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THE RIGHT STUFF, 1983
Starring: Sam Shepard, Scott Glenn, Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid, Fred Ward, Barbara Hershey, Kim Stanley, Veronica Cartwright, Pamela Reed, Harry Shearer, Jeff Goldblum
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.Take a look at what's new today!
#77 on Joshua Starne's top 100 movies of all-time list, I have to admit that I never heard of this 1983 film about the birth of space travel. And I consider myself an above average movie consumer. But sometimes you just miss things and The Right Stuff is one of those movies I missed. Until 2010.
In my first view of The Right Stuff, I was mesmorized by this film on many different levels. Mainly, how uneven this film is and it's almost like writer/director Philip Kaufman made 4 movies at the same time and threw them all into this one version. The film also is very long and when watching it at home, the film drags too much as there isn't a proper tone set. So I had to watch the movie in three segments in order for me to not fall asleep.
All that said, this is still an important film and should be seen by US school children in their history class because it tells the story of something many people don't know about.
And, this is a film with so many amazing moments filled with dramatic tension, science fiction and laugh out loud comedy, I can see why Starnes put this on his top 100 movies list.
Philip Kaufman is perhaps more known for creating the Indiana Jones character and movie for George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. He was one of those guys that had a lot of talent living inside the Hollywood circus but never could find his right place in the movie business. Then Spielberg took him in and helped him become a Hollywood director. Something he's done with almost 50 other writers turned directors. Kaufman helped Spielberg on Indiana Jones and ghost wrote some of his other projects in exchange for a solid paycheck but also a promise that he would also help push his directing career. And after the gigantic success of Raider of the Lost Ark, Spielberg's studio let Kaufman helm his passion project, The Right Stuff.
I almost wonder if Spielberg looked at the brilliance of this movie and wondered if Kaufman just told this story in the wrong medium. If you take a look at the moments of The Right Stuff, starting with 1947 when Chuck Yeagar broke the sound barrier, to 1963 when Gordon Cooper, the last solo man in space, circled the earth's hemisphere 22 times, leading to the jumpstart to getting a man on the moon, you kind of think that if made today The Right Stuff would of been an HBO mini-series and not a feature film. There's just too many rich moments of history covered in this film. And Kaufman tries to jam it all into one film.
So when developing the Band of Brothers movie, I can see Spielberg thinking that perhaps this should be a mini-series so he doesn't make the same mistake his protege Kaufman made.
My favorite part of The Right Stuff is a 15 minute sequence of two guys going out and recruiting the first ever United States astronauts. This sequence could easily be a short film because it's so brilliant. And it really doesn't fit into the rest of the film at all as it's played purely for comedy by Harry Shearer and a young Jeff Goldblum.
The sequence begins in a dark room in 1957 with President Eisenheiser, the then Senator Lyndon Johnson and a few other higher ups in the government. They are frightened that the Russians are going to beat them in the space race. They talk about how whomever controls space, controls the planet earth and the US needs to be in control. But they also know that they need a face. A person or people who can be that Buck Rogers. So they get Shearer and Goldblum in to figure out who can be the first spacemen, or Astronauts, the term is it going to be called in the future. The scene is played so overthetop, it was almost a shot by shot remake of Dr. Strangelove, except these are real iconic figures that are being portrayed.
Then Shearer and Goldblum go to different places to find their spacemen. Of course they are government lackeys in suits who are going to places where pilots and cowboy's hang out. Not their environments at all. It was almost like Shearer had an idea on how to play his character, Goldblum followed him and Kaufman let them do it because he knew it was just too good to pass up. But the problem is, brilliant that these scenes are, they don't add up tone wise or thematically with the rest of the film.
There is also the case of main characters going MIA during the film. Chuck Yaeger is the movie's main character in the first hour of the film and then he's completely gone for over an hour, until he comes back for one last flight in the last 20 minutes. I wonder why Kaufman chose to do it this way as the film could of been really effective if we stayed in Yaeger world for the entire film, and he see his reactions to being left out of the space mission because he didn't have a college degree. So while we show the journey of the 7 astronauts getting ready for space, we keep going back to Yaegar keeping on doing groundbreaking things in the air while the astronauts are just government facemen who aren't really piloting anything. The one who's really doing the work to set up the man on the moon isn't the one that anyone knows about.
But it's almost like Kaufman fell in love with the 7 astronauts just as much as the media did at the time. But these guys really weren't doing much at all and could of easily have been an ape. But apes have a hard time giving interviews in LIFE magazine.
So Kaufman made a half of a brilliant film. Of course Joshua Starnes will disagree but that's the magic of movie watching. We all have our opinions.
THE RIGHT STUFF