1991: Looking Back At THE ROCKETEER - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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1991: Looking Back At THE ROCKETEER

Alexander Wallace has got a jetpack with his name on it.
As quaint as they now seem, there is a part of our society that just loves old wartime pulp adventure tales. The original swashbuckling tales have provided their DNA to things like Indiana Jones, and the likes of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and then the astounding resurrection of a pulp comic hero, Captain America: The First Avenger. Today, we shall turn our attention to another such pulp film, this one from 1991: The Rocketeer, directed by Joe Johnston and starring Bill Campbell and Jennifer Connolly.

As a dieselpunk aficionado, I loved it. There’s a certain optimism in regards to technology that was common in pulp fiction of the time as well as science fiction going well into the 1960s. The jetpack that forms the driving engine of the entire plot is treated as almost magical and as a source of great wonder. Likewise, the biplane at the airshow exudes all that wonder and aspiration of an era that thought the only way to go was up. In a world where cyberpunk and the New Wave have formed so much of the foundation of modern speculative literature, such optimism can be on occasion refreshing.
But The Rocketeer also does such a great job of bringing that utterly lush period flavor to it, even without the technology. All the fashion in all its myriad forms is on every actor. The same goes for the cars, including the military vehicles. About the only objection I have in this regard is the actual dancing at a scene at a ballroom; as a trained ballroom dancer, it looks like nothing that people would have danced in the period at such an occasion (as you can probably tell, I have opinions about these things; I didn’t write thirty-one pages about dance in alternate history for nothing!). It’s the sort of generalized eloquence that people nowadays usually only dream of (and occasionally try to resurrect, as I sometimes do).

Much of the rest of the plot is a potpourri of all the things that we love about movies from the period, or set during the period; in some ways, it’s a theme park of all that. There are gangsters and Old Hollywood (and gangsters in Old Hollywood) and, of course, Nazis as your villains. The plot generally feels like something Indiana Jones could have led, had he not been busy in Egypt or Jordan.
The Rocketeer is not a movie that burdens itself with social issues or morality or things of that nature; morally, it is quite simple (in fairness, when your villain is literally the Nazis, you find that morality simplifies itself quite efficiently in the vast, vast majority of cases). There are times for your morally ambiguous films about the horror of war or racism of the period, and there are times for pure, unadulterated pulp. The Rocketeer is the latter, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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