This week on Movies Worth Rewatching we’re talking about my absolute favorite movie to watch over and over again, The Rocketeer (1991, Walt Disney Pictures).
In the months leading up to the release of The Rocketeer, the buzz surrounding the film was positive. Walt Disney Pictures executives happily increased the budget of the film after seeing some of the production dailies from the principle photography of the film’s shoot. As the release date approached, plans were openly discussed with the cast and crew to produce multiple Rocketeer sequels creating a film franchise. Everyone behind the making of the film was proud and anxious for its release, but sadly, the success they expected never came. In the summer of 1991, there were two breakout hits released less than four weeks apart from another, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves starring Kevin Costner and Morgan Freeman, and James Cameron’s beloved Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Both movies were well received by audiences and critics alike and went on to be two of the highest grossing films of that year. Released right between those two major movie behemoths was The Rocketeer, a movie based off an independent comic book with a relatively unknown cast and an unproven director which, sadly, went relatively unnoticed by audiences.
Like most, I was first introduced to The Rocketeer on home video somewhere in the early 90s, and for me, it was love at first sight. I would sit and tirelessly watch The Rocketeer again and again and again until it just became a regular part of who I am. Any time I was home sick on the couch, or I wanted to feel at home, I simply put on The Rocketeer and relaxed with my friends Cliff and Peevy. As I grew older my love and appreciation for The Rocketeer deepened. I sought out the comic books by Dave Stevens that inspired the film and managed to fall in love with the story all over again. Although they’re independent of one another, and the film changes some of the tone of the comics in an effort to be more family oriented, The Rocketeer as a film holds up incredibly well when compared to its source material. Over countless viewings and endless amounts of obsessing, The Rocketeer became my favorite movie to sit down and enjoy.
So how does it hold up today?
The Rocketeer has been, and continues to be, my favorite movie of all time. From the very first note of James Horner’s incredible score in the opening credits to the final effects shot of the Nazi zeppelin exploding over Hollywood, I love every minute of this movie. Joe Johnston, who had only directed one film prior to The Rocketeer , does an absolutely fantastic job bringing Dave Stevens’ character to the big screen and in creating a film that holds up incredibly well decades after its release. Industrial Lights and Magic do a marvelous job, in the pre-CG era of film, convincing audiences that a man really can fly, with a remarkably small amount of effects shots showing signs of age. James Horner crafts one of the most inspired, and lesser known, scores of his very successful career. Combining period specific “dance band” hits with one of the greatest and heroic music themes to ever be recorded, The Rocketeer‘s soundtrack is a force all its own and certainly worth checking out for yourself. The cast all do their part to bring the glamour and intrigue of pre-WWII Hollywood back to the screen, with special mention to the film’s leads; Billy Campbell as the Rocketeer himself (almost as if Dave Stevens’ literally drew him into existence), a young Jennifer Connelly as the lovable Jenny, and the always enjoyable Timothy Dalton as the Hollywood socialite and Nazi spy Neville Sinclair.
My absolute favorite part of The Rocketeer is the world in which the story takes place. One of the reasons the adaptation of The Rocketeer worked as well as it did is the romantic obsession the writers, Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo, had with the time period the story is set in, a passion that Dave Stevens and I also share with them. I find myself instinctively drawn to stories set in the 30s and 40s. When you add old Hollywood charm and Nazis getting punched in the face to that, as The Rocketeer does, I simply cannot resist indulging in that world again and again. The story and its characters take on a whole new life for me because of the film’s fictitious world being set in my favorite era of our real history; because their world is real, the characters of The Rocketeer feel real to me, as do their struggles and triumphs. Although this is a bias everyone might not have, I don’t think it takes enough away from the sheer fun of watching the film to count against a solid recommendation for watching it.
Twenty years after the date of its initial release, several Rocketeer fans, including myself, had the pleasure of watching the film at the historic El Capitan theater in Hollywood, CA, complete with a cast and crew re-union panel. If you’re interested in hearing about that particularly incredible night, I did a full write up on it over at We Are Atomik. Also, in keeping with my new trend for Movies Worth Rewatching, please check out my Rocketeer drawing I did this week over on my personal blog.
The hero’s journey that the hot-headed stunt pilot, Cliff Secord, finds himself on after discovering the Cirrus X-3 jet pack is a story I just simply can’t get enough of. I highly recommend you check out this incredibly fun film for yourself.. and punch a Nazi or two, if you get the chance. The Rocketeer is available on DVD and Blu-ray and is well worth your time and money. Let the Rocketeer come to your rescue this summer, I’m certain he won’t let you down.
by Mel Dale