[box cover]

Space Cowboys

Thank goodness for Clint Eastwood. Most A-list actors, reaching their 70th year, would quietly retire, or perhaps take a few supporting roles in large productions to cash in on their previous notoriety. But starting in the early '90s, Eastwood launched a second film career as an actor/director, choosing projects that don't conceal his age, but rather exploit it. Unforgiven , In the Line of Fire , Absolute Power — all concern active men in their twilight years, but none are as blatant, giddy, and downright fun as 2000's Space Cowboys. A tale of retired Air Force pilots tapped for a NASA mission, the film is a veritable triumph of casting over content, with Hollywood veterans Tommy Lee Jones, James Garner, and Donald Sutherland along for a ride that — while boilerplate space-disaster fare — is damn hard not to like, even when the smarter half of your brain should. Eastwood stars as Dr. Francis D. "Frank" Corvin, a member of the elite "Project Daedalus," a team of Air Force pilots who flew the most advanced experimental jets in the 1950s. But when it was decided to send a chimp into space before humans, Daedalus disbanded. It is only 40 years later that NASA needs Frank, and for an unusual mission — a Russian satellite is descending to Earth, and he's the only guy who understands its antiquated navigational system (he designed it, after all, for Skylab). The Space Shuttle can arrest the massive orbiter, but Frank — still harboring a 40-year-old grudge — refuses to strap on a spacesuit unless his fellow Daedalus pilots are included. After a pissing match with NASA pencil-pusher Bob Gerson (James Cromwell), the team is gathered — hot-shot pilot William "Hawk" Hawkins (Jones), navigator "Tank" Sullivan (Garner), and engineer Jerry O'Neill (Sutherland), all who must past NASA's rigorous physical training before they can be flight-approved. Even though it's a great deal of fun, Space Cowboys is a movie of two halves — a flaw that few films can overcome. The first hour is by far the more clever, as the Daedalus team (dubbed "The Ripe Stuff") battle both the NASA brass and their younger space-program counterparts in numerous witty vignettes (the young NASA recruits offer their elders cans of Ensure in the cafeteria; Clint and the boys later respond with jars of baby food). But the second half is where Space Cowboys fails to build on its novel premise, opting instead for an Apollo 13-meets-Armageddon white-knuckle ride. That ride is a kick, to be sure, but by the time the boys are in orbit, two or three plot twists already are dead giveaways (and can you believe that, once in space, everything goes horribly wrong?). Nevertheless, thanks to some intense production design and a few extra-vehicular tricks from the folks at ILM, Space Cowboys offers some of the most detailed, intricate looks at the complex NASA Space Shuttle oribiter to date. And even when things are at their most predictable (telegraph not necessary), the charisma-quotient from this aging quartet makes it impossible not to stick around until the end. Warner's Space Cowboys DVD features a crystal-clear anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with audio in booming Dolby Digital 5.1. Best Feature: Unedited footage of Clint and the boys improvising in character on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno (a few moments are included in the film). Also here: 28-minute documentary "Back on the Ranch," with comments from the film's principals; documentary segments on the editing and special effects; theatrical trailer; and cast and crew notes. Snap-case.
—JJB



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