Plot: What’s it about?
This film is based on a true story as it follows the lives of a group of four boys in a West Virginia coal mining town in the late 1950’s. The story is based around one boy in particular, Homer Hickman. (Jake Gyllenhaal) Homer takes a strong interest into rocketry after he sees Sputnik in orbit around the Earth. Homer is joined by two friends and the class geek who turns out to be a friend of the group. The four boys make their rockets in Homer’s basement and then launch them at the nearby field, which also happens to be owned by the mining company. Homer’s father, John Hickman, (Chris Cooper) runs the coal mine and does not support his son in this “hobby” of his. He wants him to play football so he can get into college or to start working in the mine after high school.
The four boys get most of their support and help from their teacher, Miss Riley, (Laura Dern) and a few men who work for the coal mine who help the boys weld their rockets together in a machine shop. The boys move their rocket launching out to a site eight miles out side of town after a rocket accident at the coal mine when the rocket crashed landed out side his dad’s office. The boys construct themselves a launching pad and a shack to hide in so that nobody gets hurt when all of the rockets take off in every which way, if and when the rockets actually make it off of the ground. What starts out as a hobby turns into a passion for Homer. Homer learns from his teacher that he and his friends would have an excellent chance of getting a college scholarship if the boys can win the National Science Fair.
This is one of those feel good movie’s that was entertaining and well-made. I was pleasantly surprised at how good the movie actually was. The acting is superb and the story gets your attention throughout the whole movie. The chemistry between Gyllenhaal (Homer) and Cooper (his father) were great. You can almost see the tension between them in several scenes. You may find yourself rooting for the boys to succeed in launching their rockets (get your mind out of the gutter please) and their dreams. A must see movie and well worth owning.
Video: How does it look?
October Sky was one of the first “new to DVD” films when it was initially released. It’s taken quite some time, but we finally do have this on Blu-ray. Universal hasn’t taken too good of care of it, transfer-wise, but it’s not all that bad. The 2.40:1 AVC HD image shows a bit of improvement over the previous DVD. Colors are a bit on the muted side and the film has a tendency for some grain. The movie was released in 1999, but we’ve seen films from this age look much better than this. By no means “bad”, this just isn’t up to the par that the newer films are (or films that were given a new 4K restoration, and this wasn’t). It’s better than the DVD, but don’t get your hopes too sky high.
Audio: How does it sound?
Looking at the new DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack, it fares a bit better than the video. The track seems to have a bit more punch to it than the previous Dolby Digital 5. 1 track. Vocals are smooth and lacking any distortion. The fronts take on most of the action, though the LFE and surrounds do get their fare time in the sun (so to speak). It’s a noticeable improvement over the DVD for sure, but it won’t blow the roof off of the place, either.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The same supplements that were present on the DVD are on this Blu-ray, though they’re presented in standard definition.
- Aiming High: The Story of the Rocket Boys – We’re joined by the real Homer Hickman as he and his buddies tour the old place, make a few notes and describe some of the differences in the film as opposed to what really happened.
- Spotlight on Location – I did a double take as the “Spotlight on Location” isn’t really used by Universal anymore. Suffice it to say that this is a pretty standard EPK with some behind the scenes footage and a good compliment to the above feature.
- Theatrical Trailer
- Audio Commentary – The real Homer Hickman offers up a pretty informative track that’s a good compliment to the already included features. He’s very articulate and delivers a thorough track. However if you’ve got the old DVD, this is the same one. Still, fans of the film will enjoy this one.
The Bottom Line
True to life stories are among the best and this one is a gem from the late 90’s. This is Jake Gyllenhaal in his first major film and he’s still going strong nearly twenty years later. Universal’s Blu-ray is a bit disappointing as it was clear they just got this out to have it on the format. It looks and sounds marginally better than its DVD counterpart, but the lack of any new features is a bit disappointing.