THE ROCKETEER Blu-Ray Review
Back in 1991, I think Disney got into the The Rocketeer business because that design is sexy, and the late artist Dave Stevens' ode to the pulps, and rocket men, and Bettie Page's wonderful figure is downright irresistible when you come right down to it and describe the damn thing. The only problem was, there wasn't a whole lot of content to draw from Stevens' work--by the time the movie hit, there had only been three actual issues of a book bearing the title The Rocketeer across two publishers, supplemented by four backup stories, and those were all essentially pastiche stories drawing on unlicensed version of some of the pulp characters populating late 30's radio and comics that Stevens was really into at the time.
So Disney had to find something to do with the character, and they gave him to writers Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo who tried to mold hero Cliff Secord into something and without all of the pastiche trappings and Joe Johnston was brought on board to make the whole thing an actual, honest-to-goodness cinematic adventure. Maybe they saw from the start that it was a doomed endeavor because by the end of the movie, the rocket has been blown to smithereens and Cliff is looking forward to a nice, promising career as a stunt pilot.* Or maybe I'm looking at it from the perspective of 2011, where every superhero/tentpole action ending promises that yeah, in two years or so you will be getting more of this.
All of this isn't to say that The Rocketeer was a bad movie or that the source material was lacking--simply that the movie isn't quite a finished concept and feels over just when it was really getting started, but still lives on with a great deal of affection among a certain segment of the audience (myself included) thanks to the striking visual of the hero, a couple of standout setpieces and Timothy Dalton making a simply terrific scenery-chewing villain who gets himself blown up by a rocket while fleeing a burning zeppelin.
That's cinema, people, and I write that without irony.
Billy Campell brought a square jaw and honest charm to the role of Cliff Secord and Alan Arkin as his mechanic/buddy "Peevy" did this light, bouncy thing with the role that kind of poked at Cliff's earnestness. Jennifer Connelly was (as she always has been) gorgeous, but she was still at that weird stage in some of her early roles where she was incredibly stiff and never really seemed to gel with the mood of the rest of the movie. I think her role as Cliff's girlfriend Jenny called for someone with a bit more nerve and personality beyond "annoyed girlfriend" (the script can take the hit for that some, though). And then there are the villains, then-Bond Timothy Dalton and actual giant "Tiny" Ron Taylor, the former knowing more than anyone else that this was a movie that called for a performance that leaped off the screen and the latter looking like he would lumber off of it and strangle you.
I should cut out the wordplay and get to the point: the movie is okay and didn't really deserve its sad, quick death at the box office (it was beat out by Dying Young, for god's sake) and it remains a pleasure in its way, from the design to the look and feel of it to this day.
*The script hedges its bets a little by having Arkin's character show up with plans for a new rocket, and Stevens and Bilson purportedly saw this as the first chapter in a trilogy..
Twenty years and a burn at the box office gets you nothin'.
Audio and Video
I don't think Disney dumped this one on Blu-ray but it doesn't look nearly as sharp as I'm guessing it could have been for a big studio film from so recently. Part of that is kind of owing to the look of the movie which was low on contrast in a lot of scenes (from my vague recollection) but anything in an interior looks warm and lovely.
The Rocketeer is available now on Blu-ray.