By Joshua Rich
June 13, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT
The Right Stuff: Warner Brothers
  • Movie

Writer-director Philip Kaufman’s zippy, flawless Tom Wolfe adaptation ostensibly recounts the early history of the U.S. space program. Yet, appropriately enough, it’s a comedy through and through. Sam Shepard’s maverick Chuck Yeager, Dennis Quaids narcoleptic Gordo Cooper, and Fred Ward’s cuddly Gus Grissom are priceless portrayals of true heroes. But Kaufman gets to the heart of the American experience when he cuts to a clownish LBJ (Donald Moffat) locking horns with a housewife, and a pair of mismatched G-men (Jeff Goldblum and Harry Shearer) puking off the side of an aircraft carrier. (No wonder the film crashed in theaters.) Such irony continues in this sparkling edition’s too-brief retrospectives — tucked in with an interactive NASA history lesson and an old-but-good PBS documentary on John Glenn — in which surviving astronauts Cooper, Scott Carpenter, and Wally Schirra tell the real story behind their real story, and composer Bill Conti hints that his Oscar-winning music barely made it in. Speaking of which, if they ever opt to change the national anthem, Conti’s score gets my nod.