School of Rock Studio: Paramount Year: 2003 Rated: PG-13 Length: 109 minutes Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Surround, French 5.1 English Subtitles, Closed Captioned Special Features: Commentary by Jack Black and Richard Linklater, Commentary by the kids, 1 featurette, 2 video diaries, music video, pitch to Led Zeppelin, theatrical trailer, previews, Dewey Finn's History of Rock (ROM Feature) MAP: $19.95US Release Date: March 2, 2004 There’s no doubt about it: School of Rock is simply a vehicle for Jack Black. The film was custom written for him, and he carries the film on his own. Black plays Dewey Finn - a down and out rocker, freshly fired from the band he founded. Out of money and on the verge of being kicked out of his apartment by his roommate Ned Schneebly (Mike White) at the insistence of Ned’s girlfriend Patty (Sarah Silverman), Finn cons his way into a substitute teaching job at a prestigious prep school by posing as his roommate. Of course, Finn has no experience teaching fifth grade - or any other grade for that matter. He just wants the paycheck. He somehow manages to hide that fact from Principal Mullins (Joan Cusack) and proceeds to ignore the regular lesson plan. Planning to sleep the day away at his desk while the students enjoy an extended recess, Finn soon finds out that some of his students have a musical gift. With this new knowledge, he begins to craft a plan to teach the students about rock, and create a competitive band capable of winning a “battle of the bands” contest. It’s another formula plot that manages to work outside the formula by not becoming “cute.” It would have been all too easy for this film to become a Mighty Ducks or Kindergarten Cop, but it manages to avoid that trap. The kids aren’t there for the cute factor. While the premise is tired, School of Rock has enough energy and enough of a fresh approach to make it work. While I really feared a formula approach in the on-screen parental reaction to what’s going on, the parents came off as believable, concerned parents... perhaps a bit uptight, but not really wound like Kurtwood Smith in Dead Poet’s Society (a film which I like, but which fell too willingly into the evil father formula). You have to be able to get by the premise that a completely unqualified man bluffs his way into a classroom full of ten year olds and exploits them for personal gain. It’s a tough hurdle - but of course the students end up learning things in the end. Maybe they don’t learn of math or science, but they learn of self-confidence and of the free spirit. My biggest complaint about the film is the wasted talent of the supporting cast. Joan Cusack is given little opportunity to flex her comic muscle, and the wonderful Sarah Silverman is sadly wasted in an annoying straight role. I think School of Rock might have worked even better if some of the ensemble (Cusack, Silverman, White) had more screen time, and more opportunity to work the comedy angle. While Jack Black is great at what he does, there was a lost opportunity with a fine supporting cast. This film, regardless of its PG-13 rating, is appropriate for the whole family. The MPAA needs its collective head examined for slapping a PG-13 rating on films like this, and like the excellent Whale Rider, because of a single passing drug reference. The humor in School of Rock works on many levels. Kids will appreciate the antics of Jack Black, and adults will “get” the classic rock references as well. The Look School of Rock is anamorphically enhanced, with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. While the cinematography is unremarkable, scenes are adequately lit and well composed. There is good contrast here, with solid black levels and good shadow detail. Color saturation is slightly muted. Grain is virtually absent, even in the dark, predominantly blue light of the “battle of the bands” sequence. The image is sharp, with no evidence of haloing. Compression artifacts and video noise are absent, as well. This is a fine transfer with good detail. The Sound You’ve got a choice of three soundtracks, plus two commentary tracks. The soundtracks include an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track, English 2.0 Surround, and French Dolby Digital 5.1. The English 5.1 track offers up clean dialog, if a touch over-sweetened. Dialog is always clear and intelligible, with good frequency response (just a touch over-sibilant). This film is about the music, though. Music fills the front soundstage nicely, with excellent rear ambient effects (especially in the “battle of the bands” finale). Bass is very tight and accurate, but a bit lacking in intensity. In a movie about rock and roll music, an intense and heavy bass is appropriate. Here, it is mildly disappointing. Overall, the sound is clean and accurate. Special Features Special Features are not anamorphically enhanced. Commentary by Actor Jack Black and Director Richard Linklater This is interesting for comedic value, but isn’t very deep. It doesn’t seem as though there was much preparation for this commentary. It’s all off-the-cuff. It is funny though, and worth a listen. Commentary by the kids You can imagine what this is like... put 8 or 10 ten-year-olds into a room for a commentary. Nice “cute” factor, but I doubt many will listen to more than a few minutes. Lessons Learned in School of Rock (24:50) This is a cleverly crafted piece that goes behind the scenes of School of Rock, focusing on writing, casting, rehearsals, and filming the finale. There are interviews with Jack Black, Mike White, Richard Linklater, and several of the kids involved in the film. We find out much of the real musical skill these kids had, and how they used it in the film. While the piece isn’t too deep, you get a real feel for the personalities involved in this film. This is no made-for-cable fluff piece - it was made specifically for the DVD. A very enjoyable featurette. Jack Black’s Pitch to Led Zeppelin (3:36) Jack Black and about a thousand extras beg Led Zeppelin on video tape for permission to use a song in the film (something they often refuse to allow). A funny piece... and it worked. School of Rock Music Video (3:39) Kids Video Diary: Toronto Film Festival (8:14) The kids (not to mention Jack Black) ham it up in this short video which follows them at the Toronto Film Festival for the premiere of School of Rock. MTV’s Diary of Jack Black (16:32) A tongue-in-cheek day in the life of Jack during studio rehearsals for School of Rock. We also get to see “Tenacious D” at work in an informal jam session. Dewey Finn’s History of Rock A DVD Rom extra - not reviewed. Theatrical Trailer Previews Final Thoughts School of Rock is an intelligently made comedy appropriate for the family. It misses the bullseye slightly by not allowing the supporting cast to strut their stuff. It’s definitely got a lot of heart, though, and is carried by Jack Black’s boundless energy. A nice set of extras for this single disc Collector’s Edition, along with a good transfer, make this worth a look for any fan of hard rock, or of Jack Black.