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The Rocketeer

Christmas came a little early to Fanboy Planet this year. Disney finally pulled The Rocketeer out of the vault, remastered it for Blu-ray, and are releasing it in a 20th Anniversary Edition. Granted, they're a few months late, as the movie was intended to have been a summer blockbuster for 1991, but we'll take it when we can get it.

Intended to be, because for some reason The Rocketeer never quite took off in theaters. Poor marketing, or just a superhero film released at the wrong time? In 1991, few people outside of die-hard comics fans had heard of Dave Stevens' comic book character, an homage to King of the Rocket Men.

But moreover, The Rocketeer presents a hero who's in the wrong place at the right time, overcoming a temporary rush of greed to become something good and noble in a dark time. Maybe it was simply too soon after the culture told us "Greed is Good."

If you're not familiar with the material, it's still a pretty simple story. Stunt pilot Cliff Secord (Bill Campbell) has two dreams: winning the national air race and making a life with Jenny Blake (Jennifer Connelly). Both dreams get messed up when a stolen experimental rocket pack gets stowed in his hangar.

Cliff and his mechanic pal Peevy (Alan Arkin) can't help but tinker with it, while would-be starlet Jenny crosses paths with Hollywood star/secret Nazi Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton). It's thanks to Sinclair that the rocket was stolen in the first place, and the hapless Cliff ends up defending himself from a variety of thugs and, eventually, Nazis in a nifty battle on a zeppelin.

It shares a few beats with director Joe Johnston's latest superhero film Captain America: The First Avenger, and Disney is marketing the connection. They are different stories with a common thread: when the chips are down, the common man can become something extraordinary.

The Rocketeer has some beautiful touches, not the least of which is Connelly playing a love interest who is stronger than everyone around her thinks. Johnston creates some fun set pieces, and borrows the language of classic horror films when Sinclair's henchman Lothar (Tiny Ron) starts creeping around.

But it never gets dark, and maybe that's another reason it didn't burn up the box office. The film sits squarely as a Disney release, never cynical and finding honor in taking a firm stand against evil. Lothar might be a little scary, and yes, Johnston offers a shot of Jenny rolling up her stockings, but there's nothing objectionable here. The Rocketeer was and is a family film.

Give it a shot and you'll find it full of memorable elements. James Horner's quietly inspiring score is one of his best, and supporting turns from Arkin, Paul Sorvino and Dalton, shifting out of Bond mode, really stick. If you'd seen The Rocketeer, you would have known years ahead of time what a great actor Terry O'Quinn is, long before LOST.

And Bill, now Billy, Campbell should have been made a star out of this. His Cliff Secord, very close to creator Dave Stevens' original vision, is the All-American Boy. Sure, Cliff has a few rough edges, but he's an aw shucks good guy in the vein of Jimmy Stewart. At least, he is here.

Just as in every previous home video release, this Blu-ray has no extras beyond the theatrical trailer. For me, that's a disappointment, because there was at least one Disney Channel behind-the-scenes show that could have been included. But if Disney didn't do right by the die-hard fans of The Rocketeer, at least they've done right by the film with a beautiful transfer which really brings out Johnston's nostalgic glow in high definition.

For families, who needs the extras? What really matters is the chance to discover a wonderful movie whose time has finally come. And it's long overdue.

(While you're here, check out the animated Rocketeer fan film!)

Derek McCaw

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