Billy Campbell as Cliff
Jennifer Connelly as Jenny
Alan Arkin as Peevy
Timothy Dalton as Neville Sinclair
Paul Sorvino as Eddie Valentine
Terry O’Quinn as Howard Hughes
Ed Lauter as Fitch
James Handy as Wooly
Robert Miranda as Spanish Johnny
John Lavachielli as Rusty
Jon Polito as Bigelow
Eddie Jones as Malcolm
William Sanderson as Skeets
Don Pugsley as Goose
Nada Despotovich as Irma
Directed by Joe Johnston
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Sound
Running Time: 109 Minutes
The following is the official description of the film:
“Celebrate the 20th anniversary of director Joe Johnston’s (‘Captain America: The First Avenger’) action-filled, witty ‘The Rocketeer.’ And now with state-of-the-art digital restoration and enhanced high definition sound, experience it as it jets off for the first time on Disney Blu-ray.
The discovery of a top-secret jetpack hurls test pilot Cliff Secord into a daring adventure of mystery, suspense, and intrigue! Cliff encounters an assortment of ruthless villains, led by a Hollywood screen star who’s a secret Nazi spy (Timothy Dalton). With the help of his actress girlfriend, the young pilot battles enormous odds to defeat his foes who are anxious to use the device in an evil plan to rule the world! The dangerous mission transforms the ordinary young man into an extraordinary hero.”
“The Rocketeer” is rated PG.
Simply put, “The Rocketeer” is not just one of my favorite comic book movies, but it’s one of my favorite movies period. When it came out in theaters, I actually went and saw it eight times on the big screen, I bought all of the comics, and I went out of my way to find the original theatrical movie poster. I was, and am, a Rocketeer nut. So you can imagine my heartbreak when it didn’t do well financially at the box office. In fact, I found out years later from Disney employees that many people lost their jobs over the box office failure of this film. “The Rocketeer” is still only spoken of in hushed tones at Disney to this day. Despite this, I’ll maintain that it’s the model for the perfect comic book movie. I’ll elaborate…
First of all, it remained faithful to the comic book yet wasn’t afraid to depart from it in some areas. The costume of the Rocketeer was spot-on perfect with the comic, yet they modified the jet pack itself to look more realistic. Jennifer Connelly was a dead ringer for Jenny and, by default, Bettie Page, yet they toned down her pinup origins for something more suited to an all-ages film. The core story and the origin of the Rocketeer is straight out of Dave Steven’s comic, but they expanded on it in some areas for a better theatrical narrative. In short, it was a great adaptation of the source material.
Second, Cliff Secord doesn’t just strap on the rocket pack and dive into heroics like a seasoned pro. He has to figure out how to operate it. He makes colossal mistakes. And just when he’s getting the hang of things, the movie ends. Those scenes where he’s an imperfect hero are some of the most fun moments of the film and they are the scenes where the audience identifies with the hero most. What were the most fun scenes of Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man”? When Peter Parker is figuring out his powers. What were the best scenes of “Iron Man”? When Tony Stark was figuring out how to operate his armor. I think having that learning curve, with a few laughs mixed in along the way, are a key component of a good comic origin story.
Third, the casting was perfect. Joe Johnston found a relative unknown in Billy Campbell as Cliff Secord. The guy was stunningly handsome, yet he was a great everyman. Plus he looked like he was ripped straight out of the comic. You also had the previously mentioned Jennifer Connelly as Jenny. She was drop dead gorgeous in the film, perfectly looked the part, and she rose above what could have been a simple ‘damsel in distress’ role. Then you had Alan Arkin as Peevy. He was great as the crusty old mechanic and he made a great partner to Campbell as Cliff. Timothy Dalton was also great as Neville Sinclair, the Errol Flynn-esque star and Nazi spy. He really seemed to be having a blast in the role and every scene with him is always engaging. Throw in Paul Sorvino as Eddie Valentine and “Lost” star Terry O’Quinn as Howard Hughes and you have a cast that would hold up even 20 years later. So that’s key #3 – it’s all about casting.
The fourth key to a perfect comic book movie is the score. I am willing to say that no score in the last 20 years can hold a candle to James Horner’s for “The Rocketeer.” He gave the hero a recognizable theme, something that wasn’t done for “Batman Begins,” “Spider-Man,” “Iron Man,” “X-Men,” “Thor,” “Captain America” or any other superhero in the last 20 years. The only themes that top that of “The Rocketeer” are John Williams’ “Superman” theme and Danny Elfman’s “Batman” theme. The current state of theatrical scores is in terrible shape and hearing Horner’s music now just reinforces that fact. Go listen to the music for The Flying Circus and you’ll see what I mean. (And if you’re a fan of “The Office,” look for Melora Hardin singing two songs in club scene.)
As you can tell I love this movie and I could go on and on about it. I think anyone writing a comic book movie, or a comic book for that matter, should watch this for inspiration. And I’m glad that it’s finally getting a Blu-ray release from Disney. It has had a cult following the last 20 years, but maybe a few more fans will discover it. Who knows? Maybe we’ll get a remake or a sequel one day. If “TRON” can get a sequel, anything is possible.
While I’m super-happy to get a Blu-ray of “The Rocketeer,” I’m really disappointed that there are no bonus features on it. They include the original trailer, but that’s it. There’s no commentary, no ‘making of’, no deleted scenes, and no retrospective. It’s a major disappointment, but I guess I should be happy to get even this.