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October Sky (1990)

October Sky. Feature Film. (1990, 108 mins) IMDB
...damn rockets are fun...
O
n average I watch one movie a day--it's better than watching television--and tonight I watched October Sky.

At some point since its release in 1999, I had seen at least part of this movie, but at the time, it didn't do anything for me because I would have remembered more. Not so tonight.
It's the late 1950s in a coal mining town in West Virginia, USA. Homer is in high school facing two options: work in the coal mines or get a football scholarship. Within the first five minutes of the movie, any football dreams are shattered with his failed tryout, but since it's a movie there has to be more and that more is Sputnik.
On October 4, 1957, October Sky, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1. The successful launch of the satellite shocked the US and inspired Homer. He wants to build rockets. It's his way out of the town, his way to avoid working in the mines, and who can blame him. (For students of drama, this is the "inciting incident.")
For the rest of the movie, he battles everything and everyone to reach his dream of building rockets and leaving the mining town. That he does is not a surprise, that a story set in a mining town is fun, is surprising. Rockets are cool.
Some may say it's a battle with his father who only sees the two options: football and coal mining. Rockets are useless to his father's thinking. To that I say, damn, rockets are fun.
I don't know what it is, but watching the many rockets launch was fun. Seeing the boys scatter out of the way of an errant rocket is fun. Seeing them pop up, twirl and twirl out of control and crash, is fun.
But fun isn't drama. The father getting in his way is drama. The police arresting him for arson is drama. The high school principal who gets in his way is drama. The lack of resources to build the rockets creates drama. And from the drama comes a movie.
It's classically structured with a standard American dream plot, and for that, many critics will yawn and say: so what. It's been done.
Yes it's been done. Yes it's melodramatic. But damn, rockets are fun.
Posted 2007/04/30 at 22h54ET in Movie Commentary.

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