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Hidden Figures (2016)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 4/11/2017

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 4/4/2017

When we've discussed docudramas in the past, we've looked at how they generally fall into two categories -- those which expand upon a familiar story or those which uncover a tale which is not known to the general public. While the former are certainly interesting and have a certain appeal, it's easy to argue that the latter can be more important, especially if they bring a unsung hero or a great injustice to light. If these movies are done right, you will walk away wondering how you never knew the story in the first place. Hidden Figures checks all of those boxes, but it also shows that a great story needs some depth.

The year is 1961. Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) all work at the NASA facility in Langley. They work as computers, women whose sole job is to double-check math. Despite the fact that they have these important roles, as African-Americans, they are relegated to a specific building and can only use designated bathrooms and cafeterias. Things begin to change when Katherine gets a post in the Space Task Group. She suddenly finds herself verifying the numbers for the first rockets which are being sent into space. While the work is challenging, her determination to get things right gets the attention of department head Al Harrison (Kevin Costner). Meanwhile, Dorothy becomes determined to learn about the new "IBM" computer which is being installed, while Mary helps with the design of the space capsule. As John Glenn's (Glen Powell) mission near, Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary will find themselves integral parts of the historic event.

If you believe that a documentary's job is to inform, then consider Hidden Figures a mission accomplished. NASA's top-secret nature aside, one watches this film and can't help but wonder why we haven't heard this story before. Being African-American and female, Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary had two strikes against them heading into the male-dominated high-tech world of space travel. And yet, they were able to overcome those obstacles and make a significant impact on the space race. While illustrating how these women were able to prove their worth in the workplace, the movie also the racism of the time. It's mind-blowing to think that just 50 years ago, African-Americans were treated as second-class citizens and, at times, as if they were a different species. The movie shows how Catherine was expected to do the job of her white colleagues, while having to deal with things like the poorly located "Colored Restroom".

Yes, Hidden Figures does an excellent job of recreating the era and driving home the challenges which existed for qualified individuals who simply wanted to work. And yet, there is something missing from the movie which I just can't put my finger on. As noted, the movie doesn't pull any punches when it shows how the women were treated, and most white people watching the film, even if they weren't alive at the time, will feel a sense of racial guilt, and many members of the audience will simply be angry as they witness what Katherine had to endure. We also feel a sense of admiration for the women and their refusal to give up. However, outside of these feelings, the movie is oddly unemotional. I knew that I should have been moved by a bulk of the movie, but it's matter-of-fact nature seems to keep the audience at arm's length. I like that Director Theodore Melfi didn't make it overly schmaltzy, but it almost comes off as cold. When Kevin Costner becomes the emotional center of a film about the plight of African-American women, something has gone wrong.

I must recommend Hidden Figures based on the subject matter alone. This is a story which deserves to be heard. And although it took place nearly 60 years ago, life in America has not changed as much as we would like to think that it has, and thus this story will still be inspiring to many members of the audience. And while you will feel something while watching the movie, don't go in expecting to come out an emotional wreck. Hidden Figures does its job, but it could done so in a warmer fashion.

Hidden Figures shows that Jim Parsons has no range on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no notable grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors looks very good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is notable and the depth is pleasing to the eye. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 5.0 Mbps. If you are wondering why a drama like this would have a 7.1 track, just wait until you hear and feel the rockets being launched. The subwoofer and surround action here truly justifies this decision. The songs in the film sound fine, providing nice dispersion throughout the speakers, and the stereo effects highlights sounds coming from off-screen.

The Hidden Figures Blu-ray Disc features a small assortment of extra features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Theodore Melfi and Taraji P. Henson. "It All Adds Up - The Making of Hidden Figures" (42 minutes) is a five-part featurette which focuses on several facets of the film. The piece offers a brief overview of the history of NASA and their history with hiring women. There is a specific focus on Katherine Johnson, including comments from the woman herself, and the other "computers". We get a look at how the film recreated the look of the 1960s and hear from Pharrell Williams about the soundtrack. The Disc contains eight DELETED SCENES which run about 10 minutes and can be viewed with optional commentary from Melfi. This includes a few second sequence of Katherine's defiance which should have been left in the film. There is also a nice scene with Spencer and Kirsten Dunst which was cut. "Hidden Figures: Filming in Georgia" (5 minutes) gives a brief overview of the film's production. The extras are rounded out by a GALLERY and the THEATRICAL TRAILER.

Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long