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October Sky

review by Zach B.


Rated PG

Studio: Universal

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Cooper, Chris Owen and Laura Dern

Running Time: 108 Minutes

Written by Lewis Colick
Based on the novel "Rocket Boys" by Homer Hickim Jr.

Directed by Joe Johnston


Retail Price: 24.99

Features: Production Notes, Cast and Crew Bios, Spotlight On Location, Theatrical Trailer, DVD-ROM: Weblinks

Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, 1.33:1 Full Frame, 5.1 Dolby Digital English, 2.0 Dolby Surround French, English Captions, Chapter Search

Based on Homer Hickam Jr.'s inspiring and bestselling memoir, Rocket Boys, October Sky recounts some of the most significant experiences from the book. I have read the book, and the movie is basically an abbreviated version of his memoir (I did read the book after seeing the movie originally).

The year is 1957, and in the heart of Coalwood, West Virginia, a young teen named Homer is inspired by seeing the satellite sputnik, and dreams of doing something with outer space. Homer then begins to build rockets. However, his father, the superintendent of the town's biggest job industry, coal mining, does not approve of Homer's interest. Yet with some hope and nurturing, Homer, with help from his supportive teacher, friends and mother goes out to follow his dream, no matter what.

I did see a screening of this film before it opened, and I walked in thinking it would be another hokey family drama. Boy, was I wrong. October Sky is a fantastic movie, about one teenager who won't stop dreaming and believing, as he faces off against his father, his friends, his life and his future entirely. Set in 1957, It features some great drama, some humor, but the underlying themes really make this movie, how we should never stop trying until we achieve our dreams. The movie features an excellent ensemble cast, and the acting by them is top notch. Joe Johnston's direction is great and really captures the feel of the late 50s, and the script is solid. October Sky was released in February 1999, and became the sleeper hit of the season. Though the gross was average, it did capture a lot of viewers and critics hearts - including mine.

The DVD, even though lacking on the features side, does deliver some fantastic audio and sound. If you missed it in theaters, October Sky is an excellent addition to your home video library.



One of the best DVD presentations I have ever encountered, another excellent Universal transfer and sound mix. The movie is presented in your choice of aspect ratios: 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the standard 1.33:1 full frame. Each transfer is near flawless. I did not notice any major lines, grains or artifacts. The picture is clear and crisp, the colors bold and beautiful, it's a little bit jaw dropping. A great movie has an excellent transfer. Nothing gets in the way from enjoying it, and you'll probably marvel at how good it really looks.

The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, as said, looks great. But I feel you should really watch this movie in widescreen. Most notably, the movie's opening has some beautiful shots, that should be seen in their full glory. In addition to that, over the course of the movie there are multiple great shots. The cinematography is simply excellent. Of course, this being a pretty wide ratio, on the full frame version you are losing about half of the picture. The full frame transfer is of course, cropped, and you will be missing the total of all the shots. Unless you can not stand widescreen, definitely watch the widescreen version. You won't be disappointed.


October Sky features 5.1 Dolby Digital English, and Dolby Surround in French. The sound is music to your ears. A film like October Sky really does need to utilize 5.1 Dolby Digital, and thankfully, it does it in a really good and creative mix. The film does have it's numerous shares of loud, breathtaking sounds. A lot and lot of rockets are launched in this movie, and when they fly, it sounds like it's really flying right around you. A good example of this is when Home and his friends launch a rocket, and lands up in the coal mine. When it blasts, it sounds so good. There is a part in the movie where Homer blows his mother's fence up, and it's quite an explosion. The LFE .1 makes good use here.

The sound on October Sky is some of the best I have ever heard on DVD, and is a loud, furious and just plain brilliant mix. Better crank those speakers up!

Once again, Universal releases a disc with a great presentation, but a very standard supplements section. Some early pressings of the disc says there is a commentary with director Joe Johnston, but alas, there is not. This was just a mistake, I suppose, before things were finalized.

A commentary really would have helped this section out, but, there are a few things. First off, there are some wonderful production notes to read. They are pretty long, but I found them fascinating learning the history of the movie and some side stuff, like about the real Homer Hickam Jr. and what the movie is based on, his memoir book. It is an average feature, but you can learn a lot by reading these.

There is a Spotlight on Location featurette, which is basically Universal's way of saying production featurette, making of... whatever you want to call it. The featurette is under a half hour and shows some interviews with Homer Hickam Jr., the actors and scenes from the set. Short, but pretty good.

There are some talent bios, which like other Universal features, have great biographies on the cast and crew and list the filmographies. Now you can learn everything you needed to know about Laura Dern.

The film's original theatrical trailer is presented in widescreen. The transfer on this trailer is good, the sound is good, and it's a nice trailer. If you have not seen the movie, it is sort of a good introduction.

Finally, there is the usual Universal weblinks for your DVD ROM users. All in all, the features were standard, surprisingly, for such a well received movie. I do wish that commentary from Joe Johnston was not a typo, and a commentary from the real Homer Hickam Jr. would have been a good addition as well.

As far as menus go, for the most releases, Universal menus are pretty interactive. These are standard. The main menu has the movie poster with a simple straight cut to whatever you choose, and the bonus materials section has a shot of the mine, which is in similar style to the poster. The chapter links are four per screen, with a caption and image from the chapter. The font for just about everything is the movie poster font. Decent, not great.



October Sky, at least for me, is one of those movies I will watch over and over again. It has some laughs, raw drama, a talented cast and significant lessons everyone should learn during their lifetime. With superior audio and picture quality to boot, and for a retail of 24.99 (I bet on the web you can pick it up cheaper), October Sky is highly recommended. I just wish there was a bit more in the supplements section. If you have never seen the movie, go out now and check it out for yourself.


(4.5/5, NOT included in final score)




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