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The Rocketeer: 20th Anniversary Edition (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

December 4, 2011 by  



I absolutely loved “The Rocketeer” when I was younger.  As excited as I was to hear about a 20th Anniversary Blu-ray release, the major positives about this release is that the upgrade for picture and audio quality is much better than any previous video release of the film thus far.  The only disappointment is the fact that for a 20th Anniversary Edition, there are no special features but a theatrical trailer.  Otherwise, a film worth upgrading to Blu-ray and for curious fans, an action film worth checking out!

Images courtesy of ©2011 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The Rocketeer: 20th Anniversary Edition

FILM RELEASE: 1991

DURATION: 109 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (2:35:1), English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Subtitles: English SDH, French

COMPANY: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

RATED: PG (Some Material May Not Be Suitable For Children)

Release Date: December 13, 2011

Directed by Joe Johnston

Based on the Graphic Novel “The Rocketeer” by Dave Stevens

Story by Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, William Dear

Screenplay by Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo

Produced by Charles Gordon, Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin

Executive Producer: Larry J. Franco

Co-Producer: Dave Stevens

Associate Producer: Lisa Bailey

Music by James Horner

Cinematography by Hiro Narita

Edited by Arthur Schmidt

Casting by Nancy Foy

Production Design by James D. Bissell

Art Direction by Christopher Burian-Mohr

Set Decoration by Linda DeScenna

Costume Design by Marilyn Vance

Starring:

Billy Campbell as Cliff

Jennifer Connelly as Jenny

Alan Arkin as Peevy

Timothy Dalton as Neville Sinclair

Paul Sorvino as Eddie Valentine

Terry O’Quinn as Howard Hughes

Ed Lauter as Fitch

James Handy as Wooly

The discovery of a top-secret jetpack hurls test pilot Cliff Secord into a daring adventure of mystery, suspense, and intrigue! Cliff encounters an assortment of ruthless villains, led by a Hollywood screen star who is a secret Nazi spy. With the help of his actress girlfriend, the young pilot battles enormous odds to defeat his foes who are anxious to use the device in an evil plan to rule the world. The dangerous mission transforms the ordinary young man into an extraordinary hero.

In 1982, writer/illustrator Dave Stevens created the character known as The Rocketeer which was an adventure story set in a pulp-fiction 1930’s style and was presented as backup stories for Mike Grell’s Pacific Comic’s “Starslayer” series.  The character was one of the first successful features to emerge from the independent comics movement and would find a home in Comico Comics and later for Dark Horse Comics in the mid-90s.

But back in 1983, Stevens was already working on a screenplay for his character and sold it to the Walt Disney Company and Disney would hire Joe Johnston (“Jurassic Park III”, “Jumanji”, “Captain America: The First Avenger”) as the director but there were some major wrangling behind-the-scenes with screenwriters Danny Bilson (“Trancers”, “The Wrong Guys”) and Paul De Meo (“Trancers”) and Disney which wanted to go a different way versus how things were in the original comic books.

But by 1990, the film met positive reviews but unfortunately  didn’t do as well in the box office.  The film which was made for $42 million, would go on to gross $62 million and originally planned as a trilogy, only one single film was released.

But for fans of the film, including creator Dave Stevens, the good news is that he approved the director’s decisions including the casting, especially for casting unknown actor Billy Campbell for the main character Cliff (which Disney did not want to do).  And considering how many comic book to film adaptations were at the time, aside from “Batman”, “The Rocketeer” was a film that fans felt was done right.

The film would star Billy Campbell (“Enough”, “Dracula”), Jennifer Connelly (“Requiem for a Dream”, “A Beautiful Mind”, “Blood Diamond”), Alan Arkin (“Little Miss Sunshine”, “Get Smart”), Timothy Dalton (“License to Kill”, “The Tourist”, The Living Daylights”), Paul Sorvino (“Goodfellas”, “Romeo + Juliet”) and Terry O’Quinn (“Lost”, “The Step Father”, “Primal Fear”).

And now, with the 20th anniversary of “The Rocketeer”, Disney is releasing “The Rocketeer: 20th Anniversary Edition” on Blu-ray this Dec. 2011.

The film is set in 1938 and Cliff Secord (played by Billy Campbell), a stunt pilot and mechanic and his good friend, aviation engineer A. “Peevy” Peabody (played by Alan Arkin) are working on a new biplane to include in a competition.

Cliff takes off with the airplane just perfectly and testing looks to go as planned.  But meanwhile, below him is a member of mobster Eddie Valentine’s gang has stolen a rocket pack designed by Howard Hughes (played by Terry O’Quinn).  As the FBI are pursuing the mobster on the run, Cliff tries to lend some help but instead, gets a few rounds shot into the plane and damaging it.

As the pursuit leads to the airfield which Cliff is about to land, Cliff manages to land the plane and escapes before it is hit by another vehicle in pursuit.  But unknown to Cliff and his friends, the mobster has hidden the rocket pack in one of the biplanes in the hangar, while switching it out with badly burnt machinery.

As news reaches Howard Hughes about the rocket, despite the American military wanting it, Howard Hughes is happy that it has been destroyed because he doesn’t want his technology going into the wrong hands, nor being used for war.

As for the mobsters, Eddie Valentine (played by Paul Sorvino) pays a visit to Hollywood movie star Neville Sinclair (played by Timothy Dalton) and Neville tells him that he needs that rocket pack and he will triple the price that he was originally going to pay them.  While Eddie’s group looks for the rocket pack, Neville calls in his monstrous assassin named Lothar to also find the rocket pack.

Back at the hangar, Cliff and Peevy discover a rocket pack hidden in the seat of one of their planes.  Immediately, the men are surprised to find such a device and know that the feds and mobsters are looking for it.  But being enthusiastic of the aviation device, both men decide to experiment with it.  In the process, Peevy designs new controls including a helmet to hide Cliff’s true identity.  But both make rules not to use it in public or else they will be in big trouble.

But during an airshow, one of their friends who is piloting a malfunctioned plane is in big trouble and can crash into the audience.  The only way that Cliff knows for his friend to be rescued is by using the rocket pack and immediately, he rushes and puts the helmet and pack on and goes to save his friend in the air.  With all the media at the air show, everyone is shocked to see a man flying and news gets out quickly on all newspapers that a rocket man is seen in the area.

The owner of the air show dubs the rocket man’s name as “The Rocketeer” and creates a big sensation.  Enough publicity that Lothar and the mobsters are led to the area.  Lothar in search of the rocket pack, kills the owner of the air show and the mobsters, all they are able to find is a photo of Jenny Blake, Cliff’s girlfriend inside a plane.

One day, as Cliff is visiting his girlfriend Jenny Blake (played by Jennifer Connelly) at the set of a film starring actor Neville Sinclair.  Cliff’s presence at the set unfortunately knocks a background which nearly hurts Neville and in the process, Jenny gets fired.  And as the two are walking and talking, they have a conversation about Cliff finding a rocket pack.  But not far from them is a curious Neville Sinclair who is shocked that this man has the rocket pack that he has been searching for.

So, Neville begins to use his charms on Jenny, apologizing for firing her but wanting to give her a larger part in the film and to discuss it over dinner at the South Seas Club (owned by mobster Eddie Valentine).  While he schedules dinner, he sends Lothar to find Cliff and take the rocket pack from him.

As Cliff is heading back home, Peevy is working on schematics of the rocket pack and immediately, Lothar is there to steal the schematics and tries to kill Peevy.  But Cliff arrives just in time, to fight him off.  And as both men are trying to avoid being killed by Lothar, along with the FBI who begins shooting at Peevy’s home.

As the gunfire ensues, Lothar escapes with the schematics, Cliff and Peevy manage to escape and find shelter at their local diner.  But while they are eating, a group of mobsters arrive and they are looking for Cliff. They begin shooting up the diner, warning the patrons to tell them the truth of Cliff’s whereabouts.

Everyone at the restaurant pretends they don’t know who Cliff is but when the mobsters talk about going after Cliff’s girlfriend and showing a photo of  her, Cliff begins to tremble.  And when they see see Jenny’s phone number listed on the diner wall, they contact the number and find out her address but to also find out that she is having dinner with Sinclair.

The mobsters wonder if Sinclair is doublecrossing their boss Eddie and so now the mobsters are heading to the South Seas Club to find out what is going wrong.

Worried about his girlfriend and seeing  how much trouble the rocket pack has brought them, Cliff breaks a promise to Peevy that he needs to use the rocket pack in public in order to save Jenny.

But will having a rocket pack be enough for Billy to save his girlfriend?

VIDEO:

“The Rocketeer: 20th Anniversary Edition” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:35:1).  For a 1991 film, some may expect a lot of DNR to be used but for the most part, this is possibly the best I have seen of “The Rocketeer” on video.  The Blu-ray really brings out the details for the film, from the closeup of the mask, to seeing the surface of the rocket pack, the leather on Cliff’s jacket and if anything, more details are present.

With that being said, the film also enhances the not-so-good action sequences via green screen as the green screen technology was what one would expect from a film made during that time.  It doesn’t look as realistic when you see the Rocketeer flying in air but that is to be expected from a film that was created 20-years-ago.

Still, the colors look vibrant and the detail of the film and the contrast are very good!  While I did see few artifacts, I have no doubt in my mind that this is the best looking version of the film to date.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“The Rocketeer: 20th Anniversary Edition ” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio.  While not the most immersive soundtrack, considering this is a 1991 film,  Disney did manage to bring out the more action sequences through the surround channel.  From Cliff riding the airplane in the beginning and hearing the bullets whizzing towards the plane as bullets hit metal, to the sounds of more machine guns being fired at him during the restaurant sequence.

While dialogue and even music are crystal clear, I didn’t notice any hissing or any crackle while watching the film.  But for the most part, this is the best version, audio-wise, that I have heard of “The Rocketeer”.

Subtitles are in English SDH and French.

SPECIAL FEATURES

“The Rocketeer: 20th Anniversary Edition” comes with a theatrical trailer.

I can easily remember those years of watching “The Rocketeer” as it would air on cable a lot when I was younger.   And I loved the film and even went so far to behind the NES video game and also a few of the later comic book series and then owning previous video releases.

But It’s been a long time since I have seen the film and with the 20th Anniversary release on Blu-ray… I was excited!

“The Rocketeer” film adaptation had every thing a comic book fan would want and expect in a pulp-fiction 30’s style film-adaptation.  A hero that has no superhuman abilities but he has a rocket pack, a helmet and he goes out saving and rescuing people.  But he’s also a normal guy who has a beautiful girlfriend and cool friends that are able to help him out in a rut.

Add in antagonists who are mobsters, Nazi’s and even Howard Hughes and the feds trying to get their hands on the rocket pack, needless to say, “The Rocketeer” was a fun, action series.  And despite the film not having the greatest success in the box office, I’m quite sure that many who discovered the film on cable, probably became fans of the film.

Although, Billy Campbell was not a huge star at the time, he definitely fit the role of Cliff Secord and Jennifer Connelly looked absolutely ravishing as Jenny Blake!  You also had 007 star Timothy Dalton and the film became a pretty fun action film that families can enjoy.

While I am aware of the problems that happened behind-the-scenes as Disney wanted to go for a more contemporary children’s film and the writers and director wanted the film to be as close to the original comic book or even a homage to the Commando Cody serial films, it was a long development fight that thanks to the Indiana Jones films, would eventually let Disney give the film a try, their way.

And I’m glad that these guys were able to create a film, while not 100% on the actual comic book, at least giving credibility to its characters and also not making it a children’s film.  Also, giving credibility of the 1930’s timeline by utilizing older planes such as the 1916 Standard biplane and Gee Bee Model Z racer.

The film wasn’t hokey at all, especially considering how Marvel Comics was having a difficult time with its live action films (such as “Captain America” and “Fantastic Four”) during the early ’90s, comic book to film adaptations were not exactly seen as positive (aside from the successful string of “Batman” films).

While Disney really did a lot of marketing for the film, it’s a shame that the film did not catch on back then and although the film did earn its money back in the box office, it wasn’t the great success that Disney and even the crew of the film had hoped for.  But fortunately, on video, the film has received a cult following.

And here we are, 20 years later with “The Rocketeer: 20th Anniversary Edition”.  And while I can easily say that this film looks and sounds better in HD than its previous  VHS, LD and DVD versions of the film, while the LD did come with the original theatrical trailer, you would expect Disney to add a few special features for this 20th anniversary edition.  A commentary track, reunion featurette or how “The Rocketeer” lives on.  Something would have been better than nothing.    Sure, you do get the theatrical trailer but for the most part, this is a barebone Blu-ray release and coming from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, that’s a bit surprising and also a bit disappointing.

Overall, “The Rocketeer: 20th Anniversary Edition” is the definitive version to own of this film at this time.  The upgrade to Blu-ray is definitely worth it for the better picture and audio quality but for a 20th Anniversary Edition, I expected more from Disney, other than just a theatrical trailer.

But if you are a big fan of the film, I definitely recommend the upgrade.  For those curious about the film, I still recommend it but I can’t help but feel that there should have been more added to this release in terms of special features.

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