At the very beginning of the Cold War, actually, even before it began, was that of a bigger need. That need was to get into outer space before the Russians did. No where is this more perfectly illustrated than in one of the opening scenes of The Right Stuff. Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) has just broken the Sound Barrier (750 mph) and, it being big news, the local reporters decide to phone it into the larger papers. Having being cut off from telling the news, we start to wonder just what it is that the United States might be up to. Hindsight, as we know, is 20/20 and looking back we know that we were in direct competition with the Russians as a major world power. So why was the breaking of the sound barrier so important? Simple. We wanted to be the first country in space. But we weren’t.
The Right Stuff focuses on the commencement of the “Space Race”. The United States versus the Russians, so to speak. This leads us in the very early days of 1948 to the days when launching space capsules was nothing that even made the papers. Chuck Yeager might have started it all, but the Mercury Seven astronauts were the ones that made the headlines. The film shows just how crazy these guys were (not just the seven who “made it”, but all who even volunteered), but the dedication to their respective branches of the armed forces and to their jobs in particular. Naturally, we all know of Scott Carpenter, Alan Shepard, John Glenn and the rest of the gang, but this paints a portrait of all of them as they were as people. We don’t see them as individuals, but rather as members of the same team going on to the much bigger race of reaching for the stars. The Right Stuff is just that, it’s a movie that documents the creation of NASA and of the space race in general and it does it in a way that is entertaining and “great” at the same time.
With a cast of then unknowns, the movie tried to do what none other did…it had a true plot that relied on the writing to carry it, while at the same time using the development to carry the show. Ed Harris as John Glenn, Scott Glenn as Alan Shepard and so on. This movie showed how a film can be more than three hours long and not have an audience member look at their watch. While we may take space travel for granted now, it’s these men who risked (and in some cases, gave) their lives to further advance the United States in the space race. Though the Russians and a monkey beat us into orbit, we have clearly shown that it was our foresight that made space what it was. Showing a more human side of the astronauts was what made the movie that much more watch able and showing the training they went through to even be considered was what made you appreciate the fact of what it was they were trying to accomplish. This film was awarded more on the technical side when it came to awards time, but trust me when I say that you’ll not regret seeing this film. Thirty years doesn’t really matter when you’re watching a masterpiece.
Video: How’s it look?
The past three decades have been good to this film, though there are plenty of stock footage scenes intertwined with the actual movie itself – it’s a bit hard to give this a definitive score. But we’ll try. This is the first time the disc has been on a high definition format as the previous DVD version came out in 2003 (just in time for the film’s 20th anniversary). Though a fine layer of grain is still present over the majority of the film, detail has been improved. It’s not as stunning as the films of today, but considering how this film has looked in the past – it’s an improvement for sure. The 1.85:1 AVC HD image is lauded in natural color, though as mentioned we get scenes in black and white, archived launches and so forth. I personally think Warner has done a great job with this transfer and if you factor in the 193 minute running time, it’s even that much more impressive.
Audio: How’s it sound?
The Right Stuff has always been known for its audio. Winner of the Academy Awards for Best Sound, Best Sound Editing and Best Score the film simply reeks of amazing audio. This Blu-ray features a lossless Dolby TrueHD track that takes advantage of the original six channel mix and delivers. Vocals are sharp and crisp, from the opening monologue to the different distinct voices of the actors. Surrounds are surprisingly active as well, a great example is during the astronaut’s training sequence when the clocks are ticking – the resonate through the rear speakers immersing you into the scene. Granted, the launches, breaking the sound barrier and everything else all sound good as expected. Again, it can’t compare to some of the soundtracks on today’s films, but considering the age of the film Warner has done a fine job with this mix.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Despite the new video and audio for the film, the supplements for the movie remain the same as they did for the standard DVD release.
Audio Commentary (two scenes) – “The Cast” and “The Filmmakers” which include a variety of actors as well as the crew.
Realizing The Right Stuff– A twenty minute documentary goes back to the roots of the film with Tom Wolfe’s novel and gives us some footage through the end of the shoot.
T-20 Years and Counting – More of a “sequel” to the above documentary, this gives us some information on the visual effects and the premiere of the film.
The Real Men with the Right Stuff – We’re presented with some archived interviews with three of the Mercury Seven: Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper and Wally Schirra as well as some interviews with author Tom Wolfe and Chuck Yeager.
Deleted Scenes – A bakers’ dozen of deleted scenes are shown, though given the length of the movie I’m sure they were cut for time.
Interactive Timeline to Space – This looks like it’s been “updated” from the previous DVD release as there are dates for 2012 on the timeline. Click on an event and you’re presented with some footage from NASA.
John Glenn: American Hero – Probably the most interesting feature on the disc, this chronicles Glenn’s return to space at the ripe old age of 77. Sadly, Glenn is the only remaining member of the Mercury Seven (and, ironically enough, was the eldest one to begin with) with Scott Carpenter just passing away on Oct. 10, 2013.
Original Theatrical Trailer – Compare the footage in the trailer to the film itself for visual reference as to how good the video looks.
Letter from Philip Kaufman – An actual letter folded within the DigiBook telling of the troubles of making the movie and his gratitude for the help he received.
Illustrated Book – Like most other “DigiBook” releases, this has around 40 pages of some archived photos from the movie, though they’re part of the actual disc set and can’t be removed.