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’14 Minutes To Earth’ (review)

14minsfromearthposterProduced by Jerry Kolber, Adam “Tex” Davis
Written by Adam “Tex” Davis, Trey Nelson,
Erich Sturm, Jerry Kolber
Directed by Jerry Kolber, Adam “Tex” Davis,
Trey Nelson, Erich Sturm
Starring Alan Eustace, Jared Leidich,
Taber MacCallum, Jane Poynter,
Sebastian Padilla, Kathy Kwan

Many people likely remember when daredevil Felix Baumgartner jumped to Earth from a helium balloon in 2012. It was all over the news.

But when Senior Vice President of Knowledge at Google, 57-year-old Alan Eustace, made a stratosphere jump a few years later, it went mostly under the radar.

For Eustace’s team this was a deliberate choice. They figured all the testing, research and the final jump itself would be difficult enough without constant media scrutiny.

14 Minutes To Earth documents the 18 month journey of Eustace’s incredibly ballsy idea, from a concept drawn on a napkin to a fall to Earth from 135,000 feet. It’s far from a great film, and a little frustrating in that it could have been one.

Still, the film remains a fascinating look at trial and error, scientific innovation, and methodical teamwork to achieve a landmark goal. In that it has the feel of a far lesser but still effective Apollo 13.

The first decision made was for Eustace to make the jump in a space suit. Because of the specific nature of the jump, and the extreme temperatures and changes in pressure, a new type of suit needed to be developed. To the team’s surprise, NASA hadn’t changed the design of spacesuits in 40 years, so the team went to work and created a suit that would keep Eustace alive.

One of the scarier aspects of Baumgartner’s jump was when he began spinning uncontrollably. Eustace and his team needed to find a way to prevent that, as spinning at that altitude and speed could prove disastrous.

Other problems included what to do with the balloon once Eustace dropped. By the time Eustace reached his goal height and jumped, gas will have expanded the balloon to the size of a football stadium, so obviously an object of that size can’t be allowed to just drift around and eventually drop as is.

The solutions to these dilemmas as well as the test jumps are consistently interesting and even tense.

However, it’s unfortunate the filmmaking more often resembles reality TV than Frederick Wiseman. The music, photography, editing and especially narration will more likely remind one of an episode of Master Chef than a stellar documentary.

Even so, the film never drags and the final jump is truly dramatic and tense even though, as with Apollo 13, the end result is never in doubt.

14 Minutes To Earth  arrives on Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft Movies & TV, Sony PlayStation, and Vudu November 15th

 

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