The Rocketeer - 20th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review

  Before superhero movies were churned out like butter, there was a time when comic book adaptations were an event—something to look forward to with anticipation. Just such a movie was released in 1991: Disney’s The Rocketeer. Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, fans can relive the magic with a digitally remastered Blu-ray release.

Set in glamorous 1930s California, The Rocketeer wastes no time taking off. No sooner has test pilot Cliff Secord (Billy Campbell) taken off in his new experimental plane that viewers are treated to a car chase between gangsters and the Feds that ultimately ends with cars
and the planecrashing all around.

After the gangsters have been hauled away by the FBI, Cliff and his buddy Peevy (Alan Arkin) discover a rocket-propelled backpack stashed in an old plane. At first unclear about what they found, it soon becomes blazingly obvious what they’ve stumbled onto.

Peevy is all for turning the device, a prototype stolen from millionaire eccentric Howard Hughes (Terry O’Quinn), in to the authorities, but Cliff has other plans. They’ll use it for a few weeks to do some shows, he reasons, just until they dig themselves out of the debt caused by the plane crash. What could go wrong?

Long before
Iron Man zoomed out of Stark Industries to save the country from terrorists, Cliff donned a rocket pack (spruced up by Peevy) and a gold helmet to amaze the locals. Unbeknownst to them, interest in the fiery flying machine is widespread. Soon gangsters, the FBI, hit men and a movie-star-turned-Nazi-spy named Neville Sinclair (the perfectly cast Timothy Dalton) are all trying to track down the mysterious Rocketeer, suddenly a media darling.

Tempering all the testosterone-fueled hijinks is Jennifer Connelly, radiant and feisty as Cliff’s longtime love, Jenny. Though comics of the time would have relegated her character to a “stand there and look pretty” role, Connelly brings just the right amount of steel to her portrayal of a young starlet caught up in the crossfire. When Neville Sinclair attempts to seduce the young beauty, she plays along—until she can knock him over the head.

The film rockets toward a conclusion full of twists, turns and lots of guns, plus a thrilling battle atop a zeppelin. Allegiances change, new alliances form and Howard Hughes becomes buddies with Peevy, all incidentally while saving America.

It’s fun to sit back and count all of the soon-to-be notable actors in the film, realizing that, in those days, minus Arkin and Connelly, most were relatively unknown. Look! There’s Locke from “Lost!” Isn’t that James Bond? Hey, it’s Mira Sorvino’s dad! The Rocketeer could be a drinking game in the making.

Fixing the deficiencies that plagued the DVD version of this film, The Rocketeer: 20th Anniversary Edition (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, MSRP: $26.50) is gorgeous in high definition. The colors and sounds that made the film pop on the big screen have been recreated beautifully for home theaters (in some cases, too well—the late 20th century makeup limitations and clumsy stunt work are all the more painfully obvious). The sound is soaring, however, and every rocket blast and gunshot will echo through the living room as if evil Nazis were battling the FBI behind the sofa.

There was much care taken by director Joe Johnston to ensure the film’s pace kept burning steady, all the way to the explosive finish. Now a veteran of many movies (including Captain America: The First Avenger), The Rocketeer was only Johnston’s second feature film. Nevertheless, he approaches the material as a fan might, rather than just a moviemaker.

Visually, the movie is a love letter to the golden age of Hollywood, when colors were sumptuous and bright. The entire film seems to have a warmth that nostalgia alone can’t impart and that modern technology sometimes lacks.

The most disappointing thing about this disc is definitely the lack of special features. Admittedly, filmmakers in the 1990s didn’t yet document their every move in anticipation of a DVD release (indeed, DVDs were still four years in the future when The Rocketeer was released), but surely there was something other than the original theatrical trailer to add. A commentary track, retrospective with the cast today, even a bio about the source comic material would have been a welcome addition.

Although The Rocketeer will most likely find its way into the collections of adults in the grip of nostalgia, even youngsters weaned on the current crop of tech-heavy superheroes should find something to enjoy in this rip-roaring tale.

The Rocketeer: 20th Anniversary Edition is now available on Blu-ray.

Published on SoCal.com

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