The Movie: Note: The Rock is one of my all-time favorite movies, so please realize that this review will be extremely biased. ;)
That said and done, it's hard to name action movies of the 90's and not include The Rock in the list of the best. The second pairing of Bay with Simpson/Bruckheimer (after Bad Boys), The Rock is one of the most action-packed movies you'll see. But it's not the action that furthers the movie, it's the characters. All characters are extremely well acted and features the talent of Nicolas Cage, Sean Connery and Ed Harris. The Rock is loaded to the brim with talent and features everything you look for in a movie - comedy, action, drama, and suspense. From start to finish, The Rock will keep you on the edge of your seat and can be watched repeatedly without losing any of its punch.
The Picture: Digitally enhanced and released it all of its 2.35:1 anamorphic glory, the picture on this disc is spectacular. Once again, Criterion hasn't cut any corners or reduced the bitrate at a sacrifice of picture quality. With this movie being one of my favorites, I did have the earlier Buena Vista release to compare to, and the pictures is more bold, vibrant, and vivid and contains less noticeable anomalies. The edges are sharp, the colors crisp and the skintones are as rich as could be expected as Criterion presents a beautiful display of one of the great action movies of the 90's.
The Sound: With audio presented in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1, you can choose which ever format you prefer, but be warned, many people have expressed dismay over the DTS track (at this time I do not have the ability to test DTS - instead, read the excerpt below, courtesy of DVDFile.com). The Dolby Digital track however provides an engrossing film viewing experience as The Rock provides many chances for home theater fanatics to test their bass. Overall, the Dolby track features strong special effects audio perfectly balanced with easy to understand dialogue (unless you have problems with Connery's accent). The surround elements are properly dispersed and completely envelop you as the action continues. There's really not much more you could ask for in the audio department.
The Extras: Since there was already a release of The Rock on DVD a few years ago, albeit non-anamorphic and non-DTS, what essentially makes the Criterion version so appealing are the extras. This 2-disc set features the movie along with the commentary on the first disc, with the rest of the extras making up the second disc. Here is an in-depth review of the extras on The Rock: Criterion Collection.
Disc One: The Movie
Audio Commentary: The commentary features director Michael Bay, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, actors Nicolas Cage and Ed Harris, and technical advisor Harry Humphries. While I do not have the laserdisc release of this movie, I hear that this commentary is a direct port from that source. There's nothing wrong with that, but I did find problems in the commentary that just didn't sit well with me. First off, it sounds as if the 5 people included in the commentary were recorded separately (or at least in 3 distinct groups) and as these separate comments were spliced together, it seemed as if there were certain points of incontinuity and chopped up comments. Secondly, it seemed at times as if comments that were made during the commentary were taken from a later (or earlier) point in the commentary recording to further the continuity, but all that happens is it makes the commentary seem more out of place. What would have been nice is 3 or 4 different commentaries from each of the different groups they were recorded by with empty space when nothing is being said instead of the running commentary that seems choppy and out of place at times.
Disc Two: The Vault
On the Range with the Navy Seals: A very informative extra, this feature teaches you how to properly carry, hold, and fire a gun. Remember kids, "if they're worth shooting once, they're worth shooting twice - get your hits in on 'em." This feature was shot on location with Navy SEALS to instruct proper gun handling. It is basically a tutorial on how to properly fire a gun. It's interesting and informative and enjoyable to watch, but the question remains, how many people should this really be taught to? Sure it's interesting to see how people are trained to hold and fire a gun, but this feature goes extremely in depth on how to take someone down with the minimal amount of shots and in the most efficient way.
Dos and don'ts of Hollywood Gunplay: Shot again on location with two Navy SEALS, this feature shows obvious mistakes that show up in Hollywood and why they are faulty and what could be done to correct them. It's both interesting and informative as was the first extra. This feature teaches a bit of safety and then shows the most efficient and smartest way to fire a gun. For example, don't chase after a person with your gun drawn, your bullet goes much faster than you can run. The feature goes over various mistakes in Hollywood such as the "gangster" pull - holding the gun sideways - then goes to explain the best way to hold a gun and in subsequent demonstrations, the best way to go down to one knee, and the best way to take a corner with your gun drawn. Once again, interesing, informative, and enjoyable.
The Rock on Movie Magic: This featurette is from a TV show (or so it appears) titled Movie Magic. It features a behind-the-scenes look at the way Bay, Simpson, and Bruckheimer collaborated to get the best shots (including the cable car scene). The featurette then goes on to show how various special effects were created, mostly focusing on the final scene where the F-18s fly by Alcatraz as Cage tries to wave them off. The computers used seem quite ancient now, but it's still interesting nonetheless to see how various scenes were filmed and how much CG was actually used to make the scene what it was in the film.
Special Effects: The Dive Sequence: Probably my favorite of the 'Production Secrets,' this featurette goes behind the scenes at Dreamquest where parts of the initial dive scene were generated using models and computers. It features a look at the sculpting, painting, and subsequent filming at 1 frame every 8-12 seconds to make the scene come alive. This featurette is particularly interesting as it shows how the models were made, how they were moved, how they were filmed, and ultimately, how they were manipulated via computers to acheive the final effect. The featurette goes very in-depth and features some great behind-the-scenes footage that you'd probably never see without DVD (or the Criterion Collection for that matter). Both entertaining and informative, this featurette is a must-see out of the many extras on the disc.
Publicity and Promotion:
Theatrical Trailer: This is the standard trailer, and obviously this hasn't been digitally mastered as the rest of the film has. Pixelation is evident, but it's just the trailer anyways, and if you're going to pick something to sacrifice, this might as well be it.
TV Spots: This part features 5 different TV spots that play one after another. A menu to select each one might have been nice, but as it is, the TV spots are interesting to watch especially with the 1996 URL: www.movies.com included. It's interesting to see how many different ways they cut up the film to cater to obviously different audiences. Personally, I like the 5th one the most as it features a montage of clips with the soundtrack playing in the background - which in my humble opinion is one of the, if not the, best soundtrack ever - yes, ever.
The Rock Premiere on Alcatraz: This short, 3 minute spot was produced in 1996 as publicity for the movie and showed a few behind-the-scenes shots as the crew set up for the world premiere on Alcatraz. It features some short (10 seconds or so) interviews with the stars and then segues into a commercial for the movie. It's interesting to watch - especially how they got all the equipment on land - but not the best part of the DVD.
Stills Archive: The stills archive has 4 different parts: Storyboards - Alcatraz incursion, storyboards - morgue sequence, production design drawings, and production stills. The storyboards are the most interesting part of this feature as they show what Bay, Simpson, and Bruckheimer envisioned for The Rock before even starting filming. The Alcatraz incursion features 41 storyboards in all - from the FBI staging area, to the underwater dive, and eventual entrance into Alcatraz. The morgue sequence features 38 storyboards and is interesting to flip through because it features so much action and camera angles and such. The production design drawings are cool because they are presented in so much detail and look so real - and after watching the movie, you can see how close they really came to acheiving what was set forth in the drawings. This section features 27 drawings. The production stills are basically pictures taken from the movie most likely used in publicity. There are a few behind-the-scenes photos of Bay and Bruckheimer, but really, these photos aren't that interesting as they don't show anything we haven't already seen. There are 119 photos - which most likely will push your DVD player's chapter display to the max.
Outtakes: These outtakes, as selected by Michael Bay (according to the back of the DVD case) are funny at times, but not at others. It's your basic outtake reel with actors messing up lines, not being in the right place, etc. Just please note, this is not an outtake reel to show the kids as it seems everyone really likes the "F" word.
Secrets of Alcatraz: This featurette seems as if it was lifted straight from the National Parks Service. It tracks the history of Alcatraz from the aboriginal people who visited it first to when California became the 31st state. Alcatraz was made into a lighthouse (the West Coast's first) and the Army set up barracks - called the 'citadel.' This featurette goes on to explain how Alcatraz transitioned from a military outpost to a jail and unearths some history and 'secrets' that you probably never know. It seems more like something you'd be forced to watch in History class, but is enjoyable nonetheless.
Interview with Jerry Bruckheimer: The interview is basically Jerry Bruckheimer sitting in front of a microphone, talking about his life growing up and the process he goes through as he makes his movies. While Bruckheimer himself is probably an interesting guy, this interview isn't all that captivating as Bruckheimer just talks about his career and how he became a producer.
Conclusion: There are few of my favorite movies that have gotten the treatment they deserve on DVD. Finally, The Rock has received that treatment. This spectacular 2 disc set contains extras that are both unique and interesting along with a commentary next to the Dolby and DTS sound tracks. The picture and audio are top-notch and this specific Criterion release leaves little to be desired. The only thing that I would have added is an isolated musical score with a commentary by the composer, as the soundtrack is one of the most amazing and powerful scores to come along in a while. Aside from that, the extras outperform other similar titles and while the commentary is a direct port from the laserdisc and seems to be a bit choppy at times, it does serve its purpose and fill in the viewer with interesting tidbits that we may never have known. All in all, if you're a fan of The Rock, Michael Bay, Jerry Bruckheimer, Nicolas Cage, Sean Connery or Ed Harris, this DVD is a must have. Simply superb - thanks Criterion for doing such a great job with this great movie.