School Of Rock Review

Every once in a while a movie comes along which (almost) everyone seems to be saying is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and yet on the face of it doesn’t look too promising. A movie about a guy who turns a bunch of children into a rock band just sounds like it will be sweet and sickly, cringe-worthy and almost certainly not funny. I failed to convince someone of the merits of going to see it on its cinematic run, probably because I wasn’t certain myself that it would be any good. So it is finally a pleasure to say that my fears were unfounded, and it is in fact a whole lot of fun.

Jack Black plays Dewey Finn, a heavy rock guitarist who we first see getting chucked out of his band because his manic style doesn’t match the rest of the bands “rock poseur” attitude. Out of work and out of money, he’s being pressured by his flatmate Ned Schneebly (Mike White – who also wrote the screenplay) and Ned’s pushy girlfriend Patty (Sarah Silverman) as he’s behind on the rent, and she sees him as a layabout waster. A chance phone call is about to change his luck though, as a call for Ned in his capacity as a substitute teacher is picked up by Dewey. Seeing an opportunity for some easy cash, he impersonates Ned and takes the job teaching a class of 5th graders at a posh, private prep school.

Initially he sees the whole thing as a skive for easy money, not having to do any work to get some money to clear his debts. But after discovering that the children have an aptitude for music, he introduces them to his world of rock music, and has them form a band, whilst keeping all this quiet from straight-laced Principal Ros Mullins (Joan Cusack). Still his motives are self-centred, as he only wants to get them into the “Battle of the Bands” as a cheap-shot revenge on his old band. Only after working with the kids does he begin to realise their talent and his skill at teaching them, and turns the project into something to genuinely benefit the kids rather than himself.

As I said previously, this film had so much potential to be bad. Deeply annoying kids, moral lessons, childish humour; it could have been all this and so much worse. Instead, it’s funny, entertaining and above all, a lot of fun. The kids are surprisingly non-precocious (mostly) and it probably helped that they genuinely are musicians themselves, so give authentic performances. Obviously the movie would stand and fall on the performance of Jack Black, and after entertaining but supporting roles in such films as High Fidelity and disappointments such as Shallow Hal he finally gets the chance to show what he can do. Throwing himself a hundred and ten percent into this part, he gives an energetic performance which often had the potential to veer off into annoying and over-the-top, but always manages to keep on the right side of the entertaining / annoying line. Much credit must go to director Richard Linklater for this, who is certainly a surprise choice for director here, given his indie low budget arty film background. But he handles this film well, keeping Jack Black funny, and never letting the film slide into sentimentality or crass humour that a lesser director could have. Other than that, Joan Cusack is very good as the straight-laced and tightly wound head of the school, her scenes with the enraged mob of parents being particularly memorable.

Negatives? Well, it would be surprising if not one of the children in a class at such a posh school wouldn’t have complained about being made to do rock music, and the situation with the outraged parents is dealt with too easily. But these are just minor points as the story is not meant to be picked apart in this way; ultimately these things just don’t matter.

What could have been (and looked to me like it was going to be) a disappointment turns out to be a very entertaining and fun movie. Don’t be put off by the fact that it’s a “kids’ movie”, as it isn’t, it’s just a movie with kids in it. I’d recommend it to anybody, but if you’re a rock music fan, it’s a must see.

The anamorphic picture is clear and well-defined, although colours are perhaps a little on the thin side. Although not necessarily a fair indicator of the original movie print, the trailer featured on the disc does feature much deeper and stronger colours than this presentation.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is reasonably good without being too spectacular for dialogue and effects, being fairly front-driven without too much use of the other channels. The music (and of course there’s plenty of it) does sound good, and does make use of the channels well.

Also provided are English Dolby Surround and French 5.1 tracks.

For a single disc package, there is a great deal of extra material here, with only a couple of unexpected omissions. What is here is the following:

There are two commentaries featured on the disc. The first is a commentary featuring director Richard Linklater and Jack Black. This starts like it’s going to be a manic Jack Black session, but soon settles down to being an informative chat between the two of them about all aspects of the movie (it would have been between three, as writer / star Mike White was also meant to be taking part, but was sick on the day of recording). Topics of discussion include Jack Black’s “redonculous” performance, the music used, cameos, and how they managed to keep the anti-MTV rant in the script. Many deleted, extended or re-worked scenes are mentioned but unfortunately these have not made it to the disc. The second of the commentaries is a Kids Kommentary (their misspelling, not mine). This unsurprisingly features all the children who were playing members of the band in the movie (bar one, who was already off filming another movie). This commentary is pretty much what you would expect if you put a bunch of 9-12 year olds in front of a movie; however, some of the more musical of the kids do have some interesting things to say about the music used, though whether you will want to listen all the way through is debatable. They do mention even more deleted / different scenes over and above those pointed out in the previous commentary.

The main featurette here is Lessons learned in School of Rock which runs for a fairly respectable 25 minutes. A bit more than the usual promotional fluff, this does feature some interesting facts about the movie, not least that the kids are real musicians and are really playing in the movie. Otherwise this features interviews with cast and crew, plenty of Jack Black being his manic self, and a big discussion over whether the film is “School of Rock” or “The School of Rock”. One deleted scene / out-take is featured.

Led Zeppelin are usually very protective of their music, and rarely if ever allow it to be featured in adverts or movies. They really wanted to use “Immigrant Song” in the soundtrack for this movie, so Jack Black’s pitch to Led Zeppelin features JB in front of the “Battle of the Bands” crowd from the movie, making an impassioned appeal to Messrs Page, Plant and Jones to let them feature the track. And of course, it worked.

The Kids’ Video Diary: Toronto Film Festival is a nine minute piece following the children from the movie around for the day as they prepare to attend the screening of the movie at the Toronto Festival. If you thought the kids weren’t precocious in the movie, well they certainly make up for it here. On a similar note is MTV’s Diary of Jack Black which is a highly amusing inclusion considering the slagging off that MTV take in the movie. Clocking in at around seventeen minutes this follows Black around for the day as he does some recording, enjoys the sight of a billboard poster of himself, meets up with his “Tenacious D” partner, and demonstrates his “all animals in one meal” diet. Definitely not meant to be taken seriously.

The School of Rock music video is presented in 4x3 fullscreen and 2.0 Surround sound. This features clips from the movie blended into some new scenes with the stars of the movie, made especially for this video.

The theatrical trailer is here, in non-anamorphic widescreen, but in Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. The colour depth in this trailer is noticeably deeper and stronger than in the movie presentation itself.

Finally there are some previews, presented in non-anamorphic widescreen and 2.0 stereo sound. These are a teaser trailer for The Stepford Wives, and a trailer for Paycheck. Also there is the infomercial for VH-1 “Save the Music” as shown at the beginning of the movie presentation.

DVD-ROM Content
For once a disk with a decent set of ROM extras. These are:

The official website can be found on the disk; not just a link as so often is the case, but a reproduction of all the content locally. This includes cast information, production notes, interview videos (in QuickTime format) with cast and crew members, a gallery, and games and downloads. The only thing available on the website as opposed to here is clips of tracks from the soundtrack, which is not a major loss.

A great addition is the inclusion of the Chalkboard of Rock; an in-depth look at the huge roots of rock diagram used in the movie. Now you can look at all elements of the diagram, right down to information about the bands and artists in each section. You may not totally agree with its layout (I don’t) but it’s great to see it in all its glory. Also here is a QuickTime movie of Richard Linklater and Jack Black talking about it, but alas this is just lifted from their commentary included in the video extras. Finally here is a short QuickTime movie of Jack Black’s five favourite bands, though he only manages four.

Final Thoughts
School of Rock is a fun “not to be taken seriously in away way” movie that’s well worth seeing, especially if you are a big fan of rock music. The disc is good quality, with plenty of extras, although you can deduct a mark or two if you do not have DVD-ROM access, and where are the deleted scenes? All in all though, it’s a worthy package, and so all that is left for me to say is that for those about to watch School of Rock, I salute you!*

* I am so very sorry; I can’t believe I just wrote that appalling cliché!

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