The true story of Homer Hickam is brought to life in the heartwarming coming-of-age tale "October Sky," starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Cooper and Laura Dern. Now out on Special Edition, Universal Pictures has given all those who cannot go to Blockbuster or subscribe to Netflix a chance to "relive the magic."
Now that the hokey stuff is out of the way (I'm in a very cheesy mood today, if one can be in such a mood), the question is: who the heck is Homer Hickam? Well, he was a kid who grew up in a small West Virginia mining town where most boys were expected to grow up to be coal miners. While his dad wanted the same for him, Homer aspired for greater things, especially after he saw Sputnik launch into the October sky and decided he wanted to build rockets. Eventually he went onto become a NASA engineer and write a book called "Rocket Boys," upon which this movie is based.
Gyllenhaal, in one of his first roles, delivers a solid performance as Hickam. It's funny how fame works, isn't it? In 1999, when "October Sky" was originally released, no one knew who he was, and now he's one of the more popular actors in Hollywood. Anyway, he, along with a supporting cast that includes Cooper in pre-Oscar glory and Dern, before she all but vanished from acting, all turn in good performances that might not warrant awards but still make for some likable and moving characters. Chris Owen, best known for his role as the nerdy "Sherminator" in the "American Pie" movies, is also pretty good.
The movie itself, while never overpowering in any way or form, is a quietly moving piece of work. Easily one of the year's best, it doesn't achieve greatness in the ordinary ways. The direction is relatively plain, the soundtrack simple and the acting good but not incredible. Rated PG, "October Sky" succeeds by delivering a little story about a little town in an entertaining fashion. The movie is mildly funny, always interesting and, aside from a few overly dramatic moments, very family friendly.
Of course, Universal has released the movie in a new Special Edition DVD version, though if this is what Special Edition means, I don't know what the Normal edition would be. Universal has added two nice features in this release, including a feature commentary by the real Homer Hickam where he discusses Hollywood altercations and goes into more detail about some areas that were skipped over in the film, and a half-hour interview with the real Rocket Boys, which is pretty interesting for the most part and not at all too promotional. Other features include a 10-minute "Spotlight on Location," which is also okay, and some trailers. Of course, the problem with all of these features is that Universal forgot to convert them to widescreen format! I watch all my DVDs on a widescreen HDTV, and I don't like changing the aspect ratio to 4:3 to watch special features, especially for a DVD that was released in 2005. The movie is in 16:9, but why Universal didn't fix the special features is beyond me. The DVD looks and feels like it was designed ten years ago.
"October Sky" is a great little movie. If you've never seen it or had forgotten about it, the DVD is certainly worth picking up, but for DVD aficionados, the very design of the DVD leaves little to be desired.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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