- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 26, 2017

An Academy Award-nominated homage to the African-American women behind America’s fledgling space program lands on the ultra high-definition format in Hidden Figures (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, rated PG, 127 minutes, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, $39.99).

Viewers learn though director Theodore Melfi’s captivating biographical drama, inspired from the book by Margot Lee Shetterly, how a select group of female computation wizards — who included Katherine Goble Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) — gave NASA the edge it needed to eventually send men to the moon.

As much as the film highlights the power of math by these human computers, it also touches upon the infuriating racism of the 1960s where the stifling word “colored” reared its ugly head from everywhere to bathrooms, lunch rooms and coffee pots.

Performances stand out across the board from not only the three leads playing real folks. A trio of actors — Kirsten Dunst as supervisor Vivian Mitchell, Kevin Costner as director of the Space Task Group Al Harrison and Jim Parsons as head engineer Paul Stafford — portray fictional characters offering an amalgam of the attitudes during the era.

Inspirational as well as head-shaking for viewers unaware of some of these unknown men and women behind conquering space, “Hidden Figures” is an enlightening experience.

Ultra high-definition in action: Upscaling the movie, originally shot on traditional 16 and 35 mm film stock, finished to 2K for theatrical release and then to 2160p for the 4K UHD disc certainly adds detail to the visuals but not necessarily an eye-popping event or even necessarily appreciated.

The director and cinematographer’s overall artistic vision of taking viewers back into the 1960s gets slightly lost in the translation when over-highlighted with the ultra high-definition vibrancy of the transfer.

That reported, I certainly appreciated moments such as the sepia tone-like introduction of Miss Johnson as a little girl exhibiting her mathematical brilliance, watching a robin’s egg blue Chevy Bel Air set against a green pasture, oogling the interior of a space capsule, and admiring some of the great moments with the Redstone and Mercury rockets on the ground and in flight.

However, the film looks just as solid in the Blu-ray format and does not really warrant owning it on the 4K UHD format.

Best extras: Equally important to enjoying this film is learning about some amazing women and their struggles.

Viewers get a pretty good overview via a pair of extras.

First, available on both the 4K UHD and Blu-ray discs, Mr. Melfi and Miss Henson offer an optional commentary track that is a continuous dialogue peppered with interesting facts about the film and its source material.

Besides diving into the details of the movie process and performances, it often touches on Miss Johnson, the racism of the era and the specifics surrounding shooting a human out of the earth’s atmosphere.

Next, on Blu-ray only, a 47-minute overview of the movie, broken up into five featurettes includes many interviews with cast and crew, but thankfully also offers snippets with NASA Chief Historian Bill Barry, and most importantly, the real 98 year-old Katherine Johnson.

The best of the featurettes presents a far too-brief, 5-minute look at the dedication of the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research facility at the NASA Langley Center in Hampton VA last year.

Of course, many attending — including politicians, scientists and an astronaut — offer their thanks for her achievements, and the piece includes footage of former President Barack Obama giving her the Medal of Freedom.

Now, not part of the package but equally important, viewers can further delve into the movie and its history via a study guide available for download from a partnership between 20th Century Fox, Journeys in Film and the USC Rossier School of Education.

After signing up to receive an email newsletter via the website (https://journeysinfilm.org/download/hidden-figures-curriculum-guide/), students get an educationally packed, PDF guide of over 100 pages of material broken into an 8-part lesson plan that delves into physics, computer programming, social studies, mathematics, history and film literacy.

Suffice it to report, readers will find a fact-filled resource to the reality behind “Hidden Figures.”

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