‘Hid­den Fig­ures’ both ed­u­ca­tional and en­ter­tain­ing

The Washington Times Daily - - LIFE - BY JOE SZAD­KOWSKI

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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