These past few weeks, I’ve been pretty busy. There has been a whole lot of filming going on at Telstar between Glasgow Pride, MMA Events, Scottish Youth Theatre productions and beyond, and above all else I do still have bills to pay! Trying to find any time to sit down and fulfil my commitment to this weekly feature was becoming difficult, so instead of trying to cram in another season of a television show I had yet to see, I decided to turn to my alarmingly long list of films which I still hadn’t got round to watching.
The Rock was the obvious choice for me. Michael Bay might have garnered himself a bad reputation thanks to his recent output, but I do attest to having enjoyed some of his earlier films (namely Bad Boys) far more than I probably aught to have. It should also perhaps be put on record that I consider Nicholas Cage one of the greatest actors of our time. I say this with confidence, as I know I am not alone. The combination of Nic Cage, over the top Michael Bay action and an award-winning Hans Zimmer score was enough capture my imagination, but throw in Sean Connery as the world’s number one badass and I start to seriously reconsider the life decisions that have prevented me from watching The Rock until now.
Spoilers after the jump.
Narratively speaking, the film is nothing special. A group of renegade US Marines are holding civilians prisoner on Alcatraz Island, and they hold in their possession enough missiles containing nerve gases to seriously threaten the citizens of San Francisco. In retaliation, the FBI’s top chemical weapons expert Dr. Stanley Goodspeed (Cage) is sent in to Alcatraz Island to disarm the devices along with a tactical squad and former SAS Captain John Mason (Connery). Thematically, the film not-so-gracefully touches on issues regarding the value of a soldier’s life — the prime motivation behind the villain, Brigadier General Frank Hummel (Ed Harris), is that he and his soldiers have not been recompensed appropriately for their years of service either monetarily or through recognition. This is largely conveyed through a series of stilted dialogue between faceless army corporals, government senators and Hummel, where the film seems to be forcing the issue down your throat.
The story isn’t the reason you want to sit down and watch The Rock, however. Where this film excels is in pure entertainment. Michael Bay is often mocked for his penchant for pyrotechnics, seasoning scenes with overt amounts of destruction, explosions and this film is no different. One scene which particularly stands out is the car chase sequence at the end of the first act in which Mason tries to make an escape from the FBI by literally driving a humvee into, and through, every vehicle in his way whilst yelling hilarities like “I hope you’re insured!” to the unseen, undoubtedly mortally wounded civilians. What is perhaps even more impressive is that almost every vehicle seems to blow up inexplicably into a fireball upon collision, with crash sequences cutting to show the devastation from almost every possible angle. It is sensationalistic, bombastic nonsense and damn, if it isn’t fun to watch.
One of the great developments throughout the film is the arc of Cage’s character, Dr. Stanley Goodspeed. At the start of the film, Goodspeed is selfish and cowardly, acting awkwardly in any positions of authority he stumbles into. He reluctantly finds himself in situations where he has to prove himself and overcome his cowardice, usually preceded by him talking to himself like a crazy person, or losing his mind at Mason. It is just the right amount of crazy-Cage one needs as Goodspeed divulges in enough little arbitrary details mid-freak out to make you worry about his sanity — for instance, at gunpoint he yells the question “glass or plastic?” at his potential executioner multiple times, to deduce once he dies whether he would rather be turned into a glass bottle or a plastic bag. Madness! Whether by the creativity of the writing (unlikely) or the genius of Cage’s performance (likely), these little snippets of insanity thread their way throughout and make for an unpredictable and rather hilarious watch.
The relentless Hans Zimmer score was another highlight for me. Whilst Zimmer’s compositional style has arguably matured somewhat in the past decade and a half, his brilliant use of themes remains intact. It was really interesting to hear this after The Dark Knight Rises which makes great use of silence at key times in order to heighten tense sequences — no such subtlety here. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in this case either, with the over-the-top nature of the film it seems fitting to have a score which matches ridiculousness of the subject. It was also no surprise for me to hear that Harry Gregson-Williams points to this Zimmer score as inspiration for the music of the Metal Gear Solid series, which uses a similar mix of synthesised elements and traditional ‘Hollywood Strings’ to great effect.
The Rock is fun, pure and simple. It is over-the-top in every way and should be appreciated as such. It probably helps that it arrived in my life at precisely the right moment in time, where the notion of zoning out and watching a mindless action movie was the perfect antidote for a few weeks of relentless work, but nevertheless carries my full recommendation.
D’you like the Elton John song, Rocket Man?