In Coalwood, West Virginia,
Coal is undisputed king,
The mine the source of all the town can claim.
In 1957,
Sputnik I is orbiting
And elevates young Homer Hickham’s aim.
He takes a sudden interest
In the field of rocketry,
And three school friends assist his doubtful dream.
His father thinks it’s foolish,
And his brutal honesty
Discourages their unexampled dream.
As Homer’s group experiments
With rockets by the tens,
They finally achieve successful flight.
The town begins attending
Homer’s launches with his friends,
But Homer’s dad dismisses each invite.
A forest fire begins nearby,
A reckless rocket’s blamed,
And Homer’s forced to give up his pastime.
He goes into the coal mine
When his father’s nearly maimed,
Until he clears himself of any crime.
He wins the county science fair,
And nationals awaits.
Though his display is robbed to his chagrin,
His father still assists him,
Overcoming their debates,
So Homer and his Rocket Boys can win.
When scholarships are theirs,
They intend one final launch
In honor of their teacher, parents, friends.
John Hickham finally arrives,
The miner ever staunch,
To watch the rocket blaze as it ascends.

How many movies have we seen about a young upstart daring to follow his/her dreams, eliciting nothing but criticism from an autocratic parent? The Little Mermaid, How to Train Your Dragon, The Greatest Game Ever Played, and countless others have established this cliché as a favorite Hollywood source of familial tension. Why then is October Sky so fresh, so moving, so inspirational? Perhaps it’s the winsome appeal of Jake Gyllenhaal as Homer Hickham, exemplifying wide-eyed wonder long before his grittier, more adult roles of late. Perhaps it’s the complex relationship with his father (a stony Chris Cooper), which provides the tired tension with which we’re all familiar yet refuses to demonize him, even tempering his disparagement with intermittent heroism that depicts him as a misguided but admirable role model nonetheless. Perhaps it’s the film’s period soundtrack and soothing, hymn-like score or its Appalachian backdrop, at once comforting and oppressive, similar to “Butcher Holler” in Coal Miner’s Daughter. Perhaps it’s the inspiring accomplishment of “a bunch of hillbillies” through science rather than the usual sports or music, and the heartening support of the townsfolk and their schoolteacher (Laura Dern). Perhaps it’s all of the above.

Regardless, October Sky (an anagram of Rocket Boys) is a film that stands the test of time. I first viewed it as a kid before it fell off my radar, and when I saw it again years later, it was just as uplifting. Surely, many people like me can identify with Homer Hickham; I too have been galvanized by others’ works of creative genius to push myself to similar heights of ambition. Seeing such initiative rewarded is gratifying enough; seeing it win over even the harshest of critics qualifies October Sky as a personal favorite.

Best line: (Homer, to his dad, toward the end) “Look, I know you and me don’t exactly see eye to eye on certain things. I mean, yeah, we don’t see eye to eye on just about anything, but Dad, I come to believe that I got it in me to be somebody in this world. And it’s not because I’m so different from you either; it’s because I’m the same. I mean, I can be just as hard-headed and just as tough. I only hope I can be as good a man as you are. I mean, sure, Dr. von Braun is a great scientist, but he isn’t my hero.”

Rank: 54 out of 60

© 2014 S. G. Liput

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