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The Right Stuff gives a compelling glimpse into the history of modern air and space travel by telling the story of the Mercury astronauts and the beginning of the U.S. space program The movie is sometimes compared to Apollo 13, but (apart from Ed Harris appearing in both movies), they don't really have a lot in common. Apollo 13 is an adventure movie, a gung-ho story of "trouble in space" and its solution. The Right Stuff is a character study and a critical look at the space program as propaganda machine during the Cold War.

Movie
At 193 minutes, the movie is long, but not too long: the slow pacing gives time to come to understand the characters and their backgrounds. The Right Stuff is, in fact, a very character-oriented movie; its story is of the men with "the right stuff," who not only dared to break the ties of gravity, but felt compelled to. At the same time, the film takes a remarkably caustic view of the space program itself, showing how much of the attention given to the Mercury program had nothing to do with what the astronauts were trying to achieve: it was simply for the sake of getting one up on the Soviet Union. This is a movie not just about the astronauts, but about their role in society - how they were, how they were seized on as ready-made heroes, and how they had to struggle to be allowed to do their own form of heroism.

The acting overall is very good, with distinct personalities showing in the ensemble cast. Ed Harris is amazing in his role as the squeaky-clean, all-American John Glenn, putting in a performance that's quite different from the majority of his recent roles. The movie is based on Tom Wolfe's book, and shows it, both in the complexity of the material and in a slightly problematic structure: some of the later parts on Chuck Yeager don't seem to fit, and are probably the result of trying to cram in a little too much from a book that undoubtedly had far more material than could possibly be transferred to the screen.

The menu interface is pleasingly simple, with no annoying animations that force you to wait forever to press "play." The disc is a "flipper," but it's not a big deal; in a movie this long, it provides a good moment to get up and visit the bathroom or get a snack.  

Video
The transfer is anamorphic, with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Most of the time, the picture quality is satisfactory. However, there is a problem in several scenes with high-contrast shots: the darker object (generally a person outlined against bright sky) loses almost all internal contrast and becomes an almost solidly dark form. This is quite distracting, and isn?t remedied by adjusting brightness and contrast levels on the fly; it appears that the transfer simply doesn't present these challenging light levels well. Indoor scenes and more uniformly-lit outdoor scenes are perfectly fine, and the anamorphic transfer provides good detail.

Audio
The DVD sound has been remastered to Dolby 5.1, and it?s excellent. The sounds of the aircraft, rockets, the sonic boom, and so on, come across loud and clear - appropriately so, since they are obviously very important to the story. The music is very well done, using elements of Holst?s The Planets as a recurring theme. It's not surprising that the film's four Academy Awards included Best Sound and Best Original Score.

Extras
It?s not quite a bare-bones disc, featuring production notes and a theatrical trailer. This is a movie that would benefit from a special edition treatment sometime in the future; surely there must be a lot of fascinating detail that could go into a documentary. But, as this was an early release, it's not surprising.

Overall
Overall, this is an adequate treatment of a very enjoyable movie. It's a complex and satisfying look at a fascinating period in recent history, with good acting and overall good production values; if you're interested in the space program at all, it's a definite must-see.


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