Disney has announced a for-streaming dramatic-series reboot of The Right Stuff, which was both a great book, written by Tom Wolfe and published in 1979, and arguably an even better movie of the same name, directed by Philip Kaufman. Both take a long look into the beginning of the United States NASA manned space program. The series starts in October.
It does raise a good question: With a subject that has already been done so well, do we really need a new version of The Right Stuff? I’d argue that we do.
Reboots happen in Hollywood all the time. An old series or movie that might have been popular (or, maybe, not so much) is brought back for another go-around, sometimes in a different format, movie to series, or vice versa. Part of the appeal of such projects is the opportunity to expose a new audience to a story they might have missed. In terms of slow-burn dramatic series, an additional appeal is the ability to work in all kinds of details in an eight or 12-hour series that they couldn’t hope to cover in a two-hour film. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. This one looks promising.
The original movie is a classic, and not just because it tackles subjects I care deeply about—aeronautics in general. But its real appeal is the way it examines the dividing line between the jobs of astronaut and pilot, because they are not necessarily the same thing. It’s a theme that Wolfe, who died in 2018, explored sensitively, surprisingly so for someone who came to the subject/s of atmospheric and space aviation without much background knowledge. His previous hit non-fiction works had been on the counter-culture.
The movie was less accurate than Wolfe’s book—making a film is as much poetry as documentation— but not in any ways that distorted the message or the big picture themes. It’s impossible not to get stuff wrong in a film attempting to create a panorama of a technically, politically and interpersonally complex years-long event. And director Phillip Kauffman was off the mark with numerous details, some of which were historically inaccurate but served to advance the plot splendidly, such as people appearing in scenes that they didn’t live long enough to be in. But in the end Kaufmann brilliantly captured the spirit of the moment and the transition in our culture that space travel forged.
The eight episode series, which premieres on Disney+ in October, is a big-budget endeavor with a first-rate cast. And it takes the opportunity to explore, in greater depth, subjects that neither Kaufman nor Wolfe had the time or perspective to address in a satisfying way. And along the way we’ll get to see lots of flying and, well, astronauting, too. Because despite the quote often attributed to Chuck Yeager that being an astronaut was equivalent to being “spam in a can,” in that they had no piloting role, the role of the astronaut-commander would become one that required great skill. Check out the trailer for the new The Right Stuff here.