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Right Stuff, The (2-Disc Special Edition) Print E-mail
Tuesday, 10 June 2003

The Right Stuff (2-Disc Special Edition)

Warner Home Video
MPAA rating: PG
starring: Ed Harris, Lance Henriksen, Scott Paulin, Dennis Quaid, Sam Shepard, Fred Ward, Kim Stanley, Barbara Hershey, Veronica Cartwright, Pamela Reed
release year: 1983 – 2003 DVD release
film rating: Five Stars
sound/picture: Four Stars
reviewed by: Mel Odom

Mentioning the Space Race to today’s younger audience probably conjures up images of spaceships lined up at some galactic gate, but in the 1950s and 1960s, the term had a much more significant, and more deadly, implication. Two superpowers, the United States and the United Soviet Socialist Republics, each fresh from the horror of World War II and realizing that global domination by a superior military was possible, set about staking out new battleground high above the Earth.

The 1950s brought about public recognition of the atomic bomb, used for the first time in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Japan. As the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. climbed the skies in repeated attempts to claim the higher ground and potentially secure areas for space-based platforms that could drop bombs onto the world below, bomb shelters sprouted like mushrooms.

The story was bigger than that, though, and wasn’t even just one story in actuality. The Space Race combined several stories that threaded through the lives of several brave and daring men. Those men were heroes, but they were men first, filled with fears and dreams, armored by the confidence that lent them strength and occasionally caused their downfall. “The Right Stuff” presents an accurate and exciting snapshot of those men in their element: in action and at their best, but also simply as men that any viewer has known and can easily understand.

Chapter 1 opens up with the wind whistling through the surround sound. Black and white photography begins the movie, showing footage of the experimental plane, X-1, that was built to break the sound barrier. In stark black and white, the plane streaks through the heavens, then falls, striking the hard, unforgiving desert floor below. The explosion throws the film into color and widescreen. The thunder of the detonations rumbles through the subwoofer as echoes flare through the front and rear speakers.

A preacher dressed in black visits the home of the new widow to inform her of her test pilot husband’s death, and the action immediately segues to the funeral where the pilot is laid to rest. Four jets scream by overhead, flying in the missing man formation to honor one of their own, and the noise of the engines slams through the surround sound system to engulf the viewer. In the wake of the roar of the jets, the wind whistles through the surround sound system again, rolling cold and lonely and unstoppable.

Chapter 2 opens up on Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard), the unsung hero of the Space Race. At least, Yeager was an unsung hero of that era until “The Right Stuff” was made and became a hit. Yeager rides his horse through the desert and comes up over a ridge to see the latest incarnation of the X-1. The scene is a nice touch, showing how America has virtually stepped from the saddle into space. The jet’s engine throbs, hammering through the surround sound system.

One of the more astounding facts revealed in the film comes in Chapter 3, when the viewer learns that the test pilots have been risking their lives for $283 a month. Chapter 4 has a truly romantic scene, showing Yeager and his wife (Barbara Hershey) meeting at Pancho’s Bar and going horseback riding in the desert. The pounding horses hooves ring through the surround sound system.

Chapter 5 offers the threatening hiss of the X-1. For his record-breaking flight on October 14, 1947, Yeager went up with broken ribs. His second in command saws off the end of a mop to make Yeager a handle to secure the X-1’s canopy. The explosions of the jet engine lights up the subwoofer. When the X-1 drops from the belly of the carrier plane, the wind whistles through the sound system, making us feel as though we have just plummeted into the thin air high over the desert. The plane cuts through the sky, slicing from the center speaker(s) to the right and suddenly back to the left, then reverses that order and blasts through again. When Yeager hits the sound barrier, the sonic boom blasts through the subwoofer. In Chapter 6, the viewer gets a taste of the secrecy that was involved in the X-1 program when a reporter is denied the opportunity to call in Yeager’s success, as opposed to the seemingly open-door policy of the NASA efforts.

Jumping ahead seven years, the film picks up again in 1953 with Gordo Cooper’s (Dennis Quaid) arrival at Edwards Air Force Base in Chapter 7. Jerry Lee Lewis rock ‘n’ roll blasts through the surround sound system, letting us know that a new era has dawned. The living conditions at the base are horrible, as evidenced by Mrs. Cooper’s reaction. Jets thunder through the surround sound, and it isn’t long before one of the planes goes down, leaving a plume of black smoke streaming up into the sky. Another funeral takes place, tying Yeager in with the new arrivals, Gordo Cooper and Gus Grissom (Fred Ward). Again, a missing man formation slams through the sky overhead.

Chapter 10 shows Mach 2 getting broken. The chapter always brings forward the basic truth that funding was what made the ships go up. The slogan “no bucks, no Buck Rogers” comes forward in this chapter. Chapter 11 shows another record-breaking flight by the X-1 series of jets. The engine blasts from the right front speaker and screams over to the left front speaker and the thunder rocks the subwoofer.

In Chapter 12, the Communist Russian space program gets more airplay during the movement with the 1957 launch of Sputnik, a satellite. Lyndon Johnson also gets introduced in a smoke-filled room. The word “specimen” is garbled to become “spaceman.” The montage of considered candidates for the space program enlightens as well as entertains as to what the pioneer space program honchos thought they would need from their pilots.

Chapter 13 reveals why Yeager never made it into the space program. The test pilots for the U.S. Air Force, represented by Yeager, believed that the projected astronauts were only lab rabbits. Grissom and Gordo talk about astronauts, and that the term actually means “star voyager.”

The movie progresses smoothly, showing the gathering and training of the candidates. Gradually, through strange and demanding tests, the astronauts are cut back to seven members. Chapter 15 shows an amusing encounter between the NASA recruiters and Alan Sheppard. The roar of the jet as the craft descends upon the aircraft carrier fills the surround sound system and hammers through the subwoofer. The recruiters obviously have a bad time with the carrier rocking on the waves.

Chapter 22 offers a cornucopia of things that went wrong with the testing phase of the space program while the search continued for the proper delivery vehicle. Rocket after rocket launches, then falls back to earth to explode. Other rockets explode in mid-air. Still more rockets fly for a time, then fall or explode. Then, when the Russians launch the first man into outer space, NASA picks up the pace and starts putting American astronauts into space as well. The movie steps into high gear, but doesn’t forget Yeager’s own story. “The Right Stuff,” despite being three hours and 13 minutes in length, is seductive. Those three hours pass quickly, pulling us more and more deeply into the race for space.

The extras included on the DVD provide tons of insight from the actors, director Philip Kaufman, book author Tom Wolfe and producers. “The Right Stuff” was a special project by all accounts. “John Glenn: American Hero” is compelling, filled with background that goes more deeply into the material covered in the film. Glenn’s story delves into the future of the space program to a degree as well. The documentaries also offer much from the surviving original astronauts, including some vindication for the tragic hatch incident that befell Grissom, who gave his life for the space program.

“The Right Stuff” stands as an excellent movie even 20 years later. Despite its length, it draws the viewer in, moving through the years, the complications and the political changes that took place during those years, and through the stories that reflect the lives of Yeager, the astronauts, the astronauts’ wives, and the media people who constantly searched for stories to unveil before an astonished audience.

Screenwriter/director Kaufman tells his tale brilliantly, intertwining those storylines so there is always something for everyone: drama, romance, humor, and above all else, the fascination with the birth of the space program. Though the movie was remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1, the film still lacks a little in the sound department for someone used to true Dolby. The movie sounds great, but it lacks true discrete sound. Still, “The Right Stuff” definitely belongs on the shelf of a true DVD collector. The two-disc set delivers an excellent movie as well as the ton of extras DVD fans have come to appreciate and expect.

more details
sound format:
English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround; French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
aspect ratio(s):
Presented In A “Matted” Widescreen Format
Preserving The Aspect Ratio Of Its Original Theatrical Exhibition, Enhanced
For Widescreen TVs
special features: John Glenn: American Hero; The Journey And The Mission: Selected Scenes with Two Commentary Tracks Each; Three 20th-Anniversary Retrospective Documentaries: 1) Realizing The Right Stuff, 2) T-20 Years and Counting, With Actors Veronica Cartwright, David Clennon, Jeff Goldblum, Ed Harris, Barbara Hershey, Donald Moffatt, Dennis Quaid, Pamela Reed, Harry Shearer, Fred Ward, Author Tom Wolfe, Director/Screenwriter Philip Kaufman, Producers Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler, Cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, Special Visual Effects Supervisor Gary Guttierez and Gen. Chuck Yeager, USAF (Ret.); 3) The Real Men With The Right Stuff: Introduction by Tom Wolfe, With Cmdr. Scott Carpenter, USN (Ret.), Col. L. Gordon Cooper Jr., USAF (Ret.), Captain Walter M. Schirra Jr., USN (Ret.) and Gen. Chuck Yeager, USAF (Ret.); 13 Additional Scenes; Interactive Timeline To Space: Traces The Chronology Of Space Exploration Via Archival Photos And Footage; Theatrical Trailer; Documentary Scene Access; English, French and Spanish Subtitles; English Closed-Captioning
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Pioneer DV-C302D
receiver: RCA RT2280
main speakers: RCA RT2280
center speaker: RCA RT2280
rear speakers: RCA RT2280
subwoofer: RCA RT2280
monitor: 42-inch Toshiba

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