Updated: Feb 24
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
The Oscar-nominated "Hidden Figures" follows the true story NASA Langley's Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) and Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) during the early 1960s.
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD, 2016, PG for thematic elements and some profanity; streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), iTunes (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube
Best extra: "It All Adds Up" making-of featurettes
IT'S enlightening. It's entertaining. It's inspiring.
It's the true story of three African-American women from Hampton, Va., living in the late Jim Crow era. They worked in a segregated workplace at NASA's Langley Research Center, where through talent, ingenuity and persistence they helped the U.S. win the race to put a man in space against the U.S.S.R. with the Mercury program.
Based on the book of the same name from Hampton native Margot Lee Shetterly, the film reveals their fight for equal rights during the late 1950s and early '60s. They were "hiding in plain sight," Oscar-winning producer Donna Gigliotti ("Shakespeare in Love") says in the multi-part making-of, "It All Adds Up." "The story was so unique, and it was a part of history that I had never heard of."
Child prodigy Katherine G. Johnson works a math equation at a school in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. Katherine graduated from West Virginia State College at age 15, with a B.S. in Mathematics in the late 1930s.
Music mogul and Virginia Beach native Pharrell Williams got wind of pre-production "Hidden Figures" and sent his partner, Mimi Valdes, to meet with Gigliotti. Right away, Valdes knew Pharrell would do anything to be part of the movie. He called the producer the next day. "I've been obsessed with NASA since I was a little boy. I used to visit their facility in Hampton all the time," Pharrell says.
Director Theodore Melfi ("St. Vincent") called Pharrell a natural partner. The musician signed on as one of the producers and composed several of the upbeat tunes including "Runnin." Pharrell "grew up in the same backyard, and I was just so blown away by his passion for this subject matter," Melfi says.
One of the three women, Katherine G. Johnson, now 98, graduated from West Virginia State College at age 15, with a B.S. in Mathematics. She was known for her ability to calculate more than 10,000 math problems by cosine, square root and analytic geometry without a computer. Johnson was recruited to the all-white, all-male engineering Space Task Group managed by Al Harrison (Kevin Costner). His character is based on Robert C. Gilruth, head of the task group and NASA's first director at Johnson Space Center in Houston. Johnson worked for NASA until 1986; President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.
(1) 1961 - The car driven by Mary Jackson and passengers Katherine G. Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan break down on the way to NASA Langley. (2) The three women show their NASA badge to a Virginia State Police officer questioning their positions. (3) Katherine is assigned to an all-white, all-male engineering Space Task Group at NASA Langley managed by Al Harrison (Kevin Costner). One problem, Katherine can't use the woman's bathroom in the building. (4) After a long day at work Katherine gets her three daughters ready for bed.
Astronaut John Glenn, preparing to make his maiden voyage as the first astronaut to orbit Earth, insisted they "get the girl" – Johnson, played by Taraji P. Henson – to double check the trajectory originally generated by a room-sized IBM computer. "If she says they're good, then I'm ready to go," he said.
Actress Janelle Monáe plays Mary Jackson, whose night classes at the all-white Hampton High School helped launch her career in engineering. "I was heart-broken, as a black-woman, this [story] was hidden from me," Monáe says.
The mechanically-minded Dorothy Vaughan is played by Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer ("The Help"). Vaughan was NASA's first black supervisor, overseeing the gifted women, although she never received the promotion she so dearly sought.
Additional extras include a commentary with Melfi and Monáe, in which an endless stream of production detail about how Atlanta – Hollywood of the South ("Hunger Games," "The Walking Dead," "Captain America: Civil War," "Passengers," "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2") – was their shooting hub. The Morehouse College campus subbed for NASA Langley, and the wind tunnel at Lockheed Martin was also used.
(1) Astronaut John Glenn makes a point to meet the women of the West Computers section as the Mercury Seven astronauts arrive at NASA Langley. (2) The engineers of the Space Task Group are amazed by the math calculations Katherine developed for the Mercury program. (3) Colonel Jim Johnson (Mahershala Ali) starts to date Katherine. (4) Kevin Costner as Al Harrison (a composite of three NASA directors at Langley) managed the Space Task Group. (5) Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) requests a local Judge (Frank Hoyt Taylor) to let her take University of Virginia night engineering classes at the all-white Hampton High School. She later became NASA's and America's first African-American aeronautical engineer.
Melfi and Australian cinematographer Mandy Walker ("Australia," "Shattered Glass") filmed "Hidden Figures" on beautiful old school 35mm film (2.35:1 aspect ratio). The wider latitude of rich, natural color is evident on the 4K and Blu-ray, with the 4K disc showing an added resolution boost in tight facial details to wide-shot clarity. Overall, however, it's not the resolution it could have been.
"Hidden Figures" was mastered in 2K from the 4K film source, and then bounced back to 4K. All of these back-and-forth resolutions results in lost pixels.
Hollywood it's time to UP YOUR GAME – master all films in 4K. Paying viewers from 4K multiplex theaters to 4K home theater owners deserve BETTER!
The 4K and Blu-ray are both coded with DTS-HD eight-channel soundtracks, minus the more immersive DTS:X track, but more advanced sound can be achieved. Most new AV receivers are equipped with the DTS:X software and can produce a Neural:X up-mix of the core DTS tracks to send sound effects and music score to Atmos speakers. Most of "Hidden Figures" is dialogue-driven, so center-front speakers get the most workout. Still, during the rocket launches and Pharrell Williams' songs, the surround and Atmos speakers do their thing.
Within the NASA community, stories of Johnson, Jackson and Vaughan are common knowledge, but "Hidden Figures'" story is new to most. It was huge crowd pleaser – especially among women – generating a $168 million U.S. box office run. The film also received three Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay by Melfi and Allison Schroeder, who previously worked at NASA, and Best Supporting Actress for Spencer.
― Bill Kelley III, High-def Watch producer
(1) Katherine receives an engagement ring from Col. Johnson. (2) Katherine works the calculations for Friendship 7. (3&4) John Glenn asked the engineers to have Katherine Johnson to double-check the IBM computer calculations by hand for the Friendship 7 orbital equations that controlled the trajectory of the capsule. “If she says they’re good, then I’m ready to go.” (5) Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine G. Johnson and Mary Jackson.