Movies Revisited: OCTOBER SKY

Movieby Joey Paur

October Sky is one of my favorite films of all time, this is a must watch film for anybody interested in film, history and science. For those of you that have an interest in the upcoming The First Avenger: Captain America that Marvel is developing then you should know that the director of October Sky is the same guy directing Captain America.  This is not a film that Johnson is well known for, but in my opinion it is his best movie, and proof to me that he’s got exactly what it takes to bring Captain America to life in the way we all hope to see him.

The film tells the true story of Homer Hickam who ended up becoming a NASA engineer. It’s an incredibly inspiring story that I think anyone can relate to especially those who are looking to becoming more than what is expected of them. My grandpa grew up in a small coal mining town called Helper, UT, and I’ve heard so many stories about what it was like growing up in a town like that. I’ve been told that the town and lifestyle that is portrayed in October Sky is pretty much exactly what it was like back in the day. 

October Sky was released in 1999 and starred a young Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Cooper and Laura Dern. The films name October Sky is also an anagram of Rocket Boys the title of the book on which the movie is based. It is also used in a period radio broadcast describing Sputnk as it crossed the October sky.

The film is set in Coalwood, West Virginia in the year 1957. The coal mine is the town's largest employer and pretty much every man living in the town works in the mines. John Hickam, the mine superintendent, loves his job with a passion and expects that his sons, Jim and Homer, will one day join him in his mine. When Jim ends up getting a football scholarship to attend college, Homer is left to fulfill his father's dream. But he has his sights set on something bigger and better. He wants to go to college as well and leave the town that he knows he has no future in. 

Homer is inspired to star looking into rockets and space exploration after the Soviets launch Sputnik, and he sees it one night as it orbits across the sky. It was at this point he knew he found out what he wanted to do with his life. With the help of his three friends Quentin, Roy Lee and O’Dell, Homer sets out to build rockets of their own and enter a science fair that grants the winner college scholarships. Of course it isn’t easy to get there, they go through a series of trial and error blowing up several rockets before they get it right. Homers father also doesn’t make it easy for him to realize his dream, he is dead set against Homer’s no found hobby and is continues to tell him that his place is in the mines.

If you haven’t seen this movie yet, I highly recommend it! It’s not action packed, but the story is awesome, the script is fantastic, and the acting is top notch. October Sky is an all around fantastic film.

Here are some useless yet interesting trivia surrounding the film.

Chris Ellis, who plays Principal Turner, also played Deke Slayton in Apollo 13 (1995) and appeared in the mini-series "From the Earth to the Moon" (1998).

When the college recruiters approach Homer at the end of the science fair, the last one identifies himself as being from "Virginia Tech", the real life Homer Hickam's alma mater.

Homer H. Hickam Jr. never actually met Wernher von Braun.

Two of the real-life rocket boys, Sherman Siers and Jimmie O'Dell Carroll were combined into one character named Sherman O'Dell. 

Elsie claims that she'll move to Myrtle Beach after she leaves John. This was where the real Elsie moved after Homer Hickam Sr. (John) died of Black Lung Disease, and still currently resides. 

The location of the slag dump where the Rocket Boys actually tested their rockets still exists. It is now a large grassy field. It is located in the actual town of Coalwood, WV which still exists today. They erected a replica test stand, launch pad, and "shed" after the movie brought the rocket boys story back into the public light. Every year the town of Coalwood celebrates the Rocket Boys with a festival every October called "October Sky Festival". 

The boys rarely tested a single rocket per day. They often manufactured several rockets and tested them in sequence. The rocket that hit Homer's father's office during their early testing, when they were launching rockets near the mine, was actually the last rocket of several they launched that day. 

Leon Bolden says he flew with the "Red Tails" in WWII. The "Red Tails" were the 332nd Fighter Group, an all African American unit better known as the "Tuskegee Airmen". 

Jim, Homer's brother did not receive a football scholarship from West Virginia University. He too was a Hokie and attended VPI, aka Virginia Tech. 

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