The Rock (1996) : No CGI Required [Mike’s Review]
Today on Cage Club we take an exclusive tour of Alcatraz in “The Rock”. We have finally transitioned into Action Cage, as this movie will kick off the Cage Action Trilogy, which happens to include some of my favorite action films ever. After the critical success of Leaving Las Vegas, Cage is now in a true blue, big budget, worldwide blockbuster movie star that will expand his exposure globally, making him an instantly recognizable household name. He has arrived. Almost. What I find interesting about Cage in this movie is he enters it as a dramatic/comedic actor playing a fish out of water type to all the burly men running around, and then he emerges from this movie out the other end as one of the tough guys with his action star image intact. He will go on to Con Air as the lead male actor, but he shares the spotlight this time with several action veterans including 007 himself, the original James Bond, Sean Connery. Connery adds so much legitimacy to this production and it totally rubs off on Cage. The two make a great pair that play off each other well and served as a nice “passing of the torch” from classic action hero to the new generation. Connery was starting his final act in Hollywood, starting in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where he pretty much sat in chairs the whole movie while Harrison Ford swung around on the whip. This time Connery is basically Old James Bond, doing all the running, rolling and fighting that would give Indy a run for his money.
The plot of this seems rather straight forward, a group of Marines stationed on Alcatraz take San Francisco hostage with chemical weapons for one million dollars. What I like about this set up is how it’s domestic terrorism on America by Americans. Don’t get me wrong, i don’t “like” domestic terrorism, but for the movie I like the idea of Americans fighting Americans. You just don’t see that very often and it makes for some interesting themes throughout the film, like what is patriotism and when are you considered a traitor. The movie doesn’t need to set up Russia or China as the “Big Bad”, it gets plenty of milage out of disgruntled Marines. These Marines, led by Ed Harris, are gonna hold San Francisco hostage for 1 Million dollars for restitutions owed to soldiers forgotten by the government. These are some pretty bad dudes too, running black ops in China led by ex-Vietnam generals. But their country has disavowed them, so they take matters into their own hands. Ed Harris steals a bunch of VX poison gas and attaches it to rockets that he has stationed on Alcatraz aka The Rock. The government needs to send in a specialist to diffuse the chemical weapons with a team of Navy Seals. Enter Stanley Goodspeed, the FBI special agent with a super human love of his job played by Nic Cage. Cage is called in to help retake “The Rock”, the only problem is there is no tactical way onto Alcatraz without being noticed. For this they look for help in the only man ever to have escaped from Alcatraz, John Mason, played by Sean Connery. He’s being held without bail for other reasons the movie reveals later and not for escaping Alcatraz, but he did escape once so they rely on him and his skills to help them diffuse the situation. Funny, I thought Clint Eastwood escaped from Alcatraz too in that movie, Escape from Alcatraz. Maybe in an early version of this script it was that character after he was caught sometime later. When everyone finally makes it to Alcatraz, the Navy Seals that escort Cage and Connery are wiped out by the Marines right away leaving the odd couple to finish the job on their own with only their wits to survive. Eventually the pair saves the day and Stanley Goodspeed matures into a full fledge field agent, possibly the best of them all.
This is by far my favorite Michael Bay movie. I don’t see a lot of the other problems with Bay’s later work that I would come to dislike such as super fast and frenetic cutting or more than one obligatory montage praising America symbolism. Michael Bay has become synonymous with the big budget, high gloss action genre and I understand why he continued to work so much after revisiting this. I am not a big fan of his style and especially don’t enjoy the Transformer movies, mostly because of the over usage of CGI. Funny enough, The Rock is one of the last non-CGI in camera “practical effects” action movies where Bay relies on good old fashioned squibs, stunt work, wires and models to pull off the illusion of deft defying action. Real fire ball explosions and no green screen compositing to be found anywhere. Michael Bay is a maestro orchestrating the action like a symphony and photographing the violence like a ballet, almost akin to the slo motion & ultra violent combination frequently used by masters of action like John Woo or even Sam Peckingpah. In just two or three years everything will change with “The Matrix” and this style of movie making will be mostly forgotten for a decade or so until the public revolts against the inability of CGI to trick the human eye as completely as the real thing did.
That does it for The Rock !!! Dang I love this movie, and Cage just fits the formula so well !!! Why am I not surprised, he seems to fit any genre or style of film so far. Next time on Cage Club we continue the Action Trilogy with another Bruckheimer production, Con Air !!! This is another in the line of the last non CGI action movies. I know for a fact there is some digital compositing going on with a model or two and a falling body ( we’ll get there ) but for the most part, Con Air is another marvelous practical effects action film I can’t wait to watch again.