Episode #53: Reflections on Rewatching The Rocketeer and How it Influenced The Thirteenth Hour
I recently rewatched the 1991 film, The Rocketeer, one of my favorite films from childhood, if not my all-time favorite. It encapsulated just about everything a kid could hope for – airplanes, jet packs, shootouts between gangsters and Nazi storm troopers – not to mention a great cast of characters with a plucky heroine and a dashing hero that was just enough of an Everyman to be easily relatable. Sometimes, movies that seemed great as a kid don’t always make for great films for adults. So although I owned the DVD of The Rocketeer and have rewatched bits through the years, I was always a bit hesitant about watching the film start-to-finish again, I guess out of fear that it would inevitably fall from grace after years had tarnished the nostalgia factor.
I’m glad to say that didn’t happen. Not only did I watch the whole thing, I was glued to my seat and daresay I enjoyed the movie more than I did when I was a kid.
In many ways, it was ahead of its time. Superhero movies weren’t really as big at the time as they were now, and in this age of global terrorism, it is comforting to think that heroes exists in our midst that can stand tall when they’re needed. And in many ways, that’s what the Rocketeer (a.k.a. pilot Cliff Secord) was – just an ordinary guy who, though a mixture of good/bad luck (depending on how you look at it) and the serendipity of circumstance, becomes a reluctant hero in an uncertain age (at the dawn of WWII). Part of me suspects that the original creator of The Rocketeer comics, illustrator Dave Stevens, created Cliff with exactly that I mind – not so much a hero chosen to have superpowers but an average citizen who ends up in the role and has to balance using his rocket pack for the greater good (fighting crime/Nazis, saving innocent people) vs. his own personal agenda (making money, impressing his girlfriend).
While I was watching the film this time, I was struck by how many similarities there are between Cliff Secord and Logan, the protagonist of The Thirteenth Hour. In many ways, it’s not surprising, since The Rocketeer was one of my favorite movies all throughout high school, and The Thirteenth Hour was written the summer after I graduated. Both have a boyish, child like sense of gee-whiz! wonder about them. While both are, at heart, good people doing their best, both are getting by on a lot more than special abilities and natural talents. They’re carried along as much by a combination of pluck, luck, help from others, and just, plain old bumbling incompetence that favors the optimistic, idealistic, and brave … the very image of characters that are holding it together not because they are super prepared or organized but with a combination of chewing gum, spit, and twine. (In fact, Cliff’s rocketpack is held together by chewing gum at one point.)
So, it’s not surprising that there are some parallels, both in character and appearance. Here are a few of the latter:
-I think ones of the reasons I drew Logan with the haircut he has was largely due to an the unconscious influence of Dave Stevens.
This is one of the tamer pictures of Cliff Secord’s do out there. He usually is a bit more disheveled:
-Cliff also worn a leather button-up jacket that, while looking a real pain to put on and take off, sure looks cool). I gave the Imperial Rangers in The Thirteenth Hour tunics with a similar aesthetic, though I didn’t opt for the buttons.
-And then, of course, both characters can fly owning to special machines. Logan’s flying machine, Lightning, is talked about in episode #45.
I recently found a little replica of the hoverboard from Back to the Future 2 in a thrift store – that made my day.
If you’re interested in learning more about real-life attempts to create rocketpacks, you can check out the book Jetpack Dreams (an excerpt on The Rocketeer is below):
You can also read more in this magazine article:
More on the Rocketeer in the future! Listen for the clip from the soundtrack by James Horner on the podcast as well as more postings on social media.
There are many excellent depictions of the Rocketeer since Dave Stevens’ passing. This is a fine example by Alexey Mordovets.
As always, thanks for listening!