The Rocketeer will always hold a special place for me, as it was one of the adventure films that I embraced as a youth. I was all about seeing this film when it arrived in theaters and had plenty of the associated merchandise, including an audio tape version of the story and a 3D comic book (complete with red & blue glasses!). It would years later before I realized that the film flopped during its theatrical release, but that was beyond me during the time I first witnessed the film and recognized it as a solid pulp serial adventure come to life. The Rocketeer has since become somewhat of a cult classic as far as comic adaptations go and Disney has now rewarded its fans with this 20th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray. Of course, this may have been more notable had anything been added to the disc, beyond a high def upgrade.
The Rocketeer is a period superhero film, based on the comic book character created by Dave Stevens as a tribute to old fashion serial adventures. Set in 1938, the film stars Bill Campbell as Cliff Secord, a stunt pilot who works with mechanic “Peevy” Peabody (Alan Arkin). The two do enough to get by, sometimes doing work for the local airshow. At least Cliff has been successful with his personal life, given his relationship with his girlfriend, aspiring actress Jenny Blake (Jennifer Connelly). Cliff’s life reaches an interesting new point, following the arrival of a gang of mobsters who decided to hideaway a stolen piece of technology.
Cliff and Peevy find a rocket pack stashed away in their hangar and through a sequence of events, wind up using it for the purposes of a heroic rescue. Despite masking his identity, Cliff soon becomes a media sensation, as astonishing presence of a flying man establishes him as the Rocketeer. Of course this brings Cliff’s alter ego to the attention of those who have killed to find this rocket, including mob boss Eddie Valentine (Paul Sorvino) and movie star/secret villain Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton). Cliff will have to find a way to soar through the challenges he is faced with as a true rocket man.
Similar to what director Joe Johnston was able to pull off on a much larger scale with Captain America: The First Avenger, The Rocketeer gets by mainly due to its classical look and feel. While there is a lot of fun to be had with the special effects used to bring jetpack-powered flight to the screen, the overall adventure-vibe of the film is very reminiscent of a classical adventure story. The characters have a larger-than-life quality to them in terms of what they represent; i.e. the handsome, stalwart hero, the damsel, and the evil villain who ironically portrays an Errol Flynn-type in his movie star persona. Mixed with the pulpy nature of the plotting – Mobsters steal a rocket from Howard Hughes, A climax that takes place on a Zeplin over Hollywoodland, etc., all of the ingredients are present to create a grand old fashion adventure movie.
What is most important is how much fun this movie is to watch. Truly a film for all ages, a lot of care seems to have been put into this feature concerning the way tone is handled. It is light, but not without well crafted suspense in a fun, superhero setting sort of way. The characters speak in comic-type dialogue. The action sequences are crafted with the kind of skill that well establishes the geography and stakes of the situation. And all of this is brought together by the wonderful score by James Horner. Given the age of this movie, the effects may not have aged greatly, but the ideas and imaginative nature of ILM’s work to achieve what this film calls for still works well enough to add to the fun of this film.
The Rocketeer was certainly more about creating the period style and capturing the essence of the comic book (which the film does very well, including the addition of iconic Rocketeer poses), so the acting does not come across as a big deal; however I do enjoy what the actors bring. Campbell hits the right notes as the lead, Connelly is quite the young beauty, and Dalton is suited very nicely in his roles as the villain (the type of role that he would perfect later on in Hot Fuzz). Everyone here feels well suited to what is being asked for by them. I only wish the movie could have been more successful, in order to have its sequels do even more work as to fleshing out these characters.
Made for a lower budget than the other releases of the summer of 1991, which included T2: Judgment Day and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, The Rocketeer still holds up quite well. It was made with a specific vision and it would appear that Joe Johnston and his team were able to achieve a lot of what they intended. Again, similar to Captain America, this is a film that may not reach the heights of the Indiana Jones series, but certainly delivers the same sort of entertainment. It is a shame that this film did not catch on during its initial release (and I’m actually a big fan of many of the early 90s period superhero films that were produced – Dick Tracy, The Shadow, The Phantom), but at least I can still appropriately look back on this film fondly.
I will get to the extras in a bit, but at least there was enough care taken in the technical delivery of this film on Blu-ray. The Rocketeer is delivered on Blu with a 1080p high definition widescreen transfer. For anyone who has been a fan of the film or anyone that will now develop a fondness for it, they are in luck if they see it on Blu-ray. This is about as good as the film can look now, which is a very good thing. Given the old fashion style of the film, there is a lot of softness in the way The Rocketeer was initially shot. Due to this, there is a satisfying nature to the way the colors appear in this transfer, how well the various textures hold up, and how effective the many shadowy and nighttime sequences look. Additionally, the special effects in this film may not always register great, given the datedness of the film, but they still come across quite well on the disc. Overall, given the cult status of a film like this, it is good to see a decent amount of effort put into the transfer of this film into hi def.
While Joe Johnston may have been able to achieve a lot of old fashioned, adventurous fun with The Rocketeer in the same way he managed to do with Captain America, the Blu-ray’s audio did not quite reach the pristine heights as seen by some of the other big comic blockbuster Blu-rays. With that said, the 5.1 DTS-HD master audio track was still good enough to properly do justice to the film. The action sequences, mixed with the score and dialogue, register quite nicely throughout the film. Actually, it’s really the great James Horner score that makes this whole thing worth it and it sounds great throughout. There are areas where the balance does not quite feel right in regards to the dialogue and sound effects during various instances, but it is still pretty well rounded.
So here we go, despite being billed as a “20th Anniversary Edition”, there are no extras on this disc, other than a standard definition theatrical trailer. A commentary would have been nice, a retrospective, anything; but no, nothing added to this Blu-ray disc with ample amounts of space available.
So it is overall great news for fans of this wonderful superhero blast from the past. The Rocketeer is as good now as it was when it unfortunately did not make great waves during its theatrical release. While it is an unfortunate missed opportunity to see this Blu-ray come with no special features added on, but at least fans can revisit this film as much as they would like in high definition with superior sound and visual quality.