The Rocket Post Review
A 2003 film, The Rocket Post was another of those British films that sat on the shelf for an eternity caught up in some production nightmare. Failing to get the theatrical run, the film finally sees the light of day four years later on DVD, the director Stephen Whittaker, sadly, having died in the meantime. Not in any way edgy or challenging, The Rocket Post does however what British films do best – light, quirky comedy with lots of familiar faces from the television, picture postcard scenery, a splash of romance and a dash of drama. Anyone expecting anything more than this however, or even expecting it to be in anyway faithful to the “based on a true story” tag, is perhaps expecting a little too much.
Primarily though, The Rocket Post excels in its location shooting of the Isle of Scarp, and even though it only uses one or two main locations, they are used to full advantage to capture the natural beauty of the area in the Outer Hebrides. It’s here that German rocket scientist Gerhard Zucher (Ulrich Thomsen) has been sent in 1938 to try out his new invention for sending post to remote communities. An idealist and unwilling to work for the new Nazi authorities to help develop their weapons technology, Zucher has been forced to leave his homeland and seek funding for his invention elsewhere. Without even a telephone connection to the mainland, local politician Sir Wilson Ramsay (John Wood) believes that the Isle of Scarp would appear to be the kind of community that could benefit from such an invention – if only they could get device to work.
Gerhard and his assistant Heinz (Eddie Marsan) don’t find themselves particularly warmly welcomed by the islanders and the Germans soon find that they have to work hard to earn their trust and support. A blossoming relationship between Gerhard and Cathy MacKay (Shauna Macdonald) is also regarded with some suspicion by the islanders, who keep a close watch on the couple. But Zucher’s activities are also being watched by other parties interested in the rocket technology he is developing there.
With its quirky charm and picture-postcard views of Scottish scenery, The Rocket Post clearly aspires towards the model successfully established by Local Hero. The locals are a naïve and eccentric bunch, distrustful of outsiders and particularly foreigners unused to the local ways and customs. Being German as well, of course, they also don’t really get the local sense of dry humour. And they may be intelligent men who can build a rocket, but do they know the true value of life? Well, inevitably, there’s a bit of give and take – the locals come around when the outsiders help out a beached whale, while Gerhard gradually realises the beauty of the islander’s lifestyle - “they have nothing, but one can almost understand why they choose to remain here”.
Such a situation is hardly a stretch for actors like Ulrich Thomsen (Festen) and Kevin McKidd (16 Years of Alcohol), and it’s not exactly challenging for the viewer either. Sadly, having seen such an event played out many times before (Local Hero, Welcome To Dongmakgol), it’s all rather dull and predictable, the humour not particularly strong and even the inevitable romance with the local beauty lacks any real chemistry. With the celtic-tinged music score also being laid on rather thick and all the lovely scenery around, The Rocket Post does threaten to become a bit syrupy, but some late drama and political developments bring the film to a dramatically poignant conclusion that you’d have to be very cynical not to buy into. However, the climax is so far removed from the true story that this is supposedly based on - if the entry on Gerhard Zucker on Wikipedia is anything to go by – that ignorance of the reality is recommended for the film to have any impact whatsoever.
The Rocket Post is released in the UK by Lions Gate. The film is presented on a single-layer disc in PAL format and is encoded for Region 2.
There is a little bit of shimmering in the transfer – but you don’t see it very often. Other than some unsightly fixed subtitles however, there is little else to fault with the image as it is transferred here. Closer examination will reveal some degree of edge-enhancement and some blue-edge line-bleed, but these are all really minor issues, otherwise the film’s beautiful photography is presented with limpid clarity and strong colour tones.
The only audio option is a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix and it performs very well, with strong, clear tones and good mixing of dialogue, sound effects and the warm music score.
Although the film is, barring a few lines, entirely in English, optional English subtitles are provided, as are captioned English subtitles for hard of hearing. Unfortunately, those few lines of German dialogue are presented with fixed subtitles, some of them in a very large font placed near the centre of the frame.
There are no extra features on the DVD.
"Based on a true story" it may be, but The Rocket Post comes well wrapped-up in all the tried and trusted elements that can usually be relied upon for a quirky and charming British film. It’s all a little too by-the-book however, with a predictable storyline that relies too much on the beautiful Scottish island landscapes. That can normally be redeemed with some fine character acting, but even that here feels rather strained and uninspired. Still, it’s pleasant enough viewing and certainly worth rescuing from the shelf that it has languished on for a number of years. Lions Gate present the film well on this understandably barebones edition.