The Rock

The Rock (1996)
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Cast: Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage

"The Rock" is not what you might call an original movie but that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad movie. Quite the opposite, in fact. "The Rock" is an impressively-done action movie that brings back Sean Connery – in the role in which we love him the most, as the spy in Her Majesty’s Secret Service. This time, though, it’s not James Bond; it’s Mason… John Mason. The infamous island prison Alcatraz, also called "The Rock" by its inmates, was the scene of many a tragedy when it was still operational. These days, the near-impregnable prison is a tourist attraction.

General Hummel (Ed Harris) is a highly decorated officer in the USArmy who fought to get recognition for his fallen soldiers and restitution for their families. Frustrated with his failure, he attempts to show his superiors the depths of his conviction. Holding 81 tourists hostage on the Rock and commandeering rockets loaded with the highly lethal VX gas, he demands $100million in ransom to be paid to those families. In answer, the FBI turns to Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage) a fervent scientist and an expert on chemical weapons, seeking his aid in helping them disarm the rockets.

Unfortunately, the only way to do this is to get inside Alcatraz, under the watchful eyes of Hummel. The FBI enlists the aid of John Mason (Sean Connery), an expert on the prison island. He is a former spy of the British Secret Service, caught in the 60’s; he has spent his life since incarcerated in American maximum-security prisons. His possession of extremely sensitive information has kept him isolated for those 30 years in fact, he has been imprisoned without a trial and thus, unsurprisingly, is not at his most cooperative. However, since he is the only person ever to have escaped Alcatraz, however, he is also the only logical choice as the leader of a SEAL team trained to infiltrate the fortress.

"The Rock" is a modern, quick edited movie, out for some really big thrills… and it delivers them big. One of the highlights is its hairy car chase sequence through the streets of San Francisco. It’s been a while since we saw a good car chase in a movie, and this one definitely kills them all, wrecking small cars, big cars, cable cars, motorcycles and a bright yellow Ferrari in the course of it, never taking itself too seriously.

There is one aspect that bothered me about the movie, however: How come the antagonists in Hollywood movies always have German names? Come on, Hollywood, wake up. Isn’t it time to sweep clean these prejudices? The man is in the US Army, for God’s sake and he is highly decorated, too. Why of all people does he have to carry a German name? While we’re on the topic of bad guys, who would you guess the bad guy to be in this movie? It’s neither Hummel nor Mason. The answer is the US Government, selling lives for nickels. And herein lies the strength of "The Rock". The cast is perfect, and all the characters are portrayed so well that it is nearly impossible to tell whose performance is the better one. Each performance is absolutely superb, convincingly humorous, and absolutely human. Hummel is desperate when he actually has to pull the trigger on the USsoldiers who infiltrate Alcatraz to take him and his men out. As Connery states during the movie, "He’s a soldier, not a murderer. I can see that in his eyes."

Mason is an angry man and loving father who has spent most of his life behind bars without trial, or, indeed, any semblance of justice. Goodspeed is a slightly geeky, straightforward, honest guy who rises to the occasion while fighting his own inner fears and problems. Connery and Cage make a fun, excellent couple, delivering just the right sense of humor to moderate the intensity of this action packed roller-coaster.

"The Rock" comes on a single-sided DVD which contains the <$PS,widescreen> version of the movie. It was a good decision to drop the <$PS,Pan&Scan> version and go for the more detailed 2.35:1 <$PS,widescreen> release. Unfortunately, the DVD is not enhanced for 16:9 <$16x9,anamorphic> display, which would help to set DVD better apart from other media. The image quality of the movie is outstanding however bringing out more details than any other transfer, with extremely vivid colors and razor-sharp edges.

The movie features a rich <$DD,Dolby Digital> <$5.1,5.1 channel> soundtrack with a very wide soundstage. The effects are nice and make good use of the surround channels. Especially the explosions are really kicking. It comes fully dubbed in English and French with subtitles in English and Spanish, selectable from the disc’s interactive menu. "The Rock" is a breathtakingly fast-paced action thriller that speaks loudly against the government’s practice of concealing its secrets, though you might not be aware of it at all times. Despite its considerable length, it will keep you on the edge of your seat for all of its 136 minutes. You’ll be lucky if you remember to grab for your popcorn . It is a rush!