The Rocketeer is the type of film that should certainly benefit from being able to gain a new life that that it’s available on Disney+.
Stunt pilot Cliff Secord (Bill Campbell) happens to come across a rocket-powered jet pack after crashing his Gee Bee racer. The discovery was made alongside mechanic A. “Peevy” Peabody (Alan Arkin). Little do the two of them know just how much trouble this rocket will get them in. The rocket pack just happens to be the invention of Howard Hughes (Terry O’Quinn) but that’s the least of their worries. It was stolen by some of Eddie Valentine’s (Paul Sorvino) gang at the request of Errol Flynn-inspired actor Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton).
Everything changes when Clint saves a friend’s life. He’s all over thew news not so much because of what he did but how he did it. As word spreads, both the FBI and Eddie’s gang go after the jet pack. If this isn’t bad enough, communication issues have his relationship with Jenny Blake (Jennifer Connelly) on the fritz. When Jenny gets captured by a menacing Nazi agent, Clint does everything he can to rescue her. It’s only after the FBI and Hughes bring him up to speed that we realize the full consequences of the jet pack landing in the wrong hands.
The climactic action sequence at the end of the film provides one interpretation of how LAND was removed from the Hollywood sign. This is not the first film to do so as 1941 had done something similar over a decade before. In real life, the Hollywoodland sign became the Hollywood sign upon renovations in 1949.
Right off the bat, one can see that there are certainly a few things that haven’t aged well. One of which is the male gaze when it comes to filming Jennifer Connelly. This is easily noticeable when one looks at the camera angles that the filmmakers have chosen when filming the actress. Male gaze aside, the production values are where they should be for a film set in 1938. What’s funny is that this gaze is seen in a film that’s supposed to be family friendly! One can only wonder what we’d have seen had Touchstone Pictures released The Rocketeer. For all the battles, at least Disney let the filmmakers keep the 1930s setting. This film would not have been the same if the period changed.
This is a film that was released in 1991–two years after Batman. Regardless, the film is not privy to the visual effects of this era. Even though a potential sequel or reboot (please no!) would certainly take advantage of such technology, the film doesn’t need today’s technology because the film’s visual effects reflect the era for which it was released. It doesn’t need to be the showy stuff for the film to work. What it needs to do and does is perfectly capture the 1938 feel. Meanwhile, James Horner’s score is also a high point.
The Rocketeer is the beauty for someone like myself who grew up in the 1990s. One can watch this film for what it is and still appreciate what it’s trying to do. Moreover, one can look at this film and see how Joe Johnston grew as a filmmaker. Johnston would go onto direct Captain America: The First Avenger two decades later in 2011. For what it’s worth, neither film is his first foray into World War 2. It was Johnston who headed up visual effects for Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Despite the issues that I have with the film, it remains enjoyable. At the end of the day, The Rocketeer works because it’s paying homage to the Saturday matinee serials.
DIRECTOR: Joe Johnston
SCREENWRITERS: Danny Bilson & Paul De Meo
CAST: Bill Campbell, Alan Arkin, Jennifer Connelly, Timothy Dalton, and Paul Sorvino