Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly viewing of one of the many, many, many movies I own. Today's film is yet another classic adventure film produced by Disney that was hoped to launch a franchise, kinda flopped in the theatres, yet grew to become a cult-classic. And that is The Rocketeer. This is dated in my notes at September 22, 2013.
Time to cap off my double feature with The Rocketeer, Disney's 1991 film based on the comic book by Dave Stevens. I've never read the comic book, although, because I love the movie, I've always wanted to. Stevens only ever wrote two Rocketeer adventures: the first one, which was the basis for the film, and the second, which sent our hero to 1930s New York. (The first one is set in and around LA.) From what I gather online, in that second adventure the Rocketeer does meet up with the Shadow when he heads to New York...or rather, the Shadow's alter-ego, Lamont Cranston. But due to tricky copyright issues, Cranston is never referred to by name, but enough hints are dropped that it's easy to figure out.
I remember, when the summer of 1991 came around, I was very, very excited for The Rocketeer. I was reading everything about it that I could get my hands on, and I declared it to be my birthday movie of 1991. I also remember reading at the time that Disney had very high hopes to turn it into franchise, but sadly, it was not meant to be. Everything in the summer of 1991 got overshadowed by the juggernaught that was Terminator 2. I was this close to going to see Terminator 2 instead of The Rocketeer on my birthday, but nope, it was going to be The Rocketeer.
Behind the camera, we had Joe Johnston directing the film. Johnston got his start as a special effects artist for ILM, where he worked on many of their classic special effects. Perhaps his greatest contribution to Star Wars is he designed the AT-ATs. Johnston made his directorial debut with Disney, and 1989's Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Johnston got a second shot at a superhero film when Marvel selected him to do Captain America: The First Avenger a couple years ago. I wonder if anyone's working on a Captain America/Rocketeer crossover in the comics, thanks to the Johnston connection.
But yeah, this was about the time I was starting to discover the people who make movies and learning what happens behind the scenes. On my birthday in 1991, when I saw the opening credit "Written by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo," and I thought, "Why do those names sound familiar?" At home, I went looking through my movie magazines and realized that they were the guys who created The Flash a year or two earlier, and I loved The Flash. So the film looked like it had some good superhero cred going into it.
Our hero is Cliff Secord, a young hotshot pilot who's ready to go on to some big time air races and hit the big time. But, when a shootout between the mob and the FBI spills onto his airfield and trash his racing plane, it looks like he's hit rock bottom. However, the prize in that shootout was hidden away in his hanger: a prototype jet pack. Experimenting with this jet pack, Cliff winds up performing some superheroics and the press dubs him the Rocketeer. But of course, the FBI and the mob soon turn their sights on Cliff in order to recover the jet pack. Turns out the FBI is working for Howard Hughes, who of course, wants his prototype jet pack back, and the mob is working for Hollywood superstar Neville Sinclair, who turns out to be (spoiler warning for a 20 year old movie) a Nazi spy, who want the pack for purposes of taking over the world.
Of course, what is our hero without a damsel to fight for? Our damsel is Jenny, played by a young and hot Jennifer Connolly. Holy moly, she is beautiful in this film. Don't get me wrong, she's still pretty beautiful today, but back then, when they get all her glammed up 1930s style....
Excuse me, I'm going to need a minute.
OK, where was I? It neat reading some of the behind the scenes stuff. In the original comic, Cliff's girlfriend was Bettie Page. But of course, Disney felt that having our damsel make a career of posing for erotic photographs would be too much for the Disney label. So they softened her and turned her into Jenny, a struggling actress.
Again, this is just a fun film. Much like he did with Captain America, director Johnston`s idea with the film, given its setting and all, was to try to capture the movie serials of the era, much like his former bosses Lucas and Spielberg did with Indiana Jones. Johnston does a pretty good job with it, too. It comes close.
I`m glad that the special effects still hold up after all these years. This was still a couple of years before computer animation came to be, so most of it is done with good ol' fashioned model work. We don't have a digital stunt double...several of the Rocketeer flying scenes were done with a stop motion animated G.I. Joe in front of a green screen.
There are other great actors here, too. James Bond himself, Timothy Dalton, is great as the charming villain Neville Sinclair. I just like Dalton as an actor and it's always great to see him.
Yeah...I'm feeling kind of lazy this Sunday afternoon, and don't have much more to say. It's a fun movie. I enjoy it. I know this film has its superfans. I'm not one of those giant superfans, but I'm enough of one that I was mildly offended when Family Guy made the joke that it's a film for when "stupid people want a thrill." And I did geek out a couple of years ago when I found the soundtrack in HMV. I remembered geeking out to the clerk about having discovered this album after all this time...she'd never heard of the film and assumed "Rocketeer" was the name of some indie band. She was cute, but I didn't correct her.
It's a good soundtrack, composed by James Horner, but it does sound reminiscient of his Star Trek II stuff in some places.
But yeah, I'm just about rambled out on this one. Ooo, look. Amazon has the trade paperback of the original Dave Stevens comics for just $20....