Studio: Paramount Pictures
US Rating: PG-13
Film Length: 109 Minutes
Video: MPEG-4 AVC 1080P High Definition
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, French/Spanish/Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese
Release Date: August 28, 2012
Review Date: September 3, 2012
“In the words of AC/DC: We roll tonight... to the guitar bite... and for those about to rock... I salute you.”
Dewey Finn is a loser. Adrift in the imagination that his love of Rock and Roll should somehow provide meaningful sustenance, he pours little skill and attention into trying to actually make something of his life. Described by his best friend Ned’s girlfriend as a “lazy freeloader”, Dewey is kicked out of his band and faces eviction from his Ned’s apartment. He must take quick action. An opportunity falls into his lap when he pretends to be Ned, who is a teacher, as a substitute at the upscale Horace Green elementary school. This act of dishonesty soon snowballs into a fully fleshed out role of impersonation when his class becomes fertile ground for Finn to share his love of music. A good group of students, well-behaved and entirely too comfortable following the rules, Finn becomes inspired by the possibility of turning them into an outlet for his musical ambitions and the chance to win ‘Battle of the Bands’. What begins as deception and self-serving exploitation evolves into a chance at redemption, inspiration and the hope that both fake teacher and students can find courage - and find themselves.
Writer Mike White, who also plays the real Ned in the film, was inspired to write School of Rock after moving next door to Jack Black and bearing witness to his exuberant and wild antics. Though not a fan of rock and roll himself, White tailored the film to take advantage of Black’s physical fusion with all that is guitar laced, rebellion fueled and lyrically genius about the genre of Rock ‘n Roll.
Much of the early humor comes from Dewey’s ill-informed approach to teaching children. He doesn’t say the right thing or act appropriately as a teacher, but because he’s a rocket fired without the proper guidance, there is power in his pursuit though he doesn’t know how to find his target. Black is electric as Dewey, a perfect performance in pitch and dynamism and pure passion that infects and inspires. As a fan of Black even in his weaker moments (I’m looking at you, Gulliver’s Travels), and especially a loyal follower of his band Tenacious D, School of Rock is a magnificent blend of all that makes Jack Black an exciting fella.
Freddy: Are we going to be goofing off like this every day?
Dewey: We're not goofing off. We're creating musical fusion.
Freddy: Ok, so are we going to be creating musical fusion every day?
Director Richard Linklater directs Black, an accomplished musician in his own right, with a steady hand but very loose reigns. Black is given space to very much be himself, pouring out reverence for many of his personal musical influences and edifying both students and moviegoers alike in the attitude and impact of rock gods such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, AC/DC and Motorhead. Jack Black is fortunate to have a super cast around him, especially the kids of his class. Joan Cusack provides a fun turn as the befuddled and prim and proper Head Mistress, Mike White as the likably demure Ned, and Sarah Silverman as the acid-tongued nemesis girlfriend.
There’s a scene early in the film that embodies the entire film - the creativity of Jack Black, the appreciation of rock and roll, and the messages of passion and self – all of it. Black’s Dewey character gives a glimpse to his class of a song he has written, the camera begins close up on Jack Black as he begins to feverishly and with joyful exuberance act out how he sees his song unfolding on the stage. The camera slowly pulls away from Black as the students are enthralled and the scenes is almost entirely a single shot. It is brilliant and within it we witness who Dewey is at heart and how his passion will fuel the kids.
School of Rock arrives as a Best Buy exclusive with a terrific price-point. So is it worth the upgrade from DVD? Absolutely! The image has been digitally remastered and is looking sprightly. Filmed using 35mm, the film enjoys the look of film with a pleasing grain structure, strong details and a lovely balance of colors. Black levels are quite good with a fair few moments to exceed with details in shadows. Interestingly the look of the film forgoes the brightness and boldness of colors that one might have expected from a mildly fantastical tale in favor of a far more natural approach. And it works.
Paramount provides another solid DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track. Music is of course a significant vein that runs throughout the body of the film and the spread and clarity of the audio allows the rock songs to come to life. All the standard areas get green check marks – dialogue in the center channel, good bass in the .1, and clean spread across the channels. Directional surround effects are limited – as one should expect from this story – but the music finds ample ground to fill the room.
All these special features have been ported over from the DVD release and are presented non-HD save for the Theatrical Trailer.
Commentary by Jack Black and Director Richard Linklater: Linklater adds the details and Black provides the inquiring mind and they trade roles at times. Pauses in the commentary are frequent but fleeting and generally this is a fun listen though lacks technical anecdotes.
Kids Commentary: Not an insightful commentary but certainly a good one for younger film fans to connect with. Naturally the commentary comes more to life in scenes featuring the kids and it isn’t always orderly but again, good for your kids to enjoy.
Lessons Learned on School of Rock (24:49): A behind the scenes featurette with interview with the cast and crew. It’s a little deeper than a surface look but isn’t in-depth.
Jack Black’s Pitch to Led Zeppelin (3:35): To use the music of Led Zeppelin – who were not inclined to license their music for commercial purposes, Jack Black filmed a plea to the band to let them use ‘Immigrant Song’. It worked. Of course it has been licensed since for expert use in Fincher’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but nonetheless, School of Rock earned use of the song the hard way.
School of Rock Music Video (3:37)
Kids’ Video Diary Toronto Film Festival (8:13): A cute little extra as the child stars film their trip to the Film Festival in Toronto.
MTV’s Diary of Jack Black (16:32): Jack Black filmed a diary for MTV – a day in the life – and is played for laughs
Dewey Finn’s History of Rock: An interactive guide to the history of rock and many of its variations – as well as other genres. Everything from glam rock to country to the Brit Invasion and hip hop have a nuggets of information available for digestion.
School of Rock is a triumph; funny, dramatic, inspiring and heart-warming but never pandering, safe or too expected. Jack Black gives the performance of his career despite the character and the actor having the same core passion. The character of Dewey is not, as Director Linklater acknowledges in the commentary, a ‘Lunkhead’; rather, we find him a traveler without a clear destination and though he is running at full speed (with unhinged energy), we are easily endeared to him and root for him to find his way. School of Rock on Blu-ray is highly recommended.
Overall (Not an average)