THE FARTHEST (Ireland/PG/121 mins)
Directed by Emer Reynolds. Starring John Casani, Frank Drake, Carolyn Porco, Lawrence Krauss.
THE PLOT:
“There’s a limit to what you can learn, just looking through a telescope from Earth” Documentarian Emer Reynolds shines a light on the Voyager space exploration programme of the 1970s, talking to the scientists involved in the mission to find out just what was known about the solar system before the programme, and how Voyager – which will still be going long after our sun has burned out – changed our view of the solar system around us.
THE VERDICT‘The Farthest’ could well be a dry and science-heavy documentary, aimed at those who have a passion or academic interest in space exploration and study, but director Emer Reynolds has coaxed incredibly strong, emotional and fascinating interview from her subjects in the film, which make The Farthest an engaging, fascinating and engrossing piece of work.
Shot beautifully and scored with a soundtrack just as odd but tranquil as space itself, The Farthest includes interviews from those involved with the Voyager missions, including Charley Kholhase, Ed Stone, Don Gurnett, Larry Soderblom, Tom Kimigris, Carolyn Proco, Brad Smith and Fran Bagenal. All of these interviewees in the film are passionate and surprisingly emotional about the mission that ended a long time ago – Voyager is now carrying on its mission by carrying a “golden record” of music and speech from Earth throughout space, but communication is no longer possible – and they all bring up lovely anecdotes about working on the mission, such as the idea that Voyager is covered in tin foil, and the child who spoke the line “Hello from the children of planet Earth” on the golden record is Nick Sagan, the son of astronomer Carl Sagan.
Of course there is enough science throughout ‘The Farthest’ to keep everyone happy, and it is explained in layman’s terms for the non-rocket scientists in the audience, but there is a warmth and heart to the film that is quite surprising; such as the scientist who wonders where Voyager is now as he gets ready for bed, or the woman who cried as she said goodbye to the project. As well as being a fascinating scientific study, Voyager missions also became a study of human emotion and sentiment, all of which Reynolds manages to capture beautifully, without being mawkish, in her film.
In all, ‘The Farthest’ is a surprising documentary. Not only is there tons of information in the film that audiences may not have realised before, but there is a heart and soul to the film that is unexpected, but most welcome. Emer Reynolds has truly created something special here.
RATING: 5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    Irish-produced documentary The Farthest is the kind of scientific but wholly accessible documentary that could go all the way to the Oscars. It charts the adventures in space of the Voyager 1 and 2 space probes and their continuing journey into the farthest reaches of space.

    Pasadena, California 1972. At the famed NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a team of scientists propose a series of deep space probes that will go on a grand tour of the outer planets, expanding our knowledge of them and space itself. President Nixon authorises two probes – Voyager 1 and 2. The plan is for the small probes to do fly-bys of Jupiter, Saturn and Saturn’s moon Titan. Also onboard each probe is a golden record containing music, images and voices from cultures all around the world – an intergalactic hello. As the probes are launched in August 1977, great hope is placed on them. A few years later, results start coming in from the onboard cameras. Jupiter comes first and then Saturn with its famed rings. The images coming back from the two probes are extraordinary, but that’s nothing compared to what happened after that…

    Director Emer Reynold’s highly engaging documentary The Farthest is a portrait of hope and optimism from a crew of scientists, technicians and imaging crew. Led by project manager John Casani, the Voyager team built a spacecraft that would be able to withstand a great journey into deep space and avoid any collisions along the way that could impact on the elegantly designed spacecraft. As told by the crew involved and commentators including cosmologist Lawrence Krauss, the Voyager missions far exceeded their expectations. Voyager 1 and 2 continued much further into space, with Voyager 1 now in interstellar space beyond our own solar system – the first man-made object to do so. Although the signal is weaker, Voyager 1 and 2 continue to transmit nearly 40 years later and 12 billion miles from Earth.

    As the story progresses, the realisation of this fact becomes a deeply emotional journey for all concerned – not just the Voyager crew, but the audience itself. The Voyager crew talk about their ‘child’ with passion and love, casting it out into deep space to discover what’s really out there. The question of alien life comes up too and the fact the Voyager missions were also an intergalactic handshake to whatever might be out there. That sense of hope, an uncynical view of what might be out there and the realisation that humanity is what matters most is what drives this absorbing documentary to its thrilling conclusion. If you can even call it a conclusion – the Voyager missions continue and will outlive all of us.

    The structure and editing of the film is particularly good, told in an epic and intimate way. That delicate balance between archival footage, new interviews and excellent computer-generated imagery of the journey through space is maintained throughout. Some documentaries have a way of drawing you deeper into a story that a dramatisation can’t quite achieve and The Farthest is definitely one of those. In a time when unity among the various peoples of the Earth is coming under attack from a rogue President, there’s a simple message of hope in The Farthest that hugely impresses. If there’s one documentary you see this year, make sure it’s this one. It’s awe inspiring and out of this galaxy. *****