Editorial: Neil Armstrong movie is about more than lunar flag-planting

This year’s silliest movie controversy centers on Neil Armstrong, the moon landing and the American flag.

Like few heroes before him, Armstrong spent a lifetime practicing humility and keeping his emotions in check. The stories are legendary about how the reluctant hero preferred to stay in the background over accepting accolades, even when he became the first person to walk on the moon.

That’s what author James R. Hansen worked so hard to capture in writing his book, “First Man,” with the subtitle, “The Life of Neil A. Armstrong.” It’s also what director Damien Chazelle sought to reveal in making the movie by the same title, due out on Oct. 12.

Both saw their mission as a simple one: to tell how a small-town boy from Wapakoneta, Ohio, became one of America’s greatest heroes. But it seems nothing can happen today without a controversy, and so it goes with the movie.

Outrage is now being expressed by so-called patriots concerning the movie’s moon-landing scenes.

After taking his first step on the moon, Armstrong was followed onto the lunar surface by fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin. Together, they spent 10 minutes planting the American flag on the moon before saluting the stars and stripes and going on to other business. That flag scene, however, is not part of the movie. The filmmakers instead chose to focus on Armstrong looking back at the earth and the emotions he felt as he walked to the Little West Crater.

President Trump was among the first to express his indignation toward Hollywood.

“It’s almost like they’re embarrassed at the achievement coming from America, I think it’s a terrible thing,” Trump said.

We agree the planting of the American flag seemed like a natural moment to depict, and we wouldn’t be surprised to hear Chazelle admit in hindsight that he wishes he had included it. But like so many controversies, this one is getting blown out of proportion.

First, movie critics tell us there is plenty of red, white and blue throughout this film. The movie also gets thumbs up from Armstrong’s two sons as well as Hansen, the book’s author. Then there’s some often forgotten history about the flight of Apollo 11. Prior to its launch, there was a debate within the federal government and in the press as to how the world would perceive the planting of a flag. It wasn’t until a few months before the flight that Congress ordered NASA to put up the flag.

The film premiered recently at the Venice Film Festival to enthusiastic reviews and an early Oscar buzz. Yes, it doesn’t have the flag scene. It is, however, being praised for accurately capturing the story of a legendary hero, one who deferred the focus from himself to the 400,000 people who made the moon mission possible.

That sounds like a winner to us.

See you at the movies.