The action-filled, family adventure film The Rocketeer – starring Billy Campbell, Jennifer Connelly, Alan Arkin and Timothy Dalton – is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a Blu-ray release, now available. With state-of-the-art digital restoration and enhanced high-definition sound, the story of a test pilot (Campbell) who discovers a top-secret jetpack that throws him into a daring adventure of mystery, suspense and intrigue, turning the ordinary young man into an extraordinary hero, still holds up as one of the best comic book adaptations that’s hit the big screen.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, the film’s star, Billy Campbell, talked about how the spirit and good-hearted nature of the film have really allowed it to hold up over time, why he thinks it didn’t have the box office that people expected, that he doesn’t have any props from the film because he doesn’t collect mementos, what it was like to work with director Joe Johnston (Captain America: The First Avenger), and how he would love to be a part of a sequel someday, in some capacity. He also talked about how he tends to choose projects for the location they’ll be filming in, and how fans of his AMC drama series The Killing can expect that their expectations will be met in Season 2. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Question: With all of the big superhero movies that have come out, over the years, people still really love The Rocketeer and hold a special place in their hearts for it. What do you think it is about the film that fans still love so much, 20 years after its theatrical release?
BILLY CAMPBELL: I think it’s really just the spirit of the film. It’s got innocence. It’s a good-hearted film. It’s not a cynical film. It’s lovely. I think that’s probably the biggest reason that I can think of.
Do you remember your reaction, at the time, when the film got so many favorable reviews and there was all this talk of a sequel, and then didn’t have the box office that was hoped for?
CAMPBELL: Yeah, it was very exciting to read the reviews. We were all very much looking forward to and anticipating the possibility of a sequel. And then, it didn’t do the business it could have, which was disappointing. But, it certainly didn’t take away from the satisfaction of having been a part of something that was done so well.
Why do you think that disconnect happened, when people who saw the film really enjoyed it?
CAMPBELL: I think there were a few reasons, really. I’m not sure they took the right tack, in promoting the film. When you think about it, it was a period movie that opened in a big summer. Two weeks on either side of us were Terminator 2 and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. It had no big-name stars in it. I was an unknown, in the lead role, and Jennifer [Connelly] was an unknown. So, it had a lot to overcome, and it didn’t overcome it. I don’t think the film was a disaster for them. It didn’t bomb. It just didn’t make the money they had wanted. But then again, I don’t think their marketing of the film was really up to snuff.
Do you have any props or mementos from the film, or is there anything you wish you could have kept?
CAMPBELL: No, not really. I don’t really collect the mementos. I do steal books off of sets. If there’s a library on the set, you can bet that I’ll steal away with a book or two.
CAMPBELL: All I can say is that it’s a great family film. It’s a great film for parents to watch with their kids. It has this lovely innocence that a lot of films, and even comic book films, don’t have so much of. I think those are a couple reasons it makes it a good film to buy for the holidays.
Do know if there will ever be any behind-the-scenes features that are released, at some point?
CAMPBELL: I don’t know. I don’t know why they wouldn’t put them on the Blu-ray. It seems like they do that for a lot of things. I don’t know why there wouldn’t be. Maybe there will be. I think it would be lovely to see some features on a disc of The Rocketeer, with some reminiscing. I think that would be dynamite.
What was it like to work with director Joe Johnson on this? There weren’t many films like this, being done at the time. Did he have a really clear vision of what he wanted to do with this film?
CAMPBELL: He did. He had a very clear vision and he stuck to it, through all kinds of adversity. And yet, he was a really sweet guy, and fun and funny and down-to-earth. I adored him, and I still do.
CAMPBELL: Oh, absolutely! I think they’re probably better off finding a new Rocketeer. I think I’m a little long in the tooth to do it myself, but I’d be happy to be part of it, in some kind of cameo fashion or something. Who knows.
Since there had been a lot of talk of a sequel, at the time the original film came out, was there ever any talk about where the story or character might have gone, or had you given any thought about what you would have liked to see happen?
CAMPBELL: I did. We were always toying around with scenarios. I always thought that what should have happened after that was a World War II thing, and that, in the end, it should come down to a battle between two men with rocket packs. That was my notion.
Over the years, did you ever have any surreal moments where you saw someone dressed as the character?
CAMPBELL: There were plenty of happy moments [like that]. We had the 20th Anniversary screening of The Rocketeer at the El Capitan, back in the summer, and Thomas Jane, who played The Punisher in the comic book movie, showed up at the screening in a Rocketeer outfit. It was fantastic. I met him at the after-party, and he was a huge Rocketeer fan. He was in a little make-shift Rocketeer outfit. He’s a total fanboy. Inevitably, my brushes with people who have a love for the movie are very warm-hearted. The kind of people that love The Rocketeer are the kind of people that love good storytelling and innocence and a better world, so to speak, so they’re almost always nice people to bump into. I think it’s one of the better achievements, in terms of adapting a comic book for the screen.
You work in both television and film, and you do comedy and drama. Is there something you look for in a project, these days? Does it start with the story and character, or is it more about the people you’ll be working with?
CAMPBELL: To tell you the truth, I’m kind of a location slut. It could be the worst movie in the world, and if it’s shooting in Sri Lanka, I will go do it. And, it could be the best movie in the world, and if it’s shooting somewhere in L.A., I probably don’t want to do. I might do it, but I wouldn’t be happy about it. But, aside from that, I don’t know. It just has to be interesting to me. It has to be well-written. If it’s going to be a movie I’m excited about, for anything other than location, then it has to be the writing. Once something is well-written, then everything else is gravy.
Were you surprised with the reaction that viewers had to the finale of The Killing, or were you expecting to cause a vocal reaction, once you knew things would not be wrapped up, by the end of the season?
CAMPBELL: I guess I was not quite expecting it. AMC feels like they misrepresented their intentions by using that logline, “Who killed Rosie Larsen?,” but they were never going to find, out at the end of the first season. We’re basically a remake of a Danish TV series, and they didn’t resolve it until the end of the second season. It’s not even really a season. It’s just the first half of one story. So, I was vaguely surprised, but then, kind of not. People want to have their payday.
CAMPBELL: Oh, yeah. They can expect that their expectations will be met. They won’t have to stomp their feet about not knowing who killed Rosie Larsen, after the end of this season. I’m certain that they’ll get what they’re looking for, by the end of this season. Even the network is saying so. What I can tell you is that, man, they have just upped the ante, right off the bat, with this second season. It is intense. The first few scripts have just been thrilling, so I’m well and truly looking forward to the rest of what comes. It’s a remarkably well-done show. I’m really happy to be a part of it.