In 1983 something big happened at the box office. The last instalment of the Star Wars saga hit theaters and we finally got some answers to that "Luke, I am your father," statement of Darth Vader's. But something else was in theaters that year, something else to do with space, and unlike Return of the Jedi, this movie was about real astronauts and the race to space in the early 1960s. Unfortunately, not many people at the time noticed.
That other film was The Right Stuff.
Nominated for a Best Picture Oscar (along with winning four others), The Right Stuff proved a bad box office return didn't mean relegation to the dustbin of history. The film was selected for preservation in the National Film registry in 2013, and now Nat Geo has taken Tom Wolfe's acclaimed book of the same name and turned it into a series currently streaming on Disney+.
So the question is, does this new telling of the history of the early space program and the Mercury astronauts have The Right Stuff?
'Eh. Sort of.
If you've read the book or watched the film, many of the character beats will look familiar. The conflict between John Glenn (Patrick J Adams) and Alan Shepard (Jake McDormon) to see who will be chosen as the first man in space is ramped up to eleven as is Gordon Cooper's (Colin O'Donoghue) rocky home life. The biggest issue for me watching the first three episodes was honestly keeping track of the characters. Other than Glenn, Shepard, and Cooper, none of the remaining Seven are really present in the story. They are little more than set dressing, and with little to no introduction for them, I'm never really sure which astronaut they are playing when they do speak.
The series does a good job of showing how seven ordinary men, and their families, are catapulted from the anonymity of test pilots to the center of the world stage. Patrick J Adams' John Glenn still exudes that 'Mister Clean Marine' vibe, and there is plenty of smoking, drinking, and skirt-chasing, but something seems to be lacking. Maybe it's the feeling of actually watching something historical? The disclaimer at the front of each episode stating that people or situations have been altered for dramatic purposes doesn't quite cover the level of licence taken in the show.
With that in mind, I'm more than a little hesitant to see how the series deals with such things as Gus Grissom and the loss of Liberty Bell 7. Both Deke Slayton and Gordon Cooper took issue with how the movie version dealt with the loss of the capsule when the escape hatch blew after touch down in July of 1961. Will the series take the same road of making it look like Grissom did something wrong, or will it set the story straight and give Gus his due that the hatch did "just blow" on its own? We'll have to wait at see.
All in all, I wouldn't say to give the series a pass, there is some good stuff here. I would suggest you take what you see with a grain of salt, seek out some of the actual historical information, and maybe watch From the Earth To The Moon if you want to binge something and get a more accurate telling of the early days at NASA.
Are you watching The Right Stuff? What do you think of the series so far?
Written by LadyShelley on Oct 19, 2020