The Challenger Disaster is a drama directed by Nathan VonMinden and is inspired by the real events of The Challenger Space Shuttle Disaster that killed seven crew members in 1986. The story is told from the perspective of the engineers and one of them, Adam (Eric Hanson), is convinced that a part of the shuttle (The O-Rings) is going to fail on launch and the film follows him and a team of engineers trying to convince NASA to postpone the launch.
I want to thank the film’s producer Erika Waldorf for reaching out to me asking to review this film. As some of you know, I love seeing independent filmmakers and their works, I feel the independent scene is very underappreciated and I encourage everyone I know to take the time to watch films from passionate indie filmmakers.
With that being said, I was aware of the events of The Challenger Disaster, but as a young-ish kid. Looking back at the footage of the disaster, now that I’m much older, attempting to comprehend the collective thoughts of all who watched the footage live is an impossibility. You understand just how dark a day this was for America. It is this feeling and your apprehension to the disaster that fuels this film, why you should keep watching all depends on how well you know the events.
Your initial thought is that this film will tell the story of those who died in the shuttle, but no, this is a story with another perspective. In this alternative perspective, you find boldness. The guts to step away from expectations and offer us another look is an interesting and intriguing one, and with the amount of information the film throws at you, it also tells you that it is a well-researched film. At times this wave of information can be a little too much, but it isn’t overloading and doesn’t distract from the story you’re trying to get invested in.
I felt the strongest point of the film was the lead character, Adam. From the get-go, it’s very easy to realize that this character’s central mannerism of wanting to always be right is also his tragic flaw. It works incredibly well as Adam is always functioning this trait in the film with Eric Hanson displaying this with clarity in his performance. Most certainly the main attraction of the film thanks to a well-directed performance which grows stronger when Adam become more convinced of himself.
Obviously, Adam’s intentions to postpone the launch are unsuccessful which makes his struggle more connecting to the audience, but not only are the intentions of Adam realized but the intentions of NASA as well. At the beginning of the film, we already see one postponement of the launch and hear about others that already happened. This information plants the seed of NASA wanting to get the shuttle launched to shut out further financial or embarrassing situations. What sprouts is the formation of tug of war like scenarios with both motivations sharing equal strength.
One scene I found particularly emotional was a scene where you see Adam silently self-reflecting whilst a TV interview with the teacher who was in the shuttle plays in the background. The words from the interview are very digestible to the point where it becomes the most emotional part of the film. Driven by the knowledge that she’ll never make it to space, it made me wish the factual events of the film were changed to keep her alive. Some may argue it goes on for a bit too long, but the emotional weight the scene carries never wavers. Easily the most emotional, if not the best scene in the film.
For all the positives that The Challenger Disaster has, the key to any great independent film is that it doesn’t feel like one. To carry the stature of being an independent film whilst being just as good if not better than a film with significant financial backing is, I feel a sign of talented film minds. However, the film does make slip ups here and there that follow unfortunate independent characteristics. The narrative structure of The Challenger Disaster isn’t exactly the strongest as a huge chunk of the film is devoted to scenes of meetings around a table. Not much happens except for talking which doesn’t provide any feeling of the story moving forward, you get tired of looking for variety after a while having to see similar scenes over and over again, no matter how integral they are to the story.
It’s not the simplest of narratives to follow as the film cuts in-between time periods which I felt could have been managed a little better in term of spacing them out in the story. It was reminiscent of how films like The Social Network, Slumdog Millionaire and other nonlinear narrative films. The big difference between those films and The Challenger Disaster is that it works you into when it will cut, The Challenger Disaster just expects you to adjust, which isn’t help by some choppy editing in those sequences.
Sometimes the music choice can be spot on, sometimes it can be too much. Before the scene where the engineers enter the meeting room to convince NASA, that kind of rock and roll team spirit score is a bit of an oddball. Whilst the lyrics are fitting for the characters, the music itself is a little too over the top. I think a slower tempo of that song would have worked much better, this scene is like make or break time for the characters and I think a slower song would have been made the scene more dramatic.
For those who crave alternative looks into history, The Challenger Disaster is certainly worth a watch. I admire its tenacity to tell us the story of these engineers and stick to it without digging deeper into collective expectations. Whilst it’s true the meeting scenes are a drag and there are cracks that are plainly obvious to see, every once in a while, you find emotionally powerful moments, whether they come from a well-directed lead performance or scenes that link directly to the disaster. In the end, The Challenger Disaster is an applaudable alternative telling to one of America’s darkest days.
Final Result: 7/10 – Good
The Challenger Disaster will release on iTunes and limited US theatres on 25th January 2019