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On October 5, 1957 the Russian satellite Sputnik passes over the mining town of Coalwood, West Virginia. For teenager Homer Hickham (Jake Gyllenhaal) it provides the inspiration to build his own rocket and dream of a life beyond simply following his father John (Chris Cooper) into the coal mine. Encouraged by teacher Miss Riley (Laura Dern) and mother Elsie (Natalie Canerday) Homer enlists the help of schoolfriends Roy (William Lee Scott), Quentin (Chris Owen) and O'Dell (Chad Lindberg) in the construction of a rocket. Despite spectacular early failures and the disapproval of Homer's father, the 'rocket boys' are determined to design a successful rocket and earn a place at the State science competiton where the possibility of college scholarships and life beyond Coalwood awaits.

"'I'm going to build a rocket' is the simple announcement Homer Hickham makes at the family dinner table after watching Sputnik hurtle through the evening sky. It could also be the title of a boy's own adventure novel which this wonderfully entertaining true-life tale resembles. This is exhilarating stuff; a reminder of an era before everyone became blase about space exploration and a time before towns like Coalwood were wiped off the map when the mines dried up. How Homer's determination affects the adults close to him has been carefully crafted and invests the film with emotional dimensions beyond the question of whether his rockets will fly. Chris Cooper is outstanding as usual playing a basically good man whose pride is dented with each rocket launch; Natalie Canerday is a stoic and gutsy mother whose kitchen mural tells us what pages of dialogue can't while Laura Dern sparkles as the fiesty teacher who enters the picture when gentle inspiration is required. From the 'rocket boys' spectacularly unsuccessful early efforts to a conclusion incorporating the real-life characters involved in this little-known chapter in the history of space exploration, October Sky is inspiring and uplifting. It's a major step-up for director Joe Johnston whose previous films such as Honey I Shrunk The Kids and Jumanji were simply special effects showcases. He does lay the emotion on a bit thick toward the end but by then we've enjoyed such a good story it hardly matters."
Richard Kuipers

"Like Pleasantville, October Sky plays with the fantasy of America's idyllic past in the 50s; kids who call their fathers ‘sir,’ wear tucked-in plaid shirts, and shoot off rockets like Huck Finn went fishing. Wittier movies (such as Joe Dante’s) make satire from the same conjunction of innocent boyhood and Cold War mania, but October Sky places even the hero’s obsession with Wernher von Braun in a realm beyond irony. Director Joe Johnson is a disciple of Steven Spielberg, working to give you that childlike sense of wonder, and in its way this is a polished, sophisticated movie. The painterly lighting creates a distanced nostalgia – childhood remembered in tranquillity – but the storytelling is streamlined, the scenes short and to the point. Every plot move in the script is totally predictable, and yet... This hyper-real landscape belongs to David Lynch as well: the dark woods, the coal mine that dominates the town and engulfs the young men when they get old enough; the sweet schoolgirls with their tousled dark hair and red, red lips. By playing it straight, sticking to the mode of a child’s picture book, Johnston gets some surprising poetic results. The main conflicts are realised in directly physical, visual terms: the cramped darkness of the mine, pitted against the fiery rockets soaring up into the clear sky. The most magical scene comes when Homer finally goes down the mine with his father, and we realise, after a second, that this is really space travel in reverse. The elevator clanks, carrying them far from the surface of the earth, and the grimy-faced men crawling about with lights on their helmets are explorers of an alien world."
Jake Wilson

"Hollywood has a way of doing it to you, doesn't it? You sit there in the darkened cinema, you know what's coming in the story, you see the cliched characters, you hear the exaggerated score for the emotional bits, you note the clunky symbolism, and still, somehow you end up crying happily at the end. Not always. But this is one of those. It's a good story, reasonably well told. Director Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer) has given us a nice study of fifties small town America where men and their macho values dominate and women provide emotional support and real understanding. The women are just as trapped as the young boys who are expected to go into the coal mines only they have less chance of escape. This is nicely symbolised; Natalie Canerday's Elsie Hickam quietly painting a beach scene on the kitchen wall while the men in her family implode around her. Twisted male values are best conveyed when Homer's father John (Chris Cooper) steps in to stop another character viciously beating up his stepson while continuing to emotionally abuse his own son throughout the film. Chris Cooper who was unforgettable in Lone Star, hands in another brilliant performance counterpointed by Jake Gyllenhaal and Canerday. Laura Dern gives us a dreadful one-dimensional caricature as the helpful teacher, Miss Riley. Visually, Johnston presents a strong study with the horror of the coal mine deftly juxtaposed with the simple magic of Sputnik making it's way across the night sky. The fifties soundtrack is also a bonus in this enjoyable movie."
Lee Gough

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CAST: Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Cooper, Chris Owen, William Lee Scott, Chad Lindberg, Laura Dern, Natalie Canerday

DIRECTOR: Joe Johnston

PRODUCER: Larry J. Franco

SCRIPT: Lewis Colick, based on the book "Rocket Boys" by Homer H. Hickam Jr.


EDITOR: Robert Dalva

MUSIC: Mark Isham


RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes



VIDEO RELEASE: April 19,2000

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Universal Pictures Vide

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