Film (1968). William Conrad Productions. Directed by Robert Altman. Written by Loren Mandel, based on The Pilgrim Project (1964) by Hank Searls. Cast includes James Caan and Robert Duvall. 101 minutes cut to 73 minutes for UK. Colour.
A year later, Countdown would have looked like a Space Documentary, for it concerns the first landing on the Moon, which actually took place in 1969. The film's struggle between the USSR and USA to be first to reach the Moon strays from the real-life facts (Searls's original novel was published in 1964), but the behind-the-scenes planning on which the film focuses is gripping. The idiosyncratic, vivid view of personal relationships – here among astronauts and technicians – that typifies Altman's work brings life to the soap-opera elements (astronaut's wife takes to drink, etc.). Countdown's climax is authentically exciting. This is early Robert Altman (1925-2006), and he had no way of preventing a clumsy re-edit or the butchery of the UK print.
A number of Altman's later films were fantasy or sf: Brewster McCloud (1970), 3 Women (1977), Quintet (1979) and Popeye (1980) most obviously. [PN]
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