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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Right Stuff is a 1983 movie based on the nonfiction book by Tom Wolfe about America's first astronauts and the beginning of NASA and the "Space Race." The first astronauts and the test pilots who proved that it was possible to break the sound barrier and go into space are shown to be heroic, brave, and fearless; however, with the exception of John Glenn, these men are also shown to be "rough around the edges" -- men who slept with younger female fans, cursed, drank, and made off-color jokes. Expect to hear "f--k" as well as "pr--k," "s--t," and "p---sy." Some jokes involving sex and masturbation. A woman performs a naked fan dance in a rodeo arena at a massive party; very brief nudity. One of the astronauts is fond of imitating a popular comedy bit from that time in which a white comedian portrayed a Latino "astronaut." The bit involves broken English and a thick stereotypical accent; Latinos are shown to be angered by this astronaut's imitation. There are no women scientists shown working in the space program, and certainly no female astronauts. Nonetheless, what shines through is the bravery of the first astronauts as they face the anything-can-happen nature of those early-manned space missions and their new statuses as "American heroes" when back home.
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What's the story?
As the Cold War begins, America strives to achieve super-sonic flight at the start of THE RIGHT STUFF. But once Soviet satellite Sputnik captures international attention, putting a man in space becomes America's top priority. The movie juxtaposes Edwards Air Force Base, where Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) makes history as the most daring pilot alive, and Cape Canaveral, where a few carefully selected men, including John Glenn (Ed Harris) and Gordon "Gordo" Cooper (Dennis Quaid), train diligently to be hurled into space. As NASA scientists and engineers struggle to come up with a feasible rocket, the astronauts (and their wives) struggle with the tremendous risks of their profession, along with sudden, overwhelming fame. Once NASA devises a rocket capable of surviving a launch, the seven astronauts deemed to have what it takes band together and form a heroic team.
Is it any good?
This fine adaptation of Tom Wolfe's best-selling book is over three hours long, but a well-structured story, stellar acting, and exciting action sequences make the time fly. Especially hilarious is a ridiculous sequence where the astronauts-to-be, including ultra-cocky contestant Gordo, undergo a barrage of pointless medical and endurance tests. The only fellow who seems unruffled by the ordeal is John Glenn, a former Marine whose charm and moral stature never waver. The Right Stuff is an epic love letter to America's aviator heroes, but its reverent tone is interjected with plenty of humor.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the competitiveness of the astronaut program shown in The Right Stuff and how the families coped. How would you deal with such dangerous work?
This was originally a long nonfiction book. What would be the challenges in taking a story as large as this one and making it fit the tine constraints of movies?
Families can also discuss how the media portrays space exploration in general. Is it always exciting?
- In theaters: October 21, 1983
- On DVD or streaming: April 27, 1999
- Cast: Dennis Quaid, Ed Harris, Sam Shepard
- Director: Philip Kaufman
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History, Space and Aliens
- Character Strengths: Communication, Courage, Curiosity, Teamwork
- Run time: 200 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
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