The Rocketeer Blu-ray Review
The Rocketeer has been treated rather shabbily when it comes to home video and until now there has only been a non-anamorphic DVD release back in the late 90s. Well thankfully, this new 1080p24 Blu-ray release makes amends for past sins and we finally get The Rocketeer that we deserve. The Blu-ray perfectly replicates the original look of this 1991 feature, which was released in a theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and was shot using 35mm film and anamorphic lenses. Disney restored the original camera negative last year and as a result this Blu-ray is probably as good as the film has ever looked. Thanks to this restoration the print used for the disc transfer is pristine with no signs of dirt or scratches and nothing to betray the film’s 20 year vintage. The disc itself is encoded using the AVC codec and it is excellent, with no compression artefacts or banding and aliaising to spoil your enjoyment. Instead the cleanly delivered images on this disc result in a warm and film-like appearance, with solid blacks, great shadow detail and natural flesh tones. As befits a film based on a comic book there are plenty of primary colours but these never feel forced or over saturated and the film's art deco production design and period details are beautifully rendered. There is plenty of detail in the picture and any softness can be attributed to the use of anamorphic lenses or stylistic choices, rather than any weakness in the disc itself. Since The Rocketeer was shot on film, you would expect some grain and this is present and correct, especially during some of the effects sequences. The Rocketeer was one of the last big budget effects films to use optical printing before we all moved into the digital realm but the grain that results from the optical printing process is just an integral part of the image. In fact, the clarity of this disc presentation reveals some of the visual effect's short comings and whilst they might seem rather dated by today's standards, they do give the film much of its charm. Overall you can’t fault this presentation of The Rocketeer and whilst Disney might have been a little slow off the mark, they delivered in the end.
The Rocketeer’s sound track was state-of-the-art back in 1991 and the disc does just as good a job of faithfully delivering the audio as it did with the picture. Of course, compared to the kind of sonic aerobics that today’s blockbusters deliver, The Rocketeer’s mix might seem a little restrained but it remains effective and involving. The disc’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1-channel soundtrack perfectly captures the original sound design with an impressive degree of sonic clarity. James Horner’s symphonic score is beautifully reproduced with a wonderful level of fidelity as it fills the entire front sound stage. The dialogue is well recorded and integrated into the overall mix, always remaining clear and anchored to the centre channel. Whilst the surrounds aren’t as aggressive as you might expect, they remain effective at creating atmosphere and kick in when needed, especially during the numerous flying scenes and the occasional shootout. Despite its vintage, the soundtrack remains dynamic with precise localisation and effective use of the LFE channel, which augments the sound design superbly, especially during the Zeppelin sequence. Considering The Rocketeer is over twenty years old, this is a great restoration of the original audio track, retaining all of the sound design’s subtlety whist still taking full advantage of today’s lossless audio soundtracks.
Disney have certainly delivered the goods as far as the picture and sound are concerned but despite being billed as a '20th Anniversary Edition', the extras for The Rocketeer are a major disappointment. In fact the only so-called ‘extra’ is the original theatrical trailer which is in fairly poor condition, presented in an aspect ratio of 4:3 and in standard definition. That’s it - no commentary from Joe Johnston, no deleted scenes and no retrospective documentary. Given the film’s box office failure, it is easy to see why Disney would be loathed to spend money on a title that probably wouldn’t sell well but after going to the trouble of restoring the negative it’s a shame they didn’t feel the need to create a proper special edition Blu-ray. It’s even more disappointing when you know that the restored print was given a cast and crew screening in LA last year, followed by a Q&A that included Johnston and Bill Campbell. Since the Q&A was apparently filmed, Disney could at least have included that but sadly not, which makes the Blu-ray release of The Rocketeer something of a missed opportunity.
The Rocketeer is a wonderful film that perfectly captures the excitement and adventure of the old Saturday morning serials. It recreates pre-war Hollywood with a loving eye for detail and its entertaining story is filled with sly jokes and knowing references. The cast are all note perfect, Joe Johnston’s direction is confident and the special effects remain impressive. In fact, given the film also includes rocket packs, Nazis and a smoking hot Jennifer Connelly, what more could anyone want?
The print of The Rocketeer was fully restored last year and the results are perfectly captured on this impressive new 1080p24 Blu-ray disc release. The transfer is presented in the film's theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and uses an AVC encode that delivers a wonderfully detailed, clean and accurate image that is free of unwanted artefacts. The colours are natural, the blacks deep and the picture is wonderfully film-like, resulting in a superb overall presentation.
The Rocketeer's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1-channel soundtrack is just as impressive as the picture and whilst the sound design isn’t as aggressive and immersive as more modern efforts, the lossless audio is used to its full extent. The score is impressively delivered across the front soundstage and the dialogue is clear and well integrated. The surrounds provide atmospheric effects but kick into life when needed and the LFE channel provides plenty of bass energy, resulting in a highly effective audio presentation.
Despite this Blu-ray release of The Rocketeer being billed as the ‘20th Anniversary Edition’ there are no real extras on the disc, which is a major disappointment and a genuine missed opportunity. However, finally having a high definition release of the movie itself that includes such excellent picture and sound quality remains a real treat. If you’re a fan of The Rocketeer you probably already own this disc but if you haven’t seen the film then you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy. A definite must buy!
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £12.39
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