“The incredible untold true story of Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) – brilliant African-American women working at NASA, who served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, a stunning achievement that restored the nation’s confidence, turned the Space Race, and galvanized the world. The visionary trio crossed all gender and race lines to inspire generations to dream big.” – Official Synopsis
Based on Margot Lee Shetterly’s non-fiction book of the same name, Hidden Figures runs 127 minutes. The movie was directed by Theodore Melfi and also stars Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons, Kirsten Dunst, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge, and Glen Powell.
Lead character Katherine Johnson, nee Goble, is a mathematical genius working at NASA, but due to her race and gender, she works as a “computer” in a segregated, underappreciated unit that hardly challenges her mathematical skills. She is sent to work in the Space Task Group when Al Harrison (Costner) requests a genius who can do analytic geometry. Unlike many of his employees, Harrison’s primary concern is her intelligence – not her gender or race. What he doesn’t realize is that the nearest “colored” restroom is over 20 minutes away and that having to literally run from her office to the restroom is just one of the many daily challenges Katherine must face.
Dorothy Vaughn has been doing the work of a supervisor for the West Area Computers division for a year, but without the pay raise or recognition. Her additional work is constantly ignored by her own supervisor, Vivian Mitchell (Dunst). Dorothy understands that she and the rest of her unit will eventually be replaced by NASA’s new IBM computer. To prevent this, she sets out on a mission to teach herself computer programming.
When it comes to engineering, Mary Jackson is close to Katherine’s intellectual equivalent. To qualify to work as an engineer at NASA, though, she must take a certain number of classes from a local high school. The problem? It’s still an all-white school. Despite the concerns of her husband (Hodge), Mary decides to take her case to court.
Unlike the medium of a book, a movie has limited time to tell its story, or in this case, stories. The movie focuses most of its attention on Katherine’s journey and her effect on the launch of John Glenn (Powell) into space. Dorothy and Mary, while also heavily featured, don’t get as much time to display their brilliance. Dorothy’s story feels more focused on her push to get a supervisor’s title instead of her work with the IBM computer. The closing credits tell us she was regarded as one of NASA’s most brilliant minds, but there aren’t as many scenes showcasing her intelligence as there are for Katherine and Mary. It would have been nice to see more of her work with the new IBM computer and her ability to teach others to do the same.
Supporting characters are also given less material to explore, which is more understandable. These characters are merely used to show the challenges faced by the lead characters. In addition to Dorothy’s struggle with Mrs. Mitchell, we see Katherine face continual opposition from her coworker, Paul Stafford (Parsons). While Stafford, Mitchell, and even Al Harrison are all fictional characters, they are meant to be representations of different views towards racism at the time. They aren’t portrayed as villainous or heroic, just as people who either support or disagree with “the way things are.”
The story itself is, at times, rather predictable. Even viewers not familiar with the history will likely know where certain plot lines are headed. The soundtrack for the movie includes many modern songs by Pharrell Williams, which is a questionable choice. While these songs do add energy to certain scenes, they take away from the movie’s portrayal of the 1960s.
Overall, though, the movie is excellent. While some moments are predictable, the story itself is one worth telling. It’s inspirational, compelling, and memorable. The performances from the entire cast are outstanding as well. Hidden Figures is definitely worth seeing at least once.
This release includes the Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD versions, and the transfer looks good. The Blu-ray and DVD are both widescreen with an aspect ratio of 2.39:1. You will have black bars across the top and bottom of the screen, but the widescreen format works well for this movie. It allows scenes like Katherine’s introduction to the office of the Space Task Group to be packed with visual detail. The movie also makes use of actual footage shot around the time of John Glenn’s launch. Its incorporation with the rest of the movie works well and adds to the overall historic look and feel.
The Blu-ray is presented with an English DTS-HD-MA 7.1 soundtrack that works well for the movie. Dialogue, especially that of Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary, is given priority over all. Sound effects are always well-balanced when paired with the soundtrack. For example, we see a scene of Katherine running to the nearest bathroom (at least 20 minutes away from her office). While the soundtrack in this scene is the prominent audio, we still hear Katherine’s heels clicking on the floor and her gasping for breath as she runs with books in her arms. All audio, not just this scene, feels well prioritized and balanced to match the pace and tone of each scene. Subtitles are available in English SDH, Spanish, and French.
The extras included with this release are excellent. While most features discuss the making of the movie, the section “It All Adds Up” offers a unique look at the lives of the real Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson. The real-life Katherine Johnson is still alive and was 98(!) at the time of the movie’s release. Viewers can learn more about her inspirational story in this section.
• Audio Commentary by Theodore Melfi and Taraji P. Henson
• Deleted Scenes (10:14)
• Gallery (2:18)
• Hidden Figures: Filming in Georgia (5:15)
• It All Adds Up – The Making of Hidden Figures (41:46)
1. No Limits – The Life of Katherine Johnson
2. Moving the Decimal – Honoring Katherine Johnson
3. The Right People for the Job
4. Recreating an Era – The Look of Hidden Figures
5. A Spiritual Journey – The Music of Hidden Figures
Overall, Hidden Figures is a fantastic movie. The story, while at times predictable, is inspirational and compelling, and the writing tactfully handles issues of prejudice and discrimination. Performances from the full cast (not just the three leads) are outstanding. The visual quality of both the Blu-ray and DVD looks excellent, and the audio is well-balanced and prioritized. This release includes unique special features that discuss not only the making of the movie, but also the real-life history behind the story and its three leading ladies. Hidden Figures is a movie that will stay with viewers long after the credits roll.