October Sky
Rating -

Drama (US); 1999; Rated PG; 108 Minutes

Cast
Jake Gyllenhaal:
Homer Hickam
Chris Cooper: John Hickam
Laura Dern: Miss Riley
Chris Owen: Quentin
William Lee Scott: Roy Lee

Produced by Peter Cramer, Larry J. Franco, Charles Gordon and Marc Sternberg; directed by Joe Johnston; Screenwritten by Lewis Colick; based on "Rocket Boys" by Homer H. Hickam

Review Uploaded
6/02/99

Written by DAVID KEYES

"October Sky" is a vibrant, wise, and poignant 'feel-good' movie that has so many great characteristics, you wonder why the movie deserves to be shot out into space. Based on the heartfelt memoir "Rocket Boys" by one Homer Hickam, the movie takes center stage at the height of the space program, when the Russians launch the infamous rocket Sputnik into the atmosphere, and people down in the streets of a remote West Virginia town stare at it with wonder, curiosity, and other things running through their minds. What will be the immediate cause of this breakthrough in technology? How will mankind benefit? Better yet, to the residents of Coalwood realize that one of their very own is ready to jump into this "space race?"

The movie is an oddity. Like the seed of a plant born in the drought of summer, it tries to grow on you, and fails. It never takes shape and thus leaves all of these wonderful aspects in fragments. This is a distraction, indeed, as well as a travesty.

I'm not complaining about the sentiment, either. Most of these movies are either over-sentimental, contrived, or utterly manipulative, but "October Sky" is a believable and convincing portrait of inspiration and deep family values. If anything else, all of these emotions are ambitious and toned with insight into real life; you believe them because they are real.

And if the emotions are believable, so are the people who handle them. These characters (mostly the teenagers) are 'dreamers' of the space program, in which you see them look into the sky and imagine themselves inside the vast emptiness, working for the common goal of "one giant leap for mankind." Homer Hickam's eyes veer into the large endless sky, and you know he wants a piece of it. His goals throughout the movie point upwards, as do the ones of his close friends. Rockets and more rockets are built, some setting fires deep in a forest, others not even going off period. The boys receive mixed reaction from the town's response to their projects; some disapprove, others encourage. What's most intriguing about these concepts is demonstrated faithfully in a scene in which Homer and his buddies defend their innocence from setting a forest fire using Trigonometry. I'm not exactly a genius when it comes to Mathematics, but this scene teaches me more than just that of defense and honesty.

But that's just where the problems start. The director executes these events without proper pacing; at 108 minutes long, "October Sky" cannot support the story very well, often repeating in parts and recycling in others. This, naturally, makes the experience somewhat tedious and disoriented, which is a shame, since the movie is loaded with virtuous aspects too numerous to site. I especially enjoyed the scenes with Laura Dern, who is essentially one of the great American actresses of our time. Like her father, Bruce Dern, she makes you feel her emotions, whether they are contrived or realistic.

Secondly, I give credit to the screenplay by Lewis Colick, which never turns Homer's father into a menacing, over-strict disciplinarian, as we would normally expect. This allows us to see the situation from both sides fairly. Homer wants to go out into the great unknown, and John, his father, only wants his son to follow in his footsteps, and become a coal miner. Unlike most of these tear-jerker situations painting the parent out to be the bad one, this father isn't the villain; he's only a man who thinks the best for his son would be continuing his own tradition. The relationship is fathomable.

Sitting through "October Sky," I felt like the filmmakers were trying hard to create a movie that everyone could love. It has all of those aspects that make a great movie, too: comedy, drama, fright, tension, inspiration, and charm, just to name a few. In their own respect, they are successful in conveying reasonable sentiment, unlike the kind found in "Patch Adams" or "The Other Sister." Yet the movie suffers from its plot, not just in terms of the obvious and predictable, but also the execution. I did not like it. For that reason alone, I cannot recommend "October Sky." It will have its admirers, and rightfully so. For anyone who has ever dreamt of life beyond the atmosphere, and exploration into a vast outer space, it will be perfect. For those who are, like me, tired of these long, 'think-for-yourself' films with mixed emotional levels, the movie might just as well work better if it were blasted into the side of a wall.


1999, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org. Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
 
 
           
     
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