Martin Carr reviews The Right Stuff…
Philip Kaufman’s adaptation of the Tom Wolfe novel is recognised as a classic. Broad, bold and epic in scale The Right Stuff which starred a young Dennis Quaid and Jeff Goldblum, and character actors of merit still holds up. Burnished earth, heat haze horizons and containing more sound barrier breaking than a multitude of Top Gun sequels, this film remains the real deal. Sam Shephard, Ed Harris and company made the Cold War, fighter pilots and aeronautical engineering riveting; period.
What Disney have done with their punt at replicating a cinematic thoroughbred is be more concise. Although they have six hours of screen time as oppose to Kaufman’s three hours and change, this somehow feels more dynamic. That may have something to do with the prudent trimming which jettisons Chuck Jaeger and his sound barrier to kick off in 1961 rather than 1947. This structural decision also extends to character introductions which are almost all handled at the initial NASA selection process.
There are a few scenes to define Alan Shephard as a womaniser, John Glenn as an aging ace with physical concerns, while elsewhere Gordon Cooper’s marital status offers up early drama. Beyond that this is a slick and smartly scripted by the numbers rerun of Kaufman’s film, which mirrors classic scenes and retrofits others for full impact.
Patrick J Adams and Jake McDorman embrace the characters of John Glenn and Alan Shephard with an understated ease, which garners audience empathy quickly. Writer and producer Howard Korder best known for Boardwalk Empire and Perry Mason somehow makes this show feel intimate. Philip Kaufman embraced the subject matter alongside overt Communist overtones, which is something Howard Korder also manages with ease.
He highlights the importance of winning dominance in space early on, which was seen at the time as pivotal to America defeating their perceived enemies. At its heart The Right Stuff is about human endeavour, perseverance in the face of adversity and our ability to strive for something better. An ethos which is personified by Disney’s decision to tackle something as fundamentally patriotic as this at a time of such uncertainty.
In a time when the world is nearing implosion both economically, socially and otherwise this reassures audiences that obstacles can be navigated, challenges bested and heroes celebrated. What The Right Stuff glorifies is our ability to overcome, excel and achieve not because things are easy but because they are hard. A quote which is not only apt bearing in mind its lineage, but on this occasion and in these circumstances more than ever; because they are true.
The Right Stuff arrives on Disney+ on October 9th.