I guess that Senator John Glenn proved the old saying- "youíre never too old." If a man of Glennís age can go up into space, then a movie about a space shuttle mission involving a group of over-the-hill astronauts has got to have some level of credibility. With SPACE COWBOYS ($27), craggy faced actor/director Clint Eastwood gets to make fun of his own image as an aging leading man and show that he still does have the right stuff.
The plot of SPACE COWBOYS concerns a group of four air force fly boys, who were on the fast track to becoming the first men in space, until the government redefined the playing field by creating a civilian space agency in the late 1950s. More than forty years pass, with each of the four moving on with his life and career. However, when an important, but outmoded Russian communications satellite is in danger of crashing back to Earth, it is necessary to bring in the only person that still understands the antiquated technology. Clint Eastwood portrays Frank Corvin, the designer of the satelliteís navigation system, who is the absolute last hope of preventing that old orbiting bird from taking a final swan dive. Since the satellite is too large to retrieve with the space shuttle, Corvin agrees to fix the satellite in orbit, as long as he is allowed to take his own team into space with him. With no other choice, NASA chief Bob Gerson (James Cromwell) agrees to Corvinís terms, provided that all four old codgers pass the agencyís physical requirements for space flight.
SPACE COWBOYS also stars Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland and James Garner as the remaining three members of the team, who finally get the chance to be astronauts after being passed over so many years before. Much of SPACE COWBOYS proves to be an out and out laugh riot, with the over-the-hill gang preparing to take their last hurrah in space. All four actors play off each other beautifully and there is a real sense of camaraderie between these well-known leading men. As director, Eastwood applies a very light touch, since his veteran cast already knows how to work the comedic aspects of the material. Sutherland is pretty hilarious and just about manages to steal every scene he is in. Portions of the plot are vaguely reminiscent of ARMAGEDDON, but at least SPACE COWBOYS doesnít insult the audienceís intelligence the way that overblown space opera did. It should also be noted that SPACE COWBOYS features the one nude scene that we all really could have done without. The cast of SPACE COWBOYS also includes Marcia Gay Harden, William Devane, Loren Dean, Courtney B. Vance, Rade Serbedzija, Barbara Babcock, Blair Brown and Jay Leno.
Warner Home Video has made SPACE COWBOYS available on DVD in its proper 2.35:1 aspect ratio and the presentation has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. Like any new major studio movie, SPACE COWBOYS looks great on DVD. The image is clean, crisp and very well defined. There are only a handful of shots that appear mildly softer than the main body of the film. Colors are generally fresh and vibrant, plus the flesh tones are always very appealing. Stronger hues are completely stable, with no signs of smearing. Blacks are pure and the image produces excellent shadow detail and very smooth contrast. The film element used for the transfer is free from blemishes and noticeable grain is limited to only a few shots. Digital compression artifacts remain out of sight on this smartly authored dual layer DVD.
Much of SPACE COWBOYS is dialogue driven, so the Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack is kind of reserved, except of course, during the filmís action sequences. When the track kicks into the action mode, it is aggressively mixed with plenty of sound effect activity coming from all the discrete channels. The split surround channels are effectively deployed and there is equally good channel separation in the forward soundstage, which creates a very cohesive and enveloping sonic environment. Dialogue is crisply rendered and fully intelligible throughout the feature. The bass channel rocks the house when it has to and remains solid at all other times. Lennie Niehausí score is nicely recorded and is reproduced with high musical fidelity. A French 5.1 soundtrack is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English and French subtitles.
Full motion video, animation and sound enhance the interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as some extras. Four featurettes have been included in the package and they are they prove to be fairly enjoyable. The first is Up Close With the Editor, which runs about seven minutes and features an interview with editor Joel Cox, who talks about how the film was assembled. Second is Tonight With Leno, which is an unedited version of The Tonight Show appearance that the filmís four central characters make during the movie. This segment runs over ten minutes and includes a short interview with Leno. The Effects is the third featurette, which clocks in at just over seven minutes and includes an interview with Visual Effects Supervisor Michael Owens. The fourth featurette is Back at the Ranch: A Look Behind the Scenes, which includes interviews with the cast can production team. Running over twenty-eight minutes, this is the longest featurette and certainly the most interesting, since it covers the production in more detail. A theatrical trailer and cast filmographies fill out the DVDís video extras. SPACE COWBOYS is also DVD-ROM enabled, offering a number of web links for those so inclined.
I found SPACE COWBOYS to be a genuine hoot of a movie that will appeal to fans of any of the filmís four leading men. If the latest Freddie Prinze Jr. youth comedy is more your style, you may not be as fond of SPACE COWBOYS as someone with more mature tastes. Still, the DVD looks and sounds great, so if any aspect of SPACE COWBOYS interests to you, you canít go wrong in picking up a copy of this disc.
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