Every watch enthusiast should be heading to the movie theater this weekend. Oscar award-winning director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, La La Land) has taken the history of the first Moon landing and adapted it for the silver screen in First Man. As you might expect, the Omega Speedmaster also plays a major role!
This chronograph first went to space during the 1962 Mercury-Atlas 8 mission on the wrist of Walter Schirra and has been the official timepiece of manned NASA missions since 1965. The Omega Speedmaster, more specifically the ref. 105.003, was the only watch to pass all of the space agency’s demanding tests. After all was said and done, NASA officially declared it “flight-qualified for all manned space missions.” Its competition included chronographs from Rolex (the Cosmograph), Hamilton (who sent a pocket watch), and Longines-Wittnauer. NASA tested every watch to guarantee it still functioned flawlessly in high humidity, at low and high temperatures, and when exposed to intense vibrations and loud noises.
The Omega watch is front and center throughout the movie. Chazelle even made sure to be historically accurate, using several different iterations of the chronograph as time progresses. Neil Armstrong, played by Ryan Gosling, first dons the aforementioned Speedmaster ST 105.003 while training for the Gemini and Apollo missions. Astronaut Ed White was wearing the same reference number when he became the first American to conduct a spacewalk in 1965. During his preparation for the Apollo 11 mission, an Omega Speedmaster ST 105.012 can be seen prominently on Armstrong’s wrist. Buzz Aldrin wore this same model as he stepped onto the lunar surface some 20 minutes after Armstrong on July 21, 1969 — and thus, the Moonwatch was born.
However, that’s not the end of Omega’s role in “First Man.” Early on in the movie, Gosling wears an Omega CK 2605 and the NASA engineers use Omega stopwatches to time their experiments.
However, the movie is worth seeing for more than the watches alone. Based on the biography First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong by James R. Hansen, the film begins about 10 years before the first Moon landing. Impressive imagery takes the audience through the sometimes harrowing process of what it took to get to the Moon, including sacrifices of both materials and human life. The magnificent sound design adds an extra sense of urgency, tension, and danger to every scene. The constant creaking, rumbling, and squeaking inside the cabin makes it seem as if the whole thing is being held together by a few rivets and rusty screws.
Chazelle’s movie also takes a look at Armstrong’s family life and the important role it played in the mission’s success. The tragic death of his three-year-old daughter becomes his main motivation for overcoming every obstacle on his way to becoming the first man on the Moon. A lot of time is also spent on his first wife, Janet (played by Claire Foy of The Crown). She’s the one who takes care of their two sons and holds the family together despite the fear of not knowing whether her husband was coming home whenever he went to work.
The actual Moon landing takes up very little of the movie, but that’s also the point. Hardly any other event in human history is as well documented in movies, documentaries, and books as the first time humans landed on the Moon. Instead of the landing itself, this film is more about the people that got us there and what it took from each of them.
All in all, this film is worth seeing. Space enthusiasts and watch lovers will be left satisfied, as will fans of Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy.