‘Hidden Figures’ both educational and entertaining
An Academy Award-nominated homage to the African-American women behind America’s fledgling space program lands on the ultra-highdefinition format in “Hidden Figures” (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, rated PG, 127 minutes, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, $39.99).
Viewers learn though director Theodore Melfi’s captivating biographical drama, based on the nonfiction book by Margot Lee Shetterly, how a select group of female computation wizards — including Katherine Goble Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) — gave NASA the edge it needed to send men to the moon.
As much as the film highlights the power of math by these human computers, it also touches upon the racism of the 1960s, where the word “colored” was used everywhere from bathrooms to lunch rooms to coffee pots.
Performances stand out across the board, especially among the three leading actresses, who portray real people. A trio of actors — Kirsten Dunst as supervisor Vivian Mitchell, Kevin Costner as Space Task Group Director Al Harrison and Jim Parsons as head engineer Paul Stafford — portray fictional characters offering an amalgam of the attitudes of the era.
“Hidden Figures” is an enlightening experience, as inspiring as it is confounding for viewers unaware of the men and women behind U.S. efforts to conquer space.
Ultra-high-definition in action: Upscaling the movie, originally shot on traditional 16 mm and 35 mm film stock, finished to 2K for theatrical release and then to 2160p for the 4K UHD disc certainly adds detail to the visuals but nothing necessarily eye-popping.
The director and cinematographer’s overall artistic vision of taking viewers back to the 1960s gets slightly lost in the translation when the presentation is over-highlighted with the ultra-high-definition vibrancy of the transfer.
That said, I appreciated moments such as the sepia tone-like introduction of Miss Johnson as a little girl exhibiting her mathematical brilliance, a robin’s egg-blue Chevy Bel Air set against a green pasture, the interior of a space capsule and the Redstone and Mercury rockets on the ground and in flight.
However, the film looks just as solid in Bluray and does not really warrant owning the 4K UHD format version.
Best extras: Equally important to enjoying this film is learning about some amazing women and their struggles. Viewers get a pretty good overview via a pair of extras.
First, available on both the 4K UHD and Blu-ray discs, Mr. Melfi and Miss Henson offer an optional commentary track that is a continuous dialogue peppered with interesting facts about the film and its source material.
Besides diving into the details of the movie process and performances, it often touches on Miss Johnson, the racism of the era and the specifics surrounding shooting a human out of the earth’s atmosphere.
On Blu-ray only, a 47-minute overview of the movie, broken up into five featurettes, includes interviews with cast and crew, but thankfully offers snippets with NASA Chief Historian Bill Barry and, most importantly, the real 98-year-old Katherine Johnson.
The best of the featurettes presents a fartoo-brief five-minute look at last year’s dedication of the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research facility at the NASA Langley Center in Hampton, Virginia. Attending politicians, scientists and an astronaut offer their thanks for her achievements, and the piece includes footage of former President Barack Obama giving her the Medal of Freedom.
Not part of the package but equally important, viewers can further delve into the movie and its history via a study guide available for download via a partnership between 20th Century Fox, Journeys in Film and the USC Rossier School of Education.
After signing up to receive an email newsletter via the website (http://journeysinfilm. org/download/hidden-figures-curriculumguide/), students get a PDF guide of more than 100 pages of material arranged into an eight-part lesson plan that delves into physics, computer programming, social studies, mathematics, history and film literacy.
Suffice it to report, readers will find a factfilled resource of the reality behind “Hidden Figures.”
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