'The Right Stuff,' 1983

When he tackled <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="PEHST002139" title="Tom Wolfe" href="/topic/arts-culture/tom-wolfe-PEHST002139.topic">Tom Wolfe</a>'s book about the Mercury astronauts, writer-director <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="PECLB002711" title="Philip Kaufman" href="/topic/entertainment/philip-kaufman-PECLB002711.topic">Philip Kaufman</a> wouldn't film the simple rah-rah national anthem that the original screenwriter, <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="PECLB001983" title="William Goldman" href="/topic/entertainment/william-goldman-PECLB001983.topic">William Goldman</a>, had envisioned; he chose to salute test pilots like <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="PEHST002153" title="Chuck Yeager" href="/topic/arts-culture/chuck-yeager-PEHST002153.topic">Chuck Yeager</a>, whom Wolfe had exalted as the unsung heroes of American aviation. He forsook computer-dominated special effects and gave the flying scenes a rough, anti- <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="ENMV000105" title="Star Wars (movie)" href="/topic/entertainment/movies/star-wars-%28movie%29-ENMV000105.topic">"Star Wars"</a> edge. He lampooned the media circus that surrounded the Mercury astronauts. And he tested the astronauts' intestinal fortitude both in lowly and heavenly ways -- with enemas as well as high-risk rocket launches. (Kaufman's plucky cast includes <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="PECLB003468" title="Dennis Quaid" href="/topic/entertainment/dennis-quaid-PECLB003468.topic">Dennis Quaid</a>, <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="PECLB002227" title="Ed Harris" href="/topic/entertainment/ed-harris-PECLB002227.topic">Ed Harris</a>, <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="PECLB001953" title="Scott Glenn" href="/topic/entertainment/scott-glenn-PECLB001953.topic">Scott Glenn</a> and Fred Ward as the most fleshed-out of the astronauts; <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="PECLB003504" title="Pamela Reed" href="/topic/entertainment/pamela-reed-PECLB003504.topic">Pamela Reed</a>, Mary Jo Deschanel and Veronica Cartwright as the most prominent of the astronauts' wives; <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="PECLB003682" title="Sam Shepard" href="/topic/entertainment/sam-shepard-PECLB003682.topic">Sam Shepard</a> (pictured) as Yeager; and Harry Shearer and <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="PECLB001979" title="Jeff Goldblum" href="/topic/entertainment/jeff-goldblum-PECLB001979.topic">Jeff Goldblum</a> as recruiters who serve as a sort of geek chorus.) By acknowledging the political game-playing and careerism behind the facade of the Mercury space program, and satirizing the media whitewash of the astronauts, Kaufman permits us to exult in their genuine courage -- and not feel guilty about it in the morning. The result is that rarity in movies: an individualistic epic.

( Handout )

When he tackled Tom Wolfe's book about the Mercury astronauts, writer-director Philip Kaufman wouldn't film the simple rah-rah national anthem that the original screenwriter, William Goldman, had envisioned; he chose to salute test pilots like Chuck Yeager, whom Wolfe had exalted as the unsung heroes of American aviation. He forsook computer-dominated special effects and gave the flying scenes a rough, anti- "Star Wars" edge. He lampooned the media circus that surrounded the Mercury astronauts. And he tested the astronauts' intestinal fortitude both in lowly and heavenly ways -- with enemas as well as high-risk rocket launches. (Kaufman's plucky cast includes Dennis Quaid, Ed Harris, Scott Glenn and Fred Ward as the most fleshed-out of the astronauts; Pamela Reed, Mary Jo Deschanel and Veronica Cartwright as the most prominent of the astronauts' wives; Sam Shepard (pictured) as Yeager; and Harry Shearer and Jeff Goldblum as recruiters who serve as a sort of geek chorus.) By acknowledging the political game-playing and careerism behind the facade of the Mercury space program, and satirizing the media whitewash of the astronauts, Kaufman permits us to exult in their genuine courage -- and not feel guilty about it in the morning. The result is that rarity in movies: an individualistic epic.

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