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Reviewed April 8th, 2001 by Todd Terwilliger


Many people questioned why Criterion, a company renowned for lavishly restoring and releasing “sophisticated” films, would lower itself to produce a Bruckheimer/Simpson product. No one would accuse Jerry Bruckheimer of producing many films with brains. For sheer visceral thrills, however, there are few better.

Disgruntled General Frances X. Hummel (Ed Harris) has stolen sixteen rockets and filled them with highly poisonous gas. Holed up on Alcatraz (hence “the rock”) with the missiles pointed firmly at San Francisco and a jail full of hostages, Hummel demands millions of dollars for his men and for reparations for covert ops who fell under his various commands. It is up to chemical expert Stanley Goodspeed (Nicholas Cage), a team of commandos, and long-captive SAS operative John Patrick Mason (Sean Connery) to sneak into the Rock, disarm the rockets, and stop the enemy.

Mason is the only man living to successfully escape from the island prison and Goodspeed is the only one capable of disarming the gas rockets. As you may have predicted, the two of them quickly become the last good guys left on the Rock and must find a way, outnumbered and outgunned, to save the day.

In a film such as this, plot is never really a mystery. Instinctively, we know what the score will be when the lights come up. The question becomes, not what will happen, but how will it happen, and how much will blow up along the way? The answer is: a lot.

Visually, The Rock looks stunning, with one caveat. There is an above average amount of scratches and specks on the print, especially for a film that's only five years old. It's noticeable but not troublesome. Other than that, the 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is reference quality. The blacks are some of the best I've ever seen. Details and shadows are extremely sharp. If not for the aforementioned deficiencies, this would be perhaps the best visual presentation I've ever scene.

Criterion supplies both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS soundtracks on the same disc. I found the DD track to be slightly louder than the DTS track at the same volume levels but, other than that, both soundtracks shine. There's plenty of pop, movement, and pumping bass to satisfy anybody, without losing any sharpness in the dialog. You can't go wrong with either track and both are top shelf.

As one would expect from a Criterion title, there are more extras than you could shake a stick at. This is a two disc set and the second disc, called “The Vault”, is full to the gills with stuff. The best of the best are the commentary (on the first disc), with director Michael Bay, Bruckheimer, stars Cage and Harris, and techie Harry Humphries, and the Dos and Don'ts of Hollywood Gunplay. There's much here for your viewing pleasure, however most of the features are quite short. Though the list runs long, the running time does not.

It seems strange that Criterion would choose The Rock for its collection. It's actually the second big budget Michael Bay film they've done, the other being Armageddon. However, The Rock represents the high watermark for the production team of Simpson/Bruckheimer. Don Simpson died as The Rock was finished so it became their swan song of sorts and a good representation of their work. The film itself is not a classic but it's quick pace and stunt-a-minute sensibilities make it a great time killer. And you couldn't for a better presentation from Criterion.


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