Release Date(s)1999 (February 14, 2017)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Universal)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: B-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: C-
Based on the autobiographical novel The Rocket Boys, Joe Johnston’s October Sky depicts the early life of real-life NASA engineer Homer Hickam (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), a young boy growing up in coal country in the 1950s, whose life is changed when the Soviets launch Sputnik and he sees it fly overhead one night. Homer’s father (Chris Cooper) manages the local coal mine and expects that his son will follow in his footsteps. But Homer and his friends dream of building rockets like Werner Von Braun. Encouraged by his teacher (Laura Dern), Homer sets out to prove to his father that he’s destined for bigger things than a life working the mines.
October Sky is interesting for a number of reasons, including its realistic depiction of small town life in the 50s and its look at how the dawn of the Cold War and the Space Age impacted young Americans at the time. It features Gyllenhaal’s break-out performance; his very next role was Donnie Darko. It’s also one of director Joe Johnston’s best films. You can draw a direct thematic line through October Sky that links the film with Johnston’s earlier The Rocketeer (1991) and his more recent Captain America: The First Avenger (2011).
The film is presented on Blu-ray in 1080p HD in the original 2.39:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The image quality is decent overall, though not reference quality by any means. Colors and details are a little bit muddy during the opening credits, but the deeper you get into the film the detail gets tighter and the colors more accurate, if perhaps with a little teal push. Textures are nice, colors are vibrant. Grain is light but it’s there, as is the occasional bit of dust on the print. There’s also a little digital filtering visible and a bit of edge enhancement, both of which suggest that this isn’t a new scan of the film. Nevertheless, the image is solid and a significant improvement over the previous DVD. Audio is available in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, with additional DTS 5.1 options in French and Spanish. Subtitles are available in English SDH, French, and Spanish. The DTS-HD track is full-sounding with good clarity, a medium-wide front soundstage, nice LFE, and light atmospheric fill from the rear channels. Dialogue is clean and discernable and the film’s soundtrack is presented with good fidelity.
The disc doesn’t have a title menu – when you put it into your player, the film simply starts playing. There is, however, a pop-up menu that can be accessed during the film, that lets you change the audio and subtitle options and find the extras. Those extras include nearly everything from the 2005 Special Edition DVD release (in SD and 4x3), as follows:
- Aiming High: The Story of the Rocket Boys (31:39)
- Spotlight on Location (10:30)
- Theatrical Trailer (2:19)
There’s also a good feature-length commentary with the real Homer Hickam. However, the back of the packaging on the original 1999 DVD release listed an audio commentary with director Joe Johnston that wasn’t actually on that disc. If it does exist at all (and we don’t actually know that it does), it would have been nice for the studio to pull it out of the archives and dust off for this release. Given the uncertanty, however, it’s not counted against the extras that are here.
October Sky is a great film, and one that’s been too often overlooked in recent years. Think of it as Hoosiers for those who preferred science to sports in high school. Universal’s new Blu-ray isn’t going to win any awards, but it’s priced accordingly (the SRP is just $9.99 on Amazon) and we’re damn glad to have it. For both the film and the price, it’s recommended.
- Bill Hunt