Picks and Pans Review: Challenger

updated 02/26/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/26/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

ABC (Sun., Feb. 25, 8 P.M. ET)


This straight-arrow docudrama, as earnest and reverent as an Eagle Scout, re-creates the events leading up to the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986, which killed seven astronauts, including Christa McAuliffe, the teacher from New Hampshire.

We meet the crew the day before the launch and then jump back six months to the time McAuliffe, invested with a beguiling internal radiance by Karen Allen, is chosen. From the start, the worshipful tone of Challenger makes The Right Stuff look cynical. The film also inflicts on us the exhaustive, tedious preparations undergone by the crew members, including Barry Bostwick in a chiseled turn as commander Dick Scobee.

Concerns about O-ring erosion in the booster—the flaw that led to the explosion—are debated at length. But essentially this is a retroactive apologia for the space program, insisting that every conceivable precaution was taken.

The moral seems to be that no one dares blame anyone in NASA for the tragedy—a stance established right from the get-go. As the opening credits scroll by, the camera lovingly embraces every awe-inspiring inch of the shuttle as it is towed into its hangar. This is clearly a machine too majestic not to fly, too noble to be culpable.

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