Movie Review – The Right Stuff (1983)

Director: Philip Kaufman

Stars: Ed Harris, Sam Shepherd, Dennis Quaid, Scott Glen, Lance Henriksen, Fred Ward, Barbara Hershey, Veronica Cartwright, Pamela Reed, Scott Paulin, Donald Moffat, Mary Jo Deschanel

This epic film begins with the quest to break the sound barrier and moves forward as the space race gets underway. It follows the training of astronauts as they bid to be the first men up into space while there’s a lot of politicking in the background.

Oh my word The Right Stuff is incredible. I’ve always been interested in space travel but I was wary of this film because the three hour runtime is daunting and I was afraid that it was going to be dry. Instead, it was absorbing and when it was over I could have easily watched it for another three hours. It starts in a small airbase where pilots are attempting to break the sound barrier. It sounds odd to start a film about space travel on an airbase, but it shows how humanity progresses and always looks to break the barriers. We’re introduced to some of the pilots, some of which go onto enter the space program while others are denied entry because they aren’t deemed to be qualified.

I loved seeing how the politics affected the team of astronauts, and how the astronauts bonded and formed a sturdy unit. It also delves into the wives and how they dealt with their husbands going on death-defying missions on a regular basis, with a lot of poignant moments peppered through the film. Fans of the technical aspects of space travel will be pleased as well because it goes into the training process and a lot of focus is given onto the equipment they use, but there are also romantic shots of the space vista.

It’s an amazing film that encompasses a lot of material but it never drags or feels too heavy. I can’t recommend it highly enough. I was absorbed and in awe throughout the three hours and it’s probably one of the best films I’ve ever seen, with the caveat that you probably have to be interested in NASA and the space program to enjoy it fully. I loved the parallels it drew between the astronauts and the forgotten pilots. It’s a remarkable film and my only complaint is that I wish it had gone on longer through to the Apollo 11 mission and beyond.

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