"ROCKETEER ROLL CALL, COUNT OFF NOW!" @ 21 December 2011 05:58 PM
There hasn't been a whole lot of fanfare, but for fans of Dave Stevens' graphic novels and Joe Johnston's 1991 Disney big-screen spectacular, the appearance of The Rocketeer on Blu-ray is somewhat of an event.
On the package is a sticker proclaiming, "From the director of Captain America." Clearly this release is piggybacking on the successful 2011 film -- and the two films seem, at least to me, inextricably linked by their setting and their director.
But why did The Rocketeer run out of propellant while Captain America blasted the box office? The most obvious reason is that the Marvel character has had more mainstream visibility, though the '60s cartoon and '70s live-action series incarnations of Captain America were not exactly stellar. It's also a tricky matter to set a film in WWII, or during the '40s and make it resound with younger audiences.
Just because The Rocketeer wasn't a smash, it isn't fair to dismiss it as some did back in the '90s. Actually, it's quite a fine film, with a likable cast led by Billy Campbell, Jennifer Connelly and Alan Arkin, as well as a scene-chewing tour-de-force performance by Timothy Dalton -- clearly having a grand old time playing a thorough rotter.
The Rocketeer has very good effects for its time, superb art direction and photography, and one of the best background scores of the last several decades. I highly recommend the soundtrack album of James Horner's sweeping score. You can also hear this music as the Epcot fountains dance regularly, as well as in countless movie trailers for other releases.
Hopes were just a little too high for The Rocketeer. Disney was looking for a huge franchise, so a well-done, nicely received film wouldn't cut it. Even though Johnston only mentions The Rocketeer once briefly in his Captain America commentary (alas, he did not do one for The Rocketeer Blu-ray -- there are no extras to speak of), clearly the director learned and developed over the years.
Perhaps the main issue between the two films is tone. The Rocketeer is highly stylized and inconsistently campy with a hero who's a little too cocky for his own good, while Captain America is a hybrid between retro, comic book and contemporary action movie style, with a much more sympathetic hero.
But if you haven't seen The Rocketeer in Blu-ray, prepare for a treat. The spot-on animated sequence, the lavish nightclub scene, and even the sarcophagus-like dwelling of the villain are as vivid as can be. You just have to approach The Rocketeer as a jaunty romp and enjoy the ride.
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