OCTOBER SKY, 1999
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Cooper, Laura Dern, Chris Owen, William Lee Scott, Chad Lindberg, Scott Miles
The true story of Homer Hickam, a coal miner's son who was inspired by the first Sputnik launch to take up rocketry against his father's wishes.
“October Sky” is one of my top 10 favorite movies of all time. It has humor, it has heart, it has drama and intensity and science geeks shooting off rockets! The fact that it's a true story makes it all the more appealing to me. It's based on the book written about Homer Hickam titled “Rocket Boys”... and I just discovered that October Sky is actually an anagram of Rocket Boys... so with a clever title added to the mix of all the things I mentioned already, that just makes this movie even better in my eyes.
In 1957 in the coal mining town of Coalwood, West Virginia lives highs school student Homer Hickman who lives with his mother, coal mining father, and football player brother. Homer's dad, like most dads in the town, is fiercely loyal to the coal mining industry and wants his sons to follow in his footsteps and become coal miners after they graduate high school. Jim, Homer's older brother, however, has received a football scholarship for college, which leaves only Homer to continue to family legacy of mining coal. This, however, is not the life Homer wants. He strives for something more, but isn't sure what... until the launch of the first Sputnik satellite. That's when Homer gets his first clue of what it is he wants to do with his life: he wants to build rockets.
Homer enlists the help of his friends Roy Lee and O'dell, as well as the school math whiz Quentin to work at building their own model rocket to enter in the state science fair. They get the help of their science teacher, Miss Riley and gather materials from various places around town... sometimes stealing what they need, sometimes paying for what they can. Their classmates and families (especially Homer's father) think they are crazy and try to talk them out of such foolishness and resign themselves to the lives that have been set out for them (again, Homer's father is the biggest advocate against the rocket building), but they will not listen and experiment with new materials and fuels and designs. Their experimentation comes to a screeching halt, however, when the boys are arrest for arson when there's a forest fire that they and their rockets are blamed for.
Not long after the arrest, there's a mine accident in which Homer's dad is injured saving a dozen men from the collapsing mine shaft. Homer takes it upon himself to quit school to work in the mine to support his family while his dad is injured. Miss Riley brings Homer a new book on rockets (despite Homer saying his rocket building days are behind him). Homer looks through the book and finds the calculations to determine a rocket's trajectory. He uses this to figure out that his rocket couldn't have caused the forest fire because it couldn't have flown far enough. With the help of his friends, he is able to track down their rocket within a few yards where it sits harmlessly away from where the fire was started. They use this inspiration to start their experiments again and win the science fair.
Homer and his rocket are sent to the National Science Fair, despite his father's wishes. It seems like he might be up to win some serious scholarship money, when tragedy strikes yet again and he has to ask his disapproving father for help.
One of the things that makes “October Sky” such a great movie is its relate-able. I think we've all been at a place in our lives when there are two paths we can go: that which we want or that which our parents want. And most of us know the ridicule of a parent who doesn't understand or accept the paths we take. Due to that, this movie is extremely realistic and strikes all sorts of truthful emotional cords that bring up feelings and memories we (I) didn't even know were there.
The acting in this movie could be better, but it's still a talented and believable cast that do their jobs well in portraying their characters.
This movie, based on true events, feels somehow larger than life despite the fact that the premise is simple: a kid wants to build model rockets despite his dad not approving. When something so simple can feel so powerful, that's a sign of some great filmmaking! And “October Sky” is just that: a great film.
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