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Blu-ray Review The Rocketeer Blu-ray Review

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Matt Hough, Dec 14, 2011.

  1. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Director
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    A fizzy if not wholly successful fantasy adventure film that mixes some real-life personalities and the cinematic tone of 1930s Hollywood with fictional protagonists and antagonists, Joe Johnston’s The Rocketeer remains a fun film even if it doesn’t quite achieve the same spirit of gung-ho adventure and unadulterated fun that Raiders of the Lost Ark, its obvious cinematic inspiration, generated. Its disappointing box-office performance quashed any hopes for a series, but the film has generated something of a cult following in the years since its release making this Blu-ray 20th Anniversary Edition, even without anything in the way of a tribute or movie memorabilia, an unexpected surprise.



    The Rocketeer (Blu-ray)
    Directed by Joe Johnston

    Studio: Disney
    Year: 1991

    Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1   1080p   AVC codec  
    Running Time: 109 minutes
    Rating: PG
    Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 2.0 French
    Subtitles: SDH, French

    Region: A-B-C

    MSRP: $ 26.50


    Release Date: December 13, 2011

    Review Date: December 14, 2011



    The Film

    3.5/5


    Test pilot Cliff Secord (Bill Campbell) is surprised to discover a rocket pack stowed away on a plane belonging to his partner airplane designer Peevy (Alan Arkin). Designed but abandoned by Howard Hughes (Terry O'Quinn), the plans and the prototype were stolen and are now being sought by both the FBI and a bunch of mobsters led by Eddie Valentine (Paul Sorvino) working for box-office matinee idol Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton) who has his own nefarious reasons for wanting the rocket pack and plans. Once Cliff dons the rocket pack and appears before a cheering crowd amazing them with aerial stunts, he becomes “The Rocketeer,” thus making him and his beautiful movie extra girl friend Jenny (Jennifer Connelly) targets for both the feds and the mob.


    In trying to capture the fanciful movie serial world of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, writers Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo don’t quite hit the mark keeping the audience waiting for forty minutes before finally launching Cliff skyward and not allowing him to do much derring-do as the cloud-skimming hero. In fact, his first two flying sequences are played more for slapstick comedy effect (none of it particularly inspired, just general destruction) than for any genuine heroics, and it’s only in the climax to the movie with the showdown on board the zeppelin that Secord gets to show his true mettle as a potential flying and fighting champion. Director Joe Johnston establishes a nice sense of 1930s Hollywood with occasional cameos from the likes of Gable and W. C. Fields imitators (though someone should be thrashed for making the film’s stalking thug in the image of the tragic Rondo Hatton who suffered from acromegaly, the disease which eventually killed him) and period clothes and big band music that put us right in the middle of 1938. He handles all of the special effects shots beautifully, too, which are continually astonishing knowing they weren’t done in a computer. Those who have seen the recent Captain America film, also helmed by Joe Johnston, understand why he’s adept at this kind of film set in the nostalgic American past.


    Bill Campbell makes for a sturdy and wholesome hero, but he’s too stoic in the part, lacking the kind of gee-whiz, bubbling sense of amazement and enthusiasm that a Harrison Ford or Michael J. Fox would have brought to the project. Despite being a fine actor, his lack of genuine movie star glamour was likely one of the reasons the film wasn’t a bigger hit at the box-office. The young Jennifer Connelly as his love interest is a beautiful woman, and they make an exquisite looking couple (they were engaged at the time), but she, too, seems a little stiff (especially early in the film) to be an effective leading lady. Both leads fall by the wayside in comparison to the suave, effortless ease that Timothy Dalton brings to his Errol Flynn-like role of Neville Sinclair. Completely confident and oozing with charisma, Dalton’s smarmy charm masking an insidious nature is perfect for this kind of fantasy adventure. Alan Arkin is fine in the not-so-absent minded professor role of Peevy, and Terry O’Quinn is a solid Howard Hughes. In small roles are wonderful actors like Margo Martindale and Melora Hardin (as a knockout big band singer), while Paul Sorvino scores well as the threatening mob boss who may be crooked but who’s also a true-blue American.



    Video Quality

    4.5/5


    The film’s Panavision theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is faithfully rendered in 1080p using the AVC codec. The image displays solid, sharp focus and excellent color saturation that offers realistic flesh tones and beautiful density of hues. Contrast could have been turned up a click for a more striking picture but as is offers the best compromise to the look of a previous era the film is portraying. Black levels aren’t the deepest you’ll see, but they’re more than adequate. The film has been divided into 15 chapters.



    Audio Quality

    5/5


    The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is surprisingly robust and tremendously effective, far surpassing theatrical exhibitions or previous home video releases. Sound effects have been fantastically placed in the soundstage to maximize their effectiveness with striking pans through the soundfield and really impressive bass content. James Horner’s dynamic music including a memorable main theme has also been spread through the fronts and rears to genuinely exciting effect. Dialogue has been recorded with precision and has been placed in the center channel.



    Special Features

    1/5


    The theatrical trailer, with the picture cropped into a 4:3 frame, is presented in 480i and runs 2 ¼ minutes.



    In Conclusion

    3.5/5 (not an average)


    While it hasn’t gotten an anniversary edition befitting its cult popularity, The Rocketeer has nevertheless received a superlative high definition transfer that by far constitutes the best it has ever looked on home video. Those who love the film will be glad to finally have it with a high quality sound and picture encode.



    Matt Hough

    Charlotte, NC

     
  2. Todd Erwin

    Todd Erwin Producer
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    Definitely on my Christmas wish list, and happy to hear the film finally looks and sounds as good, if not better, than the original 70mm theatrical engagements from 20 years ago.
     
  3. dmiller68

    dmiller68 Supporting Actor

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    I do want this but I'll wait until I can get it for $10.
     
  4. stephen la

    stephen la Stunt Coordinator

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    thanks for the review. I found it interesting that while the Rocketeer is often called a box office failure, it actually wasn't according to box office mojo. It's budget was 35 million and it earned 46 million. also there's no international numbers listed. also with inflation adjusted box office mojo shows it earned 88 million. see the 2nd list for the inflation numbers http://boxofficemojo.com/people/chart/?view=Director&id=joejohnston.htm It was up against Robin Hood Prince of Thieves and City Slickers, followed by Terminator 2 a couple weeks later. You don't see many people talking about Robin hood still or City Slickers anymore do you?.
     
  5. Colin Jacobson

    Colin Jacobson Lead Actor

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    To be fair, how many people talk about "Rocketeer"? It's a decent movie with a moderate cult following and that's about it. I don't think it's remembered by all that many people outside of movie buffs.


    I never thought "Rocketeer" bombed, but it didn't do much business, which the numbers you list support...
     
  6. Bob Cashill

    Bob Cashill Producer

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    They were both much bigger hits than THE ROCKETEER. What the budget number omits is the costs of prints and advertising, and marketing, which can be double the actual cost of the movie. So by that standard THE ROCKETEER was a short-faller, even if it has fans (me included) 20 years later.
     
  7. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Director
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    The most common equation (or it used to be) for judging the relative success or failure of a movie is that it must earn one-and-a-half times its cost in order to break even. If The Rocketeer cost $35 million, then its gross of $46 million wouldn't quite reach breakeven making it not a disaster but definitely a disappointment which is what I deemed it in the first paragraph of my review.
     
  8. Robert George

    Robert George Screenwriter

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    Box office receipts may have been a disappointment, but this disc sure isn't, at least for transfer quality. This disc is a stunner. Watched last night at 106" and the closer I looked the better it looked. Gorgeous transfer, and a real pleasure to watch this one again looking this good.
     
  9. mattCR

    mattCR Executive Producer
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    This to me is one of those titles that is just good fun. I'm putting away a few Christmas buys (I've already overspent.. bigtime) but this is on my list for the next year.
     
  10. ahollis

    ahollis Lead Actor
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    Very happy with the transfer, but just it being in the OAR and anamorphic is a huge plus. Disappointed as everyone else is about the lack of extras, but the film is just a hell of a lot of fun.
     
  11. Paul_Warren

    Paul_Warren Second Unit

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    Just watched mine had to import as no UK release. PQ + Audio are both excellent for a catalog release they do not look much better than this. The picture is intentionally soft in places due to the photo chemical VFX & optical compositing of the era. The movie is still a lot of fun & moves very quickly. Well worth buying :cool:
     
  12. Tom M

    Tom M Stunt Coordinator

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    Something no one has pointed out: Disney has actually digitally cleaned every single FX shot in the movie! The garbage mattes are gone and wire removal has been done. The wire removal is most evident in the nightclub scene. In the theatrical release and previous home video releases, as Cliff files around the main dining area, from the top of his head up was blurred to cover the wires. On the blu-ray, the blurring is gone as are the wires! Again, in the theatrical and previous home video releases, there were visible garbage mattes during the flying scenes. They have now been digitally removed. This is most apparant when Cliff arrives at Grifith Park Observatory. No more white box around him when he arrives! In addition, the laserdisc and DVD (which was actually a direct port of the LD master), had the AR altered to 2.20:1 which made many shots look cramped and led to some minor panning and scanning. The blu-ray restores the full 2.35:1 image. Alas, not restored is the shaky-cam scenes in the zeppelin. The effect was removed for the original home video release because the shaking made the picture unwatchable on small TV screens. You do get a small taste of what it originally looked like when Sinclair and Jenny first get onboard the zeppelin. For some reason, the shaking is left intact for that scene. For the record, the black levels are exactly the same as in the theatrical release. I remember noting how light the black levels were when I was watching it in theaters in 1991. I would also like to point out the centered dialogue. Far too many catalog releases of late has had the dialogue mixed to all three front speakers making it a chore to listen to for people like me who's seating area has no center "sweet spot". Given the poor re-mixes Disney has done with Beauty and Lion King, this was a nice surprise as I was expecting the worse. This re-mix is VERY faithful to the original sound design. This is EXACTLY how a catalog title should be presented! A faithful re-creation of the movie's picture and sound quality as intended by the filmmakers! Disney deserves major kudos for this release! One complaint: The trailer is 1.33:1 when it should be 2.35:1 like the movie. Also, the sound on the trailer is mono, it was full surround on the LD (not sure about the DVD). But that's a minor thing considering how much Disney got right with this release. :)
     
  13. AaronMan

    AaronMan Second Unit

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    This is a good movie that hit all the right notes in my opinion. But it was a disappointment when it was released to theaters. I saw it a week before its release as a sneak preview. The theater was jam packed, and the crowd was totally into it and cheering by the third act. I thought it was going to be a smash hit. My theory why it didn't perform better was that it was released by Disney. Back in 1991, Disney was not the superpower it is today. Sure, they dominated animation with The Little Mermaid, The Lion King and Aladdin, but for live-action features, Disney didn't have much pull. I think a lot of people thought The Rocketeer was just for kids and not to be taken seriously by adults. It was certainly more than suitable for kids, but I don't think too many adults gave it much of a chance except for the few that were familiar with the source material. If it was simply put out by one of Disney's other labels like Touchtone or Hollywood Pictures, I think it would've fared better. That probably would've allowed the filmmakers to give it just a tad more edge as well. But like I said, I think its fine as it is. Anyway, just my opinion. I'm glad the movie finally got the treatment it has deserved all these years. A few retrospective interviews wouldn't have hurt though, you think? Maybe a Joe Johnston commentary?
     
  14. ahollis

    ahollis Lead Actor
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    Two words - BAD MARKETING. Even in 1991 the Disney marketing along with distribution was still stuck in the 60's or 70's. Even with the changes in personal that Michael Eisner and Frank Wells made in both departments, there just seemed to be a lack of imagination.

    Of the 16 live action films the Buena Vista (Disney) released in 1991, only two really hit good numbers in the box office, Father of the Bride and What About Bob? But it is true they did not have a lot to work with that year, including The Marrying Man, Oscar, The Doctor, V.I. Warshovski, Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken and (shudder) Ernest Scared Stupid. Thank goodness this was also the year of Beauty and the Beast.


    Rocketeer is a good and fun film with engaging actors, this has always been a top-notch film to me and as others have said, it should have been given more respect.
     
  15. John Green

    John Green Auditioning

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    Hi, Could anyone confirm this a multi region disc? I have also read Gary's review on DVD Beaver and he has it as just region A. Thanks in advance, John
     
  16. Thomas Agermose

    Thomas Agermose Stunt Coordinator

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    Planetaxel are usually correct and have it listed as all regions. http://www.planetaxel.com/productDetails/786936818932
     
  17. stephen la

    stephen la Stunt Coordinator

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    thanks all for the info. I naively assumed the budget included advertising/marketing and all other expenses. Surprised they didn't make action figures. They probably would have been pretty bad for 1991 though.
     
  18. ahollis

    ahollis Lead Actor
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    At the time of Rocketeer, average budget for marketing was about 50% to 75% of the cost of the film. This amount also included the cost of the prints. Today the marketing budget can reach 120% of the budget. But the amount of money spent for marketing does not mean the film will be a box office success, with the prime example this year is The Sitter. Millions were spent to get people into a fair film and word of mouth killed it. The marketing should get people interested in a good film, not tease them into going to a bad film. The Rocketeer was a good film who's marketing let it down.
     
  19. Paul_Warren

    Paul_Warren Second Unit

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    Its region free I bought mine from PlanetAxel plays just fine on a Region B player.
     
  20. haineshisway

    haineshisway Producer

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    I have wanted to love The Rocketeer since seeing it at a screening back just before it opened. I was primed to love it, because I grew up loving Commando Cody and his flying rocket jacket. But the minute Cliff put on the rocket pack almost every flying sequence for the first half of the film (more, actually) was played like a slapstick Keystone Cops film or a Three Stooges comedy. It lost me within thirty minutes because there were too many villains (one great villain will always suffice, but here you've got Timothy Dalton's baddie, Paul Sorvino's baddie, the Rondo Hatten baddie and on and on) doing too many buffoonish things. Even though there's a lot of humor in Raiders, it never gets buffoonish and silly, which, for me, The Rocketeer did. And played against all of his falling and sliding and crashing about is James Horner's heroic music - only nothing heroic is going on. The plusses are Jennifer Connelly and Alan Arkin, and Dalton is fun, but several of the supporting performances border on bad. I like the Horner score, but I think the cult of this film are all people who saw it at a young age, as with a lot of these eighties and early nineties films that I seem to have no affinity for that others who came of age back then love - like The Goonies, a film whose cult I will never understand. And The Rocketeer was a total box-office failure. It would have had to gross much more than it did to even approach breaking even. For me, it's simple - the ability to tell an interesting story well. And, again for me, this film just did not succeed in that department. I think the elements were there, but the screenwriters simply didn't fulfill them. But the good news is the transfer and sound are wonderful and so the people who love the film are going to be very pleased.
     

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