Film and TV

Countdown at the Boulder Public Library

The astronaut drama Countdown is a curio from both a historical and filmic standpoint. The movie, co-starring James Caan and Robert Duvall, both pre-Godfather, arrived in 1968, a year before the initial moon landing, but at a point when it was clear the United States was on the verge of launching such a mission. Hence, a semi-documentary style is imposed on a plot that posits a geopolitical space race run amok: The U.S. and the Soviet Union are portrayed as being so desperate to put boot to lunar surface first that they're willing to leave many basic safety precautions on the launch pad. Although the results are intermittently effective, they're also fairly generic – and that's especially surprising given that the picture was helmed by Robert Altman, who'd go on to become one of the most distinctive directors in Hollywood. Not yet, though: The overlapping dialogue, visceral editing and adventurous staging that would blossom in his very next feature, 1970's M*A*S*H, is in little evidence throughout Countdown, which shows what sort of a filmmaker Altman could have been rather than the kind he actually became.

Countdown begins at 7 p.m. on Thursday, July 16, at the Boulder Public Library, 1001 Arapahoe Avenue; admission is free. Get details at 303-441-3100 or

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
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