Hollywood Pictures // 1996 // 136 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // January 24th, 2008
"Let's cut the chit-chat a-hole!"
Before Transformers, before Pearl Harbor, and before Armageddon, Michael Bay made a quiet little film about a bunch of Army guys who take over Alcatraz, point poison gas missiles at San Francisco, shoot Michael Biehn in the face, get set on fire, and have their heads crushed by an HVAC.
When a rogue general (Ed Harris, National Treasure: Book of Secrets) goes ape-shit and invades Alcatraz with a squad of elite soldiers and a battery of rockets armed with deadly VX poison gas, the U.S. Government panics and puts together an eclectic incursion platoon. Their mission: Reclaim The Rock and do whatever it takes to defuse the rockets before several hundred thousand Bay Area civilians die horrifying deaths with melting faces.
Leading the good guys is John Mason (Sean Connery, Entrapment) -- the only man to ever escape from Alcatraz and whose achievement landed him in a secret prison for a life sentence -- and Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage, Next), an awkward, nerdy scientist who has the ability to transform into a Ferrari-driving bad-ass within a moment's notice.
So the stage is set for a battle royale of epic proportions, with a bunch of Army dudes armed with big guns and poor attitudes on one side, and an old man and a sniveling researcher on the other. Guess what, those two guys win!
This movie is ridiculous, but I've got some love for it. In my younger days, I had an unhealthy love for The Rock which led to a moronic collegiate contest between myself and a similarly bored dorm-mate over who could watch it the most times in a month. I won't go into detail, but I won and it wasn't necessarily a high point in my academic career. All that's to say I was into this righteous Bay-hem back in the day and, though my adoration has significantly subsided, I still think The Rock is able to cough up some good times.
Like you'd expect, the action is huge and for the most part satisfying. The gunplay is copious and often culminates in an over-the-top kill (the air conditioner splat is a highlight) or a fireball or both. Then there's the mega car chase scene which, while fun and full of breaking glass and splintered telephone poles, is so blatantly jammed into the film with absolutely zero context it's laughable. Watch as Stanley Goodspeed morphs into Conan the Barbarian before your eyes then regresses back to Steve Urkel.
Connery and Cage have a decent rapport and seem to be having a good time through all the mayhem. Connery chews through his lines like there's no tomorrow, but whatever, he's Sean Connery essentially playing an AARP version of James Bond and that's cool. The idea of a twerp scientist thrust into a war zone is interesting in theory, but the lack of commitment to the character arc makes it an afterthought. Ed Harris stands out as the lantern-jawed gruff military type, and who can forget that guy who foolishly stops in front of a fueled and primed rocket to utter his villainous monologue? That guy rules.
The Rock looks and sounds fantastic in high-def. Picture quality (2.35:1, 1080p) is clean and a step up from the standard-def release, but the gulf isn't hugely wide. Stand-out sequences involve the car chase and the Alcatraz firefights, with all the details of the carnage coming through with noticeable clarity. The highlight of this Blu-ray release is the sound, a bad-ass 5.1 uncompressed mix (48 kHz, 16-bit) that rocks. An aggressive-sounding movie to begin with, the improved sound quality is a stunner, abusing the surrounds and pushing the LFE mix to wall-shaking lengths, and Nick Glennie-Smith's memorable score benefits greatly.
The Criterion release extras make the trip over to BD and they're solid: good commentary from Michael Bay, Nicolas Cage, Ed Harris, Jerry Bruckheimer and technical adviser Harry Humphries; short, but decent featurettess looking at the world premiere of the film, a history of Alcatraz, special effects for the dive sequence and the film's big action scenes; and a Jerry Bruckheimer interview. My favorite bonuses are the outtakes, which are among the most uncomfortable I've ever watched (mental note: steer clear of Ed Harris if he's got his cranky face on), and the technical advisers who run through commonly made movie gunplay mistakes.
Huge, noisy, and occasionally stupid, The Rock remains fun and, at times, thrilling. Its upgrade to Blu-ray is welcome though HD-specific extras would have been nice.
Not guilty. Launch the green smoke!
Review content copyright © 2008 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Hollywood Pictures
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Master Lossless Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 136 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Jerry Bruckheimer Interview
* TV Spots
* DVD Verdict Review - The Rock
* DVD Verdict Review - The Rock: Criterion Collection