(Movie Review Written In 2000)
Michael Bay's second film is more of his well-staged, over-the-top action that also populated "Armageddon", with the film's strongest performance actually coming from the villian, played by Ed Harris. In this film Nicholas Cage plays Dr. Stanley Goodspeed, a chemical weapons specialist who is joined by not only a former Alcatraz Prisoner(Sean Connery), but a millitary squad. The reason they're off to the Rock is that Harris's General Hummel has aimed poison gas rockets at San Francisco and is ready to fire if his demands aren't met. If time runs out, then the millitary will bomb the rock and everything on it.
Once "The Rock" gets going, there's quite a few very well-staged action sequences, such as a car-chase through the streets of San Fransisco (which took quite a bit to stage, according to the commentary) and several intense sequences once the film reaches the island. Where the rest of the film seems over-the-top, Harris's dramatic performance keeps it grounded(Like Billy Bob Thornton's kept "Armageddon" grounded).
"The Rock" is simply what Bay does best; move things along fast enough so that the audience doesn't have a second to analyze what's going on. I will say though, that in terms of character development, "The Rock" certainly achieves more fully realized characters than the majority of action features. This is likely due to the excellent actors who were able to fill out their characters, especially Ed Harris, who provides a fantastic performance. Although "The Rock" is a thrill-ride at heart, it at least does attempt, and do a fine job, to provide more detail and depth than the genre usually does.
VIDEO: Criterion offers a new anamorphic transfer in the film's 2.35:1 aspect ratio, approved by Michael Bay. The original Buena Vista DVD edition offered a non-anamorphic presentation that, although not unwatchable, was definitely flawed. The differences between the two are most certainly noticeable. Sharpness and detail are definitely improved on the Criterion edition; where some scenes look rather soft on the Buena Vista effort, the Criterion effort presents these scenes with excellent clarity and detail. Even the darker sequences in the tunnels are very well-defined.
Although the Criterion edition does have some problems of its own, they are very minor in comparison to the visible flaws in the Buena Vista DVD. Where that DVD showed some pixelation, shimmering and print flaws, the Criterion edition simply has some minor print flaws in the form of some slight speckles and marks that show up. A noticable instance of this was at the begining of chapter 24 on the Criterion release, where several small marks were visible. It's unfortunate that the small marks did appear because, although they didn't add up to much of a distraction, they kept an otherwise excellent presentation from reaching greatness.
Colors seemed slightly richer and more vibrant on this presentation, as well. Black level is excellent, and flesh tones are accurate and natural. Although the Criterion edition presentation is not quite perfect, it's certainly an improvement over the previous Buena Vista release. Also, the Criterion DVD is dual-layer, where the original Buena Vista release was not.
SOUND: The original edition of "The Rock" offered a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. This Criterion edition offers both a Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation and a DTS 5.1 presentation. Although "The Rock" doesn't provide as consistently agressive and heavy an experience as some newer films like "U-571" or Bay's third feature "Armageddon", the 1996 picture still is able to offer an often thrilling audio experience once it reaches full throttle.
Surround use is excellent during the action sequences, such as some of the gunfight sequences on the Rock, where viewers are enveloped in the action. The occasional explosion throughout the movie also provides some definite power, and bass throughout the movie remains strong and sometimes thunderous. Hans Zimmer's score also remains one of my favorite "action-movie scores", although I still like his work on Bruckheimer's "Crimson Tide" better. Anyways, the score is a fine pairing with the film, especially the action sequences, where its energy adds to the excitement. The score sounds wonderful here, filling the listening space, but still leaving room for the chaos and sounds of the action. There's a number of subtle details as well, for example, the sequences where Cage and Connery are walking through the tunnels, with ambient sounds such as water dripping and other minor sounds filling the room.
Audio quality is top-notch, as even the most intense action seemed warm and crisp and was definitely comfortable to listen to - never sounding sharp or thin. Dialogue also remained clear and easily understood. I didn't find signicant differences between the Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 presentations, which both provided a dynamic, exciting audio presentation that really shook the walls at times.
MENUS:: As with almost all of Criterion's presentations, excellent animated menus that really provide a great introduction to the movie are offered. An animated "Rock" background is in the middle of the main menu, with three boxes running clips at the bottom and the score in the background. A similar (although slightly different, with a little mini-intro by director Bay) set of menus are offered for "The Vault", the second disc of the set. A commentary "index" menu is also provided. Sub-menus are easily navigated and well-designed with film-themed images.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director Michael Bay, actors Nicholas Cage and Ed Harris, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and former Navy Seal Harry Humphries. I've always said in the past that, whatever your feelings about Michael Bay's films, I think he provides some of the most entertaining commentary tracks that I've ever heard. He's a very intense, open, honest speaker that energetically shares great stories, jokes, and manages to be informative all at the same time.
Cage and Harris also provide a great deal of insight into not only how they played their roles, but their thoughts on acting in general. Although Bruckheimer doesn't offer quite as much as he did on the commentary for "Armageddon", he still shares some interesting comments about the production in general. Overall, I found this to be a very entertaining commentary that also lets the viewer in on a lot of what happened during filming. Definitely worth a listen. For those who owned the Criterion laserdisc edition, this is the same commentary that was included on that release.
Second DVD: The commentary is included on the first disc, and the extra features continue on disc two, the contents of which are listed below. The only slight concern/oddity is that all of these supplements are in mono sound.
Outtakes: There is about 8 minutes of outtakes included that play out one after another, including some rather scary/funny footage of Ed Harris becoming increasingly furious (the intensity!) after not being able to remember a line for a couple of scenes and eventually, taking out a prop phone.
Trailers/TV Spots: This is one of the few minor complaints that I had with this 2 DVD set. The theatrical trailer is here, but only presented in mono. There are also 5 TV spots, also in mono audio. In the publicity section where these trailers are located, there is also a short featurette about what it took to have the premiere of the film on Alcatraz.
Production Secrets: This section of the DVD provides 4 different featurettes for a total of about 29 minutes worth of footage. The four featurettes are listed below.
On the Range With the Navy Seals: Consultant Harry Humphries allows the cameras to watch parts of a typical class that he teaches, as well as some interview footage with some of the Navy Seals that discuss what they have to do and the obstacles they face - pretty terrifying stuff, I think.
Dos and Don'ts Of Hollywood Gunplay: Consultant Harry Humphries and an assistant discuss what they do to make the actors look like they know what they are doing when they go into some of these action sequences.
The Rock On "Movie Magic": This is an enjoyable featurette that takes a look at the physical production of the "cable car" sequence and the final sequence, as well as the way that special effects assist these scenes towards their final presentation.
Effects: The Underwater Dive: Special effects supervisor Hoyt Yeatman("Mission To Mars", "Armageddon") narrates production footage and gives a detailed discussion of the challenges and tricks that the crew came across while trying to complete this sequence.
Interview With Jerry Bruckheimer: I've always found listening to producer Bruckheimer interesting, as his comments about the business and the way that he shares the details of the challenges that he faces in bringing together these massive-budget pictures are very informative and enjoyable to listen to. Here, he spends a great deal of the interview leading up to the details of the production of "The Rock", discussing his interest in film from childhood onwards to some of his first experiences as producer. Talking about "The Rock" he offers a short, but detailed discussion of the elements that had to be brought together to get the picture made, such as the cast, the script, as well as stories about the filming process. An interesting listen.
Secrets Of Alcatraz: This section includes about 15 minutes worth of excerpts from a documentary about the history of "The Rock", all the way from the early natives onwards. Interesting in that it gives a bit more of a look into the film's main location.
Still Archives: There are a wealth of production images located in this section, which is broken up into 4 areas: Storyboards: Alcatraz Incursion, Storyboards: Morgue Sequence, Production Design Drawings and Production Stills.
Note: This Criterion DVD edition does not include a "Got Milk?" ad that the Criterion laserdisc apparently had.
Positive: Criterion's edition of "The Rock" provides very noticably improved picture quality as well as a wealth of supplemental material, lead by a fun and interesting commentary. Sound quality definitely delivers the kind of action excitement one would expect and overall, fans will definitely be pleased with this 2 DVD set, although those who own the Criterion laserdisc will already be familar with the supplemental features. Although the $39.99 price tag is a bit high, this disc will likely be able to be found for much less online or on sale at local stores.
"The Rock" itself is an above-average action movie with great performances and characters, providing solid entertainment. I can only hope that someday Criterion will provide a special edition of my favorite of producer Bruckheimer's movies, the Denzel Washington/Gene Hackman thriller "Crimson Tide".
Negative: A minor complaint - it would have been nice to have the trailer in Dolby Digital 5.1.