Movie Review: October Sky

by Warren Ross

I highly recommend the movie October Sky. This is a drama about whether a young boy will escape from the rural mining town he grows up in and achieve his goals, or whether he will be trapped there by birth and circumstance. After Sputnik goes up in 1957, the boy, Homer, becomes passionately interested in rocketry. He experiments with building more and more sophisticated rockets, and his goal is to enter and win science fairs so he can get a scholarship to go to college. Obstacles in his way are the limited vision of his family and townspeople, who call it “false hopes” to think of getting out, a domineering father adamantly opposed to a son who won’t go into mining or sports, fear of rockets on the part of officials, and, interestingly, Homer’s lack of knowledge of mathematics! This is a remarkable, inspiring movie that affirms the principle of man as the determiner of his own destiny.

I was surprised to discover this movie. Previews had shown it as mostly a geeky teen movie, and did not develop in me a strong desire to see it (though I could see the potential). When I read the “official” reviews, e.g. in the Houston Chronicle, they said the movie was full of clichés, but that it left you with a lump in your throat. This cynical commentary is purely emotional, and communicates too little (what other movies, for example, put a lump in the throat of the standard reviewers?). On the other hand, intellectuals almost always pan good movies as cliché-ridden, so I thought this might be good “reverse” information. One review said that this movie used a “template” out of the movie Hoosiers, another movie about achievement in the face of huge obstacles. This sparked my interest, since I enjoyed Hoosiers. (Another positive review can be found in an upstate New York newspaper) Finally, I came across a noteworthy review by a high-school student in the school newspaper of Lee High School. After presenting enough of the plot to convince me that the movie had merit, he ended with “Make an effort to go see October Sky and find out. It will restore any doubt you have in the practicality of your own life, and the success of the American dream.” I have to say that the still-uncorrupted viewpoint of the teenager takes the prize from all the reviews, and I agree with it completely.

When I saw the movie (7/24), it was playing in only one theater in Houston, a dollar cinema. See it in the theaters if you can, but on video if you must.

A word about clichés: A cliché is something that is worn out from overuse. By this definition, what is clichéd today is not a heroic movie about striving for values but the obscene, bizarre, pointless, horrifying movies that come out day after day, year after year glorifying the gutter and the anti-heroes who inhabit it. At no time, but especially today, can one get enough of a story that portrays successful value struggles. How many movies like Educating Rita, Stand and Deliver, Lean on Me, Hoosiers, Apollo 13 and now October Sky have been made in the last thirty years? That’s it. I’ve exhausted the list. And how many hundreds or thousands of the other type have been made? So it cannot be literally true that the better movies are clichéd. What, then, do the reviewers mean when they say this? They mean that even one such movie is one too many for their view of life. Ten movies about an AIDS-inflicted lesbian are all “original,” “fresh,” etc., but one about a person choosing to succeed has been “done before.” Think of this when you see this charge in the reviews, and compare it with the gushing approval given to the multitude of movies from the sewer. And recognize that although a movie can be done in a formulaic way without an original plot (and that some of the better movies suffer from this lack of originality), more often than not the charge is a smear to undercut a decent, and perhaps good, movie.

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