This review originally appeared on the now-defunct site FamilyWonder.com, which showcased children's entertainment for parents and caregivers.
Title: OCTOBER SKY
Year: Universal, 1999
Running Time: 1 hour 51 minutes
Based on a true story, OCTOBER SKY offers little suspense about its conclusion, but makes some interesting detours along the way. Depressed because his lack of football talent means he'll never win a college scholarship, Homer Hickam dreams of escaping from his small mining town. As he watches Sputnik in orbit, he decides to build a rocket. Two bored friends and the school science geek work with him, while their math teacher holds out the chance of winning a scholarship at a science fair as a lure.
But Homer's foreman father scorns Homer's efforts and becomes enraged when his son seeks help from the welders at the mine. An injury forces the boy to abandon his dreams - and high school - to try to take over his father's position mining coal. Yet the lure of the stars remains with him, and in the end he decides to reach for his dream even if he risks alienation from his family.
Best For Ages:
6-8: Too mature and slow-moving for this group.
9-12: Intense drama may disturb the youngest here, but the family drama and underlying "stay in school" message make this an excellent choice for older kids.
13 & up: Though the plot is somewhat cliched, unusual characters and compelling teen situations compensate for the predictability.
Educational Value: Convincing portrayal of life in a 1950s coal-town. Homer comes to understand the conviction needed to set a goal and achieve it. Viewers can learn about aerodynamics and the value of studying math from the rocket-building sequences.
Entertainment Value: Rocket launches and West Virginia scenery suffer on video, but the soundtrack of 1950s hits enhances many scenes.
Violence: A father beats his son when the boy is mistakenly arrested for starting a fire. A mine strike triggers an attempted shooting.
Sex/Nudity: Teenage boys express the desire to lose their virginity. One coaches another about how to make a pass at a girl.
Profanity: Mild swearing.
Emotional Intensity: Homer's father ridicules his interests and ignores him in favor of his football star brother. Homer expresses his unhappiness and threatens to leave home. Homer's mother threatens to leave his father if the father won't help his son.
Frightening Situations: Mining accidents leave minor characters dead or injured. Homer's father nearly loses an eye in an accident (off screen). Rockets knock characters down when they explode. Teens are arrested for a crime they didn't commit.
Questionable Behavior: Alcoholism. Some carelessness with explosives. Homer's father wants him to drop out of high school to work in the mine.
Mature Themes: Family conflict when childrenís goals donít match adultsí expectations. Union officials conflict with workers. A beloved teacher becomes ill with Hodgkin's disease.
Treacly but entertaining, OCTOBER SKY benefits from exuberant youthful performances and wonderful period touches, from popular music to news broadcasts to a car that was already vintage in 1957. Based on the true story of how four boys escaped from a life working in the mines, the script nonetheless sounds like fiction when the characters spout Hallmark-type dialogue about family.
The rocket boys make terrific role models. Even initially problematic figures like the cynical school principal and the men running the mining company end up being admirable. The antagonists are never portrayed as simple villains, just normal people stuck with few options in life.
Visually, the most interesting scenes in the film involve rocket launch failures, though the initial shot of Sputnik shining in the October sky captures both the magic and menace of the emerging space age. Set in the same time period as the animated movie THE IRON GIANT, OCTOBER SKY captures the same youthful exuberance about the new era, with more attention to detail and the nuances of change in the nuclear family as well as the world.
For another movie about a boy achieving his dream, against all odds, this time in an Indiana mining town, try BREAKING AWAY.
Children's Television Reviews