Plot: What’s it about?
Looking at what mankind has accomplished, it’s pretty amazing. Having evolved from neanderthals to upright-standing humans, we’ve done a lot in our time on this planet. I’m perplexed that we can land a human being on the moon, yet still judge someone by the color of their skin. Is there anything someone can say that can make that make any sense? Didn’t think so. But looking at the “space race”, it really was amazing what we were able to do and the technology we had to do it with. Though this period in time predates me, it shows what we can really accomplish if we all work together and put our minds to it. Switching gears a bit, it’s also amazing how many people (myself included) had not heard of these “hidden figures”, a group of black women working at NASA. Based on the novel by Margot Lee Shetterly, it tells the story of a trio of these women and the adversities they had to overcome just to help put a man in space.
The film centers around Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), a mathematics whiz who works at the West Computing Group, a part of NASA. This group is segregated from the rest of the white workers and though based in Langley, Virginia, they’re also relegated to a basement for their computations. Because of her expertise in analytic geometry, Katherine is eventually promoted to the Space Task Group. Run by Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), he’s overseeing of the planned orbit by John Glenn. Her job is simple: double-check the math of Al’s group of white scientists, all of which are trying to figure out how to accomplish this seemingly impossible task. Katherine is pushed into the background despite being more skilled than they are and therein lies the problem. It’s only when she gets Harrison’s full attention that she’s able to offer up some more substantial ideas. Mind you there are three women on the cover, so we’re also introduced to Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) who oversees the West Computing Group and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae), who works on the Mercury capsule. Mary wants to join the engineer training program, however it’s only open to whites.
Seeing as how John Glenn did orbit the Earth, we know that whatever these women did must have worked. My head hurts just to think of the millions of computations and scenarios that must have been run to make this happen, but I think it’s mankind’s greatest accomplishment to date (sending a man to space and then later to the moon). What’s so unique about this film is that not a lot of people knew about these women and that therein justifies the movie and adds to its allure. Even while watching the featurettes, the stars of the film said “I had no idea that these women even existed.” Add me to that list. It seems trite and trivial to judge someone’s mental ability based on the color of their skin, but we’ve shown that we do it (and in many ways, still do). Hidden Figures is one of those movies that’s so moving that it’s hard to believe that most everything in it is fact. And that’s what makes it so enjoyable.
Video: How’s it look?
There are movies set in the past that look dull and monotone and there are others that look like a painting come to life. Hidden Figures is one of the latter and my oho my does it look good! Fox does a great job with their new to Blu-ray titles and this 2.39:1 AVC HD image simply leaps off the screen. The interiors of a NASA building could look cold and corporate, but instead they bustle with color and it makes for a pleasing picture. Contrast and black levels are right on the money, detail (as expected) is sharp as a tack. Even Kevin Costner’s haircut looks the part. Let’s face it, new movies on disc these days have a high standard attached to them, but this is one that passed the test.
Audio: How’s it sound?
I’d put the disc in and after skipping the obligatory “Fox Digital HD” commercial, was brought to the menu screen. I heard a very familiar voice in Pharrell Williams (who served as the composer of the film as well as its producer) and it got me in the mood! Yes, it’s got a jazzy soundtrack that really propels the film forward! As we might expect with an ensemble cast, vocals are clear, pure and rich. Surrounds are used with good impact as well, though the front stage really does handle the majority of the audio. It’s a great-sounding track that makes use of dynamic audio and space (pardon the pun), but it’s low key enough that you won’t need to constantly fiddle with the volume. A fine-sounding track, for sure.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- It All Adds Up – The Making of Hidden Figures – Broken up into five shorter featurettes, these detail some of the high points of the film.
- No Limits – The Life of Katherine Johnson – Members of the cast and crew reflect on the amazing life of Katherine Johnson and still seem perplexed at how her story has been, for lack of a better word, hidden, from the public for so long.
- The Right People for the Job – We get a pretty good look at the story behind what actually got this movie made. Interviews with the director, producer, screenwriter and, yes, Pharrell Williams – all of who played no small part in bringing this movie to the masses.
- Re-creating an Era – The Look of Hidden Figures – This is a lot more literal than I thought it would be. This focuses, pun fully intended, on the physical look of the film. Producer Donna Gigliotti expresses her pleasure about having 33% of the crew composed of women and we get a feel for how the movie was filmed and framed. The natural and organic style of the shots represented photographers like Gordon Parks, who unknowingly inspired the visual style of this movie.
- A Spiritual Journey – The Music of Hidden Figures – If the song playing over the menu screen doesn’t get your toe tapping, I don’t think anything will. We hear from producer and composer Pharrell Williams as he explains how prophetic it is that this is his first producer credit. I guess it’s all downhill from here? Let’s hope not.
- Moving the Decimal – Honoring Katherine Johnson – This is, as the title entails, an homage to Johnson and some of her accomplishments and accolades. We see some vintage photographs, the unveiling of the Katherine Johnson NASA building among others. She’s quite the woman at 97 years young.
- Deleted Scenes – Eight total, and can be played with or without audio commentary by Theodore Melfi.
- Katherine Talks to her Late Husband
- Levi’s Protest
- Dorothy and Vivian Fix Flat Tire
- Katherine Eats in the White Lunchroom
- Grissom’s Failed Recovery
- Harrison Tells Paul the Mount Everest Story
- Mary and Zielinski Discuss Capsule Improvements
- Mary Reads NASA Memo to Katherine and Dorothy
- Hidden Figures: Filming in Georgia – I guess the Peach state is the place to be. This is yet another ringing endorsement about filming a movie/TV show there and people can’t seem to get enough out of this state. Running 5 minutes, it’s everything the Georgia Tourist Bureau wants it to be.
- Audio Commentary – Theodore Melni and Taraji P. Henson are the two featured here. I’d personally liked to have more, but the movie really is theirs. There’s not a whole lot of technical talk, but rather some of the issues that the movie tried to deal with and how Henson tried to play her part. It’s a good, fact-filled track that’s sure to please fans of the movie.
- Gallery – A set of 27 stills from the movie as well as some behind the scenes stills that can be played manually or automatically.
- Theatrical Trailer
- Sneak Peek – Step, Mars, Jackie, Rules Don’t Apply, The Birth of a Nation, Miss Sloane and The Martian
The Bottom Line
My parents kept asking me when I would get this. They’d seen it in theaters and said that people actually stood up and cheered. Yes, that sounds cliche, but I guess it really did happen. But you know what, it really is one of those kinds of films. I guess if I were the kind who stood up and cheered in movie theaters, this would be one of those films that would make me do it. Fox’s Blu-ray has enough supplements to warrant a purchase and it looks and sounds good, as we might expect.
Taraji P. Henson, who played Katherine Johnson in the film, re-tweeted our coverage of this review!
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