Despite Disney’s best attempt to bury the recent release of “The Rocketeer” on Blu-ray, I want to sing its praises.
A special L.A. screening got a huge crowd last year, but there wasn’t much in the way of publicity for this 20th anniversary edition, released in December. I didn’t receive my usual review copy, the Disney publicity website doesn’t offer any photos, and my go-to store didn’t even stock it and had to special order it for me. (Yes, I’ve heard of the Internet, but I like to support my local brick-and-mortar stores when I can.)
Even 20 years later, with all the advances in special effects, this movie still thrills me. Which would explain why I still have the original Art Deco movie poster (from the movie theater where I worked in college) framed and prominently displayed on my wall.
It was my first introduction to “The Rocketeer,” since I hadn’t read the comics yet. Billy Campbell was pitch-perfect and looked fantastic in the jacket, boots and helmet. Jennifer Connelly was a fetching Jenny, toned down from the comics for a more family-friendly presentation. And Timothy Dalton got to chew some scenery as the villainous Neville Sinclair, though not enough, in my opinion.
It’s a shame the movie didn’t do better at its original release and spawn a franchise.
For those unfamiliar with the film, Campbell plays Cliff, a pilot in 1938. He’s done air shows, and he and his mentor, Peevy (Alan Arkin, who also nailed it), are working towards winning a national competition.
Those dreams are dashed, though, when a chase between some mobsters and the FBI wrecks the plane. The mobster stashes a package in the hangar before being caught.
Cliff finds it, and he and Peevy discover its a personal rocket made to strap on your back, and lots of people want it.
So what you get is an old-fashioned, fun, adventurous yarn filled with damsels in distress (but who aren’t afraid to jump in the fight), derring-do, a bit or corn-ball dialogue and some art direction that should have been nominated for an Oscar.
Besides the performances, the film just looks great. The set design is lovely, especially Neville Sinclair’s cheesy house and the South Seas club interior.
And the musical score by James Horner gives us one of the best character themes ever written. It soars along with the Rocketeer.
The director is Joe Johnston, who did such a terrific job with another period piece from that general area, last summer’s “Captain America: The First Avenger.”
This movie is definitely in my Top 10 favorites.
So it’s a bummer it didn’t get the treatment it deserves. The only extra is the original theatrical trailer, though they try to pass off the “Commentaries don’t reflect the opinions of the Walt Disney Co. blah blah blah” screen as an extra. Seriously, it’s listed in the special features menu. And it’s funny because there are no commentaries or anything. I want a making-of and cast interviews! Maybe for the 25th anniversary.
I was extremely grateful to IDW for publishing a complete collection of Dave Stevens’ original “Rocketeer” stories, spread out over a few publishers, as I was having trouble finding individual issues. Then came last year’s fantastically fun miniseries with short stories by some of the industry’s top creators. (Stevens died in 2008.)
The Rocketeer is back, and I hope the spirit Stevens instilled in him and his books will continue to find new fans. Maybe we could even get a new movie out of it.