Last week, Disney+ launched its new series, The Right Stuff, based on the best-selling book and award-winning movie of the same name. The Right Stuff series dramatizes the experiences of the test pilots chosen to be the first Americans to go to space. Much of the series’s focus is on the astronomical press coverage the first astronauts received and the difficulties of the fame that accompanied it. That media coverage is the raw material used to create the documentary The Real Right Stuff, a two-hour-long special by National Geographic featuring rare footage and interviews. The documentary will air Friday, Nov. 20, the same day as the series’s final episode.
Disney+ has given Den of Geek an exclusive first look.
The Real Right Stuff gives The Right Stuff the “Jennings Treatment.” Award-winning filmmaker Tom Jennings has a history of digging up rare footage to put together narrator-less documentaries composed of compelling and never-before-seen audio and video from the era. Jennings told Den of Geek the goal of this style of filmmaking is that his audience “can experience it as close to what it was like to be around during that time.”
National Geographic has worked with Jennings on similar projects, Apollo: Missions to the Moon, and Challenger Disaster: Lost Tapes.
Among the treasures uncovered for The Real Right Stuff are never-before-seen footage and reactions regarding some of the more suspenseful and controversial moments of the early space program, personal family footage of John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth, and rare unpublished photographs from the famous 1959 Life Magazine issue featured in the latest episode of the series that helped propel the Mercury 7 astronauts’ fame.
According to National Geographic, the documentary also includes research material used by “The Right Stuff” book author Tom Wolfe. Viewers will get a glimpse of Wolfe’s handwritten notes and a discussion with Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter’s wife, Rene.
What is unique about Jennings’ style is that there is no narrator to walk the audience through the story. The story is entirely driven by archival footage, allowing for viewers to be immersed in the moment. The drama and suspense are provided by the coverage of the time, allowing for a better understanding of the time’s concerns and nuance.
However, there is one central element to the documentary from the modern era, the music. And the recording of The Real Right Stuff score was singular in a way particular to 2020.
“The film’s orchestral score was recorded remotely by a socially distant 44-piece orchestra in May 2020,” according to a press release provided by Disney. “Each musician self-recorded from home, which was then seamlessly weaved together to create a breathtaking score that perfectly captures the zeitgeist of midcentury America.”
Historical dramas often revisit important moments in history to reframe the moment from a contemporary view. In The Right Stuff, the series explores the lives of the first US astronauts from a modern, more raw take, seeking authenticity by presenting a more realistic view of the time.
The benefit of Jennings’s documentary filmmaking style is that the lens we use to view the era is that of the media coverage of the time. Albeit, the experience is in high definition. But when people watching the news are concerned about modern existential threats, it seems even more poignant to experience news coverage from a bygone era in which the inception of the U.S. Space program was intertwined with a different set of existential threats on the top of people’s minds. It provides a more holistic view of the hopes and fears that played a part in the era that saw humans explore the heavens for the first time.
The Real Right Stuff will premiere on the Disney+ streaming app on Friday, Nov. 20 along with the finale episode of The Right Stuff series.