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The Rocketeer DVD Review

The Rocketeer

Theatrical Release: June 21, 1991 / Running Time: 108 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Joe Johnston

Cast: Bill Campbell (Cliff Secor), Alan Arkin (Peevy), Jennifer Connelly (Jenny Blake), Timothy Dalton (Neville Sinclair), Paul Sorvino (Eddie Valentine), Terry O'Quinn (Howard Hughes), Ed Lauter (FBI Agent Fitch), James Handy (FBI Agent Wolinski), Tiny Ron (Lothar)

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The Rocketeer is a Disney film for adults. Set in 1936 Hollywood, it's a period piece in the vein of the Indiana Jones movies, and there is very little lightness. Cliff Secord is a successful young pilot, who stumbles upon a mysterious jetpack unlike anything anyone has seen. Its discovery turns Cliff into a larger-than-life legend, but also makes him a target for Howard Hughes, the FBI, the mob, and a bunch of Nazi spies. Doesn't quite sound like The Big Green, huh?

The plain-looking title logo for "The Rocketeer."

 

Long before she had Hollywood clout and an Academy Award, Jennifer Connelly played an aspiring actress, i.e. "the girlfriend" in Disney's "The Rocketeer."

In the lead role, Bill Campbell is no Harrison Ford and he hasn't gotten another lead since. Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly plays his girlfriend, an aspiring actress, and her chest is duly noted, though not to the extent of the same year's Career Opportunities. Timothy Dalton plays an Errol Flynn-type actor who has a secret. Paul Sorvino essentially tones down his Goodfellas performance, playing with less gravitas a mob hood who draws a line at anti-American corruption. Alan Arkin does a minimum required amount with his role as mentor to Cliff. Rounding out the cast is Tiny Ron, playing a ridiculous-looking monosyllabic goon who seems to have lept off the pages of Shelley and who just won't die.

 

The film takes itself quite seriously, and would stand to benefit from some levity. At the same time, its likeliness to disinterest young audiences is notable since there is no out-of-place pandering or goofy characters. Those who are turned off by the silliness of Disney films like The Mighty Ducks and First Kid will not find anything like that here. Unfortunately, at the same time, the energy and charm that usually comes hand in hand with such an element is also not readily found here. Still, the pacing and plot keep it interesting and for a period piece, it remains rather exciting.

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Got jetpack?

Though the rocket jetpack special effects do seem somewhat primitive by today's standards, they're sparingly and effectively used. All in all, in the hands of veteran director Joe Johnston (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and more recently, Jurassic Park III and next year's Hidalgo), The Rocketeer is a capable and satisfying drama/adventure.

 

DVD Details

2.20:1 Non-Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English),
Dolby Surround (French)
Subtitles: English
Closed Captioned
Release Date: August 17, 1999
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Suggested Retail Price: $14.99
(Reduced from $19.99)
White Keepcase

VIDEO AND AUDIO
The Rocketeer is nicely photographed and makes fine use of the 2.20:1 widescreen frame (the packaging and other reviews claim it's 2.35:1, but it's not). Unfortunately, the word that comes to mind in describing this DVD transfer is "murky." It's as if the film is covered by a layer of film, and everything seems more distant and than it should be. It lacks the sharpness and clarity it should have, and while there are no distracting flaws or inconsistencies, the film would very much stand to benefit from a new anamorphic transfer. As it is, it's an overly dark transfer that is pretty disappointing.

The sound quality is less-than-jake, with dialogue being indiscernable from time-to-time, and with a reliable inconsistency in volume. Still, it is a fair 5.1 track (the packaging erroneously lists only Dolby Surround) and doesn't leave the type of room for improvement that picture does.

"This is what you get for calling me a goon!" - Tiny Ron

 

The makers of the Main Menu for "The Rocketeer" DVD were so excited by the work that they forgot half of the words in the movie's title.

EXTRAS
The only extra, outside of the Recommendations gallery, is a theatrical trailer, framed at about 1.4:1 widescreen, which illustrates not only how the film was marketed, but how poorly it looks when you trim off around 40% of the picture.

CLOSING THOUGHTS
The Rocketeer has a following, and like other popular Disney films that have been mistreated with barebones DVDs, it would make sense to give remastered Special Edition treatment to films like Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, The Mighty Ducks, Cool Runnings and this. Still, unless there's a Rocketeer 2 somewhere down the line, it doesn't look like a re-release is very promising.

 

It's a low-priced, low-quality DVD which is a no-brainer purchase for those who like the film or think they might like it. Widescreen is the only way to see it, and even if the non-anamorphic video isn't great, it's worlds better than a Pan & Scan videocassette, which cannot be said for Johnston's first Disney film. It's an enjoyable film that may just be the type of live-action Disney fare you're looking for - that which aims for an older audience and reasonably hits its target. It's certainly better than most bargain-bin fare.

To infinity and beyond!

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Related Reviews:
Newsies (1992) The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992 - Kermit's 50th Anniversary Edition)
Beauty and the Beast (1991) Dinosaurs: The Complete First and Second Seasons (1991-92)
Home Improvement: The Complete First Season (1991-92) Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken (1991)
Tales from Avonlea: Season One TaleSpin: Volume 1 (1991) Darkwing Duck: Volume 1
National Treasure (2004) The Mighty Ducks (1992) Perfect Harmony (1991)
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003 - 3-Disc Collector's Gift Set) Tron (1982)

Starring The Cast of The Rocketeer:
Jennifer Connelly: Dark Water (2005 - Unrated) Paul Sorvino: Mr. 3000 (2004) Lost: The Complete First Season (2004-05)

UltimateDisney.com | DVD Review Index | Recent Live Action Disney Films (1980-Present) | Search UltimateDisney.com

Reviewed September 7, 2003.