Picture this: a small mining town called Coalwood in the mountains of McDowell County, West Virginia. It's 1957, and all of the guys there know they will grow up to be just like their fathers...coal miners. Women are expected to grow up, marry a coal miner, and do the cooking and cleaning at home. Everybody knows everyone else, and the "space race" between Russia and the US is just lifting off. Now, keeping this in mind, prepare yourself for a basic outline of the movie!!! Of course, I will do my best to try not to give away the ending for the sake of those who have yet to see it. I would hate to be the one to ruin "the moment", hehe!!!
The movie opens with scenes from around Coalwood, the mines, the mountains, the machines...it's to give the viewer an idea of the surroundings of the movie, the plot, etc. Anyways, the next scene shows the character Homer Hickam getting in the car with his two friends, Roy Lee and O'Dell. Roy Lee is the guy driving, and his car really sucks. I mean, REALLY sucks. Anyways, announcements are flying through the small town via transistor radios, newspapers, etc. saying that the Russian satellite, "Sputnik", is orbiting around the earth and will be visible to the naked eye in Coalwood during that night in the "October sky". (Obviously, it's October right now, hehe!!) So, the town gathers around to watch Sputnik. Enters (briefly) Hickam's mother, Elsie Hickam. Well, actually, her only line in this scene is, "Well, Sputnik better come soon; I'm gettin' a crick' in my neck." So, the satellite is spotted, and it immediately captivates young Homer. So, the next moring at breakfast while Homer's brother, Jim, and father, John (it's actually Homer Hickam, Sr., but they call him John in the movie) are sitting around talking about the "big football game coming up against Welch" <~~(Welch is a nearby town, a larger town, about 10 or so miles north of Coalwood.), Homer goes, "I'm gonna build a rocket!" His mom just replies, "Well, don't blow yourself up." Now, Homer is, of course, expected to grow up to become a coal miner, just like everyone else. He lives in his older brother's shadow, though, because everyone knows that he will be scouted by some university forhis football talent, so he'll be going off to college. Anyways, Homer and his two friends (mentioned earlier as Roy Lee and O'Dell) take a toy rocket, tie it to his mother's brand new white-picket fence, and ignite it. What started as an "innocent" rocket launch now had become a scary explosion, blowing up a section of the fence and knocking them to their feet. At school, Homer seeks the help of the school "nerd", "loser", "dork", whatever you wanna call him, and asks him if he knows anything about rockets. This "geek"'s name was Quentin. Just thought you might wanna know that. ANYWAYS, Quentin ends up knowing the whole history behind rocketry, and also being a math whiz. So, with the help of Quentin, Homer, Roy Lee, and O'Dell decide to join the McDowell County Science Fair. That is, if they can get a working model of a rocket, one that actually goes up in the air without exploding!! After several launches, and with the help of many adults in the community, they built a rocket that actually flew!!! Of course, the fuel was made from 100% dilluted alchohol, but anyways...SO, what happens after that rocket launch?? Well, the only was for you to find out is to see the movie!!! I'm not gonna sit here and tell you what happens!!! I will tell you that there are more themes in the movie than just the whole rocket thing going on. A "sub-plot" in the movie, which I don't even want to call a subplot because it plays such a major role in the whole story, is the tension between Homer Hickam, Jr. and his father. Homer always thought that his father favored his brother Jim more than himself, etc. Also, the fact that his mother was such a strong person of her own, and her relationship with Homer Jr.'s husband is interesting. It's just a great movie, and the whole meaning of never giving up, no matter what, is so prominant. It really insipired me!! And I'm not just saying that as a cheesy line or something, it's the truth. "October Sky" is a great movie!!! YEH!!!
Jake Gyllenhaal as Homer Hickam, Jr. in "October Sky"
So, what about the people behind the movie?? Who are the people whom this movie is based on? And who are the people who protrayed them in the movie? Well, hopefully, with the "studying" I have been doing, you will find out just who the Rocet Boys are, in real life, and on screen.
Homer Hickam, Jr., a.k.a. Jake Gyllenhaal
The real Homer Hickam with Jake Gyllenhaal
Homer Hickam, Jr. is the man who is the center of the whole "Rocket Boys" story. He is the person who wrote the book, The Rocket Boys (which, by the way, I am reading right now. It's great!!), which is the basis for "October Sky". Let me tell you a little bit about him. He was born in 1943 in Coalwood, WV to Elsie Lavender Hickam and Homer Hickam, Sr. He grew up in Coalwood and attended Big Creek High School in War, WV. He graduated from college at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA. He also has a brother named Jim (he's a football coach and teacher at Northside High School in Roanoke, VA, which is where I live!! Isn't that awesome??) and he is married to a woman named Linda Terry Hickam. If you want to learn more about him and his childhood in Coalwood, I highly suggest that you read The Rocket Boys. It's great!! But now, howa bout the person who played him in "October SkY"? Well, that honor goes to hottie Jake Gyllenhaal. Let me tell you folks, Jake is ONE HOT STUD MUFFIN!!! Hehe!!! He was born in 1980 two show-buisness parents, father/diresctor Stephan Gyllenhaal, and mother/write Naomi Foner. He also has a 22-year old sister named Maggie. ake has starred in such fils as "City Slickers", "Josh and S.A.M.", "Home Grown", and stars in the to-be-released in the Spring of 2000 movie, "A Leonard Cohen's Afterworld". He was part of a band called Hole Shot, but they broke up not too long ago. I think that he is a very talented young actor, and I also think he's HOT!!!!
Roy Lee Cooke, a.k.a. William Lee Scott
William Lee Scott is second from the right.
Roy Lee Cooke was another one of the Rocket Boys. I think that the thing he was famous for in this group of boys was his sense of "style", his "way" and "knowledge" about girls, and the fact that he had a car. Of course, it was old and falling apart, but that's besides the point. The point is, that from what I gather, Roy Lee Cooke was the one with the most style. So, what happened to him after his days at Big Creek High School? Well, He went to college and graduated from the University of Maryland. After that, he became a banker. Now, I was looking at a picture of Roy Lee when he was in high school (the real Roy Lee), and he was really cute!! Anyways, what about the actor who played Cooke in "October Sky"? Well, the role went to actor William Lee Scott. He grew up in New York and was actually discovered when he was working in a diner! Some of his film credits include "Gattaca", 1997, and, "The Opposite of Sex". From what I found, he also appeared on "The Steve Harvey Show" a while back. I think that Scott did an excellent job portraying Roy Lee Cooke. I think that his sense of "hillbilly-ism" proved him well, 'cause he could have fooled me any day with that thick West Virginia accent!! I think he deserves a pat on the back, hehe!!
Jimmie "O'Dell" Carrol, a.k.a. Chad Lindberg
Chad Lindberg as O'Dell
What is interesting about the Rocket Boy is that there are actually two Rocket Boys!! I'm talking about in the movie. You'll notice they mention his name as "Sherman O'Dell", and you know what? They took two of the Rocket Boys and put them together into one Rocket Boy!! The one that we are talking about now is Jimmie "O'Dell" Carrol, but the other one was Sherman Siers. As a child, Siers was striken with polio, but he ran around just like any other boy his age. He graduated from Big Creek High School, then went on to graduate from West Virginia Tech and was employed in the field of computers. He married a woman named Janet and had three children. Sadly, he died unexpectantly in 1976. Anyways, now, about the "other" Rocket Boy. Hehe!!! Jimmie "O'Dell" Carrol graduated from Big Creek High School, then joined the Air Force. After that, he graduated from college and went into employment in the field of insurance and farming. He was marrie to a woman named Jeanne until 1993, and has two children. Chad Lindberg is the actor who portayed both of the Rocket Boys in the movie. I think that for the most part, he was O'Dell, but looking closely, you can see him limp in the movie (Sherman Siers's polio). Lindberg is a 23-year old actor who was born in Mt. Vernon, Washington. He had his first acting job on the TV show "ER" and the only other movie that I could find that he was in was a movie called, "The Velocity of Gary". Cool, huh?
Quentin Wilson, a.k.a. Chris Owen
Chris Owen is pictured in the center
Quentin Wilson will forever go down in history as the Rocket Boy "geek". He was the one in high school who no one wanted to associate with, who always sat alone at lunch, who had few friends, if any. But that would all change when he applied his wonderful brilliance to building rockets. He not only helped to build and design them, but he did many of the calculations when it came to how far the rocket traveled, or what kind of rocket propellant was best, or even if height would add to the distance the rocket flew into the sky. He was a key asset to the performance of the Rocket Boys's rockets, and personally, I really don't think that Homer Hickam and the rest would have gotten past blowing up his mother's fence with a "rocket" if it weren't for him. He was really one smart cookie!! So, what happened to Quentin Wilson after his days at Big Creek High School? Well, he went on to grauduate from Marshall College in Hunington, WV. He then became an engineer. Quentin Wilson now resides in Amarillo, Texas. Chris Owen is the actor who played Wilson in "October Sky". He is a 19-year old actor who was born in Michigan. He then lived in California City, CA. Some of his movie credits include movies that many teenagers will be familiar with. Some of these movies include, "American Pie", "Can't Hardly Wait", and "She's All That". I need to applaud Chris Owen on his performance in "October Sky". I think that he did an awesome job playing, at times, such a complex character. Why I say complex is because his character, of course, Quentin Wilson, was all at the same time poor, a labeled "nerd", and he was so smart. All I can think of is how hard it would be to memorize all those lines pertaining to so many scientific and genious ideas. Good job, Chris!
Billy Rose, a.k.a., the one who was not portrayed in this film
Billy Rose was the only Rocket Boy who was not protrayed in "October Sky". That's kinda sad!! I think, though, that the reason why they didn't include him in the movie was because he became part of the Rocket Boys a while after the original group started building rockets. So, I will tell you a little bit about Billy Rose!! After graduating from Big Creek High School, Rose went into the Air Force. He went into maufacturing coal mining equipment. He marrie a woman named Rose Marie Barber from Welch, WV and had one daughter. He currently resides in Bluefield, Virginia.
The Other Characters/Stars
What about the other characters in this movie? Who are the actors in it and who are the real-life people they portrayed? Well, here are some of the other McDowell County citizens that add to the story.
Homer (John) Hickam, Sr., a.k.a. Chris Cooper
Chris Cooper (at left) with Jake Gyllenhaal
Chris Cooper played the role of Homer Hickam, Sr., or as people knew him in the movie as, John Hickam. In other words, he played the role of Homer Hickam Jr.'s father. As you know from the movie, Homer Hickam, Jr. did not really have the best relationship with his dad. His dad worked in the coal mines his whole life and was always at the mine. His father ended up passing away from the "black lung disease" in 1976. An interesting fact that ties in with the movie and the book is that Sonny Hickam's father wasn't really named John, as was perceived in the film. His name was actually Homer Hickam, Sr. So, what about Chris Cooper? Well, he is a critically acclaimed actor who has starred in many different films including, "Great Expectations", "Lone Justice", "This Boy's Life", "Lone Star", "The Horse Whisperer", and the HBO movie, "Breast Men". He did a great job portraying Sonny's father!! Great acting!!
Elsie Hickam, a.k.a., Natalie Canerday"
One of my favorite people in the whole Rocket Boys story is Elsie Hickam. She is just so awesome!! She is such a great mother to Sonny and was always there for him. She supported him all through his rocket-building days at "Cape Coalwood" and made sure that Sonny followed his heart. She has such a great spirit and an awesome sense of humor and I really applaud her for it!! So, who played Mrs. Hickam in the movie? Well, that role went to actress Natalie Canerday. You may recognize her as playing roles in such movies as "Sling Blade" and "One False Move". She did an awesome job playing Elsie in "October Sky". My favorite line in the movie, and frequently used saying from her in the book is, "Don't blow yourself up." I love that!!
Miss Freida Riley, a.k.a. Laura Dern
Laura Dern as Miss Riley
Have you ever had a teacher that was a major inspiration in your life, who encouraged you to follow your dreams and to succeed in life? Well, for Homer Hickam, Jr. and the Rocket Boys, this was prevalant for them in high school. Miss Freida Riley was the Rocket Boy's teacher at Big Creek. She taught the subjects of math, chemistry, and physics. She was the woman who urged the boys to go forward in entering the science fair. She was a major propellant behind the success of the Rocket Boys, and I don't think that without her inspiration, they would have made it to where they are today. Miss Riley graduated from Big Creek High School in 1955 and went on to attend Concord College, then on to Ohio State University and West Virginia University. Unfortunately, Miss Riley developed Hodgkin's Disease, which is a form of cancer, and after periods of remission, passed away on August 5th, 1969. She was very dear to all of her students and everyone around her. Laura Dern took on the role of Miss Riley in "October Sky", and she has been in several movies, therefore, you have probably heard of her. She was born in Los Angeles, California on February 10th, 1967. Some of the many movies that she has been in include, "Citizen Ruth", "Jurassic Park", "Wild At Heart", "Sister, Sister", "Blue Velvet", "Mask", "Foxes", and more. She did an awesome job as Miss Riley (lovin' the accent, LOL!!!)!! Yeh!!!
Supporting Roles in "October Sky"
Scott Miles....................Jim Hickam
Elya Baskin....................Ike Bykovski
Randy Stripling....................Leon Bolden
Chris Ellis....................Mr. Turner
Courtney Fendley....................Dorothy (Plunk)
Kaili Hollister....................Valentine Carmina
Along with an excellent movie goes an excellent soundtrack. The "October Sky" soundtrack is full of 52 minutes and 42 seconds of pure gold. Really, it's one of my most listened to CD's. The soundtrack includes the movie's original score, composed by Mark Isham. Listening to it will really take you back to the movie. It's as if you can take the music and piece it together with where it goes in the movie. It's such an awesome soundtrack. It also has seven songs from the 50's, songs that are in the movie. Here is a listing of all of the songs on the soundtrack:
2.) "Sputnik!", 1:09
3.) "The Rocket Book", 0:55
4.) "Ain't That A Shame", by Fats Domino, 2:24
5.) "The Search For Auk 13", 3:28
6.) "I Was Lucky To Know Him", 2:34
7.) "My Prayer", by The Platters, 2:46
8.) "That'll Be The Day", by Buddy Holly, 2:16
9.) "It's A Thing Of Glory", 1:32
10.) "I Won't Shed A Tear", 3:14
11.) "The Black Phone", 0:45
12.) "The Dreams Of Boys", 2:34
13.) "Searchin'", by The Coasters, 2:40
14.) "Yakety Yak", by The Coasters, 1:50
15.) "Cape Coalwood", 0:55
16.) "Miss Riley", 2:23
17.) "Splitting The Sky", 1:21
18.) "Speedo", by The Cadillacs, 2:19
19.) "I'll Be Gone Forever", 0:57
20.) "Range And Altitude", 1:38
21.) "Rocket Boys", 3:52
22.) "This One's Yours", 1:47
23.) "October Sky", 4:29
24.) "It's All In The Game", by Tommy Edwards, 2:37
Here are some awesome links that have something to do with "October Sky". Hope you enjoy!!!