Charles T. "Chuck" Baker makes the least dignified astronaut entrance in cinematic history. He lands on Planet 51, plants an American flag, encounters life in the form of a "dog" that looks suspiciously like a mini-me version of the creature from Alien -- and promptly runs away, screaming like a little girl.
Baker, voiced by Dwayne Johnson in the amusing animated film that opens tomorrow, has a lot to learn about being an astronaut. Planet 51, aimed squarely and pleasantly at children, is ready to impart lessons about the true meaning of "the right stuff," not only for Baker, but also for mournful astronomer Lem (Justin Long), his unrequited love Neera (Jessica Biel), and the evil 1-2 punch of a a military leader (Gary Oldman) and a scientist (John Cleese). The film pays homage to a variety of sci-fi flicks, and the stylish, rounded curves of its character and production designs are reminiscent of the early 1950s, the grand era when astronauts first started popping up on the big screen.
In compiling this list, I was tempted to draw from the huge pool of space jockeys, ranging from Luke Skywalker to Captain Kirk, but decided instead to stick to a more traditional view of astronauts. Some, obviously, are more realistic than others.
You can't get much better than the real thing. David Singleton's documentary allows the Apollo astronauts to give voice to their hopes, fears, and memories of their dazzling missions to the moon, accompanied by rarely-seen archival footage. It's dazzling, mesmerizing, and ultimately humbling.