Launched in 1977, the NASA Voyager probes were sent to explore Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune and captured the imagination of a generation. Using footage from the Voyager itself and interviews with the engineers and scientists, The Farthest documents Voyager's travels and how it changed our understanding of space.
Most documentaries nowadays are presented to us either through Netflix, Amazon or some television channel and are aimed for the small screen. It's become increasingly rare for documentary makers to aim and create a film that's intended for a big screen, and The Farthest is a reminder that documentaries don't always have to be straightforward presentations with visual aids. They can use music, drama, emotion and story to carry it all along - and The Farthest has all of these with room left over to document one of mankind's greatest achievements.
The film opens with a view to the heavens from the streets, fields, roads and everything else of Earth with audio taken from the famed Golden Records playing. From the very get-go, it's clear that The Farthest's intention is to lift you out of your seat and hurl you into the stars and it does that with some astute CGI showing Voyager's travels through space, actual NASA photographs and imagery, and vintage footage of the launch itself. Through talking-head interviews, we're introduced to a team of scientists who helped to build Voyager and worked on the images and data recovered from its voyage.
Although the film does try to get you onboard with some of the technical readouts of Voyager and what it was intended to discover, it's really the enthusiasm and emotion with which the engineers speak of Voyager that sells the whole thing. That's something that can't be faked or directed; it just comes out of the screen and carries you along with it. The story itself is split over three distinct lines - Voyager's discoveries, the production behind the famous Golden Records which were designed to help extraterrestrials find their way to Earth, and the bond that developed between the engineers and Voyager itself. The discoveries are interspersed with CGI of the planets themselves, whilst the Golden Records tell a fascinating story of how exactly humans could communicate with life beyond our planet, and all through it, we see the logic and rationale behind each and every step. It makes for a fascinating documentary, and the sense of scale and wonder really does add to the cinematic experience. It's one of the few documentaries that truly lends itself to a big screen, and it's by far the optimal way to see it.
Overall, The Farthest is a stirring, evocative documentary about humanity at its most hopeful and innovative. The use of '70s pop music and prog-rock soundtrack in parts - Pink Floyd's Us & Them plays out as Voyager crosses over into interstellar space - gives the film a natural rhythm and calls to mind Ridley Scott's The Martian or even James Gunn's Guardians Of The Galaxy. The film's message - that humanity can create wondrous achievements with intelligence, heart and hope - is particularly pointed in today's age, and makes you pine for a time when science wasn't so easily dismissed by those in power.