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Its the 1950s and US Air Force daredevil Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) breaks the sound barrier over the desert. Soon the Russians send Sputnik into space, leading the US government to launch its own hasty space program, putting their best pilots through gruelling medical, physical, and psychological tests. Seven top guns (Dennis Quaid, Fred Ward, Charles Frank, Scott Glenn, Lance Henriksen, Charles Frank, Scott Paulin) are chosen to be NASA's first astronauts, and their leader is the legendary John Glenn (Ed Harris). But as the media and the government turns them into overnight celebrities, the men soon realise they are pawns in a greater cause.

Review by Shannon J. Harvey
Like the sprawling Tom Wolfe book this is based on, Phillip Kaufman's The Right Stuff (1983) is almost too big a film for words. Running for over three hours and spanning as many decades, this piercing exploration of the beginnings of the US space program has the same fictional quality as the book. It begins gloriously in the late 1950s when Chuck Yeager breaks the sound barrier, and moves into the emerging space race that treated men like crash test dummies. They are made heroes thanks to a little media engineering before they even go to space in Project Mercury, the world's first manned orbital mission of the earth in 1962. But Kaufman loves these men, and his film shows them as all too human amid the political and social pressure that impinged on them and their families. Clearly, America's space race was as rushed as Yeager's Mach 1 flight, and the wives behind the astronauts, perhaps, were the real American heroes.

Quite correctly, The Right Stuff was one of the first films ever put to the DVD format, so imagine what it looks and sounds like with this new two-disc special edition DVD. It sure has the right stuff. The crisp widescreen visuals add an extra scale to the film, especially when Yeager shoots for the stars in those early scenes over the desert, and the 5.1 sound, while mixed in 1983, is still thunderously good. Turn it up and shake the house down.

Disc one contains the feature, a cast list and the Academy Awards won in 1983 (musical score, editing, sound and sound effects editing). On disc two, there are two 25-minute audio commentaries, one by the cast and the other by the filmmakers, with the same footage. Both play like a mish-mash of unrelated comments. They reveal, for instance, Dennis Quaid's obsessions and how squealing pig noises were used for the X-1 fighters. There are three short documentaries; where Quaid admits to turning down Francis Ford Coppola’s offer to play Gordo (he interviewed for The Outsiders the same day), and the premiere held at Kennedy Space Centre was boycotted because it coincided with John Glenn's presidential campaign. The Real Men doco chronicles the journey of the Mercury Astronauts from test pilots to national heroes.

The best feature of the package, however, is John Glenn: American Hero. At 86 minutes, it a tribute-style expose that coincided with the 77-year-old's 1998 quest to become the oldest person ever to fly in space (and judging from the way Glenn staggers from the shuttle, he was a bit worse for wear). This is a fitting DVD package for a groundbreaking film, making a good case for being one of the 1980's richest achievements; a studio behemoth equally adept at grandeur and intimacy. Seeing it on DVD, one can hardly believe the Academy chose Terms of Endearment as Best Picture that year. That weepy chick flick has nothing on this searing testosterone-charged epic. Yee-har!

Published July 31, 2003

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(US) - 1983

CAST: Sam Shepard, Scott Glenn, Jeff Goldblum, Barbara Hershey, Dennis Quaid, Donald Moffat, Ed Harris, Fred Ward, Harry Shearer, Kathy Baker, Lance Henriksen, Levon Helm, Pamela Reed, Veronica Cartwright


DIRECTOR: Philip Kaufman

SCRIPT: Philip Kaufman (book by Tom Wolfe)

RUNNING TIME: 181 minutes

PRESENTATION: 16:9 enhanced widescreen; Dolby Digital 5.1

SPECIAL FEATURES: Awards, The Journey and the Mission Audio Commentary with Selected Scenes, Documentaries, Interactive Timeline to Space, John Glenn: American Hero, Theatrical Trailer

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video

DVD RELEASE: August 6, 2003

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