Set in 1960’s Virginia, Hidden Figures tells the story of three pioneering African American women whose work at NASA was important to several space missions, including John Glen’s orbit of the Earth. At that time, large mainframes were just being introduced, and the small, compact computers that would pervade homes were still decades away. The term ‘computer’ we used to describe individuals who could solve complex math problems. And so we come to Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae), a mathematician, computer scientist, and theoretical physicist; all brilliant, and strong.
Directed by Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent), and based on the book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures puts Katherine Johnson at the heart of the action (a child math prodigy, as shown in flashback), Johnson is assigned to the Space Task Force, putting her in the center of the action. There, a group of white men, led by Al Harrison (a gum-chewing Kevin Costner), are calculating how to send a man into orbit. Dorothy Vaughan, temporary supervisor of the computer division. In a bid to save jobs, she teaches herself Fortran, so she’s ready to run the IBM when it arrives at NASA.
A real character study, the intelligence of these women is explored, but ego isn’t a factor. This is a story about lifting each other up. Katherine, Mary, and Dorothy are keenly aware of the impact their success could have for other women, for black people, and America at large. When you consider this was the early 1960’s, with institutionalized racism throughout the South, their accomplishments are even more inspiring.
Wisely, Hidden Figures doesn’t dwell on the particulars of aeronautical science; instead focusing on the women, and their success, both in, and outside the office. The breezy nature of the script, with exuberant songs by Pharrell Williams makes it almost impossible not to root for these ladies. I actually found myself smiling after moments of victory, and groaning after moments of obvious racism. These ladies had incredible perseverance.
Wonderfully cast, the leading performances shine. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae have charisma to spare, and remain completely believable. They are joined by a strong supporting cast that includes Kevin Costner as Al Harrison, Johnson’s boss, initially oblivious to the problems she faces, becomes one of her biggest supporters, Jim Parsons as a condescending lead engineer who can barely tolerate Katherine presence, and Kristen Dunst as an unsympathetic supervisor.
Presented in the 2.39.1 aspect ratio, Hidden Figures has been given a fine but slightly inconsistent 1080p transfer. Softness is apparent at times, thankfully though, it’s not an issue that dominates the presentation. There are no apparent print flaws, and most of the film is well defined. The color palette has been faithfully reproduced, and blacks are inky. Low light shots boast a nice level of clarity.
The included DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtrack is surprisingly engaging, given the films dialogue heavy nature. Music and ambience comes through nicely, without stepping on dialogue. All sounds are concise, while dialogue is clean, and clear.
English, Spanish, French, Brazilian Portuguese, Arabic, Bulgarian, Chinese Traditional, Croatian, Czech, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Korean, Malaysian, Chinese Simplified, Portuguese, Romanian, Serbian, Slovenian, Slovakian, Thai, Turkish, and Vietnamese subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Audio Commentary with Writer / Director Theodore Melfi and Actress Taraji P. Henson: In this running, screen-specific commentary, the two discuss various production aspects of the film, and their various co-workers. Surprisingly dry, there’s quite a bit of repetition here, and not much behind-the-scenes dirt.
- It Adds Up (HD, 41:46) This fairly extensive featurette concerns female and African American involvement in the history of American flight, the production of the film, and various aspects of the project. It includes comments from Melfi, Henson, NASA chief historian Bill Barry, author Margot Lee Shetterly, co-writer Allison Schroeder, NASA computer/movie subject Katherine G. Johnson, producer Donna Gigliotti, composer/producer Pharrell Williams, director of photography Mandy Walker, production designer Wynn Thomas, composers Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, musician Herbie Hancock, and actors Janelle Monae, Octavia Spencer, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, and Jim Parsons.
- Filming in Georgia (HD, 5:15) Despite comments from various cast and crew, this comes across like a commercial for the Georgia film commission.
- Deleted Scenes (HD, 10:14) Eight in total, these can be viewed with or without commentary from director Theodore Melfi.
- Gallery: 27 stills. A mix of production, and on-set shots.
- Digital HD.
Movie title: Hidden Figures (2016)
Director(s): Theodore Melfi
Actor(s): Taraji P. Henson Octavia Spencer Janelle Monáe , Kevin Costner , Kirsten Dunst , Jim Parsons
Genre: Drama, History