"I serve society by rocking."
One of the most entertaining films of 2003, "School of Rock" finally allowed star Jack Black to get a lead role he could sink his claws into after stealing the show in such films as "High Fidelity". Something of an indie family film, director Richard Linklater ("Before Sunrise") helms this film about a failed rocker named Dewey Finn (Black), who manages to scam his way into a job as a substitute teacher in a prep school - posing as his roommate - to try and get rent money.
Finn spies on his class during their music lessons and has an idea - he'll turn the kids in the class into a rock band and enter them into the local radio station's "Battle of the Bands" in order to get enough cash for the rent, show up the band that dropped him for one too many stage dives and finally - to blow people's minds with the power of rock.
The kids resist at first, telling Finn that they should actually learn something. Finn turns things around, telling the class that he's going to let them in on the secret school project: rock band. They can't tell anyone about their "project", or the class will be disqualified from the competition. The kids all get different roles in the band, with some filling in as roadies (soundproofing the room, among other things), groupies and one even taking on the task of costume designer. Their homework: listening to Blondie, Yes, Rush, and Hendrix.
"School of Rock" rests upon the mighty shoulders of Jack Black (member of real rock band Tenacious D), and he carries the film wonderfully. Linklater's direction keeps Black from getting too ridiculous aside from a handful of moments where it's right and called for. It's a force-of-nature performance, with several brilliantly funny moments - some delivered with a fury (see a schoolroom sequence where Black acts out the concert, complete with stage direction), some superb throwaway bits. Joan Cusack makes a good counterpoint for Black, playing the "formerly cool" principal in a straightforward manner, while mixing in some of her slightly goofy, well-timed sense of humor. All of the kids are terrific, developing their characters beyond stereotypes and - like the rest of the movie - never turning cutesy. Co-writer Mike White and Sara Silverman are also good in supporting roles.
The screenplay by co-star Mike White somehow works around the inevitable turns to the story, making them believable. The story never goes for the sentimental and comes up with a pretty sweet, clever little ending, too. "School of Rock" was one of the most pleasant surprises of 2003 - a passionate, intelligent film about standing up to "the man" and finding one's inner (rock) star.
VIDEO: "School of Rock" is presented by Paramount in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is a perfectly fine transfer, only taken down a few notches by an issue or two. Sharpness and detail are very good, if not always entirely consistent, as a couple of shots appeared slightly soft on occasion.
A little bit of edge enhancement is spotted on occasion, as well as some minor grain, but aside from that, the picture appeared clean and clear. No compression artifacts were seen, and the print was free of specks, marks and other debris. The film's natural color palette looked well-rendered, with nice saturation and no smearing or other issues.
SOUND: "School of Rock"'s sound mix doesn't exactly rock, but it's still quite a good show, nonetheless. Surrounds really aren't used much throughout the movie, but the rear speakers do kick in for some reinforcement of the music during the first scene and the final rock show. Audio quality is good, as the music sounds dynamic and punchy, while dialogue remained clean and clear.
EXTRAS: Paramount's special edition starts off with two commentary tracks - one with director Richard Linklater and star Jack Black and the other with the kids of "School of Rock". The commentary with Linklater and Black is a fun little chat, as the two talk about the story and characters, joke about some of the behind-the-scenes happenings and talk more about casting and working with the kids.
The commentary with the kids isn't terribly informative, but given the fact that there's several of them, there aren't too many spaces of silence throughout the track. They do offer some good stories, share a few good jokes and sound like they're having fun talking about the movie.
MTV's "Diary of Jack Black" was the necessary featurette that Paramount thankfully added to the DVD. One of the funniest things I've ever seen on the music network, this 16-minute piece has Black running late to a performance with the kids of "Rock", working with "Tenacious D" co-creator Kyle Gass on a couple of tunes and finally, making some fine tuning adjustments to the soundtrack. There's some brilliant quotes throughout - Black on the secret to his success: "I know I'm a little dumb. But because I know it, and I can party with it, I can find other strengths." The actor/singer's discussion of how he puts together a meal out of all of his different "food groups" is also classic.
"Jack Black's Pitch to Led Zepplin" is a short piece where the actor - along with a packed crowd - sends a message to Zepplin, begging the band to let them use one of their songs in the movie. "Lessons Learned in School of Rock" is a 25-minute "making of" documentary, complete with behind-the-scenes footage, discussion of the casting process to find the kids, interviews and a look at the making of the film and the music.
Also included is the "School of Rock" music video, the film's theatrical trailer, a featurette with the kids in the film at the Toronto Film Fest, PSA for VH-1's "Save the Music" and preview trailers for Paramount's upcoming "Stepford Wives" remake and the John Woo/Ben Affleck feature "Paycheck". DVD-ROM features include "Dewey Finn's History of Rock" and the original theatrical website.
Final Thoughts: "School of Rock" offers a smart script, a lot of heart and a tremendous performance by Jack Black. Paramount's DVD edition offers some fun, informative supplements and very good audio/video quality. Very highly recommended.