The Right Stuff (Remastered) (1983)
|Year Of Production||1983|
|RSDL / Flipper||RSDL (91:00)||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||2,4||Directed By||Philip Kaufman|
Warner Home Video
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.78:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.85:1||Miscellaneous|
English for the Hearing Impaired
German for the Hearing Impaired
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||Yes, partially during credits|
As many readers would know, the original release of The Right Stuff in Region 4 was one of those dreaded flippers that no one seems to like. Much bemoaning was done over this fact, especially as the Region 2 version of the film was quickly re-released as an RSDL formatted DVD. Thankfully, Warner Home Video here finally caught up and have reissued the DVD here in the remastered form. Unfortunately, the review of the remastered version has been much delayed due to the lack of a review copy from Warner Home Video and the fact that this is no simple remaster to eliminate the flip point. This is actually a completely different master, with additional soundtrack and subtitle options as compared to the original Region 4 only release. This has forced a complete re-review of the title. Now given the fact that this is my favourite film of all time, that is no chore I can assure you. However, it has meant that time has had to be found for the review in a very busy review schedule, even after forking out my own money to buy a copy for review.
For those who have seen my review of the original release of the DVD, I beg your indulgence to reiterate the content of that review as it is important to realise how important this film is to me. The film is, of course, based upon the book of the same name by Tom Wolfe. Published way back in 1979, I always remember the first time that I got hold of this book for a read. It was recommended to me by a university friend, and shortly thereafter I acquired a copy from the local shopping centre. It turned out to be one of the greatest literary purchases I had ever made and, outside of perhaps some of the Robot stories of Isaac Asimov, is a book that over the years I have read more frequently than any other. Having always had a more than passing fascination with aircraft, and more especially space exploration, since I am after all born in the year that the space race sort-of began, the book struck me as one of the greatest ever written about pilots and the almost-mythology of The Right Stuff. Since 1979 I think I must have read the book about seventy five times, and it is as glorious a read today as it was the very first time that I read it. Some years later of course, I discovered that a film based upon the book had been made but I never got the chance to see it during its theatrical release.
It was not until about 1985 that I eventually got to see the film, which was pretty much during a drunken haze from which I can barely recall it being on television. Fortunately, I was not drunk enough to prevent me from recognizing the name of the film nor the obvious derivation from the book that I so treasured. So, I decided to track it down on video (then really coming into vogue), but to no avail. It was unavailable on video in Australia at the time, but I eventually tracked down a copy in the United States. Since it was horrendously expensive to buy it and get it sent over here (how times have changed with the Internet), I passed on the opportunity but resolved that the first time I went to the United States I would get it on video, which I dutifully did, on a double VHS tape that set me back a fair number of dollars at a Sam Goody store. Shortly thereafter it came out on tape in Australia (amazing how often that happens to me) and I naturally indulged in that, too. Over the years, the NTSC tape survived through basically lack of use, but the VHS tape was replaced on two occasions owing to overuse, and that was the situation that existed until 1998 - which means of course that despite having watched the film far more times than I can possibly enumerate, and despite the film being my greatest film of all time, I had never, ever seen the film in widescreen.
On 2nd October, 1998 Warner Home Video released their first batch of Region 4 DVDs, and amongst the titles included in that initial batch was The Right Stuff. Wandering through K-Mart on that weekend I happened across the Warners DVD display and saw the DVD. I felt an instant need to acquire the DVD which I dutifully did - the first DVD I ever bought, and four months before I even had anything to play it on. But I knew that I would have to get the player, for I knew that this film was going to be something special on DVD, and so, when I finally acquired my home theatre gear in February 1999, you can pretty much guess which DVD of the small collection that I had acquired by that date was the first to grace my player. It was also the first film that I ever watched three times in a row - once on NTSC tape, once on PAL tape and then on PAL DVD. It was like an epiphany to see this film in all its digital widescreen wonder after all those years of patently sub-standard VHS tapes of every description and price range. The pan and scan disaster of the NTSC tape lacked any sort of colour to it at all, being very pale and muted, the PAL tape was hardly any better, but that DVD - stunning stuff! Since then, it has been watched more often than any other DVD (although The Fifth Element would run a pretty close second), and despite some of the wondrous DVDs I have seen over that time, this still holds up pretty well indeed - especially in this remastered form which in some respects is much better than the original flipper release.
And so on to the film itself ('at long last' I hear you say). I doubt that any film could do real justice to the American Mercury space program 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, but 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) who was later to die in Apollo 1, 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 (it too copped an Oscar nomination), brilliant 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. I also never understood why it did so relatively poorly at the box office, although I would suspect that both are not unrelated to its length.
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 eighteen years and I can assure you that despite some faults, this film has never looked so good and sounded so good. Upon first viewing it was a revelation, as in many ways the clarity of the DVD meant that I was seeing the film for the first time, and whilst the hindsight of a collection of over 1,300 DVDs suggests that the DVD is not as good-looking as perhaps it could have been, it is certainly a fine looking effort that commands your attention. 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 eighteen years, nothing apart from Glory has ever come close to knocking it off that lofty perch. My only worry is that the film will never get the restoration it so richly deserves, in order to return it to a pristine state for posterity.
As indicated, this has always been a transfer held in high regard even though it has its faults. This remastered version seems to have been done in a slightly less analytical style with the result that there is far less of an issue with edge enhancement as there was in the original release, plus it seems to be a more consistent transfer now. Maybe it is nostalgia playing tricks with me!
The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and it is 16x9 enhanced.
Even though the blending of archival footage and film could have been a disaster, this is in general a very good transfer in most respects. The main problem in the original transfer was the slight inconsistency in the transfer, but this newer version seems to be less afflicted in this regard. 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 in deliberate ways that do preclude the absolute in detail (the night time horse riding for instance), so don't expect the absolute best all the way through. 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 quite grainy, which does detract a little from the film. Some of that grain is partly the result of archival footage but whatever grain is present tends to be relegated to the background when considered the general clarity of the transfer. Overall, this still holds up well in comparison to more recent films.
There is a rather diverse range of colours on offer here and these vary from being quite muted (deliberately of course) through to well oversaturated. Overall, it is a quite vibrant transfer with a nice definition to the colours within their context. The main problem area is a case of rather noticeable oversaturation at around the 88:30 mark, when the astronaut groupies enter the bar ("four down, three to go"!): the oversaturation of red is really quite grotesque in my view, although I believe that this is a partly intended oversaturation, just not to this extent. 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 were extremely well-handled. The slight downer with the colour 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, and apart from some relatively minor shimmering that most would probably not notice, there did not appear to be any significant film-to-video artefacts in the transfer. There were, however, plenty of film artefacts on offer here, although you should be aware that some of these were 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, for a film of its age, the extent of these film artefacts was just a little on the wrong side of expectations.
This is an RSDL formatted DVD with the layer change coming at 91:00. Even though it comes mid-scene it is a competently handled effort that really is not that noticeable and not really disruptive to the flow of the film. It is of course far more preferable than the original flipper release.
There is a reasonable array of subtitle options on the DVD and I sampled both the English and the English for the Hearing Impaired efforts. Both are nicely presented, very legible and reasonably accurate. Nothing major is missed out upon, but somewhat fuller efforts would have been more preferable.
There are three soundtracks on the DVD, all being Dolby Digital 5.1 efforts. The choices are English, French and German, so you can pretty well guess that I stuck with the English soundtrack.
For a film that has to balance plenty of action noise with plenty of dialogue, this ends up being a delightfully easy soundtrack to listen to. At no stage does the sound muddy and the dialogue is always easy to understand. There is no problem with audio sync in the transfer, either.
The original music score is from Bill Conti and it thoroughly deserved its Oscar (one of four the film won: Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound and Best Sound Effects Editing). To this day I believe this to be possibly 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. 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.
The main problem with the original release soundtrack was the slight lack of consistency, with some evident drops in the audio level and a number of instances where the surround channel use was not up to the standard of other parts of the soundtrack. To some extent these problems still remain, but given the age of the source material this is not too shabby an effort at all. The bass 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.
|Surround Channel Use|
The big disappointment with this remastering is the fact that the DVD has lost all its extras.
All that is left is the menu, a throwback to those early Warner releases with their rather nice, functional menus that I find more palatable than most of what comes out nowadays.
With the advent of RSDL formatting, the Region 4 release now becomes the version of choice other than for the fact that the Region 1 release still has those extras.
The Right Stuff is my favourite film of all time and it should have walked away with the Oscar for Best Film in 1984 (how the heck they voted for Terms Of Endearment I will never understand). It is a stunning film that rewards repeated viewings and is an essential purchase for anyone with even a passing interest in aeronautics or space exploration. It features one of the finest ensemble casts ever assembled, bringing to life a wonderful script and matched with quality in just about every area. It will always remain the pinnacle of Philip Kaufman's career as far as I am concerned and I still cannot understand how he went on to make such art house rubbish as Henry & June. Even though we have lost all the extras off the original flipper release, I believe that this RSDL formatted version more than makes up for that.
|DVD||Pioneer DV-515, using S-Video output|
|Display||Sony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.|
|Speakers||Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL|