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THE ROCKETEER ($30) has always been something of a personal favorite- not because it is a great piece of cinema, but because it reminiscent of an old style Hollywood adventure yarn. Set in 1938, THE ROCKETEER tells to tale of Cliff Secord (Bill Campbell), a "down on his luck" aviator who just happens to stumble upon a stolen prototype jetpack. Instead of turning the jetpack over to the proper authorities, Cliff "borrows" the device, hoping to earn enough money to get back on his feet. However, after using the jetpack as part of a daring rescue, Cliff finds himself pursued by FBI agent, gangsters and Nazi spies. Complicating matters, is Cliff's relationship with his girlfriend Jenny Blake (Jennifer Connelly), an aspiring actress, whose career choice, Cliff doesn't take seriously.Thing change, however, when Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton) takes an interest in Jenny.

Having to compete with a big time movie star for Jenny's affection is the least of Cliff's worries, especially after he discovers that Sinclair is really a Nazi spy using Jenny to get his hands on the jet pack. THE ROCKETEER recreates the Hollywood of yesteryear with a wide-eyed innocence and a genuine sense of fun. Except for the leading man, who is a bit stiff, the cast of THE ROCKETEER do a great job of making the movie fly. Alan Arkin, Paul Sorvino and Terry O'Quinn infuse their roles with a great deal of charm and personality, especially O'Quinn with his brief turn as Howard Hughes. Additionally, Timothy Dalton does a great job jumping back and forth between the idealized swashbuckling hero and the dreaded Nazi spy. Fans of old time Hollywood entertainment will get a kick out of the character of Lothar (Tiny Ron), who is a dead ringer for that one-of-a-kind character actor Rondo Hatton. By the way, Hatton's unique facial features are resurrected by Rick Baker's make-up wizardry.

While I really like THE ROCKETEER- the movie, I have to say I really don't like THE ROCKETEER- the DVD. This Walt Disney Home Video DVD looks as if it were mastered from the same Letterboxed transfer used for the Laserdisc about eight years ago. There is no way in the world an old transfer can compete with the startling level of clarity, one usually finds on a brand new transfer. As it is, image quality on THE ROCKETEER is soft and muddied. Did the folks at Buena Vista really think that no one would notice how badly this disc compares with films recently transferred to DVD? Without question, THE ROCKETEER should have received a brand new wide screen transfer (16:9 enhanced, of course). In addition to looking its age, the Letterboxed transfer comes up short of the film's full 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The current incarnation of THE ROCKETEER delivers better detail than VHS tape, but not as much as a newly mastered Laserdisc or DVD. Color reproduction is relatively good, but not great. Additionally, blacks tend to lean towards gray. Digital compression artifacts do not compound the existing flaws in the image.

While the packaging lists Dolby Surround, the DVD actually contains a Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. Dialogue reproduction is clean and clear, plus the mix offers some nice directional effects across the forward soundstage. Other than providing ambience and fill, the surround channels tend to be somewhat subdued. James Horner's delightful score is pleasingly rendered with a nice musical lilt. Bass reproduction is pretty good, but not overwhelming. A French language soundtrack is also encoded onto the DVD, along with English subtitles.

The interactive menus are nice looking, but they are the basic Buena Vista variety- offering access to the scene and language selection features. A theatrical trailer is also accessible through the menu system.

As a fan of THE ROCKETEER, I am genuinely disappointed by this DVD release. Let's hope that Buena Vista/Disney will rectify the mistake by re-releasing THE ROCKETEER on DVD with a brand new 16:9 enhanced transfer.




DVD reviews are Copyright 1999 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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