THE RIGHT STUFF
Unquestionably, THE RIGHT STUFF ($27) is truly one of the great films about aviation. THE RIGHT STUFF takes the human desire fly to its most extreme form- where we see mankind finally breaking free from the constraints of gravity and ascending into the heavens for the very first time. This cinematic adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s book tells the story of the heroic American pilots that would brave the unknown and be amongst the first men launched into outer space. Not only does the film look at the first seven American astronauts, but THE RIGHT STUFF also recounts the political reasons as to why America took a gung ho approach to setting up their space program during the 1950s and 1960s.
The earliest section of THE RIGHT STUFF focuses on the biggest technological hurdle that had yet to be overcome- the sound barrier. Technology was on the threshold of overcoming the sound barrier, but it was still a risky proposition, as a number of men in experimental aircraft had already lost their lives trying to travel faster than sound. THE RIGHT STUFF opens in 1947 with Chuck Yeager agreeing to fly the rocket-powered Bell X-1, at which time he breaks the sound barrier becoming the fastest men on the planet. The film then moves forward a several years, to the date that the Russians launch Sputnik- the first man made orbiting satellite. Of course, this event sends a wakeup call American government, and thus begins the space race with the Soviets to launch a man into orbit.
What follows is the selection process for the first American astronauts and the story of the pioneering Mercury Space Program that put the first Americans into orbit around the Earth. Directed by Philip Kaufman, THE RIGHT STUFF proves to be not only a thrilling historic document, but the film also puts a very human face on one of mankind’s greatest achievements. The outstanding cast of THE RIGHT STUFF features Sam Shepard, Scott Glenn, Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid, Fred Ward, Barbara Hershey, Kim Stanley, Veronica Cartwright, Pamela Reed, Scott Paulin, Charles Frank, Lance Henriksen, Donald Moffat Kathy Baker, Royal Dano, Jeff Goldblum and Harry Shearer.
Warner Home Video has made THE RIGHT STUFF available on DVD in a 1.78:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. Right up front, let me say that this twenty-year-old movie looks absolutely terrific on this newly mastered DVD. In general, the image is very sharp and very well defined, with only a smattering of shots that betray any softness or other signs that the production is two decades old. Color reproduction is great, with vibrant hues, natural looking flesh tones and no signs of either chroma noise or smearing. Blacks appear solid and inky, while the whites are completely stable. Shadow detail is good for a two-decade-old film and most sequences convey a great sense of depth. The film element used for the transfer is in good shape, with a couple of noticeable scratches being the most glaring faults. Despite the films hefty three hour and thirteen minute running time, the DVD is beautifully authored, without appreciable digital compression artifacts. Bravo to Warner for a job very well done.
THE RIGHT STUFF is presented on DVD with a marvelous Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack that fully conveys why this motion picture captured Academy Awards for Best Sound and Sound Effects Editing. Sound design for THE RIGHT STUFF pushed the envelope in the Dolby Surround era, which is probably why it holds up so well when compared to today’s fully digital soundtracks. Surround usage is engaging and excellent, although it does lack the discrete component of modern tracks. Still, the rear channels are aggressively deployed and do give the sensation of jets rushing past one’s viewing station. Directionality is very good in the forward soundstage, and the front hemisphere is well integrated with the surround channels. Bass proves to be very forceful, although it doesn’t achieve the sonic depths of today’s cutting edge tracks. Dialogue is always completely understandable and there are no obvious signs of ADR. A French Dolby Surround track is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English, Spanish and French subtitles.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD’s interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplemental features that have been spread out onto the second DVD of this two-disc set. In place of a running audio commentary on disc one, the second DVD offers individual sequences from the movie with cast comments by Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, Scott Glenn, Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid, and Barbara Hershey, while director Philip Kaufman, producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff, and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel are present on the filmmaker’s channel to offering their insights into the particular scenes.
Disc two also includes three new featurettes produced for the DVD. Realizing the Right Stuff and T-20 Years and Counting run twenty and eleven minutes respectively, and offer a look back the production of the movie through newly produced interviews with cast and crewmembers. The Real Men of The Right Stuff is a fifteen-minute program that features Chuck Yeager and author Tom Wolfe, and provides a looks at the actual Mercury astronauts. The most significant program included on disc two is John Glenn: American Hero, an eighty-six minute PBS biography of the Mercury Astronaut, who was later elected to the United States Senate and then returned to space at the tender age of seventy seven. Thirteen deleted scenes, totaling almost eleven minutes worth of footage, are also provided on the DVD, and while this new material is interesting, it is fairly obvious that these snippets were cut to reduce the film’s overall running time. A theatrical trailer closes out the supplements.
THE RIGHT STUFF is truly a great movie, as well as being a great historic document about America’s pioneering Mercury astronauts. Warner’s Special Edition looks and sounds wonderful, in addition to offering a very enjoyable complement of supplemental features. If you are a fan, or even if you have never seen THE RIGHT STUFF, this is a must have DVD. Very highly recommended.
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