The Blu-Ray Dissection: School of Rock
Posted by Chad Webb on 09.08.2012
One of Jack Black's most popular comedies has been upgraded to Blu-Ray. Check out my article to find out if the new edition is worth the money...
Jack Black: Dewey Finn
Mike White: Ned Schneebly
Joan Cusack: Rosalie Mullins
Sarah Silverman: Patty Di Marco
Miranda Cosgrove: Summer Hathaway
Joey Gaydos Jr: Zack Mooneyham
Directed By: Richard Linklater
Written By: Mike White
Theatrical Release Date: October 3, 2003
Blu-Ray Release Date: August 28, 2012 (Best Buy Exclusive)
Running Time: 108 minutes
Rated PG-13 for some rude humor and drug references
In the pantheon of rock comedies, The School of Rock might not be considered the preeminent example of the sub-genre, but it's still a satisfying piece of family entertainment. I don't know of many people who would label this a classic, or the best work from any who were involved, but it does serve its purpose. If you've ever heard someone say "That was a nice movie," they were talking about titles such as School of Rock. Jack Black's shtick tends to wear on the viewer towards the end of the film, but this is also the most accessible example of what he brings to the realm of comedy. For director Richard Linklater, this represented a period where he sought out mainstream material despite it not accentuating his talent as clearly as it could have. Although formulaic, this does succeed in being fairly hysterical, heartwarming, and exuberant.
Kicked out of his band because his on-stage antics become too much of a liability, failed rock guitarist Dewey Finn (Jack Black) is then left without a job, unable to pay rent, and a slim chance of competing in the local "Battle of the Bands" competition. To make matters worse, his house-mate and friend Ned (Mike White) is threatening to toss him out after pressure from his shrewish girlfriend (Sarah Silverman). Ned happens to be a substitute teacher, and one day while he is away, Dewey gets a call requesting Ned for a long-term open position at a prestigious prep school. Dewey shows up presenting himself as Ned and is fully prepared to avoid any hard educating in favor of letting the kids have recess and collecting a paycheck. That changes when he observes one of their music classes. A light bulb appears over his head as he gets an idea to turn all of his students into a killer rock 'n' roll group he can enter into the band contest. Of course this proves to be easier said than done since he must keep everything a secret from the parents and especially Principal Mullins (Joan Cusack).
In 2003 Jack Black had already starred in a few comedies, most notably Shallow Hal, but as terrific as that Farrelly brothers offering is, it did not adequately illustrate Black's talent. He would get more attention with his supporting roles, particularly the scene-stealing ones in Orange County and High Fidelity. That would propel him to The School of Rock, which channeled his wild gyrations, manic energy, and comfortably brisk wit and exhibited them through the body of a congenial, feel-good affair. For a funnyman hoping to become a superstar, this project was incredibly fortunate for Black's career. Calling him a household name after this might be generous, but he was a name nonetheless. His performance here is a double-edged sword however. Due to the fact that the minor characters do not really help with eliciting laughter, Black must carry that weight by himself and as a result, a Jack Black break is needed when the final credits roll. Having said that, Black does indeed shine and it's tough not to chuckle at his enthusiasm even if you're not a fan of his style. Black's part of Tenacious D, his affinity for classic rock, and his comments on the state of music all verify that Dewey Finn draws upon Black's personal interests. This persona was tailor made for him. His passion for the subject matter and communicating the knowledge is evident every step of the way. This fervor is contagious and quickly reaches the audience.
In many respects, Jack Black is simply playing a version of himself with the volume cranked up, but that's not necessarily a detriment. He establishes chemistry with the rest of the cast, which is impressive when you remember that several of the kids were untrained actors. While it is true that most of the students are stereotypes, the majority of them embraces the clichés eagerly and come out with some memorable one-on-one moments with Black. Take Lawrence, the gifted young pianist played by Robert Tsai (who actually lives up the street from my in-laws), who voices his worry about others not thinking he's cool. Black reassures him that his abilities will change that and proceeds to show him the longest secret handshake in history. Other jocular exchanges occur between Dewey and Zack (Joey Gaydos Jr.), the shy yet proficient guitarist. Black demonstrating that Zack needs to loosen up and look crazy is hilarious. Joan Cusack is passable as the strict Principal Mullins, but the Stevie Nicks jukebox sequence proves that she was underutilized from a comedic standpoint. It's as if Linklater and company were restricting Cusack to ensure that Black is the sole source of merriment. The same could be said of screenwriter Mike White's Ned Schneebly and his girlfriend Patty, depicted by Sarah Silvervman. Both are sufficient, but only just.
The School of Rock was a triumph both critically and financially, probably moreso than you might believe. It garnered a rating of 82 (Universal acclaim) on Metacritic and raked in four times its budget from the box office. This was precisely what Richard Linklater was looking for in 2003. He gained respect and a cult following from independent films, but wider recognition was discovered with this assignment. He had just made what is easily his least seen (and underrated) venture< Tape and his first rotoscope feature Waking Life before that. My deepest appreciation of Linklater stems from his versatility and while this change of pace might not have won the hearts of his fans dating back to Slacker, it did cement that he can play anyone's ballgame. There are no extraordinary filmmaking techniques on display, but the cinematography from Rogier Stoffers was completed with optimism and aplomb and the pacing was nimble and vivacious. Mike White predominantly clings to television (Freaks and Geeks) when penning scripts, but he has dabbled in cinema from time to time, including Orange County in 2002. He and Black certainly work well together and White has a solid sense of timing, but he stumbles with character development and avoiding the hackneyed aspects of an amiable storyline.
Upon sitting down to review this Blu-Ray it marked my third viewing of The School of Rock. This time I started thinking about the music industry today, what youngster's flock to, and whether or not the teaching philosophy of Dewey Finn would be effective in contemporary classrooms what with music programs in danger at schools throughout the nation. I would not say that there are zero cool teachers comparable to Dewey inspiring the minds of our youths, but I do feel that The School of Rock is mostly fantasy. Yes, the "Battle of the Bands" climax is a harmless plot contrivance, but the joy in watching this movie is the idea that a person could break all the rules to enlighten kids as to what mastering an instrument can do for their confidence or how the language of rock can motivate and even soothe us. I viewed this with a slight melancholy, wishing lively lessons such as those in the film became a reality on a more regular basis. If this were common, schools and modern music would look a little different. Even if finding an educator like Dewey is akin to unearthing buried treasure, The School of Rock is still an enjoyable crowd-pleaser (a term I dislike using, but hey). It's not perfect and it won't be everybody's go-to music comedy, but on a rainy day this is a delightful waste of time. And just think, if Dewey had remained with his first band, Maggot Death, instead of the generic No Vacancy, this might be called The School of Metal. Wait, that would be a better movie...nevermind.
This 2003 film debuts on Blu-Ray with a solid 1080p MPEG-4 AVC transfer with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, though it's hardly anything to get excited about. If the movie is more than 5 years old and not considered a classic, the quality of the picture will always be up in the air. This is a brightly colored piece, but the high-definition upgrade will not knock you socks off. If anything, I'd say this looks a bit dark, but basically it's plain. There is good detail to be found and while the textures and shades are not profound, the costumes, album covers, and overall set design comes across as natural and sharp. Facial clarity is excellent and I detected no visible grain. You will not have any issues with banding, edge enhancement, or other dilemmas. This is a nice film to look at, and the video is acceptable all around, but one wonders if it could have been a bit better.
The sound department is consistent and well handled. Obviously this contains a lot of music and all the tunes come from the speakers with crispness and clarity. I will say that the performances do not overwhelm the actors. The guitar riffs, bass, and drums are not excessively loud, but the general volume could have been tweaked a little. I had to increase the volume a lot more than is customary for a Blu-Ray, The colors do not bleed, but are appropriately vivid and the black levels are deep. Where the audio truly flexes its muscles is the music of course. The feature is saturated with excellent songs, including random jam sessions between Black and the students and by the end you'll respect the immersive presentation. Between that and casual conversations, everything is spread evenly throughout the channels. Background noise is satisfactory and all the characters were lucid and understandable once the volume adjustments were made. You will receive the following audio tracks: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 in English, Dolby Digital 5.1 in French, Dolby Digital 5.1 in Spanish, and a Dolby Digital 5.1 in Portuguese. And subtitles in: English, English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
The School of Rock is distributed in a standard slimline blue keep case with no inserts to speak of. All you get is the disc and the case. The menu screens contain still images from the movie with a chalkboard theme. They are easy to navigate.
*There are no new extras for this Blu-Ray release, but at least all of the original material from the standard DVD release has been recycled here.
Audio Commentaries - We have two available. One is with director Richard Linklater and Jack Black. This is the more technical of the two, but not overly so with Black making it fun and loose. The basic areas are covered: versions of the script, actor praise, deleted scenes, and alternate endings. They also joke a good bit and mention coming up with excuses for Dewey to be a sub. The second has seven of the young performers from the film adding their thoughts. I'm not sure why anyone would want to listen to this the entire way through, but you can if you want. They point out their favorite scenes, compliment one another and mock other members of the cast. This is one of those commentaries that was probably a blast for those involved but little more than quick chuckle for us to hear.
Lessons Learned on "School of Rock" (24:50) - This is a conventional "making-of" bonus, but it does provide some nifty tidbits for those curious. You have interviews from most of the cast, not to mention Richard Linklater, music consultant Jim O'Rourke, and writer Mike White. This focuses mainly on Jack Black, but they discuss having articles in film titles, the musical background of the kids, and a clip from a cut sequence.
Jack Black's Pitch to Led Zeppelin (3:36) - This is the star's attempt to obtain permission from Led Zeppelin to use "The Immigrant Song" in the film. He gathers a bunch of extras to help in cheering the band on to agree. Ultimately it was successful as Black comments before and after and then shows the clip from the film.
"School of Rock" Music Video (3:39) - This is the band from the movie performing their hit song in music video form intercut with scenes from the flick.
Kids Video Diary: Toronto Film Festival (8:14) - This showcases Dewey's band as they prepare for the movie premiere, study with a tutor, field questions, attend the after party, etc and so forth.
MTV's Diary of Jack Black (16:32) - This is basically a day in the life of Black at that point as he rehearses for the film, has a Tenacious D jam session with Kyle Gass. This is directed by Liam Lynch, who also collaborated with Black on some Tenacious D projects.
Theatrical Trailer (2:25) - They give us the widescreen preview for the film in HD.
*On a side note, during the montage where Dewey is schooling the kids on rock, he creates a map on the chalkboard. While this was neat, it was done better in the VH1 series Metal Evolution. An interactive version of this was available on the DVD-ROM extras of the original standard disc; you can still find it in some form on the Blu-Ray. Just thought I'd mention that.
The Film: 7.5/10.0
The Video: 8.0/10.0
The Audio: 8.0/10.0
The Packaging: 7.5/10.0
The Extras: 7.0/10.0
The 411: The School of Rock is a by-the-numbers family film, but it's also very funny, adeptly made, and sweet. I don't expect to watch this repeatedly as I get older, but you never know when in you're in the mood for Black's antics. This is his quintessential offering as a comic actor. Even though he is better in small doses, if someone unfamiliar with his style was curious to give him a shot, I would recommend this. It is a safe, yet heartfelt way to spend a couple hours. The Blu-Ray is pretty much just an upgrade in picture and sound. Those have improved, but in my opinion not nearly enough to warrant a second purchase by those who already own this on DVD. The extras are well done and interesting, but there is nothing new, which is disappointing. This is the epitome of an average Blu-Ray release. This was not available on the format yet, so they simply spruced it up and tossed it in stores just to get it over with. It could have been worse I suppose. If you enjoy this film and have not previously bought it, this is your opportunity. Chances are it won't be that expensive.