‘The Rocketeer’ -- a retro adventure that was ahead of its time
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“THE ROCKETEER,” 8 p.m. tonight, ArcLight Hollywood
“The Rocketeer” was a valentine to the old movie serials but in a way, the 1991 Disney film was also ahead of its time.
“The Rocketeer” flies again Monday (Aug. 9) at the ArcLight Hollywood, one of three L.A.-area theaters now hosting a special month-long Disney screening series, and it’s especially timely considering the contemporary surge in superhero cinema and the connections to the Joe Johnston-directed film.
Johnston had come to “The Rocketeer” with a proven affinity for retro adventure -- he had been the art director for “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” Right now, he is at work on a fourth Roosevelt-era adventure with “Captain America: The First Avenger,” which is due in theaters next summer and has some common ground with “Rocketeer.” In each story, for instance, a young man finds himself transformed by secret technology into a costumed hero who tangles with Nazis.
“The Rocketeer” faced some major headwinds during its theatrical run with competition from “T2: Terminator 2,” “City Slickers,” “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” and “Backdraft” and the reviews were mixed for a film that had some sleek visuals and costumes but, in the view of many, lacked a needed edge in its storytelling. Janet Maslin in the New York Times, for instance, called it “a benign adventure saga that has attractive stars, elaborate gimmicks and nice production values -- everything it needs except a personality of its own.”
I think the film actually had plenty of personality -- especially in the supporting performances by the stunning Jennifer Connelly and the sly, rakish Timothy Dalton ...
... but the problem might be that it needed darker moments to balance out the buoyant humor and that was a direction that Disney didn’t want to go into at the time. If “Rocketeer” had been made with the sort of PG-13 mindset of the “Pirates of Caribbean” films, we might remember it as a signature moment for screen superheroes.
I thought back to “Rocketeer” while watching the “Iron Man” films. Jon Favreau’s hero jetted across the Southern California sky in films that were laced with aviation history, car culture and celebrity commentary -- just like “Rocketeer.” But the real way that “Rocketeer” was ahead of its time was the faithful allegiance to the source material; the film was based on the comic books of the late, great Dave Stevens and the differences between the screen and the page were far, far less than those seen in, say, Tim Burton’s “Batman” films or the “Superman” movies starring Christopher Reeve.
“The Rocketeer” and the other Disney films screening this month were keyed by D23, the paid-membership club that gives fans special access to Disney events and even the storied Walt Disney Archives. I talked to Rob Klein at the Disney Archives and he said the Rocketeer rocket pack is one of the great artifacts in the collection -- the rare movie prop that looks as substantial and sleek in person as it does on the screen. He sent over a photo, too, which you can see on the right.
Klein said “Rocketeer” has a special place in film history and is probably more beloved now than it was the year it first took flight in the public consciousness. “The more you watch them the more you like them,” Klein said. “Some movies you see and you think, ‘Oh I love it,’ but when you go back there’s disappointment and you think, ‘I remember that being better.’ With ‘Rocketeer’ and so many Disney movies, it’s like wine, they get better with age.”
Love to hear from any readers that go to the ArcLight screening...
-- Geoff Boucher
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