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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
During some of the failed rocket launches at Cape Canaveral, what the ground crew are watching is clearly footage of the real events and not an actual explosion. The picture quality is noticeably different and grainier. 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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I have to correct "mrbsico" for not paying attention to the very things he comments on. It's not that he turned down the opportunity to apply to be an astronaut, it's that Chuck Yeager wasn't allowed to apply. When seraching for astronauts Harry Shearer's character praises Yeager as the ace of aces, but goes on to say that he "doesn't fit the profile" of the type of man Washington is looking for because he never went to college. This was a true pre-requisite which the Mercury Program had. Also, the scene at the end where Yeager crashes his NF-104 doesn't bring him down, it glorifies him. Gordo Cooper even comments that he gets on the cover of magazines, gets a free car, free lunches all across America, a free home with all the furnishings and loads of money and "I ain't even been up there yet". He's famous because he's an astronaut alone - not because of anything he's done. Kaufman cuts back and forth between the scene where Cooper is with Yeager's flight in the desert for reason. Yeager's almost alone with no media around, out in the desert attempting a record which won't put him on Life Magazine's cover. He's trying to set a record because that's what he's made of. He has The Right Stuff; which is something Cooper reazlies as we cut back to the reception and Gordo is asked by the reporters who the best pilot he ever saw was. Yeager may have crashed his plane in his last flight of the movie, but he emerges as a fearless man ever up for the challenge. And that he's not doing any of it for fame or fortune (although in real life the real Yeager cashed in with TV ads and a best-selling autobiography after both the book and the movie were released!!). That's what's rare about this movie for Hollywood to have made. Films are almost never about measuring a man's inner desires, but rather his being able to win the fight at the end. Yeager in contrast doesn't win the flight record at the film's end, but he is still the hero. This is because he dares to do what we never would. And even after his plane crashes he walks out of the gulf of fire and smoke with a severely burned face as if he will be back; you can't keep him down. This is why as the rescuer driving the ambulance as he sees Yeager's figure walking out of the fire in the distance asks, "Is that a man?", Jack Ridley replies, "You're damn right it is!". Ridley isn't merely remarking that it's a man over there, he is commenting that in our world Yeager is one of the few true "men". This film is not about the space program. That is merely a pretext to explore the type of men who have what it takes to volunteer for dangerous missions - even in times of peace. It's about men who have The Right Stuff - and of all those men whom we see in the movie it is Yeager who shines about all others.
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