Disney // 1991 // 108 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Chief Justice Sean McGinnis (Retired) // September 19th, 1999
Faster than a speeding bullet...in love with a beautiful girl...chased by Nazis...just a day in the life of the hero.
I hate to admit it, but I love The Rocketeer. Call it a guilty pleasure. It's not the greatest film in the world. It lacks depth. It's essentially a Saturday morning matinee or Sunday morning cartoon brought to life with slick production values. Maybe that's why I love it so much.
The Rocketeer is a story of a boy named Cliff Secord who loves to fly, and his mechanic named Peevy. Cliff has a girlfriend who is a stunner. He races planes for a living, if you can call it that. Everything a young man could want. But as is usual in films like these, trouble searches out old Cliff and finds him to be a bit naïve.
While testing their newest racer, Cliff is shot down by the bad guys who are trying to escape the Feds. It seems they have stolen something and in order to keep the Feds from finding it they stash it in a plane in a hanger. Cliff and Peevy's racer crashes and they have no plane to race with in the coming weeks other than their old reliable in the hanger. As they are dusting her off, Cliff stumbles across the package that the bad guy hid. It turns out to be a rocket-propelled backpack designed to allow a man to fly without wings. It has been stolen from Howard Hughes.
Naturally, the bad guys are still looking desperately for the package and torture the bad guy who is now in the hospital. After torturing him for the info, the bad guys are now on a killing spree while they search for the rocket. Meanwhile, the girl gets wrapped up in the whole thing. As it turns out, the head of the whole bad guy ring is a Hollywood actor who is really a Nazi. He has in turn hired the Mafia to get steal and deliver the package. It's all very '30s. In the end, good prevails over evil, but not without some pretty cool pyrotechnics and quite a bit of innocence lost.
The acting in The Rocketeer really carries this film. Bill Campbell plays Cliff with a perfect blend of innocent swagger and potential action hero it is impossible not to like him. This is one of those times when I wonder what the heck ever happened to him. Checking his filmo on IMDb I see a lot of second-rate stuff I've never seen, except for a smallish part in Gettysburg (I can't remember the character). Did he lose it or never really have it? I wish I knew. Alan Arkin plays Peevy to the hilt, with enough sweet sarcasm to melt a Popsicle. Jennifer Connelly is great as Jenny Blake in one of her earlier roles. Not as early as Labyrinth or Dario Argento's World of Horror but early enough for me. It was the first time I genuinely took notice. And Timothy Dalton is great as the evil Neville Sinclair. This is a much better role for him, in my opinion, than James Bond. He certainly plays the cocky stuffed shirt role pretty well here.
Unfortunately, the picture quality here is not the greatest. Not quite as bad as the last batch of Disney transfers, this one is clearly a re-hash of an older VHS or laserdisc transfer. The other titles like Medicine Man and Mr. Holland's Opus suffered from serious digital over-enhancement and severe moiré problems. This was not quite as bad, but still there was a very grainy look to it. At times, the edge enhancements were a bit evident as well. Overall, the color saturation was fairly good and the blacks were solid and clear.
The audio here suffers a bit as well. Although I usually prefer films to be offered in the original soundtrack configuration, this is a film I feel would have benefited greatly from a newly remastered 5.1 remix. With everything that goes on on-screen, a 5.1 mix would have increased my enjoyment level by a factor of two. With everything that transpires in the air and things swooping about, there could have been directional effects flying around the room. Instead, the disc is saddled with only a 2.0 track in English and French. When will Disney learn? I honestly don't know.
The Rocketeer is a fun-filled movie to occupy a Saturday night, and honestly a welcome break from all the Criterion stuff I have been reviewing. It is nice now and then to let one's brain relax, and this is certainly a perfect movie for that. No offense intended.
The film is acquitted. Disney is guilty of another indifferent transfer and average audio track. Please start putting some effort into your discs. Pretty please! With sugar on it?
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 1991
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Theatrical Trailer