Sputnik Mania (review)

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Featuring some of the snappiest usage of archival footage I’ve ever seen in a documentary — including tons of material I’ve never come across before, and I’m a space geek — this smart, wry look at the American enthusiasm for and then paranoia over the first manmade satellite to orbit Earth is like tripping back through time to a place — 1950s U.S.A. — that feels like another planet… but one that simultaneously rings with a truth that still holds, that the American people are only moved to action by panic. Actor Liev Schreiber narrates the descent, over a few short years, from gee-whiz! to the-sky-is-falling! in that soothing and authoritative voiceover voice of his, then layers on dry irony as filmmaker David Hoffman ties together a fascination with the Soviet achievement to an urgent need to ramp up American science education, as well as the terror over the prospect of nuke-laden satellites with the alarm over the Little Rock school integration — how clever of Hoffman to point out that both dramatic and paradigm-changing events were happening at the same time, and rocked the world in their own ways.

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