Release Date: February 19, 1999
Runtime: 107 minutes
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Director: Joe Johnston
Producer: Charles Gordon & Larry Franco
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Based on the autobiography of Homer Hickam, OCTOBER SKY begins with the residents of Coalfield, a mining town in West Virginia, filled with awe like the rest of the world when the Soviet Union launches the first satellite, Sputnik, in 1957. No one is more fascinated by the event than Homer Hickam, the young teenage son of John Hickam, the foreman of the local mine. An aimless youth who is not good enough to get a football scholarship like his brother, Homer decides to start making his own rockets. He enlists the help of his two friends, O'Dell and Roy Lee, but they only manage to damage his mom's beautiful white picket fence.
Homer decides to enlist the help of the class nerdy intellectual, Quentin, much to the chagrin of his buddies. Homer's enthusiasm is infectious, however, and the boys begin a rocket building program, egged on by their teacher Miss Riley, who thinks the boys have a shot at winning a prize at the state science fair. Homer even manages to enlist the help of a couple of the local mining engineers. The only person who is not enthusiastic about Homer's hobby is Homer's father, who longs for his boy to someday follow in his footsteps and become foreman of the mine, a leader among the local townspeople.
Gradually, the "rocket boys" begin to have some success with their contraptions. They even set up a special launching pad at the local slag heap, complete with a small blockhouse. Trouble ensues, however, when the local authorities believe that one of their rockets started a small forest fire. Their chances of going to the state science fair begin to dim. Furthermore, Homer's relationship with his father takes a turn for the worst until the movie's heartwarming finish.
For pure entertainment value, there are few American directors working today who can match the talent of Joe Johnston. With OCTOBER SKY, Johnston's talent has matured to include realistic human drama in a family setting. He gets marvelous performances from his cast, especially Jake Gyllenhaal as Homer and Chris Cooper as Homer's father, John. Gyllenhaal is perfectly cast as the West Virginia boy determined to pursue his crazy dreams. Cooper gives solid dignity to the character of Homer's father, even when he's mad at Homer or yelling at him. Although the ending to the movie is drawn out a little too much, the resolution of the conflict between this stubborn father and equally stubborn son should retain the interest of most people who go see this movie. Johnston and his team succeed in creating a wonderful, vivid depiction of an historic time and place.
Many family dramas rely on conflict between parents and children. Naturally, this leads such dramas to sometimes show rebelliousness of children against parents and mistreatment of children by parents. This is the case with OCTOBER SKY, but the movie also argues in favor of reconciliation and mutual support and respect among its family members. This wholesome quality to the movie is marred, however, by too much foul-language and a line of dialogue about teenage premarital sex that is not rebuked.