Thankfully the movie is good, because the Blu-Ray...
Now, this was in 1991. Yes, we had already been introduced to Tim Burton's vision of Batman, but this was before it felt like every month brought another comic-book adaptation to the theaters. Comic-book movies were still something special, and that went double for The Rocketeer. Directed by Joe Johnston, a man who cut his teeth in the serial-inspired worlds of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, working on, among other things, the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies, The Rocketeer is a love letter to the old-school adventure films that inspired these legendary series. Set in the late 1930s, it's awash in glitz, glamour, style and over-the-top action fun, as Cliff (Billy Campbell) finds himself in possession of a stolen rocket pack, and the FBI, the mob and a few other interested parties are hot on his trail. But all Cliff really wants to do is fly.
A Hollywood tale, told in part through Cliff's aspiring actress girlfriend Jenny (Jennifer Connelly,) the film captures the past beautifully, through art-deco design and the use of real celebrities from the era, including names like Clark Gable, W.C. Fields and Howard Hughes (obviously played by impersonators.) This helps ground the Rocketeer in reality (and pays off in a nice gag toward the end.) But that effort is somewhat just to give the audience an in, as the movie mainly trades in the wonderfully ridiculous, be it the star of Jenny's latest project, roguish Brit Neville Sinclaire (Timothy Dalton) or right-out-of-Dick Tracy bad guy Lothar (Tiny Ron.) To explain what happens in this film is to ruin it, but suffice to say, there's a lot of flying, a lot of shooting, a lot of explosions and Jennifer Connelly looks amazing. Logic doesn't have much a place in this world, and there's quite a bit of hand-holding to make sure the audience understands what's going on, but there's are plenty of simple thrills to be had and they, again like Connelly, look fantastic.That the cast is rather solid top to bottom (with Campbell playing his smooth pilot with All-American likeability) serves to make it even more enjoyable.
One of the main reasons why the film is so much fun and why the Rocketeer is such a great hero is his lack of polish. Simply put, Cliff's not perfect and he screws things up. And though he's certainly got charm right out of the Lucas-era Harrison Ford playbook, he's not a lady-killer. It's easy to cheer for a guy when he actually could use a cheerleader. He's also got a great sidekick in his engineer pal Peevy (Alan Arkin) and a great foil in Dalton, who chews the scenery nearly as well as he would decades later on Chuck. But in the end, the cool factor of that outfit and allure of the concept of a rocket pack is hard to deny. And when he stands next to the American flag, pistol in hand, facing his future, ready to take off, striking an iconic, heroic pose, you can't help but just become a grinning 10-year-old, shouting "That's so cool!" Because it is. And so is this movie.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track won't blow you away the way you'd expect for a film about a man with a rocket pack on his back, but that's just the film's age showing again. For the most part, it's a pretty conventional mix, maintaining clean, clear dialogue up front, with a few moments of surround effects during the flying sequences and shoot-outs, and some low-key LFE action, but the music, thankfully, gets some real support in the surrounds, helping it make this film feel like the sweeping serial epics it pays homage to. There's nothing bad about the presentation, but it doesn't stack up to more modern marvels.
Now, I know that Kevin Smith did a panel at the D23 20th Anniversary screening of the film with Johnston, Campbell, the writers, Rick Baker and artist William Stout. Someone had to have been rolling a camera on that (even if it is available for free as an audio podcast on Smith's Smodcast network.) And if not that, how about some retrospective interviews? Or the behind-the-scenes footage shown at the screening? Perhaps some concept art? Photos of the memorabilia at the D23 event? A nod to the late great Dave Stevens? This is a movie that deserves some respect, even if just because it helped set the stage for Johnston's success with Captain America.
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