The Rocketeer is among my top 3 all-time favorite movies, so when D23 announced a 20th anniversary screening and panel at the El Capitan Theater, I knew we had to go. The $50/person price tag was pretty hard to swallow, but D23 promised an “all-new print of the film, behind-the-scenes footage, and photos not seen in 20 years,” plus an “unprecedented reunion of the film’s notables” and, of course, a “special commemorative Rocketeer gift.”
In typical D23 fashion, the launch of ticket sales was delayed more than an hour by a technical glitch, but I just called the El Capitan’s business office to order while that got sorted out. I liked that we were able to buy tickets for specific seats just like at a regular El Capitan screening because it meant less time standing in line on the night of the event. Or so one would think…
Because we had reserved seats, we showed up right at the 6:45pm check-in time and got in the back of a big line, where we stood in the sun without moving until 7:30pm, which was when the panel was supposed to start. Apparently we were waiting for the El Capitan’s last screening of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides to finish. Did no one at D23 think to check the theater’s schedule when they set the start time for the Rocketeer event?
Fortunately we had the friendly company of our D23-event line buddies Matty & Paula during the wait, and Matty even snagged us the peripatetic Tim O’Day for a nice chat. When I asked him if Disney is planning a blu-ray edition of The Rocketeer, O’Day got very coy and made a big show of changing the subject. Good enough for me!
While we were waiting, some event staff came down the line and handed out wristbands and our “free” shwag—a 2-page event program and yet another confounded patch. What is the deal with D23 and patches? Do they think we all still have acid-washed jean jackets just begging for some iron-on adornment? What the H are we supposed to do with these things? Upon closer inspection, we found that the back of the patch’s card mistakenly identified it as a pin, so maybe the answer is that patches are subbed in when pins get too expensive…
Moments before they finally let us in, Jeffrey came down the line and announced that we had to show the guards at the door that our cell phones were turned off. Um, OK… I mean, I guess I should be glad they didn’t take our phones away like at D23 Expo, but why do they invite Disney’s biggest proselytizers to these events and then prevent them from sharing pictures and info through social media? Things were even more confusing inside, where people were snapping photos with their cameras right and left until about 3 minutes before the event began, when suddenly all these security guys materialized and started barking at us to put our cameras away. Nowhere in D23’s official info about the event was it mentioned that we couldn’t bring phones or cameras…
As we were herded inside, most of us shuffled from the parking validation machine straight to the table where they dispense the popcorn and drinks to VIP ticket holders. But as each group got to the front of that line, they were told that the free popcorn and drinks were only for actual VIPs, not those of us clutching $50 tickets that said “VIP Orchestra”/”VIP Balcony” on them.
Before they decided to stop allowing us to take pictures, Patrick got these shots. I had been hoping to have lots of great closeups of the folks on the filmakers panel for you, but this super-zoomed shot of Tiny Ron Taylor (Lothar) and Billy Campbell is all I have.
They swapped the screening with the panel discussion, so before the movie started, D23 head Steven Clark came out and set us up for the night’s biggest disappointment by announcing that the photography ban extended to the discussion and any “surprises” (plural) that might come after.
The movie looked and sounded amazing. It was such a treat to see it again on the big screen, and with such an enthusiastic audience. I still can’t figure out why it didn’t do well upon its initial release. You know those movies that you thought were fabulous when you were a kid, and then you grew up and realized that they were actually not that great? The Rocketeer is not one of those movies. It has everything—action, suspense, humor, romance, a glamorous period setting, one of the best scores ever (James Horner before he discovered the pan flute!), crisp pacing, succinct storytelling, interesting characters… I could go on… The fact that they took the trouble to create a restored digital print seems to say that a blu-ray is in the works, but this was never officially confirmed last night.
After the movie they brought out illustrator William Stout, screenwriters Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo, makeup artist Rick Baker, star Bill Campbell, and director Joe Johnston for a panel discussion with Kevin Smith—who seemed to have won the gig by being the most famous Rocketeer fanboy they could find. As they spoke, those “photos not seen in 20 years” continued to remain mostly unseen as they were accidentally projected one on top of another on the big screen.
Most of the “discussion” was Kevin Smith making cracks about all his flops and rhapsodizing about Joe Johnston’s work on the Star Wars films. Bill Campbell got to answer about one question, and no one else was allowed to go more than skin deep on any subject they talked about because Smith was too busy talking. Also, I’m not sure what D23 thinks they’re going to do with the exclusive footage they shot of the panel, because it’s going to require so much editing for swears as to be nearly unlistenable. Why, oh, why didn’t they have Tim O’Day moderate? He would have known to ask the kinds of questions fans want answers to, and he would have had the skill to draw interesting stories out of the guests who had less to say.
What we did learn was
- Honey, I Shrunk the Kids had an $18 million budget
- Joe Johnston got burned by Disney on Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and didn’t want to work for them again, but then he did
- Rocketeer creator Dave Stevens sublet an already subletted space in William Stout’s studio
- Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo found the original comic in a bin at Golden Apple Comics
- Bill Campbell used to work at the Renaissance Faire; he got the movie when he cut his long hair to be like the Rocketeer’s (and made Joe Johnston do a double take)
- The rocket pack had only one engine in the comic
- Joe Johnston designed the AT-AT and went to USC Film School on George Lucas’ dime
- Rick Baker didn’t really do anything on the movie after his initial visualization of the Lothar prosthetics
- Dave Stevens had a Rocketeer/Superman collaboration project in the works when he died that nobody on the panel knew anything about
- Bill Campbell and Jennifer Connelly had a fling on-set
Kevin Smith took a single question from the audience, talked about his movies some more, and then ended the discussion.
Since I wrote this, MouseInfo.com has posted a video of what appears to be a press Q&A with the panel that took place after we all left the theater. It’s MUCH closer to the kind of thing we were expecting at the event, so I’m reposting it here.
After the discussion, we waited with bated breath for the big surprises…. which turned out to be a slightly longer trailer for Captain America that would not be seen by the public for 48 whole HOURS!!!! Even Kevin Smith was underwhelmed.
….And now, 48 whole hours later, I can share that trailer with you here:
We should have leapt up and run around the corner to the Hollywood Museum as fast as our legs could carry us, but we dutifully sat through the trailer and then were herded over there en masse.
The museum is crammed into four floors in the old Max Factor Studio on Vine. What’s cool is that they’ve preserved his salons on the ground floor (one for each hair color!) and filled them with his memorabilia.
The second and third floors are jammed to the rafters with everything from Jean Harlow’s car to Roddy McDowell’s entire powder room, but there was no time for that stuff. The herd was lead straight up the stairs to the top floor for a special one-night-only exhibit of about six things from The Rocketeer. The good part was that for once we were actually allowed to take photos of stuff from the Disney Archives. The bad part was that photography was nearly impossible in the crush of people. The room was muggy, WAY too full, and almost certainly in violation of the fire code.
When you stepped in the door the first thing you saw was a merchandise table, so you got in the endless line switchbacking around the room. However, after about 20 minutes of waiting, you got close enough to realize that only HALF of the advertised merchandise was at the end of that line—this was just the Creature Features merchandise, and there was another table hidden at the back of the room selling the D23 stuff. So then you swam your way upstream to that line, which by now was twice as long as the one you’d just been in. There was no signage to indicate that there was more than one table and nothing indicating which items were sold at which table.
The one thing I really loved was a replica of the Hughes Industries World’s Fair poster, but they only offered it in a limited-edition giclee version that cost FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS! I took a picture instead.
The D23 table had more affordable Rocketeer memorabilia, plus a lot of the same leftover stuff that turns up at every event.
We were in the second line for about 45 minutes. The first table had been having trouble accepting credit cards, and the second table was just… understaffed maybe? As we inched forward, they hollered at us to fill out merchandise order forms. I guess they were just doing this for their own amusement, because we discovered when we got home that the shirt we’d bought was not the size we’d written on the form. LAME!
While I held our place in line, Patrick dashed out to try to get photos with the celebrities.
I guess the good thing about being in line for so long was that the crowd had thinned by the time we’d finally made our purchase. We spent the next few minutes shooting all the stuff we’d missed instead of double checking the size of the shirt we bought.
I know this is silly, but I took a ton of reference pictures of Jennifer Connelly’s dress in case I ever wanted to re-create it.
Another well intended but poorly executed touch was the decision to show the movie’s original “making of” special on big screens around the room—with no sound! Well, maybe there was sound, but it was so crowded and noisy, you couldn’t hear a thing. I would have sat through the whole thing if I could’ve heard it. Oh wait—they were playing it with sound in the building’s freight elevator, but I’m not sure how many trips up and down I’d have been able to take before my stomach gave out. Here’s hoping they put the special on the blu-ray…
The event was supposed to end at 11:30pm, but the late start + long lines meant that we didn’t roll out til 12:30am. Along the way we gave the museum a cursory inspection, but I don’t think we got our $16 worth. We did get to see Pee-Wee Herman’s bike and suit, though, and when the guy next to us told his friend, “He did a live show in LA last year, you know” it was all I could do not to shriek, “And Patrick was GLOBEY!!!!!”
Here’s our loot. It’s pretty embarrassing that we had to pay $50 each for the privilege of spending MORE money on this stuff, but they get you with the whole “one-night-only” angle! (Of course we’ll be seeing the leftovers at the next D23 event, I’m sure…)
May’s Destination D at Walt Disney World gave me hope that D23 had finally figured out how to run a special event, but after this one I’m not so sure. (For past examples of event mismanagement, see D23 Expo: The All-Lines, No-Rides Disney Experience and D23’s Magic & Merriment.) I was thrilled to get a chance to see The Rocketeer again on the big screen, but I feel like the rest of the event was overpriced and badly mismanaged. It seemed like they’d had so much trouble selling tickets that at the last minute they let a bunch of people come for free and then had more than they could handle. Which in itself is confounding, when you consider that Disney basically invented good crowd control… Also, they just need to stop telling us when there’s going to be a surprise, because trailers and trivia contests don’t count!
I just keep going to D23 events, though. One of these years they’re bound to figure it out!
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