“The Rocketeer” – Nathan’s Movie Challenge, Week 4
“How do I look? Like a hood ornament.”
Joe Johnston is a legend for many reasons. He directed amazing adventures on film like Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and Jumanji. He worked as a concept artist and effects technician on Star Wars, and even won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects on Raiders of the Lost Ark.
I’ve always heard of and wanted to see The Rocketeer for the above reasons – and for its leading lady, Jennifer Connelly, who will always be one of my favorite actresses. She’s insanely attractive and plays her damsel role with just the right amount of glow. I wonder though – if the film were made today, would her role have been changed to become more “empowering”? The recent trend, of female Hollywood heroines becoming less and less reliant on their male counterparts, shows how much has dramatically changed since Connelly’s role in The Rocketeer.
The effects hold up well enough for their time, the film’s cinematography and set design captures the 1930s and its stylings well, and James Horner’s score melodramatically punctuates every moment of the film with lavish orchestral cues. It’s a film nearly bordering on the edge of campiness, but still manages to retain a bit of heart. Someone involved must have seen Dick Tracy the year prior and decided to mimic some of its gangster aesthetic – particularly in the look of the hired goon role played by the 7 foot actor Tiny Ron Taylor. Alan Arkin seemed a little bored with his character, Terry O’Quinn played Howard Hughes with limited enthusiasm, but Timothy Dalton certainly appeared to be having a swell time as the film actor turned Nazi spy.
It’s interesting to note how similar the tone of The Rocketeer and Captain America: The First Avenger are. It’s easy to spot Joe Johnston’s signature style in both films, and makes me wonder if The Rocketeer were to get a second chance – would it really end up that much different, or not as much as we’d think?
The film has a calculated and scripted mix of cartoonish action, adventure, and romance, and certainly fits well into the pantheon of safe, live-action Disney films. I probably could have used more from it in terms of emotional weight and tension, but it aimed itself squarely as family-friendly entertainment, and delivered just that. As a kid, I probably would have loved it. As an adult, I admire it, but still see more the potential of something greater in a movie possibly stifled by its Disney trappings.
The Rocketeer was at the time of this review at #1018 on my Flickchart list of shame (ranked #1584 among the best movies of all time). Here’s how it entered my chart:
The Rocketeer vs. Spawn
If there’s ever a movie to be remade, it’s probably Spawn. It was made too early, with crude effects, a disinterested audience, and a lackluster script. Its saving grace is the absolutely brilliantly bizarre take on The Violator character by John Leguizamo. The Rocketeer wins.
The Rocketeer vs. Take Shelter
There’s something riveting about Michael Shannon that makes Take Shelter as compelling as it is. It’s a very emotionally complicated role and makes for a captivating film. It’s going to beat out The Rocketeer.
The Rocketeer vs. Rain Man
The Rocketeer vs. Serenity
The Rocketeer vs. Almost Famous
Cameron Crowe’s films are always a bit pretentious, a bit sappy, and a bit overlong, but his best remains Almost Famous. One of the best coming-of-age films and an outstanding young star in Patrick Fugit. Definitely wins here.
The Rocketeer vs. Moulin Rouge
I like Moulin Rouge the most of all the Baz Luhrmann films, but it still has its flaws. A bit too grandiose, perhaps – even for Luhrmann. The Rocketeer takes this battle.
The Rocketeer vs. Jackie Brown
If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor. Jackie Brown is too cool for school, and obviously winning this one.
The Rocketeer vs. Die Hard 2
It’s no Die Hard, but there’s still a lot of incredible action set pieces, the incomparable William Sadler, and “just the fax, mam”. Taking the round.
The Rocketeer vs. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
It seems a lot of people dislike the third Star Trek film, but I always found its slower pacing, darker tone, and rebirth of Spock an incredibly interesting story. Christopher Lloyd makes for a marvelous Klingon, too. I’m giving it the nod over The Rocketeer.
The Rocketeer vs. The Little Mermaid
Yeah, The Little Mermaid is a better Disney film – and a better film overall. It’s got exceptional songs, a bright color palette, and represents Disney at one of the highest points in its animated history.
The Rocketeer vs. Desperado
The Rocketeer is now ranked rather well at #317 out of 1357 movies on my Best Movies of All-Time chart.
Last but not least for this week, I’ll be watching a time-travel film I’ve not seen (of which there are few) called Frequency. Take a look at all the other movies I’ve ranked in the challenge up to this point.