The Right Stuff: Special Edition (1983)

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Released 6-Aug-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Awards
Featurette-Scene-Specific Audio Commentaries - Cast/Filmmakers
Featurette-Realizing The Right Stuff (21:06)
Featurette-T-20 Years and Counting (11:29)
Featurette-The Real Men with The Right Stuff (15:31)
Deleted Scenes-(10:55)
Featurette-Interactive Timeline To Space (14)
Featurette-John Glenn: American Hero (86:36)
Theatrical Trailer-1.85:1, 16x9 enhanced, Dolby Digital 2.0 (3:24)
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1983
Running Time 184:50
RSDL / Flipper RSDL
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Philip Kaufman
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Charles Frank
Scott Glenn
Ed Harris
Lance Henriksen
Scott Paulin
Dennis Quaid
Sam Shepard
Fred Ward
Kim Stanley
Barbara Hershey
Veronica Cartwright
Pamela Reed
Case Gatefold
RPI $34.95 Music Bill Conti


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
German
Spanish
Dutch
Arabic
Bulgarian
Romanian
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Well, third time round for The Right Stuff in the review platter! Nothing like being able to review your favourite film of all time for the third time, so it is once again time to roll out my rantings about what the film means to me.

    Well, actually, to save you all the trouble of suffering those rantings again, you can check them out here or here if you so desire.

    Could any film do real justice to the American Mercury space program? It is doubtful, but this three hour epic sure gives it a fair old try. The story is pretty much an encapsulation of well over a decade of aviation history into that three hours. It essentially starts with the first supersonic flight at Edwards Air Force Base in California in October, 1947 by Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) in the Bell X-1 and ends with the last of the Mercury space missions in May, 1963 when Gordo Cooper (Dennis Quaid) flew the longest, fastest and highest American space mission to that date. In the post World War II cold war, military one-upmanship was pushing aviation technology at a huge pace and the period from 1947 through to 1957 was a period where speed records were set aplenty in a variety of aircraft. Through it all Chuck Yeager continued to reign supreme as the most righteous of the brothers. In 1957, things changed a lot because of one little piece of metal that was put into orbit around the Earth: the Soviets launched Sputnik, and the world has never been the same. Firmly pushing the envelope into the new frontier of space, the Soviets forced the Americans to get up into space as quickly as possible. Thus, we find ourselves thrust into the selection process for seven astronauts who were to ride the Mercury missions into near space. Those seven Americans, aside from Gordo Cooper, were the first Americans into space. Alan Shepard (Scott Glenn), the tragic Gus Grissom (Fred Ward), the iconic John Glenn (Ed Harris), who is perhaps the best known American astronaut outside of Neil Armstrong, Deke Slayton (Scott Paulin), Wally Schirra (Lance Henriksen) and Scott Carpenter (Charles Frank) made up the seven. The fact that these names were to figure prominently in subsequent Gemini and Apollo missions (Shepard went to the moon in Apollo 14 for instance), as well as senior positions in NASA indicates the importance of these men to the entire American space program. Selected as the best of the best, when their selection was announced in 1957 they were immediately elevated to the top of the pyramid as the most righteous of those with The Right Stuff. What followed was a story of competition, both with themselves and with chimpanzees, and comradeship, as they battle to be the first American in space - an ultimately pointless exercise in some respects as the Soviets always seemed to be several steps ahead of the game (at least until the Apollo program).

    The fact that this is a three hour long film is usually the first thing that gets noticed - but there have rarely been films of such length that have been so engrossing as to stand repeated viewing, and to sustain your interest with ease for that length of time. This is due in no small way to the brilliant screenplay that Philip Kaufman penned: this could so easily have descended into tedium yet Kaufman has managed to bring out the humour, the drama, the uncertainty and the elation of this glorious step into space. But, you then have to take the screenplay and do something with it, and that is what makes this film. In my view, this is quite arguably the finest ensemble cast ever put together for a film and the entire cast do a superb job of bringing to life these heroes - and that is what they were to Americans of the day - to life. Quite superb performances come from Scott Glenn and Ed Harris in particular, although Sam Shepard is not less impressive as the slightly laconic Yeager, a role for which he copped an Oscar nomination in 1984. There is absolutely no weak link here and that even includes the legendary Chuck Yeager himself - yes, he does make an appearance in the film, as the barman at Pancho's Happy Bottom Riding Club. Add into the mix some superb cinematography courtesy of Caleb Deschanel (it too copped an Oscar nomination), superb music, stunning sound effects and great sound, not to mention some wonderful direction, and this is superb stuff from start to finish. In one of the Academy's classic goofs, this dipped out on Best Picture at the 1984 Oscars (although winning four in all) and I have never understood why. At least I now know why the film failed at the box office - courtesy of the extras package!

    Sure there are some goofs here but this really is an insightful and reasonably accurate look at the Mercury program and the men who became heroes as a result. I have seen it more times then I can almost recall over the last twenty years and I can assure you that despite some faults, this film looks and sounds as good as it ever did. If you have even the slightest interest in space, then this DVD is an absolutely essential purchase. It remains my number one film of all time and despite some good films over the ensuing twenty years, nothing apart from Glory has ever come close to knocking it off that lofty perch. My only concern is that the film has still not gotten the full restoration it so richly deserves. But then again, there is always the possibility of an Ultimate Edition!

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The original release of the film in Region 4 DVD was somewhat blessed with edge enhancement, which was eliminated in the remastered release. In just about every respect this is an identical transfer to the remastered release, which means that it remains a transfer that I still rate quite highly.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and it is 16x9 enhanced.

    One of the highlights of the film is the blending of archival footage and film. The fact that this has been achieved with a high degree of consistency indicates the care that went into the original film. The transfer continues that high degree of care - even though the source print is not exactly blemish-free. In most respects, this is a very good transfer. Whilst there are the odd instances of softness, the transfer is in general nicely sharp and very well detailed. It should be remembered, though, that some sequences were shot by Caleb Deschanel in very deliberate ways that do preclude the absolute in detail (the night time horse riding for instance). Shadow detail does suffer a little at times as a result of these choices, but overall there is little to complain about in this regard. At times, the picture is a tad grainy, but this is partly the result of the use of the archival footage. Whatever grain is present tends to be relegated to the background when considering the general clarity of the transfer.

    There is a rather diverse range of colours on offer here and these vary from being quite quite deliberately muted through to well oversaturated. Overall, it is a quite vibrant transfer with a nice definition to the colours within their context. The only real problem is a case of rather noticeable oversaturation at around the 88:30 mark, when the astronaut groupies enter the bar: the oversaturation of red is quite bad in my view, although I believe that this was partly intended. There were a number of instances of intended undersaturation of colours, mainly to capture the dusty nature of the high desert of California, all of which was extremely well handled. The slight downer with the palette is the lack of absolute depth to the blacks, which occasionally seemed more like heavy dark greys. I still believe this to be a reflection of the age of the film and evidence of the lack of a full restoration.

    There were no apparent MPEG artefacts in the transfer. There are little in the way of film-to-video artefacts in the transfer with only some very minor aliasing here and there (such as at 62:40 in the tubing in the chamber). The problems would in most cases be not really noticed. The main issue with the transfer is the film artefacts, which are quite noticeable throughout the transfer. Most of the issues are with the black and white flecks that flicker throughout. The same caution though: some of the film artefacts are intended so as to produce an aged look to the image and to blend in with archival footage, most particularly in the black and white sequences on televisions. Still, it would have been a nice surprise to have a full restoration that would have cleaned up a fair chunk of these sorts of problems.

    This is an RSDL formatted DVD, although I was not able to note where the layer change occurred. Logic would however dictate that it would be somewhere in the region of 91:00, the layer change point on the earlier DVD release.

    There is a decent choice of subtitles on the DVD, although I stuck with the English efforts. They are reasonable decent but miss a bit here and there as well as short cut at times. Whilst there is nothing really major with the omissions or changes, I would still have preferred something a bit more accurate.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    Compared to the earlier remastered release, this new release loses one soundtrack and so there are only two soundtracks on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and a French Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Since my French is pretty lousy at the best of times, I stuck solely to the English soundtrack.

    The soundtrack sounds for all the world the same as that on the earlier remastered release. As indicated in the earlier review, for a film that has to balance plenty of action noise with plenty of dialogue, it ends up being an easy soundtrack to listen to. There is nothing at all muddy about the soundtrack and the dialogue is always easy to understand. There are no audio sync problems with the transfer.

    The original music score is from Bill Conti and it thoroughly deserved its Oscar. This is the best thing that Bill Conti has ever done. It blends some well-known classical themes with original scoring that superbly supports and drives the film. In fact, it perhaps does its job too well, as at the end of the film that wonderful and memorable theme continues to play through my head for hours. Indeed, so powerful is the score that it can move me to emotion quicker than any film score that I can recall. It is one of those very rare scores that really does stand out in its own right whilst still allowing the film to stand out, and in my view this makes it one of the very best scores ever to grace a film. I therefore find it interesting to note that one review of the film that I have read made the comment that the soundtrack was "uninspiring". I cannot understand how anyone could possibly find this score uninspiring!

    The problem with the previous soundtracks afforded the Region 4 releases was a slight lack of consistency. There were some evident drops in the audio level and a number of instances where the surround channel use is not up to the standard of other parts of the soundtrack. Just like the last incarnation of the film on Region 4 DVD, these problems still remain. However, I am finding the problem less of an issue every time I watch the film. In the main, though, there is nothing really awry with this effort. The low frequency channel gives some lovely support when necessary (rocket launches, overhead aircraft fly-bys and so forth) and in some instances the surround effect created is quite stunning. Particularly notable for this is the first fly-over of jet trainers at the funeral, which is still one of the best demonstrations of Dolby Digital surround sound around on a good setup. There is some wonderful ambience, too, from the surround channels at times, although minor lapses here and there are noted, but the overall effect is of a quite stunning soundtrack. It remains one of my favourite DVD soundtracks - but that is hardly surprising considering my overall view of the film!

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    The original Region 4 release of the film featured a modest collection of extras that was nonetheless quite interesting. That package disappeared completely in the remastering of the film onto an RSDL formatted DVD. The film was therefore ripe for a further release and so it is that this Special Edition starts to redress some of the problems created by the last remastering. Whilst no less than the film deserves, it sure could be a whole lot more. Regrettably, the extras from the original flipper release of the film on DVD have still not found their way back into the package.

Menu

    Whilst nothing extra special, at least there is some audio enhancement (that gorgeous theme that I never tire of hearing). All menus appear to be 16x9 enhanced which is also a nice touch.

Awards

    The only extra to appear on the "film" DVD of this two disc set, it is a single page detailing the four Academy Awards that the film garnered in 1984.

Featurette - Scene-Specific Audio Commentaries - Cast/Filmmakers (24:30)

    Going by the far more interesting title of The Journey And The Mission Audio Commentary with Selected Scenes on the DVD, this is a selection of nine scenes over which can be heard one of two commentaries. The first commentary is from the cast and involves Chuck Yeager, Dennis Quaid, Barbara Hershey, Jeff Goldblum, Harry Shearer, Fred Ward, Ed Harris, Veronica Cartwright, Pamela Reed and Donald Moffat offering short anecdotes and other information regarding the nine scenes. The nine scenes out of interest are: the Mach 1 flight, Pancho's Happy Bottom Riding Club, Glenn's TV show appearance, the aircraft carrier, the medical tests, the NASA astronaut introduction press conference, Glenn's flight, the Texas barbecue and Gordo's flight. The second commentary comes from the filmmakers with Caleb Deschanel, Robert Chartoff, Bill Conti, Philip Kaufman, Gary Gutierrez and Irwin Winkler offering their perspective on the same scenes. Whilst these are in no way a substitute for a proper, full length audio commentary, they are an interesting enough compromise and do go some way to understanding the intense pride that all seem to have in their participation in this classic film.

Featurette - Realizing The Right Stuff (21:06)

    Featuring interview material from a whole bunch of people involved in the film (Robert Chartoff, Irwin Winkler, Philip Kaufman, Tom Wolfe, Dennis Quaid, Barbara Hershey, Fred Ward, Ed Harris, Pamela Reed, Veronica Cartwright and a whole bunch more) that looks all-too-briefly into the origin of the screenplay, the gestation of the film, casting and filming. Very interesting but really way too short. Presented in a Full Frame format (with the film excerpts in the correct widescreen aspect ratio) that is not 16x9 enhanced, with good Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. This neatly starts in the same manner as the film itself, which is a very nice touch. Even nicer is that the narration is done by the same person, too!

Featurette - T-20 Years And Counting (11:29)

    Identical in format to the previous effort - that, this and the next effort can be played in one continuous programme - with this effort delving into the special effects, film editing, music, the film's premiere and the film's commercial failure. Considering the classic nature of the film today, the latter is of course surprising - at least until you understand that the film was released at the same time as John Glenn announced his candidacy for the Presidential race in 1984. Too many people saw the film as a political pusher and thus stayed away. The contributors are not quite as extensive as the previous featurette, but most of the names listed above made a contribution, along with Gary Gutierrez who makes some frank and interesting comments about the special effects (with the aid of some nice behind-the-scenes footage).

Featurette - The Real Men With The Right Stuff (15:31)

    Now this is the piece de resistance of the package. Not only do we get to see a fair chunk of archival film of the real Mercury astronauts, but we also get interviews with three of the four remaining men - Scott Carpenter, Wally Schirra and Gordo Cooper - with the equally legendary Chuck Yeager also contributing. The missing man is of course John Glenn, as Gus Grissom was killed in the Apollo 1 disaster, Deke Slayton died of a brain tumour in 1993 and Alan Shepard died in 1998 of complications relating to leukaemia. The sad part is that there is so little stuff from the three legends. Given their unique perspectives of the American space program, this should have been a whole lot longer, especially as a way of capturing their thoughts and impressions before they too depart this mortal coil. Aside from some issues with some of the archival footage - Wally Schirra's splashdown footage for instance looks like it has some digital tape dropout - this is about as good as we could expect to see. Absolutely terrific stuff that is in my opinion about two hours too short! This is almost worth the cost of purchase on its own.

Additional Scenes (10:55)

    Why additional scenes rather than deleted scenes in the menu I don't know, but given that Irwin Winkler says the first cut of the film was nearly five hours long, this is but a very small sample of what was excised from the film. The reason for deletion is generally obvious. In broad terms it is quite easy to determine where the scenes would have appeared in the original cut of the film. The presentation is non-16x9 enhanced Full Frame, with ropeyish Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. There are about thirteen scenes here and all are of variable quality - with most being quite obviously blighted with film artefacts. For real fans of the film, an interesting enough inclusion, although I would suspect others will just find these boring.

Featurette - Interactive Timeline To Space

    This is a very limited look at fourteen important events on the exploration of space timeline - from the United States perspective. A mixture of video footage and text stuff, the fourteen topics are:

    The Amero-centricity degrades the package somewhat, but it is not too bad, albeit quite brief. The video footage is all presented in a 1.33:1 Full Frame format that is not 16x9 enhanced, and comes with reasonable Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Featurette - John Glenn: American Hero (86:36)

    The big problem I have with this is that it again places John Glenn ahead of the other six. Don't get me wrong - the man is a legend and deserves the accolades, but truly the other six were equally legends and deserve their own place in the proceedings. Notwithstanding that issue, this is superb stuff, even if it does not have much to do with the film. It is from the American Public Broadcasting Service and provides a fascinating look into the life of probably the most famous American astronaut - as well as one of its most beloved politicians. With archival footage, interview material and the like, it looks at just about every aspect of John Glenn's life from Ohio to Earth orbit. There is some fascinating stuff here and I found it really engrossing. It is presented in a Full Frame format that is not 16x9 enhanced, with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Some of the archival footage is quite ropey, but given the historic nature of it we can forgive the problems. The main issue is that the program suffers somewhat from aliasing - nothing really gross but enough to draw your eyes to it.

Theatrical Trailer (3:24)

    Presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio that is 16x9 enhanced, it features Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. In general it is of okay quality given the age of it, although the red film titles do flare and oversaturate a bit.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This new Special Edition release supplants the previous RSDL formatted release. It would appear that it is virtually identical to the equivalent Region 1 Special Edition release that is due out shortly. As far as I can ascertain, the Region 4 release misses out on:

    By all accounts the transfers are very similar and so it would seem that there is little to choose between the two releases. Since the Region 4 release is coded Region 2, I am presuming that the European release is the same transfer and package.

Summary

    As you are all probably quite well aware of by now, The Right Stuff is my favourite film of all time. I never tire of watching it and always enjoy returning to it again and again. I never tire of recommending it to people, and invariably they thank me later for introducing them to a true classic film. This new Special Edition release is a step in the right direction as far as the extras package is concerned, but I still feel that there is an Ultimate Edition to come - one with a complete restoration of the film, a new dts soundtrack and a swag more extras, including a genuine audio commentary. Until that time, this is a damned fine way to enjoy this film. There is enough new stuff, and more importantly quality new stuff, for existing owners to upgrade to this new release. For those who don't already own the film on DVD - and for heaven's sake why not? - this is another essential addition to your collection. Brilliant film, excellent package.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Sunday, June 08, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-1600, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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Comments (Add)
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Numbered Limited Edition - Grey Shadow (read my bio)