Monday, July 9, 2012

The Right Stuff (1983)

1983 saw the arrival of a huge sci-fi film that went on to become a classic. It was filled with triumph, it had tragedy and contained the glories of space flight. I am writing, of course, about Return of the Jedi. But there was another Ewok-less space film from that same year, and sometimes gets lost in the shuffle.

Based on the book by Tom Wolfe, the story chronicles the story of test pilot Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) and his attempts to remain the “fastest man alive”. His story is mirrored and contrasted to the journey of the America’s first astronauts. Yeager fights his battles against the demon that lives at Mach 1. The Mercury astronauts find themselves facing all kinds of obstacles, including bizarre tests, overbearing newsmen, and finally the perils of space flight itself. Will these men have The Right Stuff to finally surpass the Russians in some aspect of the space race? Scott Glenn, Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid, Fred Ward, Barbara Hershey, Lance Henriksen, Jeff Goldblum and Harry Shearer are just part of this impressive cast.

Good Points:
  • Solid acting by the entire cast
  • A real eye for detail pulls you back into the era
  • An inspiring musical score by Bill Conti 

Bad Points:
  • Some of the humor doesn’t always work
  • The ending is very abrupt and odd
  • Clocking in at over 3 hours, it requires a bit of commitment

When each piece of the film is examined closely, you wonder what happened. Why are some parts so focused on humor? Why are other parts intensely patriotic? Who is the focus of the film Yeager or the astronauts? Are they both? What is up with the ending? And yet for all those questions, the movie is always entertaining, always pulls me in, and allows me to easily recommend it to anyone interested in the early days of the space race. And if you do some research on the very difficult making of this movie – you appreciate that the movie is as good as it turned out to be.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 4
Acting: 4
Script: 3
Music: 4
Direction: 3
Entertainment: 4
Total:  4

Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.   


  1. While Chuck’s exploits were before my time (I’m glad some things are), I remember watching the Mercury launches on TV, and I still have a hardback 1962 copy (a gift from my mom) of We Seven, written by the first seven astronauts. It was one of Tom Wolf’s sources. The film captures the innocent and patriotic “can do” mind-set of the era. The movie is, as you say, a bit scattershot, but it is fun and informative – and the characterization of the key personalities is not wholly fanciful.

    For a contemporary movie about the space program try (though it is hard to find) I Aim at the Stars (1960), a biopic of Werner von Braun. The era’s optimistic mindset is on display first hand, but also on display is uneasiness about the role of von Braun. The title comes from von Braun’s remark, “I aim at the stars” at which a reporter in the movie grumbles, “but sometimes I hit London.”

  2. Thanks for the recommendations. I'll look into the book for sure. It sounds like an interesting read.