Monday, December 26, 2011

Catching Up with 'The Rocketeer'

With the hectic holidays (almost) behind us, I finally checked out Disney's newly-released 20th anniversary edition of The Rocketeer on Blu-ray.

What a letdown.

No, not the movie. The movie's fun. It's a sincere piece of action hero hokum, with straight arrow aviator Cliff Secord (Billy Campbell) coming into possession of a top secret rocket pack that both the good guys and the bad guys are after. Set in the 1940s, the movie pays tribute to the delightfully absurd serials of that era, pitting good against mustache-twirling evil. There's a beautiful, spunky girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly), a plucky sidekick who's handy with tools (Alan Arkin) and a charmingly slimy villain (perfectly cast Timothy Dalton--if Errol Flynn had been a Nazi, this would've been him). The film has a striking Art Deco design--our hero's crash helmet looks like it was torn right off the Chrysler Building--and director Joe Johnston keeps the action moving forward nicely, climaxing with a nifty chase aboard a very flammable zeppelin.

The problem with The Rocketeer is the Blu-ray disc itself. You'd think commemorating the movie's release 20 years ago would be worth some tribute, right? Maybe a "making of" documentary or a commentary by Johnston (who added to his action hero cred this year with the whiz-bang Captain America: The First Avenger). Nope, nada. With the exception of a paltry 1991 movie trailer, The Rocketeer has absolutely no bonus features, and that's a shame. It may not be Disney's most acclaimed film, but it's well crafted and does have a loyal following--filmmaker Kevin Smith admits to being a huge fan. This year, Smith moderated a Q&A with some of The Rocketeer's cast and crew at a 20th anniversary screening at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood. Some of that footage would've been a nice addition to the Blu-ray package. A commentary by Smith would've even been better.

That Disney pluses direct-to-video piffle like the Buddies franchise (see: Spooky Buddies or the upcoming Treasure Buddies) more than The Rocketeer is a disservice to one of its more under-appreciated films. I can recommend the film as the diverting action adventure it is, but its Blu-ray release deserved better.

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