Introduction to The Right Stuff
The Space Movie Extravaganza is back, and with the passing of a legend, it’s a pretty appropriate time, I suppose, for this review of The Right Stuff. For the life of me I couldn’t say why it took me until this year to watch this movie. I think I was kind of afraid it’d be just so very 80s. And it is. It really is. But it’s so good, too. I’m rather glad I decided to watch every realistic-ish space movie ever made. My space geekness is real, and this was a massive hole in my viewing history.
There’s something magical about the early days of space exploration. So what better than a movie that attempts to chronicle that magical era (with some dramatic liberty, of course)? I guess part of me wishes it were a little less controversial, that the filmmakers had consulted with the surviving astronauts to ensure that they got the real story. All of me hates how they portrayed Gus Grissom. But I can forgive it some of those things. For one, it’s not like they ever outright blamed Grissom for losing his capsule. But a less informed audience could (and did) take it that way, to the detriment of his legacy. I’m rambling, and this is all probably more appropriate for the nitpicky sections later, but frankly this is going to be a long post anyway. Might as well buckle up now. We’ve got a candle to light.
The Story – Spoilers Abound
I’m going to forego my usual story synopsis in favor of recommending that you just learn everything there is to learn about Project Mercury (and Gemini, and Apollo, and Skylab…….). I’m sorry. I know it’s lazy, but there’s just so much awesome stuff to read about.
What The Right Stuff Did … Right
There’s a lot of good right stuff going on here. The movie is far from perfect, but it’s one of (if not the) best realistic-ish space movies ever made.
Casting, as has been the case with most of the Space Movie Extravaganza, is definitely on point. I love Sam Shepard as Chuck Yeager. You would be hard-pressed to find a better casting choice of Fred Ward as Gus Grissom. Finally, Scott Glenn as Alan Shepard is just perfect.
While I was expecting parts of this to be a little bit of a slog, the pacing in this movie is excellent. With a running time of 192 minutes, I was both surprised and saddened that it ended as quickly as it did. That might be a personal thing, I suppose. I could watch a real-time documentary of this story.
The movie seems to abandon Chuck Yeager somewhere around act 2. This makes a fair amount of sense, given that he wasn’t participating in Project Mercury. However, I was delighted to see that it returned to his story at the end. In my opinion, it’s an injustice that he wasn’t considered for the program. That last bit of reassurance to the audience that he kept doing his work was very welcome.
What The Right Stuff Did Wrong
As I mentioned above, there are some… controversies… relating to the content of the movie. Also, as I mentioned above, it’s so very 80s. While that isn’t always a bad thing, it can be, and I’m conflicted on it here. Anyway, here’s some problems I had.
I feel like modern documentary/biopic sensibilities would have prevented some of the… 80s-ness of this movie from being so prominent. And maybe would have prevented the controversial portrayal of Gus Grissom as having panicked aboard Liberty Bell 7. Or the exaggeration of Annie Glenn’s speech impediment.
I imagine this is the case in the book, but I was rather taken aback by the focus on Gordo Cooper. While undoubtedly an excellent pilot, and a hero of space exploration, I expected this movie to focus a bit more on Alan Shepard or even John Glenn. And frankly, I’m not sure that Dennis Quaid was able to successfully hide his Quaidness in his portrayal.
This movie is just excellent. The issues I had with it were decidedly minor, and do not prevent this from being honestly the best realistic-ish space movie I’ve ever seen. I’m just such a sucker for all the space stuff, and it really delivered. If you’re interested in the history of the American space program, definitely go watch this movie. And then, I dunno, maybe the tv show? I’ll have to see about that in the future.