Old 04-11-2009, 04:52 PM
Philip Kaufman's The Right Stuff

The Right Stuff (1983)

What an amazing time it must have been to be an American, to be there at the breaking of the sound barrier and the beginning of space flight. Exciting and chilling at the same time, not knowing whether these amazing deeds could be accomplished or not. If there's one thing that makes this film lose its edge, it's knowing exactly how everything works out, though it still does a good job of bringing that excitement of the period to the screen.

Based on Tom Wolfe's famous novel of the same name, "The Right Stuff" begins by telling the story of how Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) broke the sound barrier in 1947. Known as the world's fastest man, whenever somebody broke his record, he would simply go back up in his plane and reclaim it, eventually reaching mach 2.5 in the process. Then comes news that the Soviet Union has launched Sputnik, which changes the focus from Earth to outer space.

The search begins for the finest pilots in America to be the first to go into outer space. Rigorous testing of over 50 pilots leads to the selection of seven brave men who would be known as the Mercury Seven astronauts: Alan Shepard (Scott Glenn), John Glenn (Ed Harris), Gus Grissom (Fred Ward), Deke Slayton (Scott Paulin), Gordon Cooper (Dennis Quaid), Scott Carpenter (Charles Frank), and Wally Schirra (Lance Henriksen).

The second half of this 193-minute epic deals with the first Americans to go into space. When the Americans get word that the Soviet Union has sent Yuri Gagarin into space after they themselves had been working to get a man in space for so long, they immediately double their efforts to achieve the same thing. The film chronicles Alan Shepard's historic first flight, followed by Gus Grissom's. Then, once again following the Soviets, John Glenn is sent up to orbit the Earth. It concludes with the last of the Mercury Seven, Gordon Cooper, going into space.

This was a fascinating telling of the early days of the space program. My one complaint about the beginning of the film is that it seemed to dwell a long time on Yeager and his attempt to break the sound barrier. It was a very important event, but one that almost everyone knows about, so it didn't seem of much use to try and build up suspense around it. It could have just been me wanting the film to get on with the formation of the Mercury program, as I did not know as much about that particular event.

The effects are marvelously done, bringing out the full glory of every space flight that the film tells about. The integration of archival footage and the real footage was nearly seamless. If it weren't for the ratio differential and quality of the obviously degraded archive footage, then it would have been perfect, but it still made an enormous impact. Watching the test footage as they attempt to make a rocket that would launch and not explode became very suspenseful, because we know that it could be any one of these that ends up being the one that works.

During some of the flights, the astronauts look out the window and see some very impressive sights; not only the Earth far down below, but also beautiful lights streaking by their aircraft. This reminded me a lot of the stargate sequence from "2001: A Space Odyssey" and could have been meant to echo the same theme of humans going further than they've ever thought possible.

Another odd thing about the film was its strange use of humor that seemed really inappropriate at times. During the testing sequences, there are some really odd scenes in which the film tried to force some humor into the situation, like when one of the astronauts has to give a sperm sample and goes into the bathroom and has a sort of humming contest with the person in the next stall or when two of the astronauts have been given enemas and must get into a crowded elevator to get to the bathroom on the next floor. Later on in the film, right before Grissom is about to take off, he tells control that he needs to use the bathroom but is not given permission to go, meanwhile director Philip Kaufman throws in several shots of people pouring tea, drinking water, and using the bathroom. It just didn't really feel like any of this bathroom humor was necessary.

One last thing that I found strange about this film was when it decided to portray the astronauts as pompous jerks. There is a scene right at the end of the second half where they are demanding some fundamental things added to the capsule (like a window and a hatch with explosive bolts), but they do it with such a pompous attitude, making it seem like the program is all about them whereas there were actually hundreds, if not thousands, of people working together to quite literally get the program off the ground.

This film is still very much worth seeing, whether you already know the story behind it or not. This was a very important time in American history and is brought to the screen in an amazing display of storytelling, cinematography, and effects. This film could have easily gone into the beginnings of the Apollo program (and sort of does as it tells the fate of one of the astronauts at the end of the film), but that's for another film like "In the Shadow of the Moon," a brilliant retelling of the Apollo missions. This film is all about the brave men who had the courage and the will to be there at the beginning. It's about those men who had "the right stuff." 3/4 stars.

Last edited by Hal2001; 04-11-2009 at 07:41 PM..
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Old 04-11-2009, 07:34 PM

Definitely one of my favorite films of the 80s.
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Old 04-17-2009, 06:23 PM
My favourite of the 80s, and probably in my top ten of all-time.

The first half was some of the most enjoyable film moments i've witnessed. The second half is good, but lost some of the humour.

Usually I watch it at least once a month.

"Is that a man?"

"You're damn right it is"
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