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 film's opening and closing narration ("There was a demon that lived in the air...") is provided by Levon Helm, who plays Jack Ridley, Chuck Yeager's technician. Although the film gives the impression that Ridley was only a mechanic, in real-life, Ridley was a full-fledged aeronautical engineer who made significant design contributions and corrections to many early supersonic aircraft. Yeager often called him "the brains behind the whole X-1 test program." See more »
As the B-29 carrying Yeager and the X-1 taxis as it prepares to take off and launch the X-1, a Beech T-34 can be seen in the background. The scene takes place on October 14th, 1947, but the first flight of the T-34 wasn't until December 2nd, 1948. 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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ABC edited 5 minutes from this film for its 1986 network television premiere. See more »
An interesting insight into the United States' space program, beginning with the exploits of fighter pilot Chuck Yeager (Sam Shephard) and concluding with the dramatic flights of the first astronauts.
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
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