Rock of Ages adapts the popular stage musical of the same name into a cliche-ridden jukebox musical film that will not likely satisfy fans of either the 80s hard rock and power ballads that provide its soundtrack or of movie musicals in general. Fans of Tom Cruise may want to give it a rental for his amusing no holds barred performance as a waste-case rock star, but others may be better off making their own 80s rock playlist and bypassing the film altogether. It is presented on Blu-ray with excellent audio and video, an optional Extended Edition that adds 13 minutes to the running time, and a collection of extras which may entertain fans of 80s rock more than the film itself.
Directed By: Adam Shankman
Starring: Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Malin Akerman, Mary J. Blige, Bryan Cranston
Studio: New Line
Rated: PG-13 (Theatrical) / R (Extended)
Film Length: 123 Minutes (Theatrical) / 136 Minutes (Extended)
Aspect Ratio: 2.4:1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Release Date: October 9, 2012
The Film **
Adam Shankman’s Rock of Ages adapts the successful Broadway musical of the same name into a theatrical feature. The story follows fresh off the bus Sherrie Christian (Hough) and Drew Boley (Boneta) as they dream of rock stardom on Hollywood’ sunset strip circa the 1980s. Drew and Sherrie find employment at a seedy rock club called the Bourbon Room managed by Dennis Dupree (Baldwin) and his motor mouthed right hand man Lonny (Brand). Interwoven with the story of the film’s young protagonists runs a sub-plot involving Stacee Jaxx (Cruise), the rock star waste case lead singer of Sherrie’s favorite band Arsenal, his slimy manager Paul Gill (Giamatti), and Rolling Stone reporter Constance Sack (Ackerman) who arrives to interview Stacee at the Bourbon room prior to Arsenal’s farewell gig. A third sub-plot involves Patricia Whitmore (Jones), the uptight religious wife of Los Angeles Mayor Mike Whitmore (Cranston), who is dead-set on closing down the Bourbon Room and the whole debauched Sunset Strip along with it.
If the plot described in my summary above sounds like little more than a collection of showbiz movie cliches, then I have accurately done my job as a “synopsist”. I never saw the theatrical stage version of Rock of Ages, but my understanding from others who saw and enjoyed it was that it transcended its brethren in the “jukebox musical” sub genre by exhibiting wit and style. The movie version has plenty of the latter and little of the former. The stage show also apparently did a great job of involving the audience and making them feel like part of a crowd at a circa 1980s seedy rock club. I reviewed the blu-ray watching it alone in my home theater. It is certainly possible that the film would be more fun and involving watched with a larger group of people, but I would not bet the success of my next house party on it.
Chief among the film’s shortcomings seems to be a general lack of affinity and affection for the era and music at its core. While lead actors Hough and Boneta are both capable singers, they do not have anything resembling “rock chops”. Boneta actually seems more suited to the boy band pop star into which a seedy manager tries to turn Drew in the film. Hough’s voice seems more suited to her pop-country background, which aligns with Sherrie’s Oklahoma origins but does not lend itself to her rock star ambitions. When the film is having fun at the expense of 80s music, fashion, and politics, it never seems to be doing so with much affection. This subtext of condescension, whether intentional or not, makes it difficult to sustain interest in the film or enjoy the humor.
On the positive side of the ledger, many of the film’s big name co-stars commit themselves to their roles with gusto. Tom Cruise seems to be having an absolute ball playing Stacee Jaxx, throwing himself into the musical performances with reckless abandon. He adopts an on-stage persona somewhere between Iggy Pop and Axl Rose, and has a better voice than I expected. The producers of the film’s music buck modern trends by going mercifully light on the use of autotune, which works out well for Cruise, and not quite so well for some others including Alec Baldwin. Catherine Zeta-Jones also fully commits to her thankless by design role as an uptight political wife leading an anti-rock crusade. Her standout moment is an early musical sequence where she leads a group of church ladies in a version of Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” complete with Michael Jackson-style choreography. I sprained my 80s just watching it. Unfortunately her part descends into a broad Christian stereotype as the movie progresses and is undermined by the aforementioned condescending tone.
In the end, to paraphrase the Siskel and Ebert yardstick for assessing the success of a film based on true events, the movie never rises to become more interesting or involving than playlist or mix tape of the songs on its soundtrack would be.
In addition to the Theatrical Cut of the film, this Blu-ray release also includes an Extended Edition that runs thirteen minutes longer. The Extended Edition carries an “R” rating, but seemed to my eyes and ears to be every bit as tame as the PG-13 Theatrical Cut aside from some slightly racier bits of dialog from Russell Brand during an early scene in the film. No information is provided about the details of this Extended Edition on the disc or in the press materials that preceded its release, but my devotion to you, O Reader, (and a slight masochistic streak I carry) is such that I voluntarily sat through the whole film (plus thirteen minutes) again. The most substantial additions to the Extended Edition include a version of “Waiting for a Girl Like You” that runs more than two minutes longer and a deleted musical number late in the film in which Stacee and Sherrie sing “Rock You Like a Hurricane”. Here is a chronological summary of all of the additions I noticed (expunged of most spoilery details, but proceed at your own risk) when viewing the Extended Edition:
- Extended "Waiting for a Girl Like You" musical sequence
- Lonnie riffing with some racy lines prior to a singer taking the stage of The Bourbon Room
- Dialog between Sherrie and Drew after Sherrie faints after seeing Stacee
- Stacee autographs a groupie's breasts (scene was used in Theatrical Trailer)
- Extensions to the interview between Stacee and Constance
- Call-back to the aforementioned fainting scene with dialog between Sherrie and Drew after she meets Stacee a second time
- Extra “monkey time” between Stacee and “Hey Man”
- Stacee visits Sherrie and they sing “Rock You Like a Hurricane”
- Paul informs The Zee Guyeezz boy band that they will be lip synching
The Extended Cut of the film features a lot more of Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx, and to the extent that Cruise’s performance is the most entertaining part of the film, it helps. On the other hand, it also needlessly extends a film that already has more running time than plot. The most egregious example of this is the added “Rock You Like a Hurricane” musical number. It is cheesily entertaining on its own merits, and would have been a welcome extra as a “deleted scene”. In the context of the film, however, it extends the second act of a transparent three act structure beyond the point of any reasonable audience member’s patience threshold. It also does not help when the sequence concludes by adding a dramatic cliche to a film that is already overstuffed with them.
The Video *****
This 1080p AVC-encoding is letterboxed to the film’s 2.41 theatrical aspect ratio. Whatever reservations I had about the film itself, I have few complaints about its presentation on home video. The video is near reference quality throughout, handling the explosion of 80s colors and smoky (although likely not as smoky as the real thing) 80s rock club environments with equal aplomb and nary a compression artifact in sight.
The Audio ****½
The film's sound mix is provided courtesy of a DTS-HD MA lossless 16 bit 5.1 multi-channel encoding. As one might expect, the fidelity inherent to the lossless encoding is at its best during the film’s many musical sequences. The mix also exploits the surround channels nicely to immersive effect during the scenes set in rock and/or strip clubs. In particular, the old standby of the wide stereo breaking glass sound as a rock star-type flings an empty alcohol container to one extreme of the sound field or another is exploited to full effect. I am exercising reviewer’s prerogative by docking the otherwise excellent audio a full star for some “worse than an 80s music video” lip-synchronization during musical numbers (that appears to be part of the mix rather than an encoding error), and adding back a half star for the discretion exercised by not applying massive amounts of autotune to the actor’s vocals. Alternate language Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are available on the Theatrical Edition only in French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
The Extras ****
All extras are presented in 1080p AVC-encoded video with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio unless otherwise noted below.
When the disc is first played, the viewer is greeted with the following promos:
- Ultraviolet Digital Copy promo (promo looks like SD and has no time stamp - could be replaced by other promo downloads via BD-Live download in the future)
- Warner Blu-ray 3D Promo (1:49 - Dolby Digital 5.1 audio)
- “Visit Florida” Tourism Promo (:32)
Proper Extras consist of the following featurettes accessible from the disc’s Special Features menu:
Short Feature: Rock of Ages: Legends of the Sunset Strip (29:56) is a look back at the era recreated for the film hosted by Bret Michaels of the rock band “Poison”. It features many members of rock bands of the era reminiscing as well as some comments from the cast and crew of the film. Topics covered include the music, the excesses of the era, the Hollywood Sunset Strip of the era, 80s fashion & hair, and the songs in the "Rock of Ages" stage play and film. On-camera comments are provided by Jay Jay French, Dee Snider of the band “Twisted Sister”, Frankie Banali of the band “Quiet Riot”, Rainbow Room and Whiskey A-Go-Go Owner Mike Maglieri, Joel Hoekstra, Jack Blades, & Kelly Keagy of the band “Night Ranger”, Joe Elliot, Rick Savage, & Vivian Campbell of the band “Def Leppard”, Mickey Finn of the band “Jet Boy”, Kip Winger of the band “Winger”, Kevin Cronin of the band “REO Speedwagon”, David Coverdale of the band “Whitesnake”, Sebastian Bach of the band “Skid Row”, Ricki Rockett of the band “Poison”, Jeff Pilson from the bands “Dokken” & “Foreigner”, Kelly Hansen of the bands “Hurricane” & “Foreigner”, Jeff Duncan of the band “Odin”, Neal Schon of the band “Journey”, Nadir D'Priest of the band “London”, musician Pat Benatar, Benatar collaborator Neil Giraldo, Tommy Shaw of the band “Styx”, Erik Turner & Jerry Dixon of the band “Warrant”, Danny Dangerous of the band “The Zeroes”, Danny Nordahl of the band “Faster Pussycat”, Jan Kuehnmund of the band “Vixen”, Chris Holmes of the band “W.A.S.P”, Juno Bettencourt of the band “Extreme”, Russell Brand ("Lonnie"), Director Adam Shankman, Julianne Hough ("Sherrie"), Executive music Supervisor and Composer Adam Anders, Malin Akerman ("Constance Stack), Mary J. Blige ("Justice"), and Diego Boneta ("Drew").
Short Feature: The Stories We Sing(12:53) is another Bret Michaels-hosted featurette. This one covers the stories behind some famous hard rock hits and power ballads of the 80s. Joel Hoekstra, Jack Blades, and Kelly Keagy talk about Night Ranger's "Sister Christian", Rikki Rockett & Michaels discuss Poison's "Nothin’ But a Good Time", Kevin Cronin talks about REO Speedwagon's "I Can't Fight This Feeling", Neal Schon talks about Journey's "Don't Stop Believing", Phill Collen, Joe Elliot, & Rick Allen discuss Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar on Me". It concludes with footage of an enthusiastically supportive Def Leppard visiting the movie's set on the day the filmmakers shot Tom Cruise performing "Pour Some Sugar on Me".
Behind the Scenes: Defining a Decade is a collection of behind the scenes featurettes hosted by Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta. A "Play All" option would have been welcome, but is not available.
- Intro (:25) - Includes a welcome and brief introduction from Hough and Boneta
- The 80s Look (3:57) - Discusses the 80s fashions that were recreated for the film. On screen comments are provided by Shankman, Costume Designer Rita Ryack, Bryan Cranston ("Mayor Whitmore"), Hough, Bach, Akerman, Eli Roth ("Stefano"), Blige, Schon, Producer Jennifer Gibgot, Paul Giamatti ("Paul Gill"), Production Designer Jon Hutman, Boneta, and Producer Garrett Grant
- It's All About the Moves (7:35) covers the film's choreography designed by Mia Michaels. It includes behind the scenes footage from the rehearsals and shooting of "Any Way You Want It", "Hit Me with Your Best Shot", "I Want to Know What Love Is", and "I Can't Fight this Feeling". Comments are provided by Shankman, Hough, Boneta, Blige, Michaels, Catherine Zeta-Jones ("Patricia Whitmore"), Alec Baldwin ("Dennis DuPree"), and Brand.
- Stripping Miami (4:38) discusses how the circa 1980s Sunset Strip and Hollywood sign of Southern California were recreated in South Florida including tours of the film's exteriors. On-camera comments are provided by Hutman, Shankman, Musician Debbie Gibson, Gibgot, Hoekstra, Will Forte ("Mitch Miley"), and Grant.
- The Tease (4:13) covers the film's recreation of 1980s ozone-depleting hairstyles. Comments are provided by Shankman, Gibgot, Ryack, Musician Erik Turner, Musician Jerry Dixon, Hoekstra, Bach, Musician Jay Jay French, Musician Kip Winger, Cranston, Musician Kevin Cronin, Forte, Brand, Boneta, Giamatti, Musician David Coverdale, and Grant
- If You Build It, They Will Rock It (3:02) focuses on the design of the Bourbon Room and its basis in real Sunset Strip locations. On-camera comments are provided by Musician Jeff Pilson, Musician Kelly Hansen, Hutman, Shankman, Giamatti, Akerman, Boneta, and Hough.
- Connection to the Music (4:32) Features discussions of the cast's vocal performances in the film. Comments are provided by Boneta, Anders, Shankman, Baldwin, Hough, Blige, Grant, Zeta-Jones, and Cranston
- So it Started in a Bar (7:12) Discusses the origins and genesis of the stage musical that was adapted into the film. This is actually a really concise and interesting summation of the project. Comments are provided by Rock of Ages Theatrical Musical Producer Matt Weaver, Theatrical Musical Director Kristin Hanggi, Theatrical Musical Producer Hillary Weaver, Theatrical Musical Arranger David Gibbs, Theatrical Musical Producer Janet Billig Rich, Cronin, Musician Dee Snyder, Constantine Maroulis (“Record Executive” in the film/"Drew" in Theatrical Musical), and New York Times Theater Critic Charles Isherwood
Music Video: Anyway You Want It (2:40) is a promo assembled from film clips with no unique footage.
Rock of Ages Musical Numbers provides menu access to musical perfromance numbers from the Extended Edition of the film. It is not an alternative to the scene selection menu as the viewer is returned to the special features menu as soon as the musical sequence concludes.
- Paradise City
- Sister Christian/Just Like Paradise/ Nothin' But a Good Time
- Juke Box Hero/ I Love Rock 'n' Roll
- Hit Me with Your Best Shot
- Waiting for a Girl Like You
- More than Words/Heaven
- Wanted Dead or Alive
- I Want to Know What Love Is
- I Wanna Rock
- Pour Some Sugar on Me
- Harden My Heart
- Shadows of the Night/Harden My Heart
- Here I Go Again
- Can't Fight this Feeling
- Any Way You Want It
- Undercover Love
- Every Rose Has its Thorn
- Rock You Like a Hurricane
- We Built this City/We're Not Gonna Take It
- Don't Stop Believin'
“Visit Florida” Tourism Promo (:34) is the same promo mentioned above that plays when the disc is first inserted into a player
SD DVD A copy of the film on SD DVD is also included in the "Combo Pack" edition of the film. The SD DVD includes DD 5.1 audio tracks and subtitles in English, French, and Spanish. Extras includes the same Behind the Scenes: Defining a Decade: If You Build it, They Will Rock it featurette, Any Way You Want It music video, and “Visit Florida” tourism promo as the Blu-ray. It also includes a unique extra:
Music: Def Leppard: Live at the Premiere (11:33 - 16:9 enhanced video - Dolby Digital 2.0 sound) features a brief introduction with footage of the film’s red carpet arrivals featuring some of the film’s stars followed by full-length performances by Def Leppard from the event of their hits “Rock of Ages” and “Pour Some Sugar on Me”. They are good performances and worth checking out for fans of the band who spring for the Blu-ray/DVD combo pack.
When the SD DVD is first played, it includes following promos presented in 4:3 letterboxed video with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound:
- Warner Blu-ray promo (1:53)
- The Great Gatsby Theatrical Trailer (2:30)
- Anti smoking PSA parodying energy drink commercials (1:03)
- Rock of Ages - Blu-ray/DVD trailer (2:22)
- Thunderstruck DTV trailer (2:33)
- The Dark Knight Rises Blu-ray/DVD Trailer (2:19)
Ultraviolet Digital Copy The disc also comes packaged with an access code for an Ultraviolet Digital Copy of the film. This allows users with a Flixster account to access a streaming version of the film on computers and certain tablets and mobile devices. It also allows viewers with required software to download a copy to their computer's hard drive.
The Blu-ray and SD-DVD discs are enclosed in a standard-sized Blu-ray case with hubs on both inside covers to secure them in place. The only insert is a single-sided sheet with information on how to redeem the Ultraviolet digital copy. The hard case is enclosed in a slipcover that reproduces the same cover art with the addition some promotional graphics and text concerning the inclusion of the SD DVD and Ultraviolet Digital Copy.