Getting a dual American premiere Saturday, via Discovery and
It is a kind of scientific
FOR THE RECORD:
"The Challenger Disaster": A review of "The Challenger Disaster" in the Nov. 16 Calendar section said that physicist Richard Feynman died in 1998. He died in 1988. —
Feynman is, of course, "that Richard Feynman," one of the last century's best known physicists and already the subject of films, plays, an opera, a symphony, a novel and a recipient of the
Big and rangy and rumpled, Hurt conveys a nice mix of humor and obsession, exasperation and dedication. Feynman feels at first that he has been asked onto the commission because, as he tells supportive wife, Gweneth (
Unafraid of the facts, however inconvenient the indicated truth, unwilling to take assertions for answers — "Why can't people just say things the way that they are?" he laments — Feynman finds an ally in Gen. Donald Kutyna, who is not too cool, even in uniform, to take the subway. Together, they make a kind of buddy movie, neatly screwed into the larger one.
As such films go, "The Challenger Disaster" (called merely "The Challenger" in its U.K. release) is excellent. Written by Kate Gartside and directed by James Hawes, photographed with a kind of calm intelligence by Lukas Strebel, it feels admirably straightforward and actual, especially compared to its American kin. The drama is not overstressed — notwithstanding a televised hearing-room finale, complete with the sort of case-closing demonstration that would make Perry Mason proud, a few low-boil confrontations to remind you you're watching a movie, and some passages of mildly ominous music.
Neither does the film fetishize its mid-'80s setting, apart perhaps from the early computer-typewriter Feynman uses. Everything looks right, and gets out of the way, and Hawes and Strebel and production designer Anthony Ainsworth have a way with big factory spaces and close intimate ones.
For her part, Gartside knows how to write character into the bones of her dialogue, rather than writing dialogue that expresses it outright. It does have the advantage of being about discovery and the sharing of information, giving the necessary reams of expository dialogue a natural context.
The explosion itself, which happens at the beginning, is conveyed almost entirely by old news footage. It is still difficult to watch, and will doubtless remain so.
Where: Discovery, Science
When: 9 p.m. Saturday
Rating: TV-14-L (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with an advisory for coarse language)