Overview: 14 Minutes from Earth documents Alan Eustace’s historic 14-minute dive, the highest sky dive ever, from the upper stratosphere to Earth. Gunpowder & Sky Distribution; 2016; Not Rated; 85 minutes.
The Plan is Simple: Alan Eustace will strap a giant balloon strapped to his back. It will inflate to the size of a football stadium. It will carry him over 135,000 feet up into the stratosphere, higher than any solo man has gone alone. He will make make the dive. He will make history. Okay, so it isn’t that simple. In 14 Minutes from Earth, Eustace, a 57-year-old computer engineer, scientist, and Senior Vice President of Knowledge at Google with a skydiving hobby, assembles a team of bright scientific minds to help him accomplish what might seem to most like a crazy dream. “For me this is kind of the ultimate science project,” Eustace says with a calm smile. He’s not your typical daredevil hero. Eustace is endlessly optimistic, obviously brilliant, and frankly, kind of a dweeb. It’s impossible not to root for him. 14 Minutes from Earth documents Eustace’s plan from its inception on a paper napkin, to the building of a specialized pressurized suit, to the testing of a custom-designed parachute, to the big launch itself.
Where It Falters: Only Kathy, Eustace’s wife, seems to touch on the extreme scope of Euctace’s dangerous decision. The film hardly explores why a married man with two young daughters would put himself in such terrible danger. It is true that Eustace put an immense amount of work into the experiment, and perhaps he didn’t want to endanger someone else with the implementation of his plan. Still, the fact that he doesn’t struggle with the decision to gamble his own life leaves the film feeling shallow. Much like its subject, 14 Minutes from Earth is not a traditionally cool movie. It’s not particularly trendy, slick, or flashy from a filmmaking standpoint. The characters are more science geeks than exciting adventurers. The film mostly feels like one you’d watch in an 8th grade science class on a day with a substitute teacher, and the dry voiceover commentary is reminiscent of a Discovery Channel special. None of this means the documentary is bad, just that it never feels as good as it could have been.
Overall: Though it never dives into the why of Eustace’s mission, the how of it all remains fascinating. The footage of the flight is spectacular and worth pushing through the film’s weak spots in order to reach. 14 Minutes from Earth is a testament to science geeks and bookworms everywhere, because damn it, in spite of everything it has going against it, this movie is still pretty freaking cool.
14 Minutes from Earth is available on Digital HD and On Demand November 15, 2016.
Featured Image: Gunpowder & Sky Distribution