Implausible. I can't think of a better word to sum up the plot of Clint Eastwood's geriatric astronaut epic "Space Cowboys." Produced, directed by and starring a then seventy year old Eastwood, a fifty four year old Tommy Lee Jones, a sixty five year old incarnation of Donald Sutherland and James Garner the eldest at seventy two years of age during filming, "Space Cowboys" veteran actors provided entertainment, but the film's lackluster and completely implausible storyline bogged down the seemingly longer 130 minute film. Clint Eastwood has had his hits and misses behind the camera and for each success like "Unforgiven" or "Million Dollar Baby," there is an unsuccessful film like "Space Cowboys" or "Blood Work."
Dr. Frank Corvin (Clint Eastwood) is an electrical engineer and test pilot that is grounded by NASA after losing an expensive test aircraft while flying with his partner ‘Hawk' Hawkins (Tommy Lee Jones). The crash of the four million dollar aircraft creates a rift between the two that lasts forty years. Those forty years pass and Frank is a retired man who spends his days fumbling with automatic garage doors. NASA comes calling when an antiquated Russian communication satellite is prepared to plunge back to Earth and it is discovered that it is controlled by a flight system Frank designed for Skylab. With only thirty days until the Russian satellite enters the atmosphere, Frank agrees to help only if NASA reinstates his flight crew from the Sixties and allow them a chance to fly a Space Shuttle into space.
NASA and the man in charge of the operation, Bob Gersen (James Cromwell) first laughs the notion off, but Gersen realizes he must play ball with his arch nemesis and plots to have Frank and his crew train younger and veteran shuttle astronauts in the task at hand. Along with a hesitant Hawk, Frank brings back his former teammates ‘Tank' Sullivan (James Garner), who is now a minister and the nearly blind roller coaster designer and former structural engineer Jerry O'Neill (Donald Sutherland), who spends his days trying to seduce as many young women as he can. The four men, Team Daedalus, train alongside younger astronauts who ridicule them for their advanced age. While they lack the physical strength and stamina they previously had, the still have heart and with grit and determination, they pass the necessary tests to fly the Space Shuttle.
Frank and Hawk have difficulties reconciling, but continue to be incredibly competitive in their skills and bragging rights as the better pilot. Slowly, they are able to become a competent team again after a sad medical fact surfaces surrounding Hawk. When NASA decides to allow the men to fly to the Russian satellite, they say it has to be without Hawk. Frank declines and refuses to allow the team to fly without his old friend. NASA gives in and along with their two younger astronauts; Team Daedalus has a perfect launch and finally realizes the horrible truth behind the seemingly derelict satellite. It is a Russian nuclear missile platform that threatens nuclear launch if it re-enters the planets atmosphere. Having very little time left, Team Daedalus must ban together to come to a feasible solution; one which is not liked by any of the men, but has to be done.
Eastwood doesn't fail as a director and the film's veteran actors are more than believable as old codgers who still have a little of the right stuff left. Donald Sutherland's comedic abilities shine in the film as he chases after every young girl he sets his blind eyes upon. Tommy Lee Jones has macho and stubborn down pat, James Garner is always up to any acting task and Clint Eastwood is a man that could probably pass the necessary physicals and actually make a shuttle flight at his current age of seventy six. Supporting actors James Cromwell and Marcia Gay Harden are serviceable in their performances. The rushed storyline that is a difficult pill to swallow to begin with is even more implausible when everything passes by quickly and effortlessly as the four men train for their shuttle flight. Details are conveniently left out and there are more than enough plot holes in the film to fill a Space Shuttle bay. It doesn't matter how good a cast and crew are; if a film has a shoddy story, it is going to fail on certain levels and "Space Cowboys" is a shining example of that simple fact of life.
Warner Bros. presents "Space Cowboys" in a fairly sharp looking 1080p 2.40:1 widescreen transfer that is mastered with an MPEG-2 codec. The transfer is not perfect, as there are a few glaring issues with the film, but it looks pretty good and the space sequences are at times stunning in their visual splendor. The main problems I found with the transfer was noticeable levels of edge enhancement that mars the picture during many well-lit scenes and a level of softness that dampens the amount of detail that is present in other scenes. The level of detail when Team Daedalus was in space was among the better moments of the film. The starry background sparkled brilliantly thanks to a strong black level and strong contrast. Colors are sharp and nicely rendered, with the film never looking dull. The film's opening sequence that depicted the crash of the test plane in the early Sixties was a stylized scene where the nearly full desaturated colors present an almost black and white picture. This looked very good. Although the transfer has its problems, it is not a bad looking film. The source materials are clean and aside from the edge enhancement, there are not any technical problems.
The soundtrack for "Space Cowboys" is a surprisingly spry English Dolby Digital 5.1 transfer. The film's flight sequences are quite stunning and full of enveloping sound. The experimental jet during the opening moments and the liftoff of the Space Shuttle are full of deep and powerful bass and sound emanates from all six channels in a delightful orchestra of power. Imaging across all channels during the livelier moments is well done and "Space Cowboys" was surprising in the strength of its soundtrack. The moments when the Russian satellite was breaking up was another visceral experience that pushed the Dolby Digital mix nicely. Fragments could be heard in each of the full channels and the .1 LFE channel echoed the level of destruction with strong and deep bass. Dialogue throughout the film is crystal clear and during the middle section of the film, when there is next to no action, the soundtrack is efficient and clean. Lennie Niehaus' music is rendered warmly by the transfer and helps provide a solid listening experience. A Quebec dubbed French 5.1 mix and a Spanish 2.0 mix are also provided.
Thee relatively short documentaries, an extended scene and the film's Theatrical Trailer are the only supplements contained on this Blu-ray release. Granted, "Space Cowboys" isn't a film that will receive a lot of love for the home video market and Clint Eastwood is notorious is not wanting to produce commentaries or large chunks of material for DVD releases, but the offerings are not very good for this release. The first featurette, Back at the Ranch: On Location with Cast, Crew and NASA Consultants runs for just under a half an hour and features interviews with the four main stars as they discuss the fun they had making this film and provide your typical making-of moments in this talking head feature. The second featurette is The Effects: Meet Visual Effects Supervisor Michael Owens and his Collaborators. The title and its subtitle say it all. This fifteen minute featurette details the effects used in the film, from the shuttle launch to the Russian satellite. The final feature is the shortest, "Up Close with the Editor: A Conversation with Joel Cox lasts only about five minutes and is a boring look at the editing process through the words of the man who did the job. Finally, the Tonight on Leno is an expanded scene of the Jay Leno segment contained in the film. This is easily the best supplement of the bunch and the only one you will want to perhaps watch more than once.
With such a strong cast and the masterful Clint Eastwood directing, producing and starring, I had high hopes for "Space Cowboys." However, the hokey title and even hokier sequence that found Tommy Lee Jones with a nuclear missile satellite strapped to his back brought the entire production crashing back into the stratosphere and burning up during re-entry. The film is visually strong and sound is surprisingly good. The bonus materials contained on "Space Cowboys" are thin, but worth checking out for anybody interested in the good ole boys who lent their talents to this production. There are so many better Clint Eastwood films available on Blu-ray and I'd recommend "Unforgiven," "Million Dollar Baby," "Letters From Iwo Jima" or "Flags of Our Fathers" before this one. It isn't a horrid film, but considering its thoroughbred, it should have been so much more.