“October Sky” (1999, PG rating) sounded familiar to me, but I couldn’t recall the plot. Therefore I was surprised to be back in the 1957 era, this time experiencing the launching of Russia’s Sputnik 1 through the eyes of people living in a coal mining community in West Virginia.
The movie “The Iron Giant” that I recently reviewed was also about that time period.
The concern over the events surrounding the launching was the same in both movies. Americans did not know how Russia’s entry into space would affect their lives and they were worried about potential dangers from outer space.
This movie was based on the true life story of teen-ager Homer Hickam who, having watched Sputnik as it crossed the October sky, was inspired to enlist the help of three friends to build a rocket. The four became known as The Rocket Boys.
“October Sky” details the time period between the launch of Sputnik 1, which inspired Homer’s dream, and the successful building and launching of rockets by Homer Hickam (John Gyllenhaal) and his three friends, Quentin, Roy Lee Cooke, and Sherman O’Dell. They gained help and support from various people as they progressed from rocket concept to the firing of their final rocket which was successfully propelled a considerable distance into the atmosphere.
“October Sky” is set in Coalwood, West Virginia, and provides a glimpse into the difficulties of coal mining. It shows how the children of coal miners were expected to become coal miners themselves since they had few other opportunities available to them.
Homer Hickam did not want to be a coal miner; he wanted to work at NASA.
There is an inspirational teaching figure, Miss Frieda Riley (Laura Dern), and a study in family life which involves Hickam’s father who is a dedicated coal miner, and his mother, an independent-thinking woman who succeeds as a homemaker while keeping alive her own dreams.
Since “October Sky” tells a true story I think that it could be used quite effectively for home schooling.
It inspired me to learn more about Homer Hickam and I did so by accessing his website (click here). He became an aerospace engineer and worked at NASA, where he trained astronauts for many missions, including ones with the Hubble Space Telescope.
That website also provided much information concerning Hickam’s parallel career as a writer, an update on his family, and biographical information on the other three Rocket Boys along with other community figures.
I also read more about Sputnik 1 (click here) which would make a good tie-in for teaching if home schoolers wanted to use “October Sky” in this way. Another tie-in could be a viewing of “The Iron Giant.”
The movie could be viewed by anyone, but is more appropriate for older children. These teen-agers were inspired, carried out their collective dream of building a rocket, immersed themselves in learning science and mathematics in order to do so, and finally bettered their lives because of their endeavors.
There has been so much scientific advancement since 1957 that teen-agers of today will probably not be awed about the rockets developed by these boys, and I don’t think they will clamor to see the movie. If it is on a list for family viewing, it will likely be because the parents have chosen it; otherwise, in my opinion “October Sky” appears destined to draw little future viewing, even though it is well deserving of being seen.
For more articles by this writer, click here.
Other movie reviews by R.C. Johnson: Up; March of the Penguins (Documentary Review); Scent of a Woman; The Iron Giant; Akeelah and the Bee; The Hurt Locker; Cinderella Man; Amadeus; The Incredibles; The Notebook;Slumdog Millionaire; Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog; WALL-E; Gran Torino; The Man Who Would Be King, The Princess Bride; The Mission; Top Gun; Crocodile Dundee; Maid to Order; Beaches; The Indian in the Cupboard;O Brother, Where Art Thou?; Witness; The Gods Must Be Crazy; Flywheel, Facing the Giants and Fireproof.
Also, two reminders:
Letters to God, the Movie, Coming in April
Prodigal (In Theaters in 2010)