The Rocketeer (1991)

Three years before the United States declares war, Cliff Secord leads America's first battle against the Nazis.

Young pilot Cliff Secord stumbles on a top secret rocket-pack and with the help of his mechanic/mentor, he attempts to save his girl and stop the Nazis as 'The Rocketeer'.

Rocketeer is directed by Joe Johnston and co-written by Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo and William Dear. It is based on Dave Stevens' comic book The Rocketeer. It stars Billy Campbell, Jennifer Connelly, Alan Arkin, Timothy Dalton and Paul Sorvino. Music is scored by James Horner and cinematography by Hiro Narita.
It took eight years to get to the screen, with many rewrites, changes in personal, changes in setting and etc, the only thing consistent was Disney's inconsistency. Once out the film received generally positive reviews but posted only a small profit, in the wake of a Tim Burton inspired reinvention of the Super Hero genre, Rocketeer fell away into cultdom, sequels planned were shelved and its reputation remains to this day one of being a misfire. Unfair say I! Rocketeer is a lovingly crafted adventure film, nodding towards the serials of the 1930s, it's awash with period Hollywood delights, Art Deco imagery, has a damsel in distress, square jawed heroics, Nazi villains, wonderful effects and a blunderbuss Zeppelin finale. Backed by beautiful smooth tone photography and an evocative heart stirring music score, it's a family friendly blockbuster that ticks all the requisite boxes. The quality of the action sequences still hold up today, and Johnston, who wanted the job big time, directs with a knowing grasp of the setting, and crucially he never once loses a grip on tone and pacing. There's no self parody here, no deep Fruedian dissection of the main character, just a honest to goodness good against bad axis, with a romantic cause deftly wafted over proceedings.
The role of Cliff Secord (Rocketeer) proved hard to cast, where Vincent D'Onofrio turned it down and "name" actors such as Dennis Quaid, Emilio Estevez, Kurt Russell and Bill Paxton auditioned for the part. Paxton, it's believed, was very close to getting it as well. Disney wanted an A list man, Johnny Depp and Kevin Costner were mooted, but Johnston had a feel for unknown Billy Campbell and managed to convince nervous Disney heads that he was perfect. Much of the scorn that has flown towards Rocketeer has landed at Campbell's door, again, this is unfair. It's hard to tell if one of those A list actors could have made the character work better, for it helps in this instance to not have a familiar face propelling the adventure. There's an innocence, an awkwardness to Campbell's portrayal that just sits right for a guy stumbling upon a rocket pack and finding himself submerged in a chase and harry battle against bad. He also has the looks, a handsome dude who creates a homespun based chemistry with the sensuous Connelly. It's Dalton's movie, though, he's having a devil of a time as the chief villain. Modeled on Errol Flynn and the spurious notion that he was once a Nazi spy, Dalton has the looks, the gusto, the moustache twirling shiftiness and a voice perfect for such material. A roll call of great character actors fill out the support slots, with Terry O'Quinn, Paul Sorvino and Ed Lauter particularly striking the right chords.
A smashing piece of escapism, no pretensions or ideas above its station. The willingness to tap into the basic premise of a comic book actioner and entertain in grand Hollywood terms, to be applauded. And I do, and I do love it so. 8/10

Walt Disney Pictures, Gordon Company, Dark Horse Entertainment by Joe Johnston, Dave Stevens, Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, William Dear.
Stars: Billy Campbell, Jennifer Connelly, Alan Arkin, Timothy Dalton.

Genres: Action, Adventure, Family, Sci-Fi

Keywords: superhero los angeles, california based on graphic novel flying man pilot hero nazi collaborator 1930s howard hughes griffith observatory

06/21/1991

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