The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

A Symposium on The Rock

Written by: The CinCitizens

Like A Rock? – by Rob Van Winkle 


Let the discussion begin.

When James Hittinger submitted his most recent article, into my inbox came an attached text file entitled “The Rock.” Thinking that he had done it again and written an article that I thought was way overdue, I tucked in to what I THOUGHT was a Crapfest piece on the Bruckheimer/Bay/Cage/Connery movie of the same name. As it turns out, his piece was completely different . And while his article is still very strong and interesting, I could not help but be a bit disappointed at what I was NOT reading. A handful of emails later, and James and I are commencing with CC2K’s second ever symposium on films from our formative years .

As before, the most profound thing that jumps out at me is how excited I was when I first started hearing about it. It had the best premise for an action movie in years (terrorists take over Alcatraz, and to break in, they must employ the help of the only man who had ever broken OUT.), and featured Sean Connery in a role that was absolutely perfect for him (the aforementioned former escapee). The trailers that hit the airwaves indicated that no expense had spared, and that the end product was going to be wall-to-wall awesomeness.

The one question mark to the film was Nicolas Cage starring in an action role. Before The Rock, Cage was considered a serious performer in dramatic and romantic roles, who had just won an academy award for Leaving Las Vegas. I think the popular assumption was that this was his “payday” movie, a project that often follows award recognition for actors, where they cash in on their new cachet for one movie, to bankroll future risks. However, after The Rock, it would be another 13 movies (!) before Cage again attempted a challenging role (2002’s Adaptation, a good job in a terrific movie, made all the more remarkable by the fact that we had all forgotten by that point that the dude knew how to act.)

The Cage concern was ultimately insignificant, because The Rock delivered on all cylinders. It was fun, and exciting, and action-packed. It was, in other words, a prototypical blowjob movie . Here are the things that stand out in my mind today:

    1. The names of the leads: John Mason was a KICKASS name for Sean Connery’s former British secret service agent, made all the more awesome for how utterly shitty Nic Cage’s biologist character’s name was: Stanley Goodspeed. Seriously, What the fuck?

    2. That car chase: James wrote about this scene specifically in his car chase compendium , but a few details stick out in my mind:
        a. The Wolfgang Puck lookalike cast as the effeminate douchebag owner of the Hummer, bitching to a valet about to park his car in a way that made it clear that it was soon to be scrap metal.
        b. Nicholas Cage (as a non-combat operative, remember) saying “Oh well why NOT?” right before he decides to drive his stolen sports car through a building. (like any of us would do.)
        c. A very UN-funny moment at the end of the chase, where some old cable car driver was screaming about the loss of his trolley, nonetheless meant to be a comic button on the scene.

    3. Speaking of un-funny comic relief, there was also that big guy on the Alcatraz tour, who becomes one of the prisoners, and when the cages close, shouts “What kind of a FUCKED UP TOUR is this?” Even at the time, I recognized that as something that was intended to be funny, though wasn’t.

    4. Those little green balls of death: now THOSE things were damn scary. There’s nothing more menacing for my money than something as breakable as a Christmas light, yet as deadly as an airborne Ebola strain.

    5. Nicolas Cage's character was "a Beatlemaniac." This was thrown into the plot at the beginning, when Goodspeed spends a fortune on an original Beatles LP. This is EXACTLY the sort of detail that normally comes back at an opportune time, in an unconventional way. However, not only did his love of the Beatles NOT come back, but the only other reference to music at all was when Goodspeed kills a bad guy by shooting him with a missile, and says "You're the Rocket man." Excellent reference…to and Elton John song. Pretty sure he was never in the Fab Four…but I guess they WERE both British.

    6. Lastly, I remember the titular line of the film, uttered by Sean Connery after he successfully navigated his way through the obstacle course at the entrance to the island, “Welcome…to The Rock.” Awesome.

And yet…as much as I loved that movie when it first came out, I have to give it a failing grade in 2007. Not so much for the film itself; it is just as fun as it ever was, despite being the cinematic equivalent of eating frosting straight from the can: immediately gratifying, yet ultimately unfulfilling, while leaving a bad taste in your mouth when you’re done. The problem today with The Rock is its legacy. By this, I refer to two main things:

    1. Nicolas Cage: ACTION STAR – As I stated before, The Rock was Cage’s first popcorn flick, after a career of portraying himself as a likeable thespian. However, after this film was a hit, Cage (and his people) clearly realized that he now had two paths. Down one road, he could continue to forge a respectable, if never very glamorous, career in film. Down the other, he could take a shit on his credibility, and become a superstar by headlining in abominable crap. Which road did he choose? Let’s take a look at a sampling of his post-The Rock resume: 

        Con Air – AWFUL.

        Face/Off – Also fun at the time, also didn’t age well.

        Snake Eyes – No one who ever saw it had a good thing to say.

        8mm – James Gandolfini’s first movie role after The Sopranos. Is he proud or what?

        Gone in 60 Seconds – What was that thing he did with his hands?

If that weren’t enough, we have now watched two solid months of Cage’s attempt to break into the lucrative sequel factory known as the Super Hero movie. Ghost Rider has the potential to be the next Daredevil…and for that and all this, we have The Rock to thank.

    2. Michael Bay: MOVIE DIRECTOR – Before The Rock, Michael Bay was best known as a soft-core porn director who had scored a hit with Bad Boys. When The Rock was well-received, and did great business, it was seen as a “string of success.” Executives started throwing millions in his direction, and let him do whatever he wanted. Here’s what he did with it:

        Armageddon – Was there a single shot that lasted more than two seconds?

        Pearl Harbor – Disney’s great hope for 2001.

        Bad Boys II – I’m pretty sure it was considered one of the year’s worst.

        The Island – Despite the above, Bay’s first “Official” flop.

Even after all this, Bay is back this summer with The Transformers. I confess that the preview is fantastic , but how could I possibly expect the film to work?

So, for sins that can’t be forgiven, I’m afraid that The Rock is forever besmirched by what came next.




The Rock: the movie, not the actor and former wrestler – by James Hittinger

Deep in the primordial stew of adolescence, one movie beckoned the zit faced throng like few before.  Called simply The Rock, and directed by a former TV commercial artiste with a fine, fine head of hair, one was powerless to resist its trailers and teaser campaign, chock full of explosions and famous faces uttering non sequiturs.   

Yes, this classic piece of sinema is probably a good place to denote a new year 1, making 2007 in the Michael Bay calendar year 11.  Sure we all remember year 2, famous for not one but two ridiculous Nick Cage movies—Face/Off & Con Air—but year 1 is where the magic happened.   

Sean Connery vs. Nick Cage vs. Ed Harris vs. Alcatraz AKA The Rock.  We’ve got three characters here with both good and bad traits that we can easily accept or ignore as the mood strikes us.  In Cage we have the titular bumbling desk jockey cum action hero, a premise we’ve seen dozens of times before.  He meets his match in the suave, vengeful, and altogether lethal Connery, in the role of the titular imprisoned secret agent with a past.  They both meet their match in Harris, who plays the titular white terrorist (so it’s ok to give him a phaser setting other than “brawwww!”, right, since he’s white?) and the whole scenario plays out in the one American setting that still spooks us jaded information-age types:     

Alcatraz.  Sounds like Balthazar or Lazarus or Ozymandius.  By any estimation, a 12-15 year old boy would be helpless in the face of all this awesomeness, much as RvW stated in his take on the film.  Yet I was the one kid jaded enough already to actually perceive this film as something less-than-awesome.  For starters, I didn’t buy Nick Cage just yet as the action hero he played.  Even if he wasn’t as powerful an action hero as Connery, he still survives the film, gets the girl, and is a constant source of silly one-liners.  Plus, Cage looks like a complete doofus with his skinny build, goofy face, and laughable voice (see Con Air for how much Nick Cage must be dressed up to look remotely badass).  His bizarre physical appearance is one reason he always could play the one-off roles like Leaving Las Vegas or Raising Arizona.  We bought him as the weird guy.  And now Hollywood was expecting me to leave all that behind and just accept him as a badass?  My cynical pre-teen self simply could not accept such a premise.     


Is this James Hittinger’s enemy…or boyfriend?

So I went in to the film already hating Nick Cage and having already hated Bad Boys.  But try telling your teenaged compatriots your feelings towards a film like The Rock and you end up being called “gay” or “queer” or “fag” faster than Paris Hilton can snort a gram in a bathroom stall.  A teenaged boy—well me anyway—is a wealth of unvoiced opinions and bottled up frustrations.  I would wager that a third of those who saw The Rock in theaters failed to offer their misgivings and even said they loved it so as to appear cool.     

Fast forward to year 7.  Adaptation. had just been released, and I still harbored evil feelings for Nick Cage.  I had, by now, sat through not only The Rock, but Face/Off, Con Air, Snake Eyes, 8mm, Gone in Sixty Seconds, and Windtalkers.  But, being a Charlie Kaufman fan and knowing full well that Nick Cage is an excellent actor, I put all that behind me in a moment of unadulterated release.  Finally I could enjoy a film with Nick Cage in it.  And enjoy I did.  Adaptation. is quite possibly a top ten film of the new millennium on the old calendar.  It fulfilled all of the broken promises of Cage’s career while simultaneously poking fun at the very films he’d been making.     

So Cage and I became allies of sorts.  He and I both know that his action films were merely a rouse, a careful ploy meant to harvest dollars from the less intelligent among us.  And with that new revelation in mind, I re-watched The Rock in all its glory.  Not only did I give this classic film a new chance, but I also gave Michael Bay another shot as well —in year 9, anyway .  It’s like, “OK, I get it now, guys!  Real funny.  Real cool to nearly bankrupt me emotionally during my formative years.”  But I don’t hold a grudge and I can’t wait for National Treasure: Book of Secrets to come out later in year 11.  That will be one for the ages.