penn) as he and his team prepare to be the first people to explore the Red Planet. The first trailer for the project highlighted Carl Sagan’s famous “mote of dust” quote and touched on humanity’s potential exploration of the cosmos, but this new trailer is a bit more grounded. Hagerty is a reluctant recruit for the mission, even as he deals with the aftermath of the loss of his wife and its impact on their daughter. While one character says their “families know what they signed up for,” it’s clear that leaving them behind during the extended mission will take a heavy toll, even though astronauts and relatives alike recognize the weight of the undertaking.
First Man is based on Neil Armstrong’s authorized biography of the same title. Ryan Gosling plays Armstrong, who’s facing a supremely dangerous mission: the trailer shows him escaping death when the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle he was flying crashes in a fireball, and the gantry shakes as he approaches a Gemini spacecraft. His teammates are wondering whether they’ll survive their excursions into space — and so do their families.
We’ve seen films about missions to the Moon and Mars before, but few actively explore the impact on those left behind. (Meg Howrey’s excellent 2017 novel The Wanderers does explore the topic.) Science fiction and historical documentaries usually highlight the technical challenges of such a mission, but these trailers highlight the human element that is often left out of the story. This is prime ground for dramatic introspection, something Chazelle and Willimon have both earned acclaim for.
The First will premiere in its entirety on September 14th on Hulu, and First Man hits theaters on October 12th.