ROCK OF AGES - Blu-ray review

If you grew up with the music of the 1980's and want to relive it, you may enjoy the film. For me, I could easily have skipped both the music and the movie.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.
TimRaynor's picture

Note:  In the following joint Blu-ray review both John and Tim give their opinions of the film, with John also writing up the Video, Audio, Extras, and Parting Shots.

The Film According to John:
How could any movie fail whose screenwriters based on a hit Broadway show that most filmgoers probably didn't see or didn't care about?  How could any movie fail whose title the screenwriters based in part on a beloved Christian hymn from 1763 that has nothing whatever to do with the story?  How could any movie fail whose title the screenwriters based in another part on the name of a classic 1972 rock album by The Band that also has nothing to do with the story?  How could any movie fail whose title the screenwriters based in yet another part on the name of a popular 1983 song by Def Leppard that barely shows up in the story?  And how could any movie fail that features a tattooed Tom Cruise belting out rock-and-roll and Alec Baldwin in a fright wig?

But fail it did, despite everything it had going for it.  "Rock of Ages" barely recouped at the box office in 2012 half of what it cost to make.  "It just shows you, don't it?"  --"The Great Gatsby"

OK, to be fair, "Rock of Ages" is a musical-comedy or, better, a satire, a parody or send-up of the shallowness of the rock music and rock-club scene of the 1980's.  However, I should qualify this description of the film with another "probably" because it's hard to tell just what kind of comedy the film is, given that so little about it is actually very amusing.

Here's the thing:  Unless you grew up with the pop/rock music of the Eighties, you may not think it was especially good to begin with, and hearing it covered largely by a cast of actors, not singers, doesn't make it any better.  Nor are the plot and characters very innovative or appealing; indeed, the romance involved is downright corny, and the subplot about a drive to eradicate the evils of rock-and-roll music from the city of Los Angeles is old hat.  Adam Shankman ("The Pacifier," "Bedtime Stories") directed the film, and he already did a musical with almost the same themes, "Hairspray," which was every bit as good as this one is bad:  "Hairspray" had better music, better characters, and more fun.

Which brings up another point:  As a musical, "Rock of Ages" follows the old formula of having its cast stop every few minutes and break out into song and dance.  This is a standard Broadway musical style, unlike, say, "Almost Famous" or "School of Rock" where the music is an organic part of the story line, performed realistically within the context of the plot.  So, if you are one of those viewers who cringes when actors suddenly start singing in the middle of the street, you might not like what goes on here.  Remember, the screenwriters did base the film on a Broadway show.

OK, quickly to the plot, what little there is of it:  A lovely, innocent, naive young woman, Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough) from Oklahoma, arrives in Hollywood's Sunset Strip in search of fame and fortune as a singer.  Outside one of the Strip's clubs, the Bourbon Room, she meets a handsome young man, Drew Boley (Diego Boneta), a would-be rock singer working as a bartender.  Of course, they fall in love, they make beautiful music together, they have a major misunderstanding, and so forth; you know the routine because it's been around since the days of silent movies.  If the filmmakers were spoofing this drippy romantic formula, they seemed to be keeping it to themselves because they do it so seriously.  Ms. Hough in real life is a dancer and a country singer from Utah, so her role in the film seems almost like typecasting.  Moreover, she is one of the few people in the cast capable of projecting a decent singing voice.  Boneta, on the other hand, is a typical heartthrob and might just as well have walked in from a "Twilight" movie.  That's not bad, you understand; it's just all the script requires of him.

Then, there's Paul Giamatti as a slimy, avaricious, stereotypical snake of a rock manager; Mary J. Blige as a sympathetic nightclub owner; Catherine Zeta-Jones as a mayor's wife trying to cleanse the city of rock-and-roll; and Malin Akerman as an idealistic writer for "Rolling Stone."

The only people in the film who seem to know that it's all a put-on are Tom Cruise as an aging, irresponsible, weirded-out rock star; Alec Baldwin as the beleaguered owner of the Bourbon Room; and, most important, Russell Brand, who steals the show as the club's goofy stage manager.  If the movie had been about just these three caricatures, it might have shown more promise.

Cruise's character represents the selling-out of rock music in favor of purely commercial interests, which is what the film's major theme represents; the problem is that by now most viewers won't care.  What's more, the whole Catherine Zeta-Jones subplot practically disappears for the better part of the movie, only to reappear in a rather obvious, expected way at the end.

Of minor concern, the extended edition seemed to me to go on for about eight or ten hours; if I had to watch the film again, I'd choose the regular theatrical version.  Also, on a trivia note, even though the setting is 1987, the local Tower Records store appears to stock only vinyl LPs and cassette tapes.  I wonder if the filmmakers, in their quest for period authenticity, didn't realize that CDs appeared in America in 1983 and that by the end of the decade were a dominant force in the music industry.  There should have been at least a few CDs on display in the store.

Anyway, "Rock of Ages" is colorful, to be sure, catching all the glitz, glitter, and hair of the Eighties music scene; and the musical numbers (which obviously dominate the picture) look well staged and well choreographed, if not particularly well sung.  As I said, if you grew up with the music of the 1980's and want to relive it, you may enjoy the film.  For me, I could easily have skipped both the music and the movie.

John's film rating:  4/10

The Film According to Tim:
Have you ever watched a movie, and after it's over thought, "What on earth did I just watch?"  Well, that's what I would ask about "Rock of Ages."  Perhaps it works fine for a Broadway play, but as a film, it's a chaotic nightmare.   It isn't that I don't enjoy musicals; I just enjoy them when they're good and keep grounded to a plot line.  "Rock of Ages" suffers from too many plots going on at the same time, which causes too many moments of drag time.  The characters are far too clich├ęd and completely over-the-top in respect to acting, but I will say the 80's were a commercialized period of glam.   Perhaps it fits, but that era is only represented in a small fraction of time in the movie.

Keep in mind, other pop music was popular at the time, too, such as that of Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Cindy Lauper.  "Rock of Ages" focuses on the hard-rock scene and all the hair-metal music of the time, such as Van Halen, Def Leppard, The Scorpions, Motley Crue and Bon Jovi.   The movie only shows us a one-way window in music of the time, and it at least shows us how silly and immature it really was.  It was a time of parachute pants, ripped-up T-shirts, spandex, and big hair.  Granted, the owners of Aqua Net hair spray made out like bandits back then.  Having lived through the 1980's, and I actually was in a cover band playing lead guitar in 1987, and I can admit the hair-metal culture of the time was very extreme and complete overkill.   It was certainly fun at the time, and the majority of us took it very seriously, but musically it doesn't really stand the test of time.    If you have to look back at your own generation and ask, "What was I thinking?" then it cannot be good.  

"Rock of Ages" has an all-star cast that includes Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand as two owners of the Bourbon Room night club in Hollywood.  We also have Diego Boneta as Drew Boley, a young man trying to break into the music scene and falls in love with a girl from the Midwest, Julianne Hough as Sherrie Christian.   Tom Cruise plays Stacee Jaxx, a typical stereotyped rock singer who is everything you would expect:  a huge ego, drugged up, and too strange to understand.  And managing Stacee is the usual low-life music manager, here played by Paul Giamatti.  Already we have three different plot points to follow, but let's add one more monkey wrench to the story and introduce Catherine Zeta-Jones as Patricia Whitmore, a young girl bent on stopping heavy metal music because she views it as evil and the works of Satan.

Catherine Zeta-Jones's part actually does make reference to an event that happened in 1987 when Al Gore's wife, Tipper Gore, brought her ultra-religious views to the Supreme Court in order to censor heavy-metal music or stop in altogether.  Many musicians of all kinds of musical styles, including John Denver, showed up to defend their First Amendment rights.  The result was not a huge win for Tipper Gore, but her battle did manage to place warning labels on records with explicit lyrics.  In other words, you can't stop rock-'n'-roll, and if Tipper would have kept up on history, she would have known it was a losing battle to begin with.  Nothing quite like watching the ultra wealthy waste the court's time, which I'm sure all us taxpayers paid for.

The film's main plot concerns the young couple, Drew and Sherrie, as we watch the usual love story of boy meets girl, then boy doing something dumb and managing to lose girl, and the rest of the plot is how they eventually get back together.  Sounds like about every romantic-comedy movie out there and nothing too original.  Nevertheless, the film suffers from throwing us from one plot line to the next.  And as much as the writers try to make us believe Stacee Jaxx is a character that everyone seems to love, they manage to make us [the audience] hate him.   In fact, other than the young couple, I really didn't find any other characters I would like or even connect with, even for the time period.   Overall, the plot bouncing is so bad that you actually have to watch it just to see how bad it is.

Least I mention some minor technical flaws, as the film starts from 1987: Record stores were already about 80% cassette tapes compared to vinyl records in 1987, yet the movie would make you believe LP's were still the majority then.  There was also a market for CD's that would eventually take over in a few short years and would become the standard in physical music media to this day.  Had the filmmakers set the film in 1985, I would have believed the overabundance of vinyl records.  The transition to CD's back then was rather rapid, almost overnight, and the film gets this one technical fact wrong.  It probably doesn't matter because the movie is all about some campy fun and making light of the time.  That I do get; I just don't like it being so cornball and flawed.

The title itself, "Rock of Ages," has nothing to do with the old church hymn but is the name of a song performed and written by the rock band "Def Leppard" in 1982.  The song was a common staple among rock radio of the time, and an even bigger story is when Def Leppard's drummer, Rick Allen, lost his arm in a car accident.  The band would go on a hiatus for a few years while their drummer would learn to use modern electronics to make up for his missing arm.  To this day, Rick Allen is still a member of Def Leppard, they still make records and play arenas around the world, and they are quite literally the only rock band in history with a one-armed drummer.

Music in the 1980's was all about how we took a good thing [rock-'n'-roll] and turned it into trailer trash.  I don't mean that in a bad way, but if you observe where rock music came from, the 1980's was like having a volume control and turning it up past eleven.  Everything from musical style to fashion was amplified to the extreme, and pop music itself was all about corporate interests and what could sell platinum records.  The radio alone was filled with catchy songs with a hook, especially when it came to the hair-metal bands.  Back then, MTV actually played music videos and hard rock dominated the time slots.  The music then seemed serious enough to us fans, and we believed we were hearing the greatest rock of all time.  All that changed, though, as the times changed and the music with it.

The movie, "Rock of Ages" would make you believe "Boy Bands" ruined the rock music of the 1980's, but they are far from the truth.  In reality, it was a band named "Nirvana" that destroyed hair-metal in the 80's.  At the beginning of the 1990's, Seattle bands started what is known as "Grunge Rock," and it dominated through the 1990's and beyond.  The style literally ruined bands of the 1980's because Grunge Rock was all about a darker side, a bit more melancholy, emotional and depressing compared to 80's metal, which was about having a good time, getting drunk, chasing women, having more sex than a porn star, and committing one sin after the next.  Nevertheless, Grunge Rock is more grounded and natural, and it is probably a better parallel to rock that was happening in the 1960's and 1970's. 

While I'm sure the "Rock of Ages" filmmakers were just trying to show us a fun, gleeful look at a narrow window into the 1980's, it fails by going too over the top and delivering too many subplots that never stay grounded.  I would have to say "Rock of Ages," in my opinion, is one of the worst films of 2012, yet it does show just how overly silly the music and style was at the time.  I did find a couple laughs, but I later realized the movie might have been funnier after drinking a few cocktails.  Perhaps the filmmakers intended for the audience to be liquored up before viewing the film, and considering the target audience, it would make sense.

One may ask, "Where are all of those old hair-metal bands today"?  Surprisingly, many of them still make records, play smaller venues, and every now and then make radio and interview appearances.   Some bigger acts from the 1980's, such as Bon Jovi and Van Halen still sell out large arenas, mainly due to a big fan base that refuses to let go or grow up.  If that's not surprising enough, there are still bands from the 1970's that play huge arenas and make albums, groups like Aerosmith and Rush.   Be that as it may, there are many smaller bands of the time that have faded into the sunset, and many musicians that wound up working a normal job like all the rest of us.  Fame does seem to have that unfortunate flaw, as it doesn't last forever.   

If you truly want to admire the 1980's, then by all means, buy some music of the time or rent some old movies made during the era.  There are many fun times to enjoy during that period; I just don't feel "Rock of Ages" does it any justice and basically further demonstrates how embarrassing the whole culture was.   There was nothing gleeful about arrogant musicians who took everything way too seriously and turned music into a sports competition rather than just sticking to the heart of the music itself, which is something you will not see in this movie.  Even though that egotistical competition did spawn some of the best rock guitar players ever heard, it really wasn't the pleasant and joyful experience "Rock of Ages" would have you believe.  If we can learn anything from the film, it is that nothing lasts forever, yet there are many things that stay the same.

Tim's film rating:  3/10

The folks at New Line reproduce the movie in its native aspect ratio, 2.40:1, using a dual-layer BD50 and an MPEG-4/AVC codec.  Nevertheless, despite their best intentions, they can't do much with the original source material, which looks slightly soft, dull, flat, and veiled in the manner of most digital screen photography.  Colors show up realistically enough, given that most of the movie takes place indoors under colored lights or at night in dimly lit areas.  Still, the image is extremely clean, so if that is your main priority, that's what you get.

Using lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, the New Line sound engineers provide a load of surround activity from the very beginning of the movie, primarily crowd noise and ambient musical bloom.  They also deliver fairly natural-sounding voices, a big dynamic impact, and dead-quiet backgrounds.  Most of all, though, they offer a ton of loud, as you would expect from a movie featuring rock music.

The first extra you'll find on the Blu-ray disc is the choice of the regular theatrical cut of the film (123 minutes, rated PG-13) or the extended edition (136 minutes, rated R for "some sexual content") that I watched.  Next, you get a thirty-minute featurette, "Rock of Ages:  Legends of the Sunset Strip," with real-life rock stars like Def Leppard, Poison, Whitesnake, Twisted Sister, etc., reliving the era.  After that is another featurette, "The Stories We Sing," thirteen minutes of behind-the-scenes tales that take you behind the rock songs.  Then, there's a series of brief featurettes, "Defining a Decade," on the making of the film, plus a music video, "Any Way You Want It," with Mary J. Blige, Constantine Maroulis, and Julianne Hough.

The extras on the BD conclude with thirteen scene selections; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese spoken languages on the theatrical cut and English only on the extended version; French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.

Finally, because this is a Combo Pack, you get not only the Blu-ray disc but a DVD and UltraViolet access (the offer expiring October 9, 2014).  The two discs come housed in a flimsy Eco-case, further enclosed in a cardboard slipcover.

Parting Shots:
If you're expecting a joyous tribute to rock music along the lines of "Almost Famous" or "School of Rock" or even a spoof of rock music like "This Is Spinal Tap," you may find "Rock of Ages" disappointing.  The 80's music it highlights is not all that good, the actors covering the music are not all that good, the characters are not all that good, and the story is not all that good.  Which leaves us with, well, not a very good movie.


Film Value