Review: The Right Stuff (1983)

Composer: Bill Conti

Label: Bootleg (selfmade edition)

Catalogue Nr.: Bootleg

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The Right Stuff directed by Philip Kaufman is a cinematic monument for the daring (American) pioneers who set off to new frontiers and discover Space. It was a prestige project for the relatively young studio The Ladd Company and a great adventure film based on an excellent book by Tom Wolfe with a stellar cast. Admittedly, it does not always shine with historic accuracy and comes off as heavily fictional at times. Especially real-life test pilot Chuck Yeager was not particularly pleased with the results but then again, this movie is no documentary anyways. Instead, the patriotic film reveals itself as a character portrait of those magnificent men who laid the foundation for the future of flight and who all had one thing in common: the right stuff. There was certainly nothing much wrong with the film except that it coincided with real-life astronaut John Glenn's political campaign for presidency which was the reason why the media slammed the picture and it ultimately became a terrible box office flop as a result of that. Today, the film is barely remembered for winning four academy awards out of eight nominations. 

The score:

Bill Conti received one of the Golden Boys for his rousing patriotic score. The composer was brought in very late in the process but that wasn't an issue since the film would only contain sparse scoring from the very beginning. Conti composed about 30 minutes of music while he had to work around various temp track selections made by director Kaufman but in the end most of his score remained unused (probably due to re-cuts). Only about 13 minutes actually appear in the film (less than 50% - swallow that!) while some passages are looped or replaced by temp track cues. Garth Hudson and Todd Boekelheide composed additional synth-arrangements of Conti's thematic material which were used most prominently for the first half of the film. Under such circumstances it is even more astonishing that Conti won an Oscar for only 13 minutes of original score, especially if you consider that such an instance is not even eligible for a nomination anymore. Even though the score was honoured with the statue there has never been a release of the original recordings which is where the material on this bootleg originates from.

The main element of the score is the well developed patriotic "Theme from The Right Stuff" - one of those glorious compositions that is pure gold and it does not have to hide behind classic Americana pieces. Only bits of the theme are hinted in the excellent but slow string writing of the first score track which accompanies Chuck Yeager's attempt of "Breaking The Sound Barrier". It is important to note that the score only sets in when another important step in the space race is done. The cue turns into thrilling action music during the second half with nervous strings and powerful outbursts of brass. Most of this cue was not used in the film or has been extended by additional music. Only the beginning part of "Almost Ready" was used in the film for Chuck Yeager's second record flight in the X-1 A when he suddenly looses control over the plane. The cue starts when he is taming the plane and builds up to a fanfare statement of the theme. From that point on, the middle section of the cue was replaced by temp-track music in the film which is sad because Conti used some nice eastern European influences and orchestrations, including something that sounds like a Balalaika, to underline the Russian's attempt to reach space. A full rendition of the main theme is featured at the end of the cue in form of an uplifting march which is heard in the film before Alan Shepard prepares for his flight.

"Training" is another cue which does not appear in the film but the playful beginning of the cue was supposed to accompany the scene where the astronauts are posing in front of the space capsule for the press. The eastern European influences return though this time with a more menacing tone as the Russians take the lead in the space race once again with Gagarin's flight. "Shepard's Flight" is a cue with big fanfares and the orchestra rising tension as Alan Shepard's rocket launches which concludes in a short heroic outburst of the main theme before everything is fading into gentle music for strings. The beginning of "Glenn's Flight" on the contrary is accompanied by very dark and menacing music for strings to indicate that something bad is going to happen during the astronaut's flight. The entire cue is actually lifted from Holst's "The Planets - Mars, Jupiter & Neptune" which was used for the temp track by the director and even though the actual Holst composition was used in the film, Conti still did a remarkable job of working around the piece but staying close enough to its structure.

An awe-inspiring variation of the main theme for soft playing strings and woodwinds appears in "Space" which was supposed to accompany the extensive shots of John Glenn's journey through space though only the ending of the cue was used in the film. A stirring, very fast ostinato for strings is backing up another heroic variation on the theme which goes into a soaring passage for strings. A solo of the theme for oboe builds up into a full orchestral and stirring outburst of the theme at the beginning of "Yeager's Triumph". The cue becomes suspenseful for a moment before the greatest variation of the theme ends the score with the necessary pomp and circumstance as 'Gordo Cooper became the greatest pilot anyone had ever seen'.

Review by Andreas Creutzburg

 

RATING:

Score as heard in the film: 87%

Score as heard on CD: 93%

TOTAL: 90%

 

The presentation:

The album situation of The Right Stuff is definitely a difficult one. At the time the film was released, Intrada Records wanted to approach the executives in charge to release the music but for some reason (most likely due to the poor box office results of the film) there was no interest in such a release. Varese Sarabande produced a re-recording of the material paired with Conti's score for the TV epic North & South (1985) but even this release only contains 17 minutes and is far away from being complete. Too bad this bootleg is the only way to enjoy the entire original recording of the score as Conti intended it for the film but, unlike most other unreleased scores, there might still be some hope that it will see the light of the day in the future. Let's not forget that it won an Oscar after all.

Presentation by the Label: Bootleg

 

Summary:

Virtually every cue of this score reveals itself as a masterpiece. The main theme just kicks ass with it's patriotic, uplifting tone and never gets old even after your 1000's listen. Conti managed to create so many different variations of that tune throughout the score which perfectly underlines the heroism of the very first space flights. Admittedly, a lot of the music does not even appear in the film and some parts are suffering from the director's temp tracking of the movie with classical music pieces but the composer apparently did a very good job in working around that. Remarkable that 13 minutes of the fine original score in the film were enough to earn Conti his one and only academy award.

 

                                     Tracklisting:

01. Theme from The Right Stuff (03:52)
02. Breaking The Sound Barrier (04:42)
03. Almost Ready (01:56)
04. Training (02:16)
05. Shepard's Flight (02:41)
06. Glenn's Flight (05:06)
07. Space (02:46)
08. Flight Of The F-104 (02:42)
09. Yeager's Triumph (05:29)

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