While it does start off a tad slow and drags in some spots, The Rocketeer stills serves up some of that old-fashioned fun and adventure of yesteryear. Long considered a cult-classic after its disappointing run in theaters two decades ago, Disney has finally seen fit to release the film in high-definition with a barebones Blu-ray release, no doubt to capitalize on director Joe Johnston’s return to comic book adaptations with this summer’s successful Captain America: The First Avenger. And bare it is, as there’s no real features or bonuses to pad an otherwise tepid action-adventure, and while fans of similar fair such as Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow will definitely get a rocket kick out of this little-seen early 90s gem, while others are better off renting.
Director Joe Johnston (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Jurassic Park III)) brings us a tale set in the late 1930’s, following stunt pilot Cliff Secord (Bill Campbell), who plans on racing in the national air speed races using a plane that him and his buddy Peevy (Alan Arkin) worked on. While out testing the plane, some mobsters shoot down his aircraft while trying to get away from some FBI agents chasing them. One of the mobsters hides something in the hanger where Cliff and Peevy work, which turns out to be an experimental jetpack. Of course, Cliff finds it when they get back, and after testing it out and having a few high-flying adventures with it, Cliff is dubbed “The Rocketeer” by a local newspaper. Some Nazi spies find out he has the jetpack, and their leader Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton) isn’t too happy about this and kidnaps his girlfriend Jenny (Jennifer Connelly), forcing Cliff to rocket to the rescue and save the day.
It would’ve been nice if the story moved along as fast as Cliff’s rocket pack, but the movie spends much too long trying to develop characters that are little more than archetypes of the era, which makes for sluggish pacing that might put off most people from enjoying it. People want to see a man fly – with a rocket – and instead are treated to a melodrama that’s almost slavishly devoted to its art deco atmosphere and somewhat corny “heroes versus villains motif” that was played out even back in 1991. Whatever the case, despite some great casting choices, particularly Jennifer Connelly and Timothy Dalton, and a memorable animated sequence showcasing a triumphant Nazi takeover of the United States, the result is a largely disappointing comic adventure that, like Cliff’s rocket, runs out of fuel before the credits roll.
Disney hardly ever fails to impress with their Blu-ray transfers, and this one is no exception. Everything shows up clean and crisp while featuring some rich colors for a film that’s twenty years old. Of course, high-definition is seldom kind to special effects like these, and with this high amount of detail the differences between the live-action and blue screen shots are made painfully aware here. While this can be a bit annoying, it still doesn’t take too much away from the movie. At least the 5.1 DTS-HD audio comes through, as every roar of the jetpack and James Horner’s soundtrack are heard in crystal clarity. For a Blu-ray release, you’d think there would be some special features befitting a cult classic inlcluded, but apart from the theatrical trailer, there are none.
Despite some pacing issues and painfully outdated special-effects, The Rocketeer still manages to be a decent adventure that harkens back to the golden years of Hollywood serials, almost to its detriment. Joe Johnston directs an adaptation of a little-known comic book character, one seemingly trapped in a different era, focusing almost entirely on melodrama when it should be showcasing the main character’s unique gift – flying with a rocket. There are touches of brilliance, however, such as a memorable animated sequence, great casting, and some nice stunt pieces, but even these are few and far between. It’s also a shame that Disney didn’t include any real special features, apart from a theatrical trailer, making this Blu-ray release as barebones as they come. Fans of older serials like Flash Gordon may enjoy it, but most are bound to find this Rocketeer an average rental at best.
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Walt Disney Video