The Right Stuff (1983)
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This is a tale of test pilots, 'pushing the envelope', proving the sound barrier couldn't constrain mankind's reach for space. Leading the way is plain-speaking Chuck Yeager (portrayed by Sam Shepard with Gary Cooper-like charm), a Beeman's gum-chewing cowboy with a passion for his feisty wife (the beautiful Barbara Hershey), and hot planes. Not even a broken rib could hold him back when an opportunity to fly the X-1 was offered. His record-breaking flight could fill a movie by itself...and this is just the BEGINNING of the story!
Jumping ahead a few years, Yeager is joined by a new breed of test pilots, whose total love of flight challenges their relationships, and is the true measure of how they define themselves. Among them are 'Gordo' Cooper (Dennis Quaid), a hot dog jet jockey with an unhappy wife (Pamela Reed, giving an exceptional performance); and Gus Grissom (Fred Ward, in his breakthrough role), coarse and direct, and anxious for his shot at the fastest jets.
The entire world changes when the Russians launch Sputnik, in 1957. As the American space program struggles to 'catch up', the government realizes that American men will have to go into space, and President Eisenhower wants 'educated' test pilots to fill this role. Yeager is out (he never completed college), but Cooper and Grissom, and many others, compete for spots in the New Frontier.
These pilots, from all services, are weeded down to seven men, dubbed 'Astronauts', and the Mercury Space Program is born! Along with Cooper and Grissom, the story focuses on Navy pilot Alan Shepard (Scott Glenn), laconic and prone to ethnic humor; and Marine John Glenn (perfectly cast Ed Harris), a 'boy scout' of unimpeachable morals, who loyally supports an impaired wife (sensitively portrayed by Mary Jo Deschanel). Working under the glare of the world press, the seven gradually come to respect one another, and embark on an epic adventure, full of triumph and tragedy!
Meanwhile, Chuck Yeager, snubbed by NASA, continues to test new generations of jets, pushing the 'envelope', until, in a climactic scene, he achieves the threshold of space, himself. The flight is a near disaster, resulting in a horrendous crash, but the image of the burned but undefeated pilot, walking proudly away from the wreckage, is an unforgettable image of courage, and truly defines 'The Right Stuff'!
This is a REMARKABLE film in every way, and is director Philip Kaufman's masterpiece. Lushly scored by Tom Conti (who won an Oscar for the Tchaikovsky-inspired music), the film soars, both on earth and in space!
If you believe the Age of Heroes is past, watch 'The Right Stuff', and you might change your mind! This is a film to treasure!
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
Those astronauts - the Mercury 7 pilots - are a varied group of aviators and they are all pretty interesting guys. John Glenn (Ed Harris) gets favorable treatment in here among the group. Gordon Cooper might be the wildest with the cocky and humorous Dennis Quaid playing him. Overall, it's a good cast including not just the fliers but their wives. I also enjoyed Scott Glenn as Alan Shepard and Barbara Hershey as Yeager's wife.
Yeager's feats were perhaps the most interesting and they set a fast tone to this 3-hour film as we witness him breaking several sound-barrier records prior to the formation of the astronaut team. Then we are treated to a long-but-interesting segment of how those first astronauts were trained.
The only unnecessary and ludicrous parts of this film were the ones on Lyndon Johnson, where they made him into a total fool. It was as if the screen writers had a personal vendetta against him, to make him look almost like a cartoon figure. And the bit with the Australian Aborigines smacks too much of Hollywood's love affair with tribal religions. I sincerely doubt some sparks from a fire on earth could be seen miles and miles above in space.
At any rate, this was an informative look at a period in our history than came-and-went way too fast. Sad to say, most people know very little about those first astronauts, who were true heroes. At least this film gives them their due, as well as to Yeager, who deserved this tribute, too
I have had this film for many years and have only seen it twice now I always get put off by having to find three + hours free to watch it! However I am a fool as whenever I do watch it the time flies by easily. Such is the appeal of the film that everything works and only the odd scene at the end drags a little. The story skips through the space programme focusing as much on the flights as it does on the men and their families. It also manages to be very light hearted and good humoured, which succeeds in making it easy and fun to watch. The history being told may not be well known by all (I'm too young to remember and am also in the UK), but it is well told and becomes more a story of the men whose courage made it happen rather than a history lesson.
Given that so much hinges on the men being interesting and likeable characters it was important to have a good cast, and the ensemble assembled here really put in good work to bring the names to life (although how close to their real personalities they are I cannot say). Taking one as an example, Fred Ward manages to be funny but also has to convey the more difficult side as he is forced to live with blame for the outcome of his mission. Shepard represents the `unsung' pilots left behind in the sky who put the space programme in motion in the first place, and he does it well with a real sense that he has a lot of men behind him. Glenn, Harris, Quaid Henriksen, Frank and Paulin all do sterling work to varying degrees. However even minor roles are played by faces who do well Hershey is good and carries the role of `the women behind the men' really well. Moffat is funny as Lyndon Johnson and Goldblum and Shearer are hilarious with their running jokes.
The film is very flag waving but the good humour stopped that aspect of it sticking in my throat. It is a very enjoyable and accomplished film. Not only does it manage to inform and entertain but it also paints a very good picture of the men who started and ran the space programme and the effect the risks had on them and their families. All this and it still makes me laugh out loud! Three hours simply flies by.
The running time is very long at 3 hours plus, but it goes by very quickly. The first couple of hours go by as if they were 25 minutes, and the last hour is thrilling, as well as inspiring. There are several plot elements that really make this movie phenomenal. There is plenty of excitement as you see what the skilled pilots try to accomplish, there is plenty of humor, the cast is nearly perfect, and the score adds plenty of effect to the film. The result is a phenomenal, nearly perfect film, being one of the best films of the 1980's.
The plot is very interesting, as you see the lives of the pilots, the status of the American Government desperately trying to overcome the Russians with advanced technology, and the difficulties in trying to accomplish these difficulties. This is well worth your time, and it is a great movie.
I already owned the Laserdisc version of it, but the DVD is even better.
I love this movie, but I must consider the interest of the public and I honestly cannot say that this is one for the vast public.
The theme alone is a difficult one and deals with the history of the Space Age, as it began from an American perspective, and by telling the story of the astronauts involved in the Mercury project.
Being very long, it might not fit the modern view of a quick-fix movie. This one has to be watched as if your were watching "JFK" or "Gettysburg", therefore with the outmost attention.
It has spectacular recreations of the actual launches, combined with more private moments, involving the astronauts, their loved ones and those who trained them.
This is not Science Fiction and it is not an Adventure movie, this is truly a history lesson about how the Space Race got started, how, with whom and why.
It is a very thoroughly researched movie, although it is not to be confused with a documentary. It is an intelligent movie, with good dialogues, good character recreations, with humor and moments of sadness and tragedy. The heroism of the first astronauts is not represented by their fabulous deeds, but rather by the sacrifices they had to make, in order to be successful.
If you can bare to sit in front of your TV for 3 hours and 15 minutes without unnecessary interruptions, then this documentation may make it clear why men and women risk so much in going "where no one has gone before".
But, as I stated before, this is not an easy going movie and is reserved for all those who want to enjoy a good movie in peace.
I would recommend its showing in every school of the United States, and why not, also throughout the world. Many children would then really appreciate what the conquest of space is all about.
Why? The Right Stuff is a perfect blend of intelligence and wit and action. At just three hours long, it occasionally feels too short. The audience comes to know the characters through terrific performances by Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid, Sam Shepard, and Fred Willard and Kaufman's deft pen (which, no doubt, Wolfe's novel helped guide). We are sad when the story ends; we want more. It's rare that a movie creates such an inviting and intriguing world that, after three hours, we still do not want to leave.
This movie is absolutely one of a kind. Its critical patriotism shows that films can show their love of country without wandering into nationalistic or jingoistic propaganda. It is very rare that a film this indebted to America and American history can be so ambivalent.
That, in my mind, is a positive rather than a negative. The filmmaker and actors understand that the Space Race was not a simple process; they understand that heroes have a dark side.
They all refuse to let the heroism cover the unsavory aspects of a person's life and, simultaneously, they do not let those aspects darken their contribution to mankind.
The Right Stuff is really an amazing filmic experience. It's an expert adaptation, an expert recreation of the early US Space Program, and an expert entertainment. Apollo 13 wanted so very much to be the Right Stuff. It's not; nothing will ever beat the Right Stuff.