The Rock (Criterion Collection) Review

Alexander Larman has reviewed the Region 1 release of The Rock: Criterion Collection. The disc is much as you’d expect technically, and gives the film the presentation it deserves, although the extras are slightly disappointing for Criterion.

The Film

Michael Bay is a director who the critics love to hate, based on the reviews for Armageddon and Pearl Harbor. He has been criticised for being flashy, tasteless and a fundamentally empty director, of using cheap MTV visual stylistics to disguise the lack of content in a weak and derivative script. These reviews are, to a point, right. However, they ignore the fact that Bay is one of the very, very few directors, along with David Fincher, Darren Aronofsky and possibly Guy Ritchie, who has actually managed to make decent films from an advertising and music video background.

However, it will be of little surprise that the film’s plot is hardly Dostoyevsky. A tough but fair Marine (Harris) seizes a stockpile of biological weapons (as you do), in order to take over Alcatraz (again, the locale’s an odd choice), and holds a group of 81 tourists as hostages. The only two men who can stop him are…dramatic pause…Stanley Goodspeed (Cage) , a chemical weapons expert with a penchant for The Beatles, and John Mason (Connery) a former MI6 agent who has been wrongfully imprisoned for the last 30 years. Much violence, witty badinage and slow motion heroism ensues.

The basic storyline is absurd. However, the film works absolutely brilliantly as an action film, because the execution is almost perfect. It’s been said of Bay, entirely fairly, that he is disinterested in having any shot last for more than ten seconds, but this approach works perfectly here, as even the most banal scenes take on an air of adrenaline-fuelled panic, and the action sequences manage to be cut together so swiftly as to disguise the obvious implausibilities, both in execution (there’s some horribly obvious use of stuntmen) and in the logic of the scenes themselves. In the film’s infamous San Francisco car chase, there’s a perverse desire by Bay and Bruckheimer to make The Biggest Car Chase Ever, which leads to flying cars, destroyed cable cars and exploding Ferraris.

If the film was just an excuse for impressive action scenes however, it would eventually pall. What raises it several notches is the brilliantly witty script, which recognises the implausibility inherent in its situations, and compensates with priceless dialogue between Cage and Connery. There’s an especially funny scene in a mortuary, after a bloody shoot-out, where Cage becomes distracted by a corpse’s twitching; it’s closer to Joe Orton than Beverley Hills Cop. The script was written by around a dozen writers, including Quentin Tarantino and Dick Clement & Ian LaFrenais; it is to Bruckheimer’s credit that it seems like a seamless unity.

The cast is excellent, as you’d expect; Connery riffs on Bond amusingly, Cage is more restrained than in his later action films, although managing to bring a certain Lynchian quality to a comparatively straightforward part, and Harris is stern and shouts a lot. The strange thing is that, while the film is a fairly good definition of the word ‘hokum’, it’s about as enjoyable an evening’s entertainment as you have any right to expect. By the time that Bay brings on his patented semi-apocalyptic climax, you’ll be genuinely gripped.

The Picture

Criterion have done an absolutely fantastic job here. This is currently the only anamorphic, uncut version of this film available, although there might well be an expensive Japanese release, and it is a fairly definitive version of the film. Colours are strong, even in scenes of darkness (of which there are many), there is no evidence of grain or any kind of flaws on the print, there is no noticeable edge enhancement, and everything looks as good, if not better, than it did in the cinema. If you have seen the Criterion version of Armageddon, which had an equally excellent (although non-anamorphic) transfer, you’ll have a good idea of what to expect.

The Sound

Well, this wasn’t exactly a quiet film, and the soundtracks here are absolutely superb. Scene after scene comes across wonderfully, with surround effects whizzing around you even as you watch the mayhem unfold. Head for chapter 13, the car chase, if you wish to have the neighbours come and bang on the door; it really is that effective. I’d say that this is, with the possible exception of T2, the most dynamic soundtrack I’ve yet heard on a DVD. Hans Zimmer’s fantastic score is especially well presented here. There’s a DTS option provided as well; personally, I didn’t notice any great difference, but there will always be those who swear that DTS is superior.

The Extras

Surprisingly, this is where the disc falls down somewhat. The main extra, the commentary, is superb however; Cage and Bay dominate the track, and both talk about the film in much the way you’d expect. Cage confirms, once and for all, that Goodspeed’s ‘eccentricities’ were mostly his invention, while Bay speaks candidly about the late Don Simpson, Disney’s attitude towards violence and his wish to be James Cameron (as an action director at least). Although Harris, Humphries and Bruckheimer speak less often, all have interesting things to say and contribute. A fine offering, and enough to get the disc a good mark if it was the only extra present.

It’s not, but little else is particularly good. The outtakes are amusing, but of limited appeal; the documentaries are all useless, with the exception of the Alcatraz one, which is of mild interest; the Bruckheimer interview is too short to be of any real use; and the trailers, production stills etc are all of limited appeal. Perhaps the most disappointing extra is the short documentary on the do’s and don’t of Hollywood gunplay. Far less exciting than it sounds, it is essentially a short video piece showing some muscleman holding his guns incorrectly, while Humphries informs us that he’s holding his gun dangerously. One for the NRA fanatics, perhaps.


An easy recommendation, if only for the quality of the film’s transfer and the commentary. However, Criterion’s disc isn’t cheap, and the lack of really decent extras does irritate. Certainly not a disappointment by any stretch of the imagination, but there’s a slight feeling of laziness on their part this time round. Still, this is easily the best version of the film available, and is recommended solidly on that basis.

Alexander Larman

Updated: Jul 11, 2001

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