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Case Number 00085

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October Sky

Universal // 1999 // 108 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Sean Fitzgibbons (Retired) // August 4th, 1999

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All Rise...

Editor's Note

Our review of October Sky: Special Edition, published April 11th, 2005, is also available.

The Charge

Sometimes one dream is enough to light up the whole sky.

Opening Statement

Universal brings one of the most inspirational "coming of age" stories in recent memory to DVD with the release of October Sky, unfortunately not as a Collector's Series disc.

The Evidence

Growing up at the dawn of human space exploration, it is hard for anyone born in the last 50 years to say they have not looked into the night sky in awe of where the human race is headed. The dawn of this space age has sent imaginations running wild; giving us television shows and films that take us to the vast expanses of space. October Sky is not another science fiction tale, but instead the true story of one boy inspired by Sputnik (the first, and Russian, satellite sent into orbit) to build and understand rockets.

Homer Hickam (Jake Gyllenhaal), however, cannot just go out to pursue knowledge and experiment as he sees fit. Living in an industrial town, which depends upon the local coal mine to keep the town alive, Hickam is discouraged from his quest for knowledge by his father, who knows that unless his son is an athlete, there is no way he will ever be able to leave the town. Homer is faced with the sad reality that he cannot afford to go to college for a higher education and will eventually end up as another miner in Coalwood. However, Homer's teacher Miss Riley (Laura Dern) encourages him to pursue his interests in rocketry and enter a local science fair with his homemade rockets. Miss Riley informs Homer that if he wins the local science fair he would move on to a national competition where he would be offered college scholarships for his intellect. Determined to make it out of Coalwood, Homer enlists the help of his two friends and a class nerd to build rockets that successfully fly. Homer soon learns things will not be as easy as he believes when his rockets are plagued by constant failure and his father continually creates obstacles in his path as an attempt to prevent any false hope he might have about leaving Coalwood.

October Sky presents it's viewers with something more real to grasp as Homer Hickam pursues his quest for knowledge and a way out of his dead-end hometown. Everyone has their passions that they pursued (or would have liked to pursue) to their present career. For those who made it, October Sky is a testament to the human will. For those who didn't make it, October Sky illustrates the reality that sometimes there are just too many obstacles to overcome for everyone to do what they love for a living. For me, personally, I was able to see how lucky I have been to be able to pursue whatever I desire. I have always held the belief that pursuing one's passion would be something supported by all people, especially that person's parents; this film demonstrates, unfortunately, that this is not always true.

Universal gives October Sky a decent treatment on DVD. The film comes available in both 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen as well as 1.33:1 full frame presentation. Dual layered, the disc is able to switch from full frame and widescreen without having to flip the disc over (hooray!). The 2.35:1 anamorphic image looks extremely well, considering it is only on a single layer. There are no visible compression artifacts on the transfer and the flesh tones look warm and realistic. The black level on the transfer is fairly accurate especially during scenes in the film's coalmine. One quip about the transfer comes during the opening of the film, with many gray shades on screen, there are a few instances of grain, but nothing to get worked up about; almost suitable for the grimy start to the film.

As for the 5.1 Dolby Digital track on this disc, Universal does an equally competent job as they have done on the image. While October Sky doesn't exploit the 5.1 range throughout the movie (which I wouldn't expect for this type of film) the track uses surround effects realistically during rocket flights, and explosions. What really stands out in the audio track is the sweeping score by Mark Isham, along with the occasional rock 'n' roll song.

Extra content on the October Sky DVD is passable. For your money you get a behind the scenes featurette (in which the real Homer Hickam makes an appearance) along with production notes and cast and crew information. The featurette, albeit short, is a nice compliment to the film; putting the viewer more in touch with the true story aspect of the film.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

I liked this film, but I don't think everyone will. I have no passion for sports, so when I saw Rudy I was not touched by the film's story, while I knew many others who absolutely loved the film. It's certainly possible there are those out there who never have had the urge to seek out knowledge for the sake of knowing something, and those people will see October Sky as nothing but a sappy film.

As for the soundtrack, I feel some of the '50s songs were well placed, but I feel moreover that '50s rock 'n' roll was placed into the film just for the sake of having it there, with no real purpose or compliment to the story. Don't confuse this with the musical score, however, which is simply outstanding and an organic part of the film.

Finally, we all know about the commentary track that was supposed to be placed on this disc. The commentary with director Joe Johnston was unable to be recorded in time for the DVD release, however many discs were sent mislabeled with a commentary track listed as a feature on the back cover. My disc was properly labeled, but just fair warning for any of those out there looking to purchase or rent this disc. I would have really enjoyed seeing this film as a Collector's Series DVD from Universal. A commentary track from the real Homer Hickam, distinguishing the real and fictional parts of the film, would be a great compliment to the movie. But you can't always get what you want…

Closing Statement

October Sky is an inspirational story that adults and children alike will enjoy. Universal provides some extra insight into the film with the release of this DVD, but certainly not as much as one would hope for. Luckily, the film itself is good enough to justify a purchase with a faithful to film transfer.

The Verdict

The film is acquitted, as is the disc, just by the skin of its teeth.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 92
Audio: 94
Extras: 50
Acting: 88
Story: 91
Judgment: 83

Perp Profile

Studio: Universal
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
• English
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
• All Ages
• Drama

Distinguishing Marks

• Spotlight on Location
• Production Notes
• Talent Bios
• Film Highlights
• Theatrical Trailer
• Universal Web Link


• IMDb

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Review content copyright © 1999 Sean Fitzgibbons; Site design and review layout copyright © 2016 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.