Hidden Figures DVD Review: By the Numbers, but Done Well

Written by Chris Morgan

When Hidden Figures got nominated for Best Picture, the general buzz was that it was a good if unspectacular feel-good biopic, the kind that usually garner one or two Best Picture nominations, especially under the current parameters of the award. After watching the film, I can confirm that consensus was more or less correct. Hidden Figures is a quintessential uplifting “based on a true story” movie, but it is at the upper echelon of that archetype.

The film asserts, at least on the Blu-ray/DVD cover, that it is an unknown story, which for me wasn’t true. It’s not a commonly known story, but it is one I had done a bit of reading on prior. However, that’s part of what made me want to see it, because it’s an interesting story. The movie focuses on three women, with the main character being Katherine Johnson nee Goble, as portrayed by Taraji P. Henson. She is one of many black women working as “computers” for NASA at the dawn of the Space Race. Of course, even at NASA there is inequality, and the movie tells the tale of these women trying to fight through the oppression landscape so that their genius can be appreciated. In addition to Henson as Johnson, other main characters include Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan, Janelle Monae as Mary Jackson, and Kevin Costner as Al Harrison, director of the Space Task Group, in charge of getting the Mercury 7 astronauts into space.

The early days of the space program are quite interesting, and a tale of undersung figures, in particular three black women, is tremendous fodder for a biopic. Henson and Spencer are both excellent actors, and Monae is surprisingly good. However, Hidden Figures could have been executed better. It can be obvious in its storytelling at times. It hits all the classic beats of biopics of this kind. Henson has a scene where she gives a big emotional speech about the trials and tribulations she faces as a black woman working for NASA, which was inevitable. Alas, it feels crammed in when it arrives, as opposed to feeling organic. Now, even some of these obvious moments, especially the heartwarming ones, do still land. Heartstrings are tugged successfully. Additionally, down the stretch the movie starts focusing on John Glenn being sent into orbit around Earth, and it really kicks it up a notch. It feels a little weird saying that, considering at this point the three main women become less central, but it’s just really well-made filmmaking at that point.

Hidden Figures is quite enjoyable. I was a little wary early, as the movie felt a smidge creaky, but once it got rolling it was a nicely done picture. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel. It’s a wheel you’ve seen dozens of times before. However, it’s a particularly well-crafted wheel, to extend this analogy as far as it will go. The cast is talented, and the story is good, and that will take you a long way. Maybe an Oscar nod was a bit of a stretch, but only slightly. It’s definitely good, and worth seeing, especially if you don’t know the story of Katherine Johnson and her ilk. Their tale deserves to be heard.

The DVD/Blu-ray combo pack has a lot of extras, mostly of the behind-the-scenes and “here’s the real story” variety. There’s also a commentary by director Theodore Melfi and Henson. So if you like that sort of stuff, you are going to get some real bang for your buck on that front, although some of the extra are on the Blu-ray only.

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