October Sky

October Sky PosterOctober 4th, 1957.  News of the launch of Russia’s Sputnik 1 comes to the little town of Coalwood, West Virginia, lighting a spark of hope in the heart of high-schooler Homer Hickam.  The spark is fanned into a flame when Homer decides he wants to be a rocket scientist one day, and he and three other classmates team up to form “The Rocket Boys.”

They build rocket after rocket, slowly progressing, dreaming of winning the national science fair so they can win scholarships and escape the seemingly unavoidable fate of becoming coal miners one day.  But Homer’s father is the mine superintendent, and has his own dreams of seeing Homer take his place one day.

Will the rocket boys ever succeed in their task?  Will Mr. Hickam come to terms with Homer’s dreams and aspirations?  And is there really hope of anything better than a life spent digging coal in the darkness?

The Good

With the exception of a couple of notable problems, the film is mostly clean.  There is no sexuality or gory violence, and there are many good themes in the film.  Mrs. Hickam’s support of her son is touching, and Mr. Hickam is a complex character whom Homer eventually comes to esteem and respect, despite their differences.  Homer and his brother, though initially unkind, show in the end that they do care about each other.  When Mr. Hickam is injured in a mining accident after saving the lives of twelve men, Homer volunteers to work in the mines and provide for his family so that his brother can go on to college.

The loyalty between the four boys is also touching.  They are living hard lives and go through difficult circumstances, but they stick together and help each other through it all.

The romantic subplot, though rather sparse and with little relevance to the story, is clean and interesting.  Homer initially has a crush on the pretty, popular Dorothy, but he soon finds out that she likes him only when he’s popular, as opposed to the quieter, plainer Valentine, who cares about him no matter what his circumstances.

The Bad

There is a great deal of language in the film.  Though most of it is mild, it is very excessive.  Also, there is one rather tasteless line where one boy warns Homer not to hang out with another, unpopular boy, or else he’ll have to “say goodbye to any hope of losing his virginity.”

Also, the negative aspects of the message may possibly outweigh the good.  Most of the story is a very typical rebellious-son-who-eventually-proves-his-father-wrong type plot.  Homer disregards his father’s wishes to the point of disrespectfulness, going so far as to yell at him in one scene.  Also, though he does lay down his dreams for his family at one point in the film, as soon as his father is well again, he drops the job and goes back to pursuing his own desires, disregarding his father’s pleas to make him proud by his hard work in the mines.

It is almost a tossup between the good and the bad in this message.  It is confusing and difficult to sort out.  In the end, the father and son resolve their differences, with Homer calling his father his hero, and Mr. Hickam making the choice to support his son no matter what.

The Art:

The story itself is fairly slow, though not so slow as to drag.  The emotion is well communicated by the writing and the actors, with several subtle recurring symbols that do a lot to help the audience understand what each character is feeling.

The design is brilliant, with the world of Coalwood being drab and gray, with the drabness increasing the closer one gets to the mines.  Meanwhile, bits of the outside world that come through the small town, such as a tourist’s car, are bright, appealing colors.  The lettering on the boys’ rockets is colorful as well, symbolizing the hope of better things.

Based on a true story, October Sky is an enjoyable and interesting film to watch, but the language and the iffy message elements make it hard to wholeheartedly recommend.  I would give it a 2/5.

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