New on Blu-ray: The Rocketeer (1991)

Billy Campbell and Alan Arkin in The Rocketeer (1991) Movie Image

Wow, is it already the 20th anniversary of “Captain America” director Joe Johnston’s “The Rocketeer”? Why, yes, it is, thanks for asking. Coincidentally (just go with it) Walt Disney Video is re-releasing the 1991 classic action-adventure onto Blu-ray for the first time, complete with what they promise to be “state-of-the-art digital restoration and enhanced high definition sound”. Dive in with Cliff Secord and company when “The Rocketeer” jets onto Blu-ray this December 13th, 2011.

The discovery of a top-secret jetpack hurls test pilot Cliff Secord into a daring adventure of mystery, suspense, and intrigue! Cliff encounters an assortment of ruthless villains, led by a Hollywood screen star who is a secret Nazi spy. With the help of his actress girlfriend, the young pilot battles enormous odds to defeat his foes who are anxious to use the device in an evil plan to rule the world. The dangerous mission transforms the ordinary young man into an extraordinary hero.

What do you do when a Government-made, mob-stolen jetpack falls into your lap? Most people would hand it back to the feds since, well, a bunch of dudes just got shot over it and all. But not our hero Cliff Secord, a gum-chewing, wise-cracking hotshot pilot who, along with his mechanic buddy Peevy (Alan Arkin) decide to take the jetpack for a test run and maybe make a buck or two from it. Soon, though, the duo find themselves tangling with Hollywood movie star Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton, a few years removed from playing Bond back then) and mobster Eddie Valentine (Paul Sorvino), who sends his goons to take back the jetpack. What’s a hotshot pilot to do? Strap on the jetpack and save the day, of course.

Based on the comic book by Dave Stevens, “The Rocketeer” is an unabashedly nostalgic-minded action-adventure movie, which probably makes sense since it’s set in 1930s Los Angeles, back when movie stars were movie stars and bad guys wielded Tommy Guns. It’s the kind of film that could have been made in, say, the ’40s or ’50s, but of course back then they didn’t have CGI to help a man fly with a jetpack strapped to his back. Back then, all you’d be able to do is pull him around on ropes. Although you would definitely have been able to find a hero like Billy Campbell, or an astounding beauty like Jennifer Connelly, here playing Cliff Secord’s actress girlfriend Jenny. When the scheming Neville seeks an alternate route to locate the jetpack, he decides to go through Jenny. The fiend!

I first saw “The Rocketeer” when I was a wee lad, but even back then its high-adventure feel appealed to me. Over the years, I’ve seen the movie on and off on cable, and while it still works today in terms of fun, the special effects are cleared outdated, though I’m sure it was state-of-the-art back in ’91. Fortunately CGI isn’t really what the film is about, and “The Rocketeer”, 20 years later, still makes for a fun, lively movie suitable for most viewers. If you have even the slightly appreciation for adventure, the film is a definite must-see. And if you’ve always loved “The Rocketeer”, then this new and improved version from Disney is a must-have.

Jennifer Connelly and Billy Campbell in The Rocketeer (1991) Movie Image

It looks like Disney made good on their promise of “state-of-the-art digital restoration”. I don’t know what they did with the film, but it looks gorgeous. If you’re like me and have seen the film numerous times on cable in HD, let me assure you that seeing it in Blu-ray will be like watching the film for the very first time. I did notice that a couple of interior scenes were overly grainy, though these are rare and overall the picture quality is outstanding, especially the outdoor scenes. I also don’t know if they tinkered with the film’s green screen scenes (i.e. most of the flying sequences), but they look much more integrated into the background here than they did when I saw the film recently on cable in HD. Then again, in the age of “Avatar”, anything short of flawless would look wanting.

The sound work is pretty clear and vibrant as well, but I probably don’t have the type of sound system that could properly take advantage of the “enhanced high definition sound” that Disney promises with this release. It sounded pretty good with what I have, though, so no complaints there. I’ve seen Blu-ray movies where the audio went up and down like a ping-pong match. None of that here. As a Blu-ray release, “The Rocketeer” 20th Anniversary Edition is most definitely worth the money.

On the nitpicking side, if you’re hoping to get some nifty bonus features (oh, I don’t know, like maybe Campbell and Connelly re-living the film, for instance?), you can forget about it. Disney may have spent lots of money cleaning up the film and perfecting the video and sound, but they either didn’t bother asking anyone to come back for an audio commentary or no one felt like doing it. As a result, when the disc asks you if you would like to take a stroll through its “Bonus Features”, what it really means is if you want to see the film’s Original Theatrical Trailer (above). There are no documentaries, no little featurettes, nothing like that. Heck, if the movie wasn’t still so fun 20 years later and the Blu-ray release didn’t look so good, I might have felt gypped by the lack of bonus features.

Buy “The Rocketeer” on Blu-ray December 16th, 2011 from Walt Disney Video.

The Rocketeer (1991) Blu-ray Cover