Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Bill Campbell, Alan Arkin, Jennifer Connelly, Paul Sorvino,
Director: Joe Johnston
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Features: See Review
Length: 108 Minutes
Release Date: December 13, 2011
“Go get em, kid.”
One of the biggest hits of this recent summer was Captain America: The First Avenger, which was without question a terrifically made superhero movie...And WHY was it such a terrifically made superhero movie? The answer is quite simple: it was directed by Joe Johnston, who made an even greater superhero movie 20 years ago with The Rocketeer, which remains one of my absolute favorite films in the genre.
When I first saw the movie in theaters, at the tender age of 12, I thought it was one of the greatest movie experiences I'd ever had. For one thing, this was about the most intense live action production I'd ever seen from Disney. There were guns being fired, huge action set pieces and even scenes of people getting disposed of. I remember thinking at the time, “is this kind of stuff allowed in a Disney movie?”
Revisiting the movie as an adult, it still holds up remarkably. I now appreciate it as a superhero movie that basically blended together two of my all time favorite movies, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Superman, to create an entertainment package that comes close...in fact, just about equal to, the remarkably thrilling level those films displayed. If you love action or superhero adventures, you simply can't help but LOVE this movie!
The setting is 1938 Los Angeles (and rarely has the time period looked this spectacular). Cliff Secord (Bill Campbell) is a down on his luck air pilot who's desperately trying to make his way into a national flight competition. When test flying a new plane creation, courtesy of best friend and mechanics partner Peevy (Alan Arkin), Cliff suffers a crash landing following a malfunction. At the same time, the FBI is in a high speed chase with gangsters that ends up in the Cliff's airfield.
Though the feds aren't at liberty to discuss their top secret assignment, Cliff and Peevy soon get an idea of what they're after when they come across a rocket pack hidden underneath the seat in one of their planes. After paying witness to it's fire-powered capabilities, Cliff sees an idea for a new act in their air show. Peevy is against the idea, thinking they should turn the rocket pack over to the feds, but Cliff convinces him to go along with his idea.
Before long, the two test the rocket pack on a statue. After seeing the damage it does to the head area, the two immediately decide that a helmet is needed. Peevy then designs one, which Cliff isn't impressed with at first glance, and their new airshow act is not too far from blasting off.
But when danger strikes at that very airshow, and a pilot's life is in danger, Cliff doesn't hesitate a second to strap on the rocket pack, don his newly created helmet, and blasts off into the skies to save the day. He ends up giving the crowd the best “act” the airfield has ever seen. In the end, Cliff has inadvertently become a superhero...a superhero named The Rocketeer.
Cliff is also head over heels in love with his girlfriend, Jenny (Jennifer Connelly, at her all-time HOTTEST), but he can't seem to find any common ground since she's extremely focused on her aspiring acting career. She happens to have a bit role in a film starring renowned movie star Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton). But as it turns out, Sinclair s a Nazi spy who wants to get his hands on the rocket pack at any cost...so he overhears Cliff telling her all about his latest discovery on his movie set, he hatches a plan to get close to her in order to get what he wants.
Just as Cliff is beginning to appreciate his new secret identity, as all of LA is wanting to know who The Rocketeer is, he also finds himself being hunted down by both the feds and notorious gangster Eddie Valentine (Paul Sorvino), who's being employed by Sinclair to retrieve the rocket. As for the feds, it turns out they've been hired by none other than Howard Hughes (Terry O'Quinn). He designed the rocket and knows all too well that the Nazis are out to take control of his creation as part of a plot to defeat America in World War II.
Just like Raiders of the Lost Ark before it, The Rocketeer is both a rousing adventure movie of the highest order as well as a tribute to the serial adventures from the very time period it's depicting. The movie has two modes to it; action and charm and it excels in both. And as a piece of purely extravagant movie-making, this was unquestionably one of the best of the 1990s, and it stuns me to this day that it didn't score any Oscar nominations for production design, costumes, cinematography, sound or visual effects, all of which are in top, awesome quality!
It's really hard to believe that 20 years have passed since The Rocketeer first flew into theaters and dazzled audiences with its first rate spectacle of adventure. It's one of my most cherished moviegoing experiences as a kid, and I'm happy to say that seeing it as an adult, the movie hasn't lost a single burst of firepower. And if there was ever a movie for adults to pass on to their young ones, this is that very movie!
At long last! After years of having no other choice but to watch this movie in a non-anamorphic widescreen DVD release (one of Disney's earliest releases in the format, if I'm not mistaken), it's quite a glorious experience to finally experience this high-flying adventure in full anamorphic widescreen/HD glory! This lavish production has never looked more outstanding, as every ounce of color in the frame provides a treat for the eye, as does the amazing image detail that lingers throughout the whole presentation. I can safely say that we won't ever see a better looking presentation of this film than what has been given to us on this Disney Blu-ray!
A DTS HD 5.1 mix for a movie involving a rocket pack. That sentence alone should indicate the awesomeness of the sound quality. But there's actually more to be amazed by, most notably James Horner's magnificent score to the film (one of the best in film history, to be a little more precise) which sounds so incredible and riveting that it just might bring a tear to your eye. The balance of it and the high-powered action sequences and the dialogue delivery is about as perfect as you could ever hope to get from a lossless audio track. This movie will never be heard any better than it is here!
And now we come to what has the be the biggest blunder of any DVD/Blu-ray release of recent memory. This Blu-ray has been dubbed “The 20th Anniversary Edition”. So naturally, one would expect to find at the very least a few features such as a retrospective documentary or a commentary or an excellent Picture-in-Picture viewing mode. If you're like me and were expecting anything of that sort, prepared to be sucker punched because all that's provided is a Theatrical Trailer. I'm simply speechless.
Although the features mishap is borderline unforgivable, fans of The Rocketeer should nevertheless rejoice this movie's arrival on Blu-ray...because it has never looked or sounded this amazing...and you simply won't get a better presentation of this movie. It remains one of the best movies to ever emerge from the adventure genre, and it most definitely holds up twenty years later! It's time to blast off in the best way possible!