Spacewalker: A Historic Docudrama Well-Worth the Watch

By Gerard Thielman

If you are a fan of space flight and followed the launch of SpaceX’s Dragon Crew craft to the International Space Station last May or the recent 3-day orbit of Inspiration 4, they you may want to consider watching the 2017 Russian docudrama Spacewalker. Originally released as The Age of Pioneers  (Vremya Pervykh” meaning “Time of the First Ones” in Russian), it was later dubbed in English and can now be found on Amazon Prime. The film tells the story of the world’s first extravehicular “walk” in space during the Cold War rivalries between the United States and the U.S.S.R in March of 1965.

The story focuses on Russian cosmonauts and military pilots Lt. Alexei Leonev and mission commander Maj. Pavel Belyayev, beginning with their difficult training, which included parachute jumps and weightless simulation in a Tu-16 bomber. While its Soyuz rocket program remained in development, Soviet political leaders wanted to maintain their international prestige in space flight after six Vostok flights, each carrying a single cosmonaut. So when news of Gemini 4 and a scheduled American spacewalk in June 1965 reaches them, the Soviets scrambled to further modify the design to include an inflatable airlock to enable a cosmonaut to venture in space outside his vehicle while his partner remained onboard inside the cabin.

This haste to satisfy communist leaders’ demands, would set the stage for the events portrayed in Spacewalker, and all of the emergencies that happened during their Voskhod 2 mission. Such as when, after floating outside the spacecraft for 12 minutes with an unobstructed view of earth and nighttime darkness quickly approaching, Leonov ends his walk but experiences troubles with perspiration, near-heatstroke, and impaired mobility from an over-pressurized spacesuit which makes entering the airlock hatch difficult. Later, the two cosmonauts risk oxygen narcosis and unconsciousness, as well as the danger of being incinerated, when a faulty environmental sensor pumps too much oxygen into the ship’s cabin. Lastly, when the automatic re-entry sequence fails, Belyayev and Leonov must manually align their spacecraft for reentry, which ends up being difficult because the equipment module fails to separate, causing the spacecraft to tumble until the tethers burned off.

Ultimately this would cause them to miss their intended landing zone, when their parachute lands them in a frozen wilderness in the Ural mountains in –13°F weather. Despite the cabin’s heaters failing, which disables their radio equipment, a local ham radio operator provides information to the crash site. Helicopters bring in searchers, who ski five miles to reach the exhausted cosmonauts. The film ends with Belyayev and Leonov returning to their families at Vnukovo airfield in Moscow.

Final Thoughts

Spacewalker combines all the best elements of historical biopics such as 2018’s First Man which was about the life and exploits of astronaut Neil Armstrong as well as all the thematic tension of movies such as 1995’s Apollo 13. The layering of visual effects demonstrates a keen cinematographic attention to detail, as the film recreates the conditions in earth orbit, including an animated Voskhod 2 spacecraft. As an aside, the film’s realistic detail contrasts with the paranoia of Soviet censors of the Cold War era. In the 1960s, the public was treated to fanciful visual renditions of a sausage shape, as shown by a celebratory postage stamp.

While some critics might complain that this film defends a murderous and inhumane communist regime, this is a mistaken view. Spacewalker glorifies the human spirit and its ability to accomplish daring and astounding feats, while still castigating the communist party leadership for recklessly demanding prestigious stunts for international posturing, and the repressive nature of the regime- the ham radio operator who helped find the lost cosmonauts, in real life he would've been jeopardizing his own liberty by revealing that he possessed long-range communications equipment.

All things considered the story of Voskhod 2 in Spacewalker reminds us that space remains a hostile and forbidding environment, as evidenced by the fact that less than 0.00001 percent of the world’s population has been there. The film does an excellent job in showing younger generations, who take spaceflight for granted, the perils and hazards that awaited the early pioneers – from faulty equipment, unforgiving environment, and unforeseen calamities. For despite the ingenuity of the best designers, engineers and technicians who produced revolutionary vehicles, these nascent endeavors could only be accomplished by a certain breed of men who had the skill and stamina to heroically compensate for all their shortcomings in order to survive and succeed in their tasks.

Too few of such aspiring stories are told today in a society where we’re embarrassed by paragons of greatness. One might reasonably complain that valiant adventurers who failed and were thereby forgotten deserve better, but our inspiration can only be based on tales of which we are aware – and those will usually be from those who lived long enough to tell us.  Alexei Leonov survived his ordeal and even served as consultant on this film, but in the end Spacewalker is not a story for Russians only – it speaks to aspirations around the globe for mankind to reach for the stars.

Ozark: Soulless People Living Joyless Lives, Caught up in Dark and Unbelievable Circumstances.

By Evan McClanahan

Like many Americans, my wife and I “cut the cord” a few years back, and rely on streaming services to whisk us off to sleep with an hour or two of mindless entertainment. And while I have not surveyed every available show, I think I have seen enough to detect a sad pattern.

I’ll use a popular Netflix show to make my point. Ozark has been compared to Breaking Bad for obvious reasons: an average guy, played by Patrick Bateman, gets involved with the drug trade to provide for his family, and moral ambiguity, incredible cruelty, and gory violence ensues. However, whereas Breaking Bad managed to hold the ambiguity together, Ozark reveals itself to be a pretty cheap knockoff that some producer must've used an AI to generate by inputting the following parameters: antiheroes, the drug trade, hillbillies, homosexuality, and strong female leads.

Furthermore, while Breaking Bad’s story arc developed slowly with incredible but relatively modest events, Ozark feels over-written as ridiculously rednecked characters sprout dialogue with a quasi-Shakespearean flair, as they jump right out of the gate with big money, big problems, and using murder as the solution to every problem. With so much money is in the hands of the protagonists, they are able to buy their way out of problem after problem. I remember watching Breaking Bad wondering how the characters would solve one problem after another. The solution was almost always ingenious and rarely as simple as bribes, blackmail, or conveniently new influential friends.

Attempts to develop characters feel like just that: attempts to develop characters. But you can’t make an audience care about characters. You either do or you don’t. And I’m guessing that most Breaking Bad fans could at least understand the motivation behind a school teacher cooking a little meth, and found themselves rooting for him - up to a point - because of the pace of his character arc. And while none of the characters were religious per se, I seem to recall rooting for many of them as “good”, if flawed people.

In Ozark, they are all just scummy. They aren’t flawed “good” people, they’re just bad people. They are either amoral sociopaths, outright demons, or schemers in the making who are all unrealistically unaffected by the tidal wave of death and mutilation they’ve brought into the world. Lastly, Breaking Bad had a few moments where it honestly could have passed as a comedy, but if Ozark’s characters have any sense of humor, I have yet to notice it.

And yet, even with so little going for it, Ozark is like a lot of shows today where Hollywood’s writers and producers, who are a bunch of soulless bots, create equally stale characters. The moral experiences of the characters are all relative, so the show feels like drudgery to get through rather than a joyful or horrific experience that depicts the reality of good or evil. The only reason you root for one character is because another is worse, which is why I quit watching the Sopranos: none of the characters were redeemable after the 3rd season.

If any of the characters have a religious foundation in most of these shows, they are always stupid and weak. Faith is always viewed through the prism of blind naïveté, and never in the way a real life of faith is lived out by your average person. Mason, the river preacher in Ozark, is Exhibit A in how these Hollywood bots simply refuses to depict a normal, sane, and rational Christian pastor, and instead rely on the tired trope of the legalistic revivalists.

Finally, these shows are always so moody. Obviously this must mean that the stakes in the stories must be high; surely what the characters are involved in must matter, right? No. In fact, the darkness of the content just demonstrates the vapidity of these shows in stark relief, as it is clear that the show’s moodiness ends up being used as a poor substitute for drama. Consequential interactions by characters with souls are replaced with diabolical acts by characters without souls. Death, and especially death in extreme ways (throats slashed, eyes plucked out, out-of-nowhere car crashes, brains blown out, etc.), becomes a substitute for the drama of a good person being placed in a difficult situation with a decision before them with consequences that death won’t solve. Even Breaking Bad fell prey to that in later seasons.

This however, is what the Hollywood bots give us time and again, as I took the bait and watched a different show called Clickbait over the long weekend: just another moody drama full of compromised characters who possessed minimal standards. It is hard for me, as a religious person whose faith frames my daily life, to have respect for characters who feel they can safely wonder through life aimlessly without giving God Himself a second thought. They are little better than dogs, meandering through life chasing one pleasure after another, checking chores off of life’s to-do list for no real reason to no final end. With no real end in mind, they are flat, uninteresting people. They are just consumers with no pathos. Do I really care if such people reap the consequences of their own vanity, stupidity, and hubris? No, I don’t.

You know a show has failed when you just don’t care if the whole lot of them die, and almost two seasons through Ozark, that is pretty much where I am at. Breaking Bad at least had flawed leads (Jesse) and some heroic leads (Hank), who I wanted to survive. Ozark? Meh. All of the extra F-words just prove the point that the drama is lacking to such a degree, it has to be manufactured in bad language, graphic violence, gratuitous sex, and moody music.