Movie Review #931
|Nationwide release on February 19, 1999. Biography/Drama/Family. This film is rated PG for language, brief teen sensuality and alcohol use, and for some thematic elements. Runs 108 minutes. American production. Directed by Joe Johnston. Based on the book “Rocket Boys” by Homer H. Hickam Jr. Screenplay by Lewis Colick. Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Cooper, Laura Dern, Chris Owen, William Lee Scott, Chad Lindberg.|
A SOLID DISNEY MOVIE, SAVE FOR THE FACT THAT UNIVERSAL PICTURES RELEASED IT.
By Alexander Diminiano
You ever read a biography where the author loves the subject just a bit much? Maybe not; maybe you’ve seen a movie like that, though, and perhaps that movie is “October Sky”. This isn’t so much a biography about Homer Hickam as it is a love letter to him. You can tell where it’s taking its creative license, because it tends to take it far. The movie ends on a note that’s so positive, it’s almost asking us not to believe it: Seriously, Hickam is seen receiving college scholarships galore and meeting Wernher von Braun–his idol, and one of the men considered the Father of Rocket Science–for the achievement he made in the field of rocket science in his small town. Now I’m a pretty gullible person, but I didn’t buy the ending as factual.
I most certainly do not wish to dismiss the fact that “October Sky” is a worthwhile movie. But there’s no denying that it comes with its flaws. Director Joe Johnston sugarcoats the movie like chruściki. It’s amazing to think that this is a Universal release when it’s got “Walt Disney Pictures proudly presents” written all over it. I wouldn’t quite call the movie fluffy, or cheesy, but it’s undeniably Disneyfied. I couldn’t help but wonder what was omitted and/or changed in Hickam’s story for the sake of wholesomeness, and why.
But there’s enough quality Hollywood cinema here that we can, most of the time, look past that one flaw. Lewis Colick’s screenplay is very compelling, as are those delivering it. “October Sky” is often credited as the film that brought audience’s attention to Jake Gyllenhaal, who was 18 at the time of the movie’s release. His performance in “October Sky” certainly is exceptional, and he effectively brings us to believe his role as Homer Hickam. Alongside Gyllenhaal are two then-established actors portraying mentors to the Hickam character. Chris Cooper plays his father, who disapproves of Homer’s fascination with outer space and would rather him work in the coal mines. His character both sets up a dilemma for Homer and sets the atmosphere for the early Cold War-laden movie. Laura Dern plays Homer’s teacher, responsible for encouraging Homer and his friends (collectively the “rocket boys,” for which the film’s title is an anagram) to participate in the science fair. She admires Homer and shares his fascination with the world beyond our world. However, she falls into an utter bear trap of poor character scripting: her character sems to express a role reversal for the “student in love with his teacher” cliché. Her admiration for Homer is rather awkward.
“October Sky” is a fine movie. It most certainly does not come without its flaws, but they aren’t enough to outweigh the quality moments of the film. If you want wholesome entertainment, consider renting this one.