Space Cowboys (2000)

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Released 11-Jul-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Dolby Digital Trailer-Canyon
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Featurette-Up Close With The Editor
Featurette-Tonight On Leno
Featurette-The Effects
Featurette-Back At The Ranch - A Look Behind The Scenes
Theatrical Trailer
DVD-ROM Extras-Web Links
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 2000
Running Time 125:06
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (67:58) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Clint Eastwood
Studio
Distributor

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Clint Eastwood
Tommy Lee Jones
Donald Sutherland
James Garner
Marcia Gay Harden
William Devane
Loren Dean
Courtney B. Vance
James Cromwell
Case C-Button-Version 2
RPI $34.95 Music Lennie Niehaus


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.30:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement Yes, 1958 edition of Playboy magazine
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    I can just imagine what the pitch for Space Cowboys would have been like ...

    (Scene: at two deck chairs next to a pool in a plush Beverly Hills Hotel ...)

    "I have this great idea for a new movie. It's a new space flick with a twist, combining elements from The Right Stuff, Armageddon, Deep Impact and Apollo 13. Add in a bit of conspiracy a la L.A. Confidential, throw in a few references to the Cold War, and package it with a few allusions to Western movies. We can even have a outer space version of a ride into the sunset."

    "I'm not sure about this. Hasn't this sort of thing been done to death? What's the twist?"

    "We use big name ageing Hollywood stars to play the roles of the astronauts."

    "You mean it's going to be like Cocoon?"

    "Kind of. It's also going to be a buddy movie, and two of the characters will have a love/hate relationship, like in Grumpy Old Men."

    "Gee, I don't know about this ..."

    "Just think about it. Getting people like Clint Eastwood and James Garner to play in it won't cost as much as using Keanu, Tom or Brad. With the money we save we can throw in James Cromwell, Donald Sutherland, and Tommy Lee Jones, promote the "star-studded" cast list, and the public will lap it up."

    "Sounds good. Give Clint a ring, will you?"
 

    In 1958, four Air Force officers - Frank Corvin (Clint Eastwood), Bill Hawkins (Tommy Lee Jones), Tank Sullivan (James Garner), and Jerry O'Neill (Donald Sutherland) - were part of a team called Daedalus chartered with investigating the possibilities of outer space exploration. Their daredevil (dare I say "cowboy"?) attitudes and disregard for personal safety in their desire to push the test planes past design limits led to the destruction of several prototype planes, much to the displeasure of their commanding officer Bob Gerson (James Cromwell). In a fit of spite, he replaced the four would-be astronauts with a monkey called Mary Ann and cancelled the Air Force project to be replaced by a civilian administration called NASA.

    Fast forward forty years. Our four buddies have long-since retired from the Air Force and are pursuing wildly improbable careers (including Baptist minister, roller-coaster designer and daredevil crop-duster).

    The guidance system on an old Russian "communications" satellite called Ikon has failed and its orbit is rapidly decaying. General Vostow (Rade Serbedzija) has enlisted NASA to help repair the satellite before it burns up in Earth's atmosphere. Bob Gerson has been assigned as the project leader. Because the satellite control systems are so antiquated and obsolete, none of the MIT graduates at NASA can figure out how the guidance system works (despite having access to the schematics - and before all you electrical engineers start snorting, I think this is pretty unlikely and difficult to believe, too). Bob realizes that the design of the guidance system seems to resemble (read: has been copied from) the system used for Skylab, which was designed by none other than Frank.

    Sara Holland (Marcia Gay Harden) and Ethan Glance (Loren Dean) approach Frank for help. Despite his animosity towards Bob for destroying his chance at going into outer space forty years ago, he reluctantly agrees - with one condition. NASA must send him, and the original Daedalus team, as the astronauts in the space shuttle mission to repair Ikon. Reluctantly Bob agrees, but secretly plans to replace them with the backup crew by failing them in their physical check-ups. We also begin to suspect that Ikon is not quite what it seems, and there is some secret shared between Bob and General Vostow regarding the satellite.

    The rest of the story is about the four old buddies stumbling through their physical check-ups and astronaut training, much to the amusement, condescension and scorn of the much-younger NASA team. In the process, they teach a thing or two to their younger colleagues and slowly gain their respect. Needless to say, despite all obstacles, our cowboys do end up in space where the stakes of the mission become far higher when the true nature of Ikon is revealed.

    If you can accept the far-fetched nature of a plot that stretches the boundaries of credibility, not to mention numerous logic and scientific goofs, then this is an enjoyable and feel-good movie featuring some actors that we've known and loved for many years. I am not going to reveal the ending, which is fairly predictable. Let's just say that enjoying it requires not only suspension of disbelief, but a full cessation of all higher level brain functions.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    This is a pretty decent looking transfer framed at 2.30:1 with 16x9 enhancement. The opening scenes (including studio logos) are in mock black and white for artistic reasons, but appear to be tinged blue (perhaps intentionally?). The rest of the film is in colour, and the colour saturation levels are more than satisfactory.

    The transfer is quite sharp, and I was surprised to be able to read most of the letters on the eye chart at 40:44 and 40:49 quite easily (apart from the bottom row) and even verify that the characters were reading the eye chart correctly. For the record, "Hawk" (Tommy Lee Jones) did give a 100% correct reading, right down to the "M.A.D.E. I.N. U.S.A." bit :-) but, perhaps deliberately, Clint Eastwood fluffed his reading. (He said "E.F.L.E.P.T.P.L.E.P.F.L.F.L.E." where the last "F" should have been an "E". If this was in the script, then technically Frank has substantially less than 20/20 vision to have fluffed up that early.)

    This transfer has excellent black levels and owners of LCD projectors are going to love it. The space scenes all feature nicely deep and satisfying blacks.

    The only MPEG artefact that I noticed is Gibbs effect ringing permeating through quite a lot of scenes, but fortunately never to the point of annoyance. This is only noticeable if you have a large display and I think most people probably won't be bothered with it. There is occasional shimmering present at various points in the transfer, noticeably in the name of the building at around 32:37-32:39 and in the city skyline backdrop of the Jay Leno show at around 63:30-63:39. Curiously, there is a moiré pattern around the arm lifting from the space shuttle at around 80:09-80:14.

    There is an English for the Hard of Hearing subtitle track but I did not engage it.

    This is a single sided dual layered disc (RSDL). The layer change occurs in the middle of a chapter at 67:58 rather than just between chapters. The screen freezes on Frank's face just after he's received a lambaste from Bob during a quiet lull in the audio track. It is very well-placed - on my system, it was not noticeable despite repeated viewings.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There is only one audio track, English Dolby Digital 5.1 encoded at 384 Kb/s. In general, I was pretty impressed with the audio track.

    Dialogue is pretty clear and easy to understand, apart from some of Tommy Lee Jones' lines near the beginning of the film where he is trying to shout above the drone of the experimental plane. There are no audio synchronization issues with the transfer.

    Someone should tell the sound editor that "in space no one can hear you scream ..." because there is no atmosphere to carry sound waves. The last third of the film is so full of "sound effects" during the space scenes that I couldn't help but be annoyed. I mean, haven't these people watched 2001 A Space Odyssey? That's the way to portray space scenes. Silent. Eerie.

    The music features a lot of excerpts from various songs, including one written especially for the film by NSYNC. The theme played over the end credits is so sickeningly American that I had to stop myself from throwing up.

    The surround channel usage is excellent, with numerous examples of panning across front and rear speakers, and use of split surround effects.

    Likewise, there is extensive use of the LFE ("0.1") track for various effects. The audio track is not afraid to send out deep bass to all five main channels in addition to the LFE track. This is a good demonstration disc to illustrate why it is useful to have full range speakers on all channels. A good example is the space shuttle launch scene at around 75:56-76:10.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    This disc features a reasonable collection of extras - mainly featurettes, but rather substantial ones (totalling nearly an hour) rather than 5 minute glorified trailers. There are no deleted scenes, or audio commentaries.

Main Menu Introduction

    This is a short video sequence of a space shuttle launching from its pad.

Main Menu Audio & Animation

    Only the main menu comes with animation and audio (Dolby Digital 2.0). The sub menus are static. All menus are 16x9 enhanced.

Dolby Digital Trailer-Canyon

    This is the standard Canyon trailer featuring a rather loud audio track.

Filmographies-Cast & Crew

    This is a list of film highlights (represented as a submenu linking to a set of stills) for the following cast members:     In addition, there is an additional still (when you select "Continue") that provides credits for screenplay, producer and director, but sadly these do not link to any additional information.

Featurette-Up Close With The Editor (7:05)

    This is an interview with the Editor, Joel Cox, spliced with excerpts from the film. The featurette is presented in 1.33:1 (with film excerpts presented in Pan & Scan) and Dolby Digital 2.0. I found this pretty boring, except for the revelation that some space scenes were entirely constructed using CGI and the actors' faces were "pasted in" to the picture.

Featurette-Tonight On Leno (11:39)

    This is an extended version of the Jay Leno segment shown in the film, and almost qualifies as a deleted scene. The scenes (featuring Jay Leno doing a stand-up routine on old astronauts in space, followed by a mock interview with Clint, Tommy Lee, Donald and James in character) are presented in 2.35:1 but with no 16x9 enhancement. These scenes are spliced with a short interview with Jay Leno, presented in full frame (1.33:1). The scenes appear to be framed for 2.35:1 rather than 1.33:1 which leads me to suspect that they were filmed for the movie rather than as a "real" TV program.

    The audio track for this feature appears to be slightly out of sync, and the video transfer is a bit soft.

Featurette-The Effects (7:11)

    This is an interview with Visual Effects Supervisor Michael Owens from ILM and Global Effects expert Chris Gilman. This is presented in 1.33:1 with excerpts from the film presented in Pan & Scan. The soundtrack is in Dolby Digital 2.0.

    There are some video glitches at around 3:59, 4:27 and 4:30.

Featurette-Back At The Ranch - A Look Behind The Scenes (28:12)

    This is a fairly substantial behind-the-scenes and making-of documentary featuring interviews with Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, James Garner, Donald Sutherland as well as director of photography Jack Green, Production Designer Henry Bumstead, NASA scientific consultants Kathryn Clark (Chief Scientist), Brian Welch (Director of Media Services), Gregory Johnson (Astronaut), and writers Ken Kaufman and Howard Klausner. The featurette is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with excerpts from the film presented in Pan & Scan. The soundtrack is in Dolby Digital 2.0.

Theatrical Trailer

    This is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with 16x9 enhancement and Dolby Digital 2.0 with surround encoding. The quality of the video and audio transfer is comparable to that of the main feature.

DVD-ROM Extras-Web Links

    This disc, upon insertion into a computer with a DVD-ROM drive, prompts you to install the included PCFriendly software. After that, you get a main menu, but as far as I can tell, all the menu items (eg. Space Station, Mission Control, and Theatrical Web site) are simply links to web pages on the Internet. All in all, pretty disappointing.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 version misses out on:     The Region 1 version misses out on:     Apart from the higher bitrate Dolby Digital audio track, I don't think the additional extras on Region 1 are all that compelling, so I would rate both as being roughly equal.

Summary

    Space Cowboys is an enjoyable romp, even if it does take a few liberties with the plot and with scientific accuracy. I am still waiting for a decent space exploration movie (as opposed to a science fiction one) featuring some strong female characters, and unfortunately Marcia Gay Harden plays no more than a token role. The film is presented on a DVD with above-average video and audio transfers, plus a strong collection of supplemental featurettes.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Christine Tham (read my biography)
Thursday, June 21, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-626D, using Component output
DisplaySony VPL-VW10HT LCD Projector, ScreenTechnics 16x9 matte white screen (203cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVR-3300
SpeakersFront and rears: B&W CDM7NT; centre: B&W CDMCNT; subwoofer: B&W ASW2500

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Comments (Add)
R1 uses same Dolby Digital bit-rate. - Adam Barratt (symbiosis)