Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Richard Garriott: Man On A Mission

Illustration for article titled Richard Garriott: Man On A Mission

Like many kids, Richard Garriott wanted to be an astronaut. But unlike most, he knew it was more than an abstract dream—his father, Owen K. Garriott, spent two months aboard Skylab in the ’70s, and plenty of his parents’ friends also worked at NASA. He learned early on that he wouldn’t be able to follow in his dad’s footsteps, at least not by way of the U.S. government, because his nearsightedness was an automatic disqualification. Richard Garriott: Man On A Mission is a disarmingly enthusiastic documentary about how its subject eventually found his own way into orbit. The film summons up the childlike wonder and optimism inherent in space exploration, while examining how it’s opening up to self-funded travelers.

Mike Woolf’s doc isn’t the first about space tourism—Christian Frei made an improbably tedious 2009 feature (Space Tourists) about Iranian-American businesswoman Anousheh Ansari, who flew to the International Space Station in 2006. Man On A Mission benefits from being filtered through the viewpoint of Garriott, an unabashed geek for whom space travel has been a lifelong and pragmatically (on relative terms) chased goal. A videogame developer best known for creating the Ultima series, Garriott was a role-playing-game pioneer, programming his first effort on an Apple II while still in high school, and selling it himself, with huge success. With his long rattail braids, his homemade sterling-silver snake necklace, and his alter ego of “Lord British,” Garriott is an unusual, goofy, unpretentious character who’s used the wealth he’s had most of his life to do things like explore Antarctica and canoe down the Amazon.

Man On A Mission intertwines Garriott’s story with an overview of what a $30 million Soyuz ticket buys, and what it involves—including months of training in Moscow’s Star City, and hours of intensive Russian-language lessons. Woolf compensates for the standard structure with exhilarating footage of Garriott’s flight and space-station visit, with its peek at the daily life aboard the cramped quarters with world’s greatest view. Garriott’s sincere enthusiasm and fan-ish observations (“Thank you, space-Flowbee,” he says, when trying out a provided vacuum beard-trimmer) make his trip seem not like a wealthy person’s ultimate indulgence, but instead the longed-for, doggedly pursued, and ultimately earned fulfillment of a dream.