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The Criterion Collection presents
The Rock (1996)

John Mason: I'm sure all this will make a great bedtime story for your kids.
Stanley Goodspeed: What, are you kidding? They'll have nightmares; I'll end up spending all my money on shrinks.

- Sean Connery, Nicholas Cage

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: April 14, 2001

Stars: Nicolas Cage, Sean Connery, William Forsythe
Other Stars: Michael Biehn, David Morse, Tony Todd
Director: Michael Bay

MPAA Rating: R for (strong violence, language, and a sex scene)
Run Time: 02h:15m:28s
Release Date: March 13, 2001
UPC: 786936150421
Genre: action

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B-A+A+ A+

DVD Review

The production team of Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson initiated a distinct era in movie history, one that's still ongoing. Starting with Top Gun, the two hit upon a very lucrative formula: produce movies in a setting ripe with action sequences, throw all logic and reality completely out the window, add big name stars, mix well, and voil&aagrave;! Blockbuster material! Indeed, I wonder whether Mr. Bruckheimer has a lifetime stock of lighters, used to burn scripts with any hint of story or depth. Don't get me wrong, though; I may kid the Bruckheimer generation of films, but on a certain level I must respect them. He has managed to distill the very essence of a huge, epic, action film and harness it over and over again (with little or no change) with enormous success. In fact, he's set to do so this coming summer with Pearl Harbor, in which we'll get to see all sorts of things 'blow'd up.' The 1996 film, The Rock, is no exception, and probably cemented the Bruckheimer/Simpson style more than any other single film.

In the world of The Rock, a certain General Hummel (Ed Harris) decides to use an elite squad of Marines to take over Alcatraz Island, holding all tourists hostage. Once inside the prison, they will set up missiles containing VX gas and aim them at San Francisco. Hummel's reasoning is simple: he wants the United States government to pay reparations to the families of covert military agents who never got acknowledgment for their deeds; if their demands are not met "the coast will be toast" (to borrow a tagline from an infinitely dumber film). Rather than pay the reparations, the FBI and the Pentagon decide they must stop the general. So they set an elaborate contingency plan into motion, intending to re-take the island with the help of the only man ever to escape Alcatraz, John Patrick Mason (Sean Connery). FBI chemical weapons expert Stanley Goodspeed (Nicholas Cage) becomes Mason's unlikely partner, an expert on the VX missile and its disarming procedures forced along for the ride despite his lack of combat experience.

With this setup, The Rock takes off, and I do mean takes off. Regardless of the horrible one-liners, reality problems, and plot holes you could herd elephants through, The Rock delivers exactly what it promises: a fast paced action film on an epic scale. Although you might wince at some of the more painfully poor aspects of the "Hollywood blockbuster" logic (who the heck would store VX gas in delicate little glass spheres that are more fragile than my grandmother's Hummel figurines?), you eventually give up and shut off the portion of your brain that wonders about these things. After you've done that, you can enjoy the ride.

All of the great action sequences and explosions wouldn't mean much if the cast were not at least passable. Here, it's excellent. Though I hated Nicolas Cage (the whole yelling and whining thing gets real old; he's no Al Pacino), the rest of the cast is top-notch, as much as I hate to admit it where a cheesy actioner like this is concerned. And it's not only the big star turns, although Ed Harris and Sean Connery are very good, but the supporting roles as well. Great character actors like William Forsythe, Michael Biehn, David Morse, and the always-underused Tony Todd help keep the screen interesting, even if the scene is undeniably weak.

Aside from the obvious flaws, the biggest weakness here is the overly 'arty' direction by Michael Bay. The Rock has some great shots and wonderful cinematography, but they call too much attention to themselves, as if screaming, "Look at me! I'm an artistic, well-composed shot! Michael Bay is a legit director!" It's a classic symptom of the Bruckheimer aesthetic, seen in Adrian Lyne's Flashdance and the myriad of Bruckheimer films made by visually-motivated director Tony Scott.

The Rock is extremely entertaining, regardless of its shortcomings, and fills a certain niche in the filmmaking world. It's a fairly 'dumb' movie from a certain point of view, but I don't think it was aiming for high art. With that in mind, one can easily enjoy this 2-hour bullet-fest of a popcorn movie. If you feel guilty later, do your penance by watching Citizen Kane and reciting the AFI Top 100 Movies list 20 times.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The Rock sets incredible standards for a fairly recent film on DVD. The transfer here is almost beyond words. The film leaps off the screen with incredible clarity and mouth-watering reproduction of colors and shades. Every little detail is plainly visible, from the crumbling paint on the walls of Alcatraz to the skin textures of every actor. Since the film uses a lot of complex photography (from multicolored lights in the same scene to sepia-toned outdoor shots), I was hoping to see it rendered very well, but 'very well' would be an understatement. Black level is superb and sharp-as-a-tack, enhancing minor details significantly. There are no signs of digital artifacting, and the only blemishes on this perfect, crystal-clear image come from the source print's occasional speckles and scratches. Even more astounding, the carefully-executed 16:9 enhancement is virtually free of aliasing. My best DVD comparison would be the new re-tooled version of Seven - both releases feature palettes of dark, moody photography, represented with pinpoint accuracy and flawless presentation.

Image Transfer Grade: A+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The audio is no less impressive than the video, certainly among the best Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks I have heard. By action film standards, the audio is impressive in tone, perfectly balanced among all speakers. Directional action is handled extremely well, never 'sticking out' in any obvious way, with aggressive use of split surround effects and wide front-channel activity. The dialogue is mainly center-channel-oriented, but never gets drowned out by the rest of the mix, and never sounds harsh or out of place. Helicopters fly around the room, missiles fly out of the TV, and gunfights rain bullets all around you. The LFE channel provides substantial impact, and a good subwoofer will be very happy with this film. Many action-packed sound mixes sacrifice accurate balance for the sake of directional effects, but The Rock really comes alive thanks to the carefully measured usage of power here.

Also supplied is a Dolby 2.0 Surround track that is not nearly as clean, vibrant, or exciting as the 5.1 mix. Still, it represents the tone of the film well, and features some good directional effects with effective surround ambience; easily top quality by ProLogic standards.

Ready for more? There is also a DTS 5.1 audio track, which I was unable to review, as I don't own DTS equipment. I have no reason to suspect a less impressive presentation than the Dolby 5.1 track, although I'd wager it is not full bitrate, given the disc's multiple audio tracks and crystal clear video quality.

Audio Transfer Grade: A+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 TV Spots/Teasers
1 Feature/Episode commentary by actors Nicholas Cage and Ed Harris, director Michael Bay, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, ex- Navy SEAL Harry Humphries
Packaging: other
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:09m:28s

Extra Extras:
  1. Interview with Jerry Bruckheimer.
  2. Dive Sequence effects analysis and Movie Magic episode on The Rock effects team.
  3. Dos and don'ts of Hollywood Gunplay segment.
  4. Excerpts from the documentary Secrets of Alcatraz and the Movie Magic episode on The Rock.
  5. Outtakes reel and world premiere footage on Alcatraz, and more...
Extras Review: Plenty of interesting, well chosen supplements grace this 2-disc set. The first, movie-only disc includes a very good commentary track featuring Nicolas Cage, Ed Harris, director Michael Bay, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and technical advisor Harry Humphries. The commentary is not 'live,' but it does seem as if each member was recorded while watching the film. Cage and Harris discuss the evolution of their roles and the difficulties they encountered, particularly Harris' efforts to make General Hummel both menacing and sympathetic. Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer provide some anecdotes and information regarding how the film got off the ground and where some of their ideas came from. Ex-Navy SEAL Harry Humphries talks mainly about his contribution to the film, advising the cast and crew on military demeanor, behavior and protocol. After listening to this commentary, I came away with a deeper appreciation of the work that went into the movie.

The second disc of supplements is divided into sections:

'Production Secrets' contains some behind-the-scenes material beyond the average 'making-of' segment. We meet with technical advisor Harry Humphries on a gun range and see how he trains actors and stuntmen in the proper use of guns and other weaponry. His company is hired to consult on films like The Rock in order to make sure none of the characters does anything outlandish or wildly unrealistic. We see a class being taught in a brief featurette. Next is another short featurette, in which Humphries discusses some of the more common weapon handling mistakes made in the average action film. He is assisted by stuntman/stunt coordinator Marshall Teague, who has had small roles in countless features, including that of the main villainous henchman in Roadhouse. Next, a 15-minute segment from the television series Movie Magic is shown, focusing on the effects in The Rock. Finally, the initial CG-assisted dive sequence from the film (in which the Marines are inserted into Alcatraz) is shown with commentary by Hoyt Yeatman of Dream Quest Images.

The 'Publicity and Promotion' section hosts the trailers. The theatrical trailer and television spots are in reasonable condition, but nothing special. Also included is a 2-minute look at the world premiere of The Rock, which actually took place on Alcatraz, requiring the complex construction of an on-site theatre using state-of-the-art hardware.

'Stills Archive' features storyboards for two film sequences, conceptual drawings, and production photographs. I was amazed at how closely the film follows the production design work, even down to minor details.

The outtakes reel is about 8 minutes long, consisting mostly of false starts and mistaken lines by actor Ed Harris. It's actually kind of interesting, as it shows the intentional antagonism used by director Michael Bay to keep Harris' character intense and angry. Another ad-libbed scene with Nicolas Cage is presented, and a brief, humorous snippet with Sean Connery.

Secrets of Alcatraz, excerpted from a lengthier documentary, presents information about the history of the prison and how it evolved and was eventually abandoned as a rehabilitation institution, with excellent little tidbits of trivia.

Finally, there is a 16-minute interview with producer Jerry Bruckheimer, covering his biography and history as a film producer. This augments the commentary, which covers a lot of the same material.

The package is topped off with NTSC color bars (on the first disc) and a gatefold insert reprinting Roger Ebert's original review of the film along with chapter stop listings and some photos. The overall presentation is fantastic, especially the stylish, minimalist artwork and a case design that's much more appropriate to the film than the typical "here are all the actors on a poster" cover.

Extras Grade: A+


Final Comments

Criterion impresses once again with a devotion to quality presentation. The Rock isn't brain surgery, but it's a fun, loud, brash film that's very entertaining when you're looking for adventure. Criterion has taken some flack lately for delving into these more modern, commercial films. I couldn't disagree more, as the consumer gets a quality package AND the popularity of the film should generate some healthy revenue. So everyone wins, and Criterion can afford to continue taking on less-profitable projects. Even if you find The Rock abysmally stupid, there is no shame in Criterion's superb workmanship. In an age when major studios are issuing Special Editions of their own films, some people wonder whether there's still a need for specialty companies like Criterion. Absolutely. Someone needs to keep raising the bar.


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