Decent films that have something for the kids but adults can still enjoy are a rare thing of late. Most films are either way too violent, too stupid, or just plain badly made. A film may appeal to the teenage market, but most parents of those teenagers will find little in it, and the same goes for films aimed at the pre-teens. Rocketeer, however, has something for just about everyone, and sits firmly in that “Saturday afternoon at the movies” category that our parents often talk about, mixing adventure, romance, laughs and plenty of B-grade action
Set in 1938, the story (based on the graphic novel of the same name by Dave Stevens) revolves around Cliff Secord (Bill Campbell), a wannabe pilot with some grand scheme to win air races and pretty much live the life of a fly-boy. He resides on the outskirts of Los Angeles, has a pretty girlfriend in aspiring actress Jenny Blake (Jennifer Connelly) and works (if you can call it work) at a hangar preparing his single engine plane for a big race.
On a training and test-flight, he comes across a gangster style car-chase complete with guys in dark suits, hats and machine guns, a la Wacky Races. They are being chased by ‘the Feds’ and after a few crashes and lots of gunfire, Cliff gets fired on and hit but manages to get the plane to limp home where it crashes back at the airstrip, right where the car chase has ended in more gunfire and smoke.
Unbeknownst to Cliff, the gangsters were on the run from ‘the Feds’ after stealing a prototype rocket pack being developed for the US military. The gangsters get word to their ‘boss’ that the rocket pack was destroyed in the car chase, but the sole survivor lets it slip that he managed to swap it for a dummy model. The rocket pack is stashed in the hangar at the airfield, but Cliff has already found it and begun planning a test flight of his own.
Cliff is forced to don the pack to rescue his mate from a potential disaster at an airshow, and the media alert the world to the existence of “The Rocketeer”. Now the rightful owners want their rocket back, as do the gangsters who had already managed to steal it once.
When word of the rocket’s existence reaches the financier of the heist, Hollywood heartthrob Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton), he sets about organising its retrieval, no matter what. By chance, Cliff’s girl is an extra on his new film set, and after overhearing Cliff telling her what he has found, Sinclair realises she may be the key to getting the rocket back.
Things heat up as the gangsters return and dish out some treatment of their own when their questions go unanswered. Realising the crooks are onto him, Cliff gets word to Jenny to get away from Sinclair but they are foiled before she can get away, and Sinclair kidnaps her to use as ransom for the return of the rocket pack.
Cliff has the rocket, but the ‘baddies’ have his true love and ‘the Feds’ are pressuring cliff into returning the rocket immediately “or else!” What to do? What to do?
Rocketeer is good fun, and that’s about all. It has a fairly linear plot, some decent special effects, a good-looking hero and a pretty girl, the gangsters and ‘Feds’ are about as stereotypical as they can be, and there are plenty of car chases and shootouts.
The film has been likened to Raiders of the Lost Ark and while there are similarities in style and feel, there are quite dramatic differences in budget, story, sets and effects. There are a few familiar faces in the supporting cast, the sets, props and costumes are all pretty cool, and the acting is solid.
Although the DVD is rated PG, there are a few deaths, the odd punch up, and one or two quite scary looking characters roaming around in the dark. Cliff Secord’s goofiness, the obviously nasty Sinclair, and the fairly innocent romance between Cliff and his girl generally balance this out though. Those looking for a film with something for everyone should be well satisfied.
The only English-language option is a Dolby Digital 5.0 audio. There are also French and Italian Dolby surround tracks. Being a largely action film, the obvious question is, “How do the plane and car chases and all that gunfire sound?” and the answer is, “Pretty good.”
The period soundtrack makes great use all speakers, which are used a lot for ambience also. The space has been well used during the various chase scenes and shootouts, and there are enough roaring engines and ricochets from the rear speakers to keep everyone happy. Dialogue is mostly central, and is clear, audible and well synchronised. One character in heavy makeup has been dubbed, and this is a little obvious but not a fault of the transfer.
There is some noticeable separation and panning of sounds from all five speakers, and even if there isn’t a dedicated track for the subwoofer, the low-level sounds are mostly appropriate, although your neighbours are unlikely to complain.