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October Sky

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: October Sky

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, William Lee Scott
Director: Joe Johnston
Rated: PG
RunTime: 108 Minutes
Release Date: February 1999
Genres: Drama, Family

*Also starring: Laura Dern, Chris Owen, Chris Cooper, Chad Lindberg

Review by Walter Frith
3½ stars out of 4

I often say that the reason why the movies continue to dominate year after year and set new box office records is because they know how to play on our sub conscious minds better than any other medium. Music used to be that way but has lost sight of its traditional and deepening roots. The movies often take us to places far away and beyond our imaginations and often make us feel that we'd love to be up there with our heroes on screen. In each given year, the films generally nominated for the Best Picture Oscar and the ones that usually win, are films set in the past and teach us something about history --- not just to prepare us for where we're going but to bring us closer together with other generations who lived back then.

'October Sky', a true story, has all the elements a young person can identify with. Whether your a part of today's youth or a participant in it from years gone by, this film has everything. A jealous but decent man for a father, not wanting to see his son turn out better than himself in life. A wise and inspiring teacher who is a constant reminder that life is all about choice. Best friends who stand by your side and work through the tough times --- having just as much to gain or lose as you do, and through it all, the determination to do something with your life despite who you are and where you come from.

Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Homer Hickam, a young man from Coalwood, West Virginia who doesn't want the life of a coal miner and would eventually go on to be a premium rocket scientist at NASA. After hearing about numerous accidents and a few deaths as a result of work in the mines, Homer wants a better life for himself and is fascinated by rocket science. His hero is Werner von Braun, the man who helped the United States develop advanced space techniques and eventually gain world superiority by putting a man on the moon.

The story of 'October Sky' begins in 1957 and the Russians have become the first country to put a man in space and determined to develop their own space program during the cold war, the U.S. must stay competitive with their enemy. Inspired by this, Homer and his friends (William Lee Scott and Chad Lindberg) begin in their own front yard building rockets. They eventually enlist the help of one of their class mates who is the school nerd (Chris Owen). He has no friends, wears glasses and always has his nose stuck in a book. He knows quite a bit about physics and general rocket propulsion and helps out a great deal. Their first few experiments are disastrous. They destroy a fence, almost kill someone when the rocket gets sent out flying hazardously among the town's general population and are arrested when one of their rockets is suspected of starting a serious fire. They find a deserted open rock patch about 8 miles from town, and erect a flag and small shack to continue their experiments.

Jake is inspired by a teacher (Laura Dern), whom he deeply respects, and conflicts heavily with the ideas of his father (Chris Cooper), a foreman in the coal mines, about how the course of his life should be taken. Eventually winning many science contests puts the boys in competition for the national finals in Indianapolis, Indiana where Homer gets to shake hands with Werner von Braun and doesn't even realize it.

At a time when so many people are generally unhappy with their lives, this film takes you to new dimensions and says that anyone can do anything they want with their life and while that sounds like a tired statement, this movie demonstrates that we need a constant boost to make us feel better about ourselves.

Copyright 2000 Walter Frith

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