Disney Screen movie!
I returned to the Cinemark Theatre in Huntington Beach today to see Disney's THE ROCKETEER (1991) for the first time ever. I had no idea what to expect, aside from knowing it was a period piece scored by James Horner, and I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. It has a terrific cast, a fun setting in 1938 Southern California, and best of all, a fabulous score by the late, great Horner.
Cliff (Bill Campbell) is a scrappy young pilot who intends to fly a plane designed by his friend Peevy (Alan Arkin) in a national race. Unfortunately the plane is shot full of holes during a test flight, as some G men led by Fitch (Ed Lauter) chase some bad guys.
Cliff and Peevy later find something the bad guys hid in their shop: a rocket pack designed to enable a man to fly. Little do they know the mysterious jet pack was stolen from Howard Hughes (Terry O'Quinn), who is discontinuing working on the project because the Nazis want to get their hands on it.
Cliff impulsively uses the rocket suit to save a fellow pilot (Eddie Jones) whose plane is going to crash; the resulting media attention means that soon Cliff and his girlfriend Jenny (Jennifer Connolly), an aspiring movie actress, are chased by Nazi spies who want to get their hands on the suit.
THE ROCKETEER has the feel of a Marvel movie, before Marvel movies were made; indeed, Howard Stark of the Marvel films was inspired by Howard Hughes. Like the Marvel films, it's a feel-good film which is wholesome enough for the family to enjoy together. (And unlike the Marvel films, it has wonderful music...if only Marvel had copied THE ROCKETEER in this regard.)
I found the movie especially similar in tone to Marvel's CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011), with its "retro" story of an ordinary man having an unusual chance to battle the bad guys during WWII. It was thus very interesting to learn that the director of THE ROCKETEER, Joe Johnston, directed both films, two decades apart. Johnston, who also worked on special effects for RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981), definitely has an affinity for the era.
THE ROCKETEER does a great job portraying Hollywood of days gone by, without the viewer feeling that every corner is painted by computer. There are plenty of special effects, including the rocket suit flying sequences and the final set piece with a zeppelin over Mt. Griffith Observatory, but the movie's look as a whole feels more "real" than some more recent films.
I especially loved the scene with Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton) filming a swashbuckler, as the set seemed to be modeled on one from THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938).
The excellent cast also includes Margo Martindale, Jon Polito, and William Boyett. The singer at the South Seas Club was one-time child actress Melora Hardin.
This great-looking movie was filmed by Hiro Narita. It runs 108 minutes.
THE ROCKETEER was preceded by the cartoon CLOCK CLEANERS (1937), in which Mickey, Goofy, and Donald Duck struggle to clean a large chime clock. It's available on DVD in the Walt Disney Treasures set Mickey Mouse in Living Color.
THE ROCKETEER is available on DVD and Blu-ray. It can also be streamed on Amazon Instant Video. I'm going to be adding the DVD to my collection, as this is one I'll be wanting to watch again.
Previous Disney Screen reviews: OLIVER & COMPANY (1988), EIGHT BELOW (2006), and THE LOVE BUG (1968). The chance to see so many Disney films on a big screen locally has been a real treat!