The Rocketeer
Dir: Joe Johnston
Star: Bill Campbell, Jennifer Connelly, Alan Arkin, Timothy Dalton
Cert / Year: PG - PG /1991
Format: DVD R2

Whilst chasing a couple of gangsters across country who have stolen a prototype rocket/ jetpack from the legendary inventor and aviator Howard Hughes (Terry O'Quinn) two FBI men engage in a "high speed" gunfight. During the exchange of gunfire they manage to hit the new racing plane of talented young pilot Cliff Secord (Bill Campbell) who on a test flight is forced to crash land and watch as his plane burns. Getting no sympathy or help from the FBI who caused the crash in the first place Cliff and his friend Peevy (Alan Arkin) are forced to resolve themselves to flying an old bi-plane as a "clown act" for a greedy air show boss. Whilst checking the plane over, Cliff discovers a bulky package under his seat. Upon investigation the package appears to contain a large metallic construction, after accidentally hitting a switch it becomes apparent that it is in fact a rocket jetpack. Seeing the oppurtunity to make some money to repair their plane and compete in the National competitions, Cliff and Peevy resolve to "borrow" the wonderous contraption. Unfortunately before Cliff is able to test the pack he is forced to don his new "gear" designed by Peevy in order to rescue a friend who runs into difficulty whilst flying in an air show. After several breathtaking attempts, Cliff manages to rescue his friend but is now hot news and is dubbed "The Rocketeer" by the press. Despite the heroic rescue and remarkable getaway "The Rocketeer" is soon pursued by the gangsters that originally tried to steal the pack, the FBI who are working for Howard Hughes and a sinister spy who also has his sights set on Jenny Jennifer Connelly who just happens to be Cliff's girlfriend. Will "The Rocketeer" be able to get the girl and save the free world?........

The cult writing team of Paul De Meo and Danny Bilson whose collective works include Trancers, Arena and The Flash television series provide an entertaining story based upon the popular 80's "Rocketeer" graphic novel by Dave Stevens. The Rocketeer is emensley entertaining and has a generous helping of fun......with a capital "F". The film's old fashioned adventure story is combined with a suitable atmosphere and feel. You can't beat the old style of "damsel in distress" and "unlikely hero" to the rescue stories to elevate the general lethargy and offer the viewer that warm fuzzy feeling as you shamelessly cheer/root for the good guys.

Being brutally honest this is an undeservedly and terribly underrated film. I had forgotten just how good and how entertaining it actually is. Some viewers may remember seeing it when it came out, but it is definately better than I remembered it and I can quite happily reccommend it as a delightfully light hearted watch, suitable for any age. One of those films that deserves another viewing and although some of the CGI effects have dated a little they are no less entertaining. An endearing film with many good qualities which throws itself full tilt in a homage to the old black & white "weekly cliffhanger serials" and more specifically The King of The Rocket Men. As with several of the comic hero tales this is set during the nineteen thirties so it's set in a pre-war, post depression America where paranoia is rife ...... especially where Germany is concerned and the G-Men (FBI) had almost unlimited power. With this mix you have everything you need Gangsters/bad guys, Nazis, daring rescues, aircraft, automatic weapons and some "high adventure".

A good cast provide some cool performances Bill Campbell is quite good as the hero despite not being a particuarly heroic looking chap. Timothy Dalton in typical fashion overracts to such a tongue in cheek extent that his performance can only be described as "camp" but no less entertaining. In fact it's possibly Dalton's occasionally daft antics which make his performance so good and is almost as over the top as his Prince Barin in Flash Gordon. A fabulously smouldering performance by the stunning Jennifer Connelly whose ample talents are put through their paces as the "love interest". The ever versatile Alan Arkin is simply superb as Secord's long suffering best friend and mechanic Peevy. Some fine supporting performances by Paul Sorvino as Mob boss Eddie Valentine and Jon Polito as the fiscally driven air show owner Bigelow. An equally impressive performance by Terry O'Quinn as the one and only Howard Hughes is worth a mention. Tiny Ron is heavily laden with prosthetics which are only exceeded in pure ridiculousness by some found in Dick Tracy (now theres a film no-one should ever have to watch.....again). Despite looking like a make up persons prosthetic experiment he somehow growls out a performance as Lothar the lumbering henchman with a talent for breaking people in half.

The direction by Joe Johnston is good and the story flows along smoothly with a steady pace. Overrall the direction is quite light and has a distinct sense of fun but has some exciting aerial work and action. There is some excellent production design in evidence here as the art deco pastels of James Bissell offer an over romanticized picture of Hollywood of the thirties heightened by the stunning photography of Hiro Narita which is vibrant and eye catching. Some of the effects have dated a little but on the whole the special effects are great and the little flaws noticable today are easily overlooked. Perhaps its the pure nostalgia factor brought on by such a reassuringly upbeat and light movie or the fact that the King of the Rocket Men was a regular watch on the Saturday mornings in my youth. Whatever the reason, this film has a great "feel good" factor to it and might even bring the odd tear to the eye as the Rocketeer soars full throttle through the open skies to the fantastic musical accompaniment of the one and only James Horner. His theme for The Rocketeer is undoubtibly one of his best and its relative simplicity on opening tells you it's going to be something special, and it is and just fits the movie so well. The spectacular rescue at the air show by the Rocketeer and the subsequent aeriel shots (side by side with the passenger plane is brilliant) are fantastic and quite exhilarating but to be honest, there isn't enough of this in the film as it could have really benefitted from a couple more superb set pieces like this.

Upon watching this film again it is hard to see why it wasn't a much bigger hit. When you compare it to similar movies (comic/graphic novel to film) like The Phantom or even The Shadow it is far more "innocent in terms of story and characters. The "good guys" are straight up "Dudley do rights", pure of heart and all that whereas the "bad guys" are of course Nazis and gangsters. There are no "grey areas" as such so everything is straight forward good versus the bad in an adventure stylee not too dissimilar at times to Indiana Jones. Who cares if there are a couple of minor plot holes (just pretend he has flame retardent pants) this is pure escapism, suspension of disbelief and a rivetting hero / adventure movie with a touch of romance thrown in.


Cliff: How do I look?
Peevy: Like a hood ornament!

Rating: 3 out of 5

Picture 2.35:1 Anamorphic Sharp good quality image
Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 Great soundtrack
Features Uninteresting static menu
Verdict Great pity that there is nothing in the way of extras on this disc. A cool film like this deserves a better release.

Rating: 1 out of 5

Reviewed by Logan Back Top Home