First Man

By Nancy Scott

I am a NASA nerd. I remember Alan Shepard’s sub-orbital flight. I remember waiting late into the night for the first moonwalk.

I kept hearing commercials for the movie “First Man.” I really wanted to see it. I asked my computer wizard, Angel, if she would like to go.

I had been to three previous Regal Cinema movies with description. Two worked fine and one did not.

We went to the Regal in Phillipsburg, NJ. It was the first showing on a Tuesday, just after noon but we arrived in plenty of time.

We bought tickets and asked for the headset that enables video description. This is what Regal calls their narration of visual elements for people who cannot see the screen.

“No problem,” said the manager—my first man in this adventure.

(Angel said he was the guy in the suit.)

He came back with large headphones and a receiver to wear around my neck with volume up and down buttons. I thanked him and crossed my fingers.

Since we got to theater 8 early, we watched all the commercials. There were lots of them. My first clue that the correct setting was on my headphones was that I did not hear pre-movie speaker content through the headset. For a long time, I didn’t hear anything through my headset. I asked Angel if the unit was on. She said yes and that there was a green light.

Only two commercials, specifically for Regal Cinema refreshments, were described. But once I heard the first one, I knew the manager had set the device correctly.

It would help if a computer voice could come on occasionally to say that video description was on. I understand that most commercials and movie previews change. So only advertisements for Coke and popcorn could be spoken in my ears.

I heard just the voice of the describer in the headset. My guess is that if you hear other audio, you probably have the wrong setting if the theater offers other accessibility services. The prerecorded track of the describer was my second man.

Each ear of my headset was fully enclosed with a band over my head. I wore one ear on for the description and one ear off for the theater speakers. I adjusted the description volume, especially for explosions and the like. Movie theater speakers are very loud.

The video description was immediately helpful for knowing where the movie began and where scenes shifted. Text on the screen and subtleties were verbalized. Sometimes, I heard description first.

“She closes the car trunk.” And then I heard the metallic noise and knew what it was. Sometimes, there were camera views of Neil Armstrong’s eyes or dials with numbers. Or memories of his daughter. (I didn’t know he had a daughter. She died very young.)

Angel was not alive when this first moonwalk happened. She didn’t know Walter Cronkite and Wally Schirra explaining acronyms and trying for poetry. I tried to quietly warn her when something bad would happen, like the Apollo fire that killed three astronauts and maybe gave Armstrong his chance to be First Man.

Shall we count the actor who played Neil Armstrong as my third man?

Neil Armstrong stops after his first lunar step and looks down at his footprint in the gray, fine sand. I would have missed that without the video description.

There is a haunting scene when Neil Armstrong drops his daughter’s bracelet into a moon crater. I would have totally missed that, too.

Angel googled the bracelet scene and no one is sure that it happened. There was a moment when Neil Armstrong went off the mission plan, so perhaps he did release the bracelet.

Angel said she tried to hear the description and wished she had a headset to hear it better. For me, video description is a real inducement to go to first run movies.

I thanked the young man at the counter for the wonderful headset. He was glad and said the headphones were new. I guess he was my fourth man.

I may have known more than some sighted folks watching the movie. Some small steps toward access are larger than they seem. It’s just like stepping onto the moon.

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