FEATURE FILM: “THE RIGHT STUFF” (1983)

Title: The Right Stuff (Ladd Company, 1983)

Historical Content: 7/10

Entertainment Value: 10/10

Relevance and Datedness: 9/10

Final Score: 8.7

The Seven Mercury Astronauts from "The Right Stuff"

A classic moment from “The Right Stuff”

 

Overview

In October of 1947, Chuck Yeager became the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound, when he piloted the Bell X-1 to a speed just beyond Mach 1. With that success, man continued to push the limits of what he could do in flight. The next challenge would prove to be an even more daunting one: manned spaceflight. Prompted by early Soviet successes, America began its search for a group of test pilots to take part in this endeavor. Out of hundreds of people, seven men were chosen to take part in the Mercury Program, America’s first series of manned missions into Earth’s orbit. The story of Yeager and America’s Mercury Astronauts is retold in the 1983 movie The Right Stuff.

Although not successful in its theatrical run, this adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s bestselling book achieved considerable critical acclaim, and has since become a classic of the genre. Despite a couple of lapses in the historical record, the film does a fine job of recreating those early days of manned flight, as men and machines pushed us faster than ever, and took us into planetary orbit for the first time. These men set the foundation of what was to come, setting the stage for the first manned trips to the Moon in just a few years time. This story continues to inspire audiences to this day.

Historical Content (7/10)

Overall, the history shown in the film is accurate. As with all films, poetic license is taken to achieve more of a dramatic effect. The first instance of this in the film, which is at the beginning, doesn’t hurt the historical narrative much. The film depicts Chuck Yeager’s (Sam Shepard) first flight in the Bell X-1 as happening on October 14th, 1947, the day he becomes the first man to break the sound barrier. In reality, Yeager made several flights in the X-1 (Which he named the “Glamorous Glennis,” after his wife), testing out the systems, making sure everything was in good order, before finally making the historical flight that put his name on the map. However, this is a minor flaw, and doesn’t really change the historical events all that much.

However, the film’s biggest historical flaw is a major one and the reason for the 7 out of 10 rating. The depiction of the Liberty Bell 7 flight by Astronaut Gus Grissom (Fred Ward, Tremors) is where the biggest bit of poetic license is taken, and does hurt the historical narrative. Historically, the July 21st, 1961 flight went according to plan, until just moments after the splashdown, the hatch on the ship, which was filled with explosive bolts in case of emergency, blew off, causing the ship to start sinking, and forcing Grissom to make a hasty exit from the ship. Grissom claimed that the hatch just blew on its own, while others believed he might have panicked, or accidentally hit the button to blow the hatch on purpose. However, NASA technicians determined that a fault in the system caused the hatch to blow on its own, proving Grissom right. But in the film version, Grissom is seen as getting panicky, almost claustrophobic, before the hatch blows, making it look like he blew the hatch before the rescue chopper could hook onto the ship, and he covered his butt by saying the hatch just blew. Despite the fact that Grissom had been proven right about the hatch, with much evidence to back up that claim, the film sticks to the “Grissom panicked” story that proved to be wrong.

However, despite this major flaw, the rest of the film stays mostly true to the events of the time, making this a solid film about the history of early manned flight.

Entertainment Value (10/10)

There is no denying that The Right Stuff is one of the greatest films of the 1980s. Much of the film’s success can be chalked up to the amazing cast assembled for the film. The film includes such talented actors as Fred Ward, Sam Shepard, Dennis Quaid (The Day After Tomorrow, The Alamo), Lance Henriksen (The Terminator, TV’s “Millennium”), Barbara Hershey, Scott Glenn (Silverado, Sucker Punch), Harry Shearer and Jeff Goldblum. All of these actors do fantastic jobs in the roles that they’re given. The highlight of the cast, however, is Ed Harris (Apollo 13, Pollock) as John Glenn. Of all the men chosen to fly the Mercury Seven spacecraft, Glenn was considered to be the best speaker, as well as the best pilot among them. Harris’ performance as Glenn in the film is spot-on, bringing this respected figure to life.

While the film covers sixteen years of American history in 193 minutes, it does so without becoming confusing or unemotional. The script, adapted from Wolfe’s book by Philip Kaufmann (Who also served as director), is brilliantly executed, making the story not only coherent, but also engaging and fun. The behind the scenes crew did a great job of bringing three decades of American history to life, from post-World War II to the early 1960s. Almost everything about this film is meticulous, and keeps the film from looking dated.

But other than the fine performances, the highlight of the film is Bill Conti’s stirring score for the film. This is one of those movies where almost everybody who talks about it comments on the soundtrack for the film. Its stirring themes are truly memorable, and it is a shame that the score was never given a proper release until recently (In a limited edition release by Varese Sarabande). The music really brings the story to full-life, and is truly one of the greatest scores of the 1980s.

Relevance and Datedness (9/10)

The story of early manned flight has always fascinated people throughout the generations. It is hard to believe how far people came following in the footsteps of the Wright Brothers in a short amount of time. In just sixty-six years, we went from the first flight, to landing on the moon. The story of how we got there is one that will continue to inspire men and women for years to come. The story told in The Right Stuff is a timeless one, and the story itself will never be dated. The only thing that might date this film is the visual effects. Although really good for the time, a few of the effects do show their age, and do slightly date the film a bit. Nevertheless, the film’s powerful performances, a well-written script, and Bill Conti’s beautiful score make this a film that will remain a classic for all time, despite the film’s few historical shortcomings.

Final Score: 8.7

TV Series: “Antiques Roadshow” (1997- present)

Title: Antiques Roadshow (PBS, 1997- present)

Historical Content: 10/10

Entertainment Value: 6/10

Relevance and Datedness: 7/10

Final Score: 7.7

ANtiques Roadshow

Overview

There are people who might not consider Antiques Roadshow a “history” show, but since Pawn Stars usually gets designated as such, and the two are nearly identical, save for the latter having a very staged feel, insulting buy and sell offers, and guest experts who think they are God’s gift to the world, I will now begin to review Antiques Roadshow. I always thought this show was very interesting, just because it exposes the viewer to countless treasures in every episode. I can’t tell you how many times I picked up a little piece of information on an item that I never even knew existed. There is so much rich backstory behind each appraisal, that to me, this definitely becomes a history show, with the focus being put on the items themselves, and nowhere else.

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Television Film: “The Crossing” (2000)

Title: The Crossing (A&E, 2000)

Historical Content: 8/10

Entertainment Value: 10/10

Relevance and Datedness: 9/10

Final Score: 9.0

Jeff Daniels as General George Washington in A&E's "The Crossing."

Jeff Daniels as General George Washington in A&E’s “The Crossing.”

 

Overview

By the end of 1776, the American Revolution seemed to be near its end. Time and time again, the Continental Army under General George Washington was defeated by the better-equipped, and better-trained, British Army. Thinking the cause was finished, men deserted from the army by the thousands. As Christmas approached, all hope seemed to be lost. However, Washington, not willing to admit defeat, planned a bold offensive maneuver. On the evening of December 25th, Christmas Day, he would cross 2,000 of his troops over the Delaware River from Pennsylvania to New Jersey, and attack the garrison of 1,200 German mercenary troops, known as Hessians, in a surprise maneuver that would catch them off guard the following morning. Although very risky, the attack became a major success, rejuvenating the cause for independence almost overnight, and bringing Washington’s army back from the brink of extinction. In the year 2000, A&E brought the events of that monumental battle to life in an adaptation of Howard Fast’s historical novel, The Crossing. Starring acclaimed actor Jeff Daniels as George Washington, the film portrays the days leading up to the Delaware crossing, and the attack on the Hessians at Trenton. Despite being filmed on a low budget, the film is very successful at bringing the people and events of that monumental time in early American history to life, and does so in a way that is fairly accurate, and very dramatic.

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TV Documentary Series: “Liberty! The American Revolution” (1997)

Title: Liberty! The American Revolution (PBS, 1997)

Historical Content: 9/10

Entertainment Value: 10/10

Relevance and Datedness: 10/10

Final Score: 9.7

LibertyThe AmericanRevolution

Overview

The American Revolution is one of the most fascinating periods in not just American history, but in world history as well. The story of how a ragtag group of men from thirteen separate colonies stood together against the might of the British Empire, and were somehow victorious in their endeavor, continues to have an impact on our world. The story of these men who helped shape the conflict, and how their efforts gave birth to the most revolutionary idea of the modern world, is one that never grows old. In 1997, PBS aired a six-part documentary series focusing on the people and the events of this period. I first saw Liberty! The American Revolution during its initial run, and was thoroughly captivated by it. From the approach the filmmakers took in telling the story, to the attention to detail, to a first-rate score by Mark O’Connor and Richard Einhorn, this series does a remarkable job of covering twenty-five years of early American history in less than six hours. And to this day, it remains one of the most powerful documentaries ever produced on the conflict.

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Feature Film: “Amazing Grace” (2007)

Title: Amazing Grace (Bristol Bay Productions, 2007)

Historical Content: 8/10

Entertainment Value: 10/10

Relevance and Datedness: 10/10

Final Score: 9.3

 amazinggraceposter1

Overview

The story of William Wilberforce and his involvement in the abolition movement in Great Britain is one of the stories from history that is sadly unknown in America today. As a Member of the House of Commons, Wilbeforce spent twenty years (1787-1807) struggling to get a bill passed that would end England’s part in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and start the road to complete abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire. Despite the struggles, he was encouraged by a tight group of comrades, his wife, Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger, and, possibly most important of all, by his friend and pastor, John Newton. Newton, a former slave ship captain who saw the light, and became a supporter of the abolition movement, is best known for writing the beloved hymn “Amazing Grace.” The title of the hymn serves as the perfect title for the film, Amazing Grace. Because indeed, it is the Grace that comes from the God they believe in that drives both Wilberforce and Newton to change the world. The film itself is a beautiful piece of cinema from beginning to end. It features powerful performances from an all-star cast, some wonderful cinematography, and a fine soundtrack from composer David Arnold. But most important of all, despite being a dramatic film, the history itself is only partially embellished for dramatic effect, making it an important film for educators, while also providing a solid film that modern audiences will enjoy.

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Feature Film: “Revolution” (1985)

Title: Revolution (Goldcrest Films, Viking Films, 1985)

Historical Content: 1/10

Entertainment Value: 3/10

Relevance and Datedness: 1/10

Final Score: 1.6

revolution_1985

Overview

Let me just come right out and say that this could quite possibly be the worst historical film ever made. Revolution never ceases to amaze from beginning to end with childishly glaring historical errors, and some just downright horrific acting and film-making. I first watched and reviewed this about two years ago on my original blog, and it still remains the only movie to garner a rating of one. You can easily see where Roland Emmerich recieved his brilliant inspiration to make The Patriot, because the storylines are remarkably similar, including the amount of mistakes. The only difference between the two films is that the latter is at least watchable and entertaining. Revolution is basically the story of a farmer who wants no part of the war, and only joins because he wants to look after his son who joined the army without his consent. He then becomes enraptured in the violence of the American Revolution, and has no choice but to fight. Gee, for a second I thought I was reviewing The Patriot. I would say more about the story, but I didn’t make it past the first half hour.

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Feature Film: “Pearl Harbor” (2001)

Title: Pearl Harbor (Touchstone Pictures, Jerry Bruckheimer Films, 2001)

Historical Content: 4/10

Entertainment Value: 9/10

Relevance and Datedness: 6/10

Final Score: 6.3

Pearlharbor8

Overview

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Director Michael Bay know how to churn out box office hits. The duo was responsible for the films Bad Boys, The Rock and Armageddon. In 2001, they turned their talents to a big-budget historical epic drama about the events before, during, and after the Japanese attack on the U.S. Navy and Army Air Corps base at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. Instead of just focusing on the events themselves, the filmmakers chose to employ classic film elements, including fictional characters within the real-life events of the early days of World War II. Therefore, the main focus of the film was on the love triangle that develops between two pilots (Ben Affleck, Josh Harnett) and a Navy Nurse (Kate Beckinsale), while the actual historical events leading up to the attack are given brief mentions. However, I have never been one to hate on this film. Ever since I first saw it in 2001, I have always enjoyed the film. Despite some flaws in the script, the excellent cast, spectacular action sequences and visual effects, and a beautiful score by Hans Zimmer combined to create a film that I still watch at least once a year. However, even though the film is well-done from a technical and acting standpoint, the actual facts of the day are nearly butchered to better suit the film’s dramatic spine. However, the film does capture the essence of those early days in 1941, when America’s innocence was destroyed forever, and how one attack led America into the bloodiest war in the history of the world.

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