FROM THE VAULT: The Rocketeer

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A great tribute to the pulp heroes of the 1930s, Disney’s The Rocketeer returns for a new generation on Blu-ray DVD. Twenty years have passed since Dave Steven’s movie rocketed to the silver screen, and it still holds up.

THE ROCKETEER
Writers: Dave Stevens, Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, William Dear
Producers: Larry Franco, Charles Gordon, Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin, Dave Stevens
Director: Joe Johnston
Cinematograher: Hiro Narita
Editor: Arthur Schmidt
Actors
Cliff Secord – Billy Campbell
Jenny – Jennifer Connelly
Peevy – Alan Arkin
Nevil Sinclair – Timothy Dalton
Eddie Valentine – PauL Sorvino
Howard Hughes – Terry O’Quinn
Lothor – Tiny Ron

Complete credits can be found at IMDB

I only saw The Rocketeer once in the theaters, having been drawn into the world via Dave Stevens’ comic book that debuted in the early ‘80s. Stevens knew how to tell an adventure, and even though I was never able to collect all of the original books when they were published, I was always on the lookout for the next work of art from the creator. When I learned Disney had acquired the rights, and that Dave Stevens was to serve as a co-producer on the film, I knew I had to run down to the theater and see it opening day.
The story focuses on a stolen jetpack that falls into the hands of Cliff Secord (played by Billy Campbell), a down on his luck racing pilot, who just lost his prized racing plane thanks to stray bullets that hit his plane during a chase between the FBI and the mobsters who stole the jetpack. Having nothing to lose, Secord uses the jetpack to save a friend during an in-air plane malfunction, and not only catches the imagination of the citizens of Southern California, but the ire of the mobsters and spies who want it for Nazi Germany. Throw in some then state of the art special effects, a stunning damsel in distress (played by Jennifer Connelly), non-stop action, and this movie had all the makings of a smash hit.
Except in the original release, it didn’t.

The biggest failing for The Rocketeer when it originally arrived in theaters, wasn’t that the story wasn’t good, but rather one of timing. At the time, stars like Billy Campbell and Jennifer Connelly weren’t that well known, and even though the movie did have James Bond’s Timothy Dalton as the super villain, the movie opened during a time when it had to compete with Terminator 2: Judgement Day, and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. A lackluster marketing push had the movie only bringing in $9.6 million on its opening weekend against a $35 million budget. The Rocketeer would go on to earn $46.7 million domestically, earning back its budget and then some, and it has become a cult classic.

Since that day, I’ve been fascinated with the man with the rocket strapped to his back, even going so far as using the film as the inspiration for many of my early works in 3D animation. I never got the movie on VHS, and the early DVD transfers were never that good. When Disney announced the Blu-ray edition, I knew this was the one movie that needed to be added to my collection.

This transfer looks stunning, and in the original widescreen format, projecting this movie on the Major Spoilers Home Theater in 5.1 surround sound, brought back the thrilling days of my younger years when going to the movies was actually an enjoyable experience. I had my doubts that the movie would still be as interesting today as it was 20 years ago, and to test the theory, I had my four year old son sit down and watch the movie with me. Though it is rated PG, there is nothing too over the top for the younger viewer (except the ending bit where Neville Sinclair catches fire and blows up), and I was pleasantly surprised to find my hypothesis proven wrong, as my son loved every minute of the film – going so far as to pressing me into buy a kid friendly Rocketeer-esque helmet online, and running around the house for a week pretending to be the flying hero. Now he’s bugging me for a jetpack…

BOTTOM LINE: THIS IS A GREAT MOVIE

Today, sitting and watching The Rocketeer is like watching one of those movies filled with guest stars you never expected to see. The Blu-ray transfer is stunning and is really worth the price. There are no bonus features on the disc which is sad, as Disney usually puts one of those A Look Back features on the disc that includes interviews with the stars and a Making of Segment. The Rocketeer still holds up today, and if you haven’t seen this movie, you are missing out on a very successful comic book to film adaptation. I would have liked to have seen some bonus material in this release, but since it doesn’t the Blu-ray release earns 4 out of 5 Stars.

Rating: ★★★★☆