DVD REVIEW: The Rocketeer – 20th Anniversary Edition (Blu-Ray)

The Rocketeer – 20th Anniversary Edition (Blu-Ray)

Directed by Joe Johnston

Written by Dave Stevens, Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo & William Dear

Starring Billy Campbell,  Jennifer Connelly, Alan Arkin, Timothy Dalton, Paul Sorvino

For the past few years, the words “The Rocketeer” have been spoken with reverence around these parts. Ever since IDW took it upon themselves to reprint The Rocketeer comics, written and drawn by the late Dave Stevens, in various formats ranging from affordable collections to oversized original art reproductions, it’s been a veritable celebration of Steven’s magnum opus. The pre-World War II pulp hero The Rocketeer was one of the great comics and one of the earliest ones to get the movie adaptation treatment, but since the movie was woefully out of print, we couldn’t revisit the film to see how the comic translated to the big screen.  20 years after it’s initial theatrical release, Disney has finally given us what we’ve want with the release of The Rocketeer – 20th Anniversary Edition on Blu-Ray.

I saw The Rocketeer in movie theaters when it was initially released back in 1991. At the time, despite me being in my infancy of comic book collecting, I had no idea it was based on a comic. I remember enjoying the action of the film and looked back fondly on it.  It wasn’t until later on did I realize was a special moment in time The Rocketeer film possibly was.  When I sat down to watch The Rocketeer – 20th Anniversary Edition on Blu-Ray, it was literally 20 years after I first saw it. In between those 20 years, I’ve seen alot of films, and many of them have been films based on comic books.  I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly.  In my time of watching these movies, I’ve realized that what makes a good comic book movie is whether or not it sticks to the vision of the source material.  Things will change in the process of translating a comic to a movie, plot details, characters, everything is up for grabs. But if the filmmakers can stick to the vision of the original comic, then it will be a good movie.

After watching it 20 years later, I can say that The Rocketeer, directed by Joe Johnston who recently directed another comic book movie called Captain America: The First Avenger, is indeed one of those special movies that captures and remains true to the comic book’s vision. It’s actually kind of spooky, watching The Rockeeter on Blu-Ray, finally after all these years, after pouring over the original source material so much, to see it come alive on the TV in my living room.  Johnston and the film crew are able to bring to live the world of Los Angeles in the 1930s in that way that only movies made in the 1980s/early 1990s could.  Slightly hokey and simple, but in a way that is near perfection. The story of the movie itself isn’t a direct re-telling of the comic, but rather a unique story in and of itself. Borrowing many of the initial origin points of the comic, the movie takes some slight deviations from Stevens’ original story, but not in any way that detracts from the enjoyment of the film. In fact some of the story changes work within the confines of the film, and even a Rocketeer fan can see that they stay true to the vision.

The casting of The Rocketeer, better known as pilot Cliff Secord, with Billy Campbell may very well be the best role the actor played in his career. From the haircut, to the costume to the helmet, Campbell IS Cliff Secord.  Balanced with the female lead, a young Jennifer Connelly brings to life Cliff’s romantic interest, re-named from Betty in the comic, Jenny.  With the classic pin-up girl look, Connelly and Secord come together with just the right amount of chemistry and tension to provide a backdrop to the action and adventure that come with Secord’s discovery of the jet pack that makes him the Rocketeer.  Timothy Dalton delivers one of his best performances as the over the top villain of the film, whose eccentricity is buoyed by the always classic gangster portrayal of Paul Sorvino (of Goodfellas fame).  The cast of the film is rich and by far, one of the assets of the film.

One of the long standing complaints of the previous releases of The Rocketeer was the shoddy film transfer, but that problem is solved with this new Blu-Ray transfer. The movie scientists at Disney did their digital restoration magic to make the film as beautiful as it can be on the Blu-Ray platform.  Sure, the film looks dated as movies of the early 1990s tend to, with several of the special effects looking not as slick as we’ve grown accustomed to by today’s standards, but beyond that, the movie looks fantastic.  Rich, clear colors supported with fantastic surround sound deliver the cinematic experience that The Rocketeer deserves.

Unfortunately, the one thing this 20th anniversary release is lacking is any supporting content.  The disc contains the restored version of the film and the cinematic trailer…and that’s it.  No documentaries about the film, no making ofs, no commentary tracks, no “Where are they now?” featurettes, not even a featurette about Dave Stevens and/or the comic.  Now, I understand that the production of these things can be costly, especially if they weren’t produced at the time of the film’s production, and Disney really had no reason to produce them. But as a Dave Stevens and Rocketeer fan, I was hopeful that there would be some bonus content included with the film to help the celebration of the film’s 20th anniversary.  This is the only area where this release disappoints.

The Rocketeer should be considered to be one of the great comic book films, staying true to the pulp action roots of creator Dave Steven’s comics. A film set in L.A. of the 1930s, with a Betty Page-esque female lead, Nazis as villains and a guy in a jet pack with an iconic helmet? It doesn’t get much better than that. This release finally delivers the film in a format that can be enjoyed by all, and it’s easily a must have for any comic book fan’s movie library.

4 Stars
(Out of 5)

Enjoy a clip from The Rocketeer – 20th Anniversary Edition:

Order The Rocketeer – 20th Anniversary Edition on Blu-Ray, available now!



  1. oh wow, i forgot this was coming out. I totally need this. I watch my DVD copy several times a year. The lack of bonus features kinda sucks, but its doubtful that i would have watched them more than once if at all.

    This is a totally underrated film…initially painted as a “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” genre rip off (came out the same year) it didn’t get the buzz it needed. Really great movie…full of pulpy super hero fun. Really glad its on Blu Ray.

  2. I absolutely love this movie.
    If for no other reason then because even the gangsters hate the Nazi’s.

  3. Wantwantwantwantwant!

    I first saw Rocketeer when I was a kid, and it was always in the back of my head from there on out, lingering around, and coming up in conversation at times “Hey, remember The Rocketeer? Man that movie was great” Never got around to watching it again until a few years ago, my buddy played a clip of it, to show me the quality of the DVD rip. Twenty minutes later he comes back, “Dude, you are STILL watching this?” Fuck yes…leave me alone, haha. Picked up that IDW anthology series, and that Jetpack Treasury Edition from a few weeks back. Fantastic stuff.

  4. It’s a shame there is no special features, with Joe Johnston having a bonafide hit with Captain America, you think you’d stick in an interview or commentary track just possibly get the attention of those fans of Cap to maybe entice them to check out his first WWII superhero film. And I doubt Billy Campbell would be very costly to get in front of a camera and/or mic (“We’ll pay you in sandwiches”). Oh well, I’ll still probably pick this up. Happy to see it get proper restoration treatment, despite that sort of thing is something I barely notice, but even I picked up on that the DVD transfer was kind of crap.

  5. I loved this movie when I was little. I think I even had a puzzle i had framed and up on my wall. I wonder where that went? I’m going to have to find that now.

  6. I think I might be a year or two younger than you guys and remember that time very fondly, Superman was dieing and Hal Jordan was losing his shit. I remember this movie being slightly overshadowed by the much worse Dick Tracy. Like you Ron, I love this movie. As soon as you guys mentioned that it was up for pre-sale on Amazon I sent my parents a link titled Christmas list. I am really disappointed by the lack of extras but I think I can understand because its not a major release, I’m not even sure if it could be labeled a ‘cult classic’. I am really glad that the cast and crew have gone on to bigger and better things, even though Billy Cambell’s character in The Killing is really really creepy.

  7. To add to my previous comment, Terry O’Quinn as Howard Hughes? Amazing.

  8. Conor, great great write-up. I too saw this in the theater in 91 and then not again until recently (via a magical $4.99 DVD bin find) experience the awesomeness. Two things that really need to be acknowledged: Alan Arkin is phenomenal in it and the score is pitch perfect.

  9. I watched Once and Again because the Rocketeer was in it.

  10. I also loved this movie and saw it in the theater. I have the old DVD release, but I will have to pick this up.

    Apparently, as part of the marketing for the film, Disney Channel ran a documentary called “The Rocketeer: Excitement in the Air.” They could have included that on the BD pretty much for free – it would have been better than nothing!

  11. Just watched this movie the other day and was so happy that it lived up to my memory of it.

  12. This is my favorite movie of all time. (Star Wars is on a whole other plane of existence) No all I need is a blu-ray player…