Saturday, September 27, 2014

My Favorite Movies: The Rocketeer!

There have been a number of great (and not-so-great) movies based on comic books, with varying degrees of faithfulness to the original source... and in my opinion, one of the greatest of the comic book movies, and the one possibly the most faithful to the original... is The Rocketeer.

Like many comics readers, I was first introduced to The Rocketeer in his appearances in Pacific Comics titles, more specifically Pacific Comics Presents. Dave Stevens' artwork and writing immediately appealed to me, as I'd been a fan of Commando Cody/Rocketman since I was a kid seeing those serials on television. The later appearances of Doc Savage, Monk and Ham (although not specifically identified as such) in the comic story made it even more of a treat... and of course, one cannot talk about Dave Stevens' work without mentioning the absolutely gorgeous women he drew!

When I heard that The Rocketeer was being made into a movie, I was very thrilled, although I probably had my doubts... would this great comic book be a great movie? All of the advance photos I saw told me that, at least visually, it would be great... the Rocketeer costume was spot-on, as were the locations taken right out of the comics.

Billy Campbell made an excellent Cliff Secord. He looked the part, and he played the part just right, putting in equal elements of determination, sheer stubbornness, and youthful enthusiasm into the part. Jennifer Connelly was gorgeous as Jenny, the movie's stand-in for Bettie (since Bettie was pretty much based on Bettie Page, I suppose this change was necessary from a legal standpoint). Alan Arkin made a great Peevy, even though he didn't look much like the character in the comics.

There were changes made in the storyline, to be sure... after all, it wouldn't do to put Doc Savage and company in a movie without getting the rights to Doc first (and I'm sure it was hoped that the movie would reach a wider audience than the comic book did)! Instead of Doc being the inventor of the rocket  pack, it was changed to Howard Hughes (who was known for his aviation experiments back in the day). A new central villain was introduced in the person of Neville Sinclair, playing off the idea of Errol Flynn possibly being a Nazi spy, and it worked great.

I have to say, I was amazed to see so much from the comics appear right on the screen! From the beginning, we had the Gee Bee (Cliff's ill-fated plane), and we even got Lothar, Dave Stevens' tribute to Rondo Hatton! There's a number of shots in the movie that pretty much come straight out of the comic books, too (including one with Cliff posing while holding a Luger).

I first watched The Rocketeer with my brother Jeff at a special sneak peek in Tacoma, and we loved it. We saw it again when it went into regular release, and there were a few minor cuts made to it. There was a running gag with Cliff saying something to Peevy, who replied "What?" because he didn't hear Cliff, usually just before Cliff fired off the rocket pack.

Like I said, we loved it, and since then, I've watched it a few more times, and it holds up on repeated viewings quite well.

So why in the hell didn't this movie become a huge hit?

I suppose part of the blame has to do with promotion... the movie wasn't advertised all that well that I recall. There was no big campaign to promote it, I don't even recall that there were any toys specifically based on the movie. Oh, there were a few coloring books, and a couple of items that were more based on the comics (including one large cardboard stand-up that I still have, undisplayed), but those latter items were mostly sold in comic shops and places like Spencer's Gifts. Oh, there was also a set of bubble gum cards.

It's really kind of weird, when you think of it... Disney was behind this movie, and you would've thought they could've done something to make it more of a big deal in the theaters. Siskel and Ebert gave it two thumbs up, something that was on the DVD release (and probably the VHS release before that). I suspect it's done okay in video sales, but not nearly enough to get Disney to make a second movie, unfortunately.

Here's the trailer.

1 comment:

  1. Jon,
    Back in 1991, Disney wasn't ready to admit that Joe Johnston was right and their execs were wrong every time they disagreed. Joe wasn't able to overcome their virtual blacklist of him until 1999 (with October Sky). You may recall Roy Disney finally unseated Michael Eisner in 2003 for making Disney Studios "soul-less" during his tenure. Disney repeated this mistake with 2011's John Carter film, sabotaged in the transition from Dick Cook to Rich Ross.


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