"The Red Stuff" is a worthwhile documentary for space exploration fans and soviet history buffs, but will prove slow-going for the art-house doc crowd. The film is constructed from lengthy interviews with several original cosmonauts illustrated with appropriate archival stills and film clips. They comment extensively on the secrecy involved with the space program and consequently, the filmmakers likely had limited source material to draw from. The treatment is adequate for this style of documentary, but feels quaint in this age of Imax space movies. The Soviets apparently knew their rocket science, but not quite as advanced in audio visual technologies.
The cosmonauts are each introduced by numbers with their animated autograph signings over a baseball card style portrait and with the subject's voice-over. This sets the pace for the heroic stories that unfold slowly; The men are four decades removed from their missions and all use the extended dictation style of cold war Russia. The long interviews require extended subtitle decoding, so the relaxed delivery make the narrative easier to follow.
We learn about the "right stuff" training regimen and pecking order of the cosmonauts; the iron hand of the communist party behind the iron curtain with the west, and the triumphs and tragedies of their pioneering exploration. One fascinating detail describes how the reentry capsule parachute was doubled in size without enlarging the compartment. The technicians used wooden hammers to stuff the chute into the capsule with disastrous results.
Beyond the names Sputnick, Yuri Gagarin, and Soyez, westerners have little knowledge of the Soviet Space Program and "The Red Stuff" fills a small part of the information void intelligently and touchingly.
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