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The Rock: The Criterion Collection

Director Michael Bay is a master of the summer "event" film, creating beautiful imagery free of meaning or relevance, manufactured merely to be consumed and then forgotten. It's no surprise then that he's become a powerful figure in Hollywood, studying under the tutelage of summer action masters Jerry Bruckheimer and the late Don Simpson, and though he has yet to show any flair for the pesky details of authentic human drama, he sure knows how to film great big balls of fire. His work is also immensely popular — Bay seems to be on his way to becoming the Steven Spielberg of the video-geek generation. The Rock (1996) is a perfect example of his skill. Ed Harris plays U.S. Army Gen. Frank Hummel, a highly decorated black-ops veteran who is convinced that too many of his men have died in vain, and without recognition. Thus, he gathers a group of his most loyal subordinates to steal deadly V-X poison (which kills people in strange, disgusting ways), and makes Alcatraz his base of operation, seizing hapless tourists as hostages. Hummel's demand: $100 million from the Pentagon's slush fund, to be distributed to the families of the men who died under his command, or rockets filled with the potent poison will land in the heart of San Francisco. To stop Hummel and his top-notch trained killers, the (always competent) U.S. government assembles Stanley Goodspeed (Nicholas Cage) — the FBI's best poison-gas-loaded-rocket disarmer (or the rough equivalent thereof); John Mason (Sean Connery) — an imprisoned British spy, and the only man to ever escape from The Rock; and a group of Navy SEALs (headed by Michael Biehn). After grating on each other for the better part of the film, Stanley and John become brothers in arms, forced to work together in the "too old for this shit" old-cop/rookie-cop fashion, as Hummel's deadline approaches. Loud, fast, and nonsensical, The Rock is more commercial product than cinematic art, but it is a good kiss-kiss bang-bang action vehicle, featuring quality actors who are slumming, and yet bring depth to the proceedings — it's really much better than most other films in its genre. It's thrilling, successful, and pretty much as satisfying as a Big Mac and fries (and with similar nutritional value). You even get to feel guilty for enjoying it as well. Criterion's two-disc The Rock features a new anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with audio in ass-thumping DTS or Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes (what would be the point otherwise?) Following on the original Buena Vista disc (from late 1997), the transfer is improved, although if you don't have S-video or a 5.1 amp, you probably won't notice too much. Criterion does deliver the extras, but — like so many add-ons — they aren't worth going through twice. Disc One features an audio commentary with Cage, Harris, Bay, Bruckheimer, and technical advisor Harry Humphries (originally on the Criterion Laserdisc, and one brief mention of the big shiny disc is on the track). However, the commentary is light — funny at times, but as fluffy as a Dutch pancake. Disc Two features all of the extras from the laser except a Bay-directed "Got Milk?" ad, while it adds footage of Bruckheimer recording his comments. Outtakes feature Ed Harris cursing up a storm — mostly in character — and Connery goofing around. Also included are an analysis of the dive sequence, a "Movie Magic" segment on the film's special effects, The "Dos and Don'ts of Hollywood gunplay" with Harry Humphries and Marshall Teague, excerpts from the "Secrets of Alcatraz" documentary, storyboards, production-design drawings, production stills, theatrical trailers, TV spots, and a promo featurette on the The Rock world premiere, held on Alcatraz. Nothing here will deepen your appreciation of the film — but this isn't deep cinema. Worth the extra bucks for fans, so pour 'em tall, cold, and frothy. Keep-case.
—DSH


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