Tom Wolfe's book on the history of the U.S. Space program reads like a novel, and the film has that same fictional quality. It covers the breaking of the sound barrier by Chuck Yeager to the Mercury 7 astronauts, showing that no one had a clue how to run a space program or how to select people to be in it. Thrilling, funny, charming and electrifying all at once. Written by
John Vogel <email@example.com>
The characters react to Yeager's sonic boom as if it is an indication that his plane has exploded. In fact, a scientist had previously predicted sonic booms and it was expected. See more »
There was a demon that lived in the air. They said whoever challenged him would die. Their controls would freeze up, their planes would buffet wildly, and they would disintegrate. The demon lived at Mach 1 on the meter, seven hundred and fifty miles an hour, where the air could no longer move out of the way. He lived behind a barrier through which they said no man could ever pass. They called it the sound barrier.
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The Right Stuff is terrific: exciting, complex, funny, crammed with memorable scenes, unforgettable lines, and wonderful actors (many of whom went on to become big stars).
A classic shot shows a test pilot on horseback coming over a ridge stopping to look at a new rocket-plane, steadying his nervous horse as it edges past the flames coming out the back. The test pilot is the twentieth century's cowboy: tough, laconic, independent, fearless.
The Right Stuff tells two parallel stories: the (often fatal) exploits of the early test pilots and Mercury astronauts, with intersecting storylines. The movie never takes itself too seriously. Witness general crawling on the floor to plug in the projector, the sounds of the locusts when the press surrounds the astronauts (Yeager called them locusts initially), the Halleluiah Chorus during the press conference, the enema scene, Sheppard needing to take a leak in the suit, Johnson trying to deal with a housewife. Yet underneath all the fun that is poked at the astronauts we see respect for real men doing a scary, important job.
This film has all the excitement of Top Gun, but is longer, better, just as high-tech exciting, and much funnier. (A washroom scene rivals Meg Ryan's famous restaurant scene...the audience laughed so hard we all missed Cooper's next line!).
And some wonderful lines: Cooper's response to "Who's the best pilot you ever saw?", "O.K. You can be Gus", "The Military owes me", "Read'em and weep", "Hey Ridley, you got any Beemans?", "I go to church too.", "Everything is A-OK", "Our Germans are better than their Germans", "What are you two pudknockers going to have?", and, said with regret and frustration "test pilots!"
To those who have seen it, here's a challenge that will enable you to appreciate the excellent writing, the workmanship and planning that went into the script. View the movie again and see how many times the screenwriter and director took the trouble to set up a later event or comment with an earlier reference. Here are three examples: Cooper dropping a tiny toy space capsule into Grissum's drink (foreshadowing), Copper reading Life magazine before the publisher enters the movie (to make sure we viewers know that Life magazine exits), Yeager bumping his elbow on a limb of a cactus tree as he walks into Pancho's at the beginning of the movie (I never noticed this the first few times I watched the movie, but surely this tiny action was deliberate.) I count a dozen more examples. Send me ones you find.
If you haven't seen The Right Stuff, I strongly recommend you rent the DVD. -RS
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