“For those about to rock, I salute you.”
Note: In the following joint Blu-ray review both John and Tim provide their opinions of the film, with John also writing up the Video, Audio, Extras, and Parting Thoughts.
The Film According to John:
I’ve never given Jack Black much thought. Although he’s been around movies and television for the past few decades, he started mostly in minor or supporting roles, where I hardly noticed him. Then there were the voice characterizations in various screen animations, which I enjoyed; some wholly forgettable starring parts in things like “Shallow Hal,” “Nacho Libre,” and “Gulliver’s Travels”; his leading role in the “King Kong” remake, where he reminded me of a young Orson Welles; and this 2003 film, “School of Rock,” which is still probably my favorite Jack Black vehicle.
“School of Rock” gives Black a chance to do what he does best: Be a chubby, manic, warmhearted, unpredictable wild man in the John Candy, John Belushi mold. The surprising thing to me is that Richard Linklater directed the movie, surprising because I usually think of Linklater as a filmmaker of more subtle tastes, doing things like “Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset,” “Fast Food Nation,” “Waking Life,” “A Scanner Darkly,” and “Bernie.” But then I remembered he also made “Dazed and Confused,” another film about school life that was raucous, truthful, and heartfelt. Apparently, he’s a more successfully eclectic filmmaker than I recalled.
In “School of Rock” Black plays Dewey Finn, a dedicated rocker, a guy for whom music is life. It’s just that he’s not a very good musician, and he’s too much of an egotistical scuzzball to recognize how destructive he can be. As a result, his band has voted to kick him out and replace him with someone more sensible. What’s more, Dewey hasn’t paid his rent to old friend and roommate Ned Schneebly (Mike White, who wrote the film) in months, and Schneebly’s rigidly uptight girlfriend Patty (Sarah Silverman) wants Ned to kick him out of the apartment. What’s poor Dewey to do?
Dewey hits upon a scheme. Ned is a substitute teacher and gets a call for a job one day at a prestigious, private, upper-class elementary prep school; Dewey takes the call and accepts the job for himself, needing the money and pretending to be Ned. But he hasn’t a clue how or what to teach in a classroom full of ten and eleven-year olds. So he decides to teach them the only thing he knows, rock and roll, and organize them into a classroom band.
You can guess the rest as he prepares the kids to participate in a Battle of the Bands contest, all the while trying to hide from the school’s principal, the ultraconservative Ms. Mullins (Joan Cusack), the fact that he’s not really a teacher.
Naturally, Dewey learns as much about himself from the kids as he teaches them about rock-and-roll music. This is Jack Black front and center at all times, and his extrovert personality works perfectly for the part. He makes the kids feel important, and they help restore his self-confidence. Dewey even throws in some rock history and rock appreciation in his teaching, which is kind of cute, considering it as a metaphor for how little young people know anything about their own culture.
The movie has a few slow spots in it but otherwise displays a strong forward momentum, again thanks to Black. More important, though, it’s funny, Black is tiptop, and the kids are appealing, not precious. It’s a high-energy movie and a joyous one, too, with a soundtrack filled with great old tunes from the likes of Kiss, the Clash, Cream, the Doors, AC/DC, The Who, The Ramones, Metallica, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Nicks, T-Rex, Velvet Underground, and a slew of others.
John’s film rating: 7/10
The Film According to Tim:
I guess if you had to think of a film as being charming and obnoxious at the same time, you might arrive at “School of Rock.” I look at it as a “beauty-and-the-beast” type film: the kids being the beauty and Jack Black being the obvious beast.
No matter how humorous and outrageous the moments are in this film, I still can’t understand Jack Black. He seems to be very animated but in an insane manner that is somewhat close to vicious. I think he best falls into the category of past greats such as John Belushi, Sam Kinison, or Chris Farley. He definitely plays the party-animal role to perfection. Hopefully, Black is not headed down the same path as any of those past greats, though. He certainly has an immense field open to him for these kinds of roles, but I fear he may become a victim of stereotyping. I will admit, however, he plays the half-cocked, head-banging boozer role very well.
The kids are very charming on their own, too, and literally do more than enough to keep the film from becoming a complete disaster. They add such a pleasant balance that it gives the film a bit of warmth and subtle grace. I liked the combination of Jack’s world colliding with the kids’ environment, even though it seemed too far-fetched to ever happen. Nevertheless, you may find yourself, as I did, far more interested in the kids than in Jack. I personally thought Jack’s humor became very redundant and lacked anything short of dynamics. If acting like a raging psycho for ninety minutes is supposed to be hilarious, then I guess I am behind the times. I found it funny at first, but then it became repetitive. I think it would be safe to say that the kids saved the movie for me. Had it not been for them, I might have completely lost interest. Without their delightful touch, this may have turned out to be the worst film Jack Black’s been in, but, instead, it’s probably his best film to date.
Jack plays Dewey Finn, a bar-band guitar player who lives off his friend Ned Schneebly (writer Mike White). Dewey and Ned used to be in a band together when Ned actually had a full head of hair. Dewey is your typical lowlife, beer-drinking, highly obnoxious party animal. At the start of the film, he gets fired from his band, and to make matters worse, he has no income. But the plot thickens as we find out his friend, Ned, works as a substitute school teacher. One morning, Dewey answers a phone call meant for Ned and decides to pose as Ned in order to get a subbing job. Dewey figures teaching can’t be all that tough and at $600 a week, what would he have to lose? Dewey arrives at a private school and is met by the school administrator, Rosalie Mullins (Joan Cusack). Rosalie is known for being a lightweight drinker, according to others. Rosalie never bothers to ask for any credentials from Dewey and escorts him directly to the classroom. I really found this part a little hard to swallow. With the way security is these days, I doubt there’s a shred of truth to what was represented in the film.
Dewey, posing as Ned, enters a room of eleven-to-twelve year old kids. Here we are introduced to a group of very charming adolescents. First, we have our soon-to-be band members, Zack on lead guitar (Joey Gaydos), Freddy Jones on drums (Kevin Alexander Clark), Lawrence on keyboards (Robert Tsai), and Katie on bass (Rebecca Brown). Of course, Dewey plays as the band’s lead singer and second guitar player. The amazing thing about the kids in the band is that they actually play musical instruments. They truly are a bunch of talented kids with a lot of spirit. Let me not forget the little ham that steals the show, Summer Hathaway (Miranda Cosgrove). Summer is the perfect example of a growing control freak. She’s very clever and even blackmails her way into the job of “band manager.” As much as she was painted as being the little brat you should hate, I ended up loving her. Out of all the kids, Miranda Cosgrove’s part as Summer stands out the best for me. She was simply delightful, and I should think she has a bright future ahead of her.
Dewey is faced with the dilemma of wanting to show his old band members he can rock, and he needs to make enough money to pay rent to his friend Ned. Conveniently, there just happens to be a battle of the bands contest, and the winner is paid a cash prize with a recording contract to boot. I’m sure you can guess where this is going. Dewey uses the kids to create his own rock band, and along the way he teaches them the virtues and values of rock-‘n’-roll. In one of the lessons he passes out music CDs of Pink Floyd, Rush, Yes, and Jimmy Hendrix. I had a good laugh at that scene, but I also realized I was just laughing at myself since I own every CD he passed out. Dewey also teaches the children what it means to stick it to “The Man.” The Man, of course, being the government, authority, Eddie, and Miss Mullins. He shows them how to put on their mean face and stick it to “The Man”! However, all Dewey’s creative antics are soon to catch up to him, and it’s only a matter of time before he’s exposed for whom he really is.
Overall, the film is warm, charming, funny, yet predictable. I can’t say it was the gut-busting level of laughter I was expecting, but it did have a few moments. The film is best at being a simple lighthearted drama with a few moderate laughs. However, as I mentioned before, Jack’s part can be overbearing during the last half of the movie. I started out laughing at him, but by the end I could only think that Mr. Black was way out in left field. Not that I don’t appreciate the type of role he plays; it’s just that I felt I was hitting the same joke over and over. It was definitely overkill in my opinion, and it was only the kids that were able to keep a refreshing balance. No matter how strange it may be, the odd combination actually worked well. I’m not impressed with “School of Rock” as a hilarious comedy, but it does tell a cute story. It may not stand out as one of the comedy greats, but it’s no waste of time, either.
Tim’s film rating: 6/10
Using an MPEG-4/AVC codec and a dual-layer BD50, the Paramount video folks give us a picture quality that probably looks about as good as I imagine the original print to look. There are no obvious signs of their tinkering with the image, no filtering or edge sharpening, no halos, no glossiness, nothing but a clean screen, a little inherent print grain, good object delineation, realistic colors, and especially lifelike facial hues.
Surprisingly, the soundtrack doesn’t offer all that much surround activity, mostly just a good front-channel stereo spread. The engineers use lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, but maybe because a lot of the material they reproduced was in two-channel, not much in the rears came through they were willing to enhance. Anyway, expects lots of rock music surrounding even more dialogue, the rock clear and dynamic, the dialogue sounding quite natural.
The extras begin with two separate commentaries, one with star Jack Black and director Richard Linklater and the other a “Kids’ Kommentary” with seven of the young actors and actresses in the film. After those, we get a twenty-five minute making-of featurette, “Lessons Learned on School of Rock,” with the stars and filmmakers; “Jack Black’s Pitch to Led Zeppelin,” about two minutes, in which Black teasingly begs the band to use one of their songs; a “School of Rock” music video; an eight-minute “Kids’ Video Diary: Toronto Film Festival”; a sixteen-minute featurette, “MTV’s Diary of Jack Black”; and an interactive text feature, “Dewey Finn’s History of Rock.”
The extras conclude with eighteen scene selections; bookmarks; a widescreen theatrical trailer in HD; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese spoken languages and subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
Sure, “School of Rock” is a predictable fantasy, but it’s also great fun. It’s like one of those inspirational sports movies where you want to stand up and cheer at the end. More to the point, I found any number of laughs in it. I mean, what do you want from a comedy?