Reviews

Look! It's 'The Rocketeer'! No, really - LOOK!

Our depressed society, badly needing distraction, needs a cinematic jolt of joy -- much like the one found in this classic adventure tale.


The Rocketeer

Director: Joe Johnston
Cast: Billy Campbell, Jennifer Connelly, Alan Arkin, Timothy Dalton, Paul Sorvino, Terry O’Quinn
Length: 108 minutes
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, Silver Screen Partners IV, Gordon Company
Year: 1991
Distributor: Buena Vista
MPAA Rating: PG
Release date: 2011-12-13

I’ve never been a big fan of people complaining about remakes, rehashes, or lazy filmmaking coming out of Hollywood. First off, everyone already knows what kind of schlock the movie industry pedals out dozens of times per year. We also know it’s kind of silly to see a movie with the same plot as a similarly titled film from 15 years ago. But guess what? People still go see these movies! They go in droves. Studios exist to make money, so get used to it.

That said, I am one to complain about the extinction of certain genres. So here’s my best old man impression: “Disney just doesn’t make movies like The Rocketeer anymore.” They don’t! Charming adventure movies for all ages used to be an industry staple. From Back to the Future to Indiana Jones, PG-rated action movies were giant hits, instant classics, and damn good movies, to boot.

Somewhere along the way, though, audiences lost interest. I don’t know if they demanded more sex and violence, but today the replacement blockbusters are all PG-13. My generation seems to prefer the Pirates of the Caribbean and Transformers franchises to something their little brother and sister might also enjoy. So in response to the lack of funding from an unwilling audience, fine films like The Rocketeer have been left by the wayside.

If you’re too young or old to remember, The Rocketeer tells the story of Cliff (Billy Campbell) and his longtime squeeze Jenny (Jennifer Connelly). Cliff is a pilot for hire who’s been working with his mechanic/friend Peevy (Alan Arkin) for years to try to get a plane into the nationals (some sort of important competition that’s never really explained). During the inaugural flight, however, things go awry and the plane is shot down by an armed robber who mistakes it for a police vehicle.

That’s not the only mistake the burglar makes – desperate for a place to hide his stolen property before he’s caught by the cops, he tucks away what looks like a fancy vacuum in the base of a spare plane. Guess who happens to hop in the cockpit only a few hours later and find the rocket inside? Cliff, a daredevil at heart, takes the jetpack for a spin and loves it. He gets big plans, but there are a few other interested parties that have plans for the pack, as well.

First and foremost is its creator, Howard Hughes (played with no DiCaprio-esque frills whatsoever by Lost veteran Terry O’Quinn). He wants to destroy the prototype before the Nazis steal it. That’s right! Everyone’s favorite movie villain makes an appearance in The Rocketeer, and boy do you hate ‘em. Lead by the devilishly charming Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton, who seems to relish his role as the bad guy), the Nazis want to use the jetpack to… well… kill Americans, somehow.

The storyline is secondary. What really matters here are the characters. Cliff is your prototypical protagonist. He’s cool, collected, clever, and can make the ladies swoon faster than he can fly into the sky. He’s basically wholesome, but in that extremely likable '30s kind-of-way. The same goes for Jenny, who’s also imbued with some serious moxie. Peevy brings us full circle with his sarcastic wit, deadpan delivery, and grandfatherly charm – all or some of which can be attributed to the never better Alan Arkin.

Put these guys in front of some dazzling sets, throw them in some stylish threads, and integrate some pretty darn impressive VFX and you’ve got yourself an exciting and endearing adventure flick. Though it only mustered $46 million at the American box office, Rocketeer has proved to be endearing to its admirers as well. Why else would it be worth releasing a special edition? The awe and wonder inspired by The Rocketeer are feelings dearly missed in current Disney movies. They’re just two more casualties of our irony-ridden, seemingly emotionless society. Sigh.

As yet another slap in the face to the dead genre (and The Rocketeer itself), this 20th Anniversary Blu-ray edition comes loaded with absolutely zero bonus features. Well, there is one bit of archival footage dug up from the past: the original theatrical trailer. You know, just something to remind you of the good ol’ days.

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