Directed by Michael Bay
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 1080p (AVC codec)
Running Time: 136 minutes
Audio: PCM 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Spanish, French
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, French
MSRP: $ 29.99
Release Date: January 8, 2008
Review Date: January 4, 2008
The Rock is a solid, hyper-suspenseful action picture. There is wall-to-wall action and amazing stunts that take the breath away. If it’s thrills you want, The Rock has them. Sadly, what it doesn’t have is depth, that extra measure of heart and soul that transforms a good action picture like this into a great one like the original Die Hard.
Not that screenwriters David Weisberg, Douglas S. Cook, and Mark Rosner didn’t try for a little more substantial character interaction, but their efforts are superficial. Both of the story’s protagonists have loved ones who are under threat of extinction when a misguided band of mercenary Marines led by General Francis X. Hummel (Ed Harris) capture Alcatraz Island and threaten to launch rockets loaded with deadly VX poison gas at San Francisco if their demand for one hundred million dollars isn’t met. Government officials have no choice but to enlist the aid of former British agent and Alcatraz escapee John Patrick Mason (Sean Connery) to help them infiltrate the former prison island to try to subdue the deadly band of patriotic perpetrators.
Nicholas Cage enters the picture as FBI expert on chemical warfare Dr. Stanley Goodspeed, and he has good reason to be there. The VX gas which Harris and his men are planning to bombard the Bay area with is one of the most lethal substances known to man, causing almost instant paralysis and death within seconds of human exposure. Only an injection of antidote plunged into the heart can save a person exposed to this deathly matter.
Bad Boys director Michael Bay is at the helm here, and he has an undoubtedly firm grasp of the action genre as he has gone on to prove in many recent “go-boom” action films and thrillers. There is no lack of thrilling sequences even before the actual mission begins (it takes an hour for it to get underway), and he even manages in one scene to make a slaughter into a sort of balletic execution (similar to Brian De Palma’s handling of the steps sequence in The Untouchables without borrowing from Potemkin.) He also stages an exhilarating if exhausting chase through San Francisco that bears the hallmark of producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer - mass destruction. (This was producer Don Simpson’s last film. The movie is dedicated to him in an end title card.)
Sean Connery brings his amazing presence and physical bearing into the role of John Mason, and he’s wonderful, never overplaying but allowing his experience and vocal resonance to speak volumes for him. Ed Harris likewise projects an inner strength and power than doesn’t require overplaying, and he, too, as usual, seizes the screen every time he appears. Nicholas Cage as the intellectual scientist with limited experience in combat situations brings a quirky presence to the picture that’s entertaining but dubiously effective. One realizes that in real life, a person in these supercharged circumstances would not have the physical nor strategic resources to survive as he does. Michael Biehn has only a limited amount of time to project his no nonsense attitude to the operation while John Spencer and William Forsythe make for despicable FBI executives whose word is stereotypically not their bond.
A large number of marine types have a moment or two to shine, but none is given time to establish more than a superficial character. The two women in the lives of Connery and Cage, Claire Forlani and Vanessa Marcil, are likewise stymied by the lack of anything interesting developed for their characters. Forlani disappears from the film while Marcil must basically stand on the sidelines and look worried. Their presence, of course, is more important to give the two men a reason to continue with the dangerous mission once things begin to go wrong.
The film’s 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio is delivered in an excellent 1080p encoding (AVC codec) that displays impressive sharpness and texture. Skin tones look very realistic on all but Connery and Marcil, both of whom wear rather heavy brownish make-up. Blacks run the gamut from deep and inky to milky black, but shadow detail is very good. The picture occasionally goes flat in scenes with smoke or fog but otherwise appears the best it ever has on home video. The film has been divided into 32 chapters.
The PCM 5.1 audio track (48 kHz/16-bit, 4.6 Mbps) has a wide and impressive front soundstage (the music is spread across the front channels) with the rears used effectively for a continuous array of ambient sounds that almost never ceases. The LFE channel gets a good workout, and bass overall is effectively deep during the intense action and later firepower moments.
All of the bonus features on the disc (apart from the showcase and previews) have been ported from Criterion’s laserdisc of The Rock. All of the video extras are obviously in 480i.
The audio commentary has been pieced together from separate interviews with director Michael Bay, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, stars Nicholas Cage and Ed Harris, and technical adviser Harry Humphries. It’s a good track with interesting information, sometimes differing opinions (e.g. Cage’s nude guitar playing early in the film), and no dead space. It’s definitely worth a listen.
The Rock World Premiere is exactly that, 2 minutes of footage from the world premiere of the film.
“Navy SEALS on the Range” is a 6-minute featurette showing the firing range for Navy SEALS and some information about recruitment and requirements for acceptance into the program.
“Hollywood: Humphries & Teague” is an entertaining 8-minute look at how a poorly done action movie might portray men with weapons. Technical advisor Harry Humphries and actor Marshall Teague illustrate the right and wrong ways to handle weaponry.
“Special Effects for Dive” was an eye-opening 7 ¾-minute featurette on fashioning the underwater approach to the island sequence in the movie. I’ve seen The Rock at least half a dozen times over the years, and I never knew this sequence used puppets for the underwater work.
“Action Effects: Movie Magic” is an 8-minute segment from the program Movie Magic dealing with how the cable car explosion was handled in the movie.
There are 9 minutes of outtakes mainly zeroing in on gaffes made by Nicholas Cage, Sean Connery, and particularly Ed Harris (whose fuse seems very short with his repeated errors).
“Secrets of Alcatraz” is an interesting 14½-minute summary of the history of Alcatraz Island from its years as an Army fort to its use as a federal prison and afterwards.
Producer Jerry Bruckheimer grants a 16-minute interview talking about his beginnings in the business and his first big movie successes with American Gigolo and Flashdance, among others.
There are about 7 total minutes of theatrical trailers, teaser trailers, and TV spots for The Rock.
Disney’s usual movie showcase selects three reference quality scenes to use for demonstration material. One is, of course, the chase through San Francisco but be advised that the program cuts the chase off midway through the sequence. You’d be better picking it on your own since the fiery end to the chase isn’t in the part selected.
Upcoming Buena Vista releases are previewed in 1080p including Gone, Baby Gone and Wall-E.
The Rock makes for solid action entertainment. The Blu-ray disc represents by far its finest-ever appearance on home video with outstanding video and superb uncompressed audio. Just check your brain at the door.