October Sky

October Sky (1999)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Laura Dern
Extras: Documentary, Production Notes, Trailers

Do you still remember the event that literally changed your life forever? Most people certainly do and in "October Sky" we are allowed to take a peek at the life of a young boy and how his life has been changed when one nights he saw the Russian satellite "Sputnik" in the night sky on its orbit around Earth. Highly acclaimed, "October Sky" made its box-office debut a few months ago and when Universal Home Video decided to release this film on DVD I was eagerly looking forward to this release.

In 1957 the Russians launched the first satellite into the Earth’s orbit and called it "Sputnik". While the news created almost a panic hysteria within the American population of the late 50s, one boy was watching the night sky with wide-eyed innocence, immediately realizing the scope of this ground breaking invention and what impact it would have on mankind and the world as he knew it. Things would change and he wanted to be a part of that change. He didn’t want to sit still and deliver himself into a predetermined fate while others run the world. Determined to break out of the coal-mining community of has father and forefathers in West Virginia, Homer Hickham(Jake Gyllenhaal) immediately develops a keen interest in rocket science. Infecting his friends with his enthusiasm, the four of them start building their own little rockets in his father’s basement. Gradually they learn more about the scientific and mathematical background that is required to make rockets fly and soon they quartet becomes the point of interest for many people in the community with their small scale but dramatic rocket launches. Especially their teacher Miss Riley (Laura Dern) gives the boys the support they need to expand their knowledge in order to break out of the hopeless, predetermined future they would face in the coal mines.

The experiments become bolder, the equipment more expensive, the results more impressive and soon the boys win a local science contest that allows them to participate in a nationwide contest in Indiana. Things come to an abrupt halt however when Homer’s father (in a staggeringly patriarchic portrayal by Chris Cooper) almost loses his eyesight during an accident in the mines and Homer decides to start working in order to sustain the family and cover the hospital costs. Once his father has recovered however, Homer is once again on his way to help shape the future and soon faces the challenge of the National Science Fair.

Based on a true life story, "October Sky" combines a number of elements to create a very romantic and compelling story about growing up. We all have had our problems with our parents and many of us had to deal with the fact that we might not exactly turn out to be what our parents had hoped for. "October Sky" is about this experience. It is about the struggle of a boy and his unwillingness to conform with his father’s hopes, and the fight not to give in to the hopeless future he would face in the rural coal mining community. Apart from these growing pains however, "October Sky" also nicely exemplifies how determination and the honest wish to make a difference can indeed change the course of things, even the entire world. After all, we are all forging our own destinies. It is all within us and when Homer realized that his calling was within science, nothing could stop his unbreakable spirit or that of his friends. After watching his struggle against the fears of the society he is living in, it filled me with great satisfaction to hear at the end of the film that Homer has indeed succeeded in his real-live quest and grew up to become a NASA engineer.

"October Sky" is an inspired and an inspiring movie at the same time. It gives hope and it makes a strong point about individual opportunities. While we often come to believe that our lives are predetermined and unchangeable, the fact of the matter is that it is all up to us to make the change. The film is nicely romanticized in that it makes the viewer remember his own youth and ideals, but not yet romanticized enough to blur the line between reality and wishful thinking. It has the perfect mix and it makes the film work like a charm. The cast is incredibly strong, perfectly bringing across the adolescent helplessness, energy and determination at the same time. Physical strength and energy battle a raging ware against domestic subordination and parental interference. We know from the beginning that Homer can potentially move mountains and the film explores in a very personal way how he overcomes his own demons and the opposing powers with his own sheer will.

Universal Home Video is presenting "October Sky" in a clean <$16x9,anamorphic> transfer on this DVD that restores the film’s original 1.85:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio, but also contains a good looking <$PS,pan & scan> version. The print is meticulously clean without speckles or dust. The image quality of the transfer is superb with well-defined edges, a high level of detail and a very natural color reproduction. The picture exhibits a very warm and natural balance with deep and solid blacks and good highlights.
Fleshtones are absolutely faithfully rendered throughout and colors are reproduced with very natural looking hues. There are no compression artifacts visible in the entire film and the definition of the shadows is very good. The disc’s <$16x9,anamorphic> transfer and the <$PS,pan & scan> presentation are placed on a <$RSDL,dual layer> disc, making selection of either version very convenient through the main menu.

"October Sky" contains a rich <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> soundtrack. Just like the image transfer, the soundtrack creates a very natural sounding soundstage without overly aggressive surrounds or exaggerated bass extension. Nevertheless the low end has enough punch to support the pictures where needed. Dialogues are well centered and always clear and understandable.

The disc contains a few extras, such as a small featurette, taking you behind the scenes of the film, meeting the real Homer Hickham who has been strongly involved in the production of this film. The disc also contains a French <$DS,Dolby Surround> soundtrack and is <$CC,closed captioned> in English. An <$commentary,commentary track> by the movie’s director Joe Johnston was supposed to be on the disc but was pulled at the last minute for some reason.

I enjoyed "October Sky" a lot. It is a great film that, far away from the current special effects fare, creates a very personal atmosphere. The viewer is visiting this little community in West Virginia and becomes part in the challenge that lies before the Rocket Boys. Universal’s release on this DVD is absolutely flawless and there are no reasons that should prevent you from passing on this charming film. Make sure to check it out!