Spherical Panavision - 1.85:1
Screenplay by: Richard Whitley, Russ Dvonch and Joseph McBride
Directed by: Allan Arkush
Starring: P.J. Soles, Vincent Van Patten, Clint Howard, Dey Young, Mary Woronov, Paul Bartel, Dick Miller, Don Steele, Alix Elias, Daniel Davies, Loren Lester, Lynn Farrell, Herbie Braha, Grady Sutton, The Ramones (Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, Marky), Chris Somma, Marla Rosenfield, Barbara Ann Walters, Terry Soda, Joe Van Sickle
Rock 'N' Roll High School has always been a favorite film of mine. This energetic, wacky, outrageous comedy is the perfect example of what happens when you make a low-budget film and everything goes right! What you get is not only one of the best low-budget movies of all times, but probably one of the best teen comedies as well! The story takes place at Vince Lombardi High School, where rock 'n' roll music takes a definite precedence over education. The students love rock 'n' roll music more than anything else, and student leader/troublemaker Riff Randell (P.J. Soles) - The Ramones number one fan - makes sure that everyone gets their daily dose. Unfortunately, this cavalier attitude towards education does not sit well with the school's new, menacing, rock 'n' roll hating principal, Miss Evelyn Togar (Mary Woronov). With the aid of her two dorky henchmen hall monitors, Fritz Hansel and Fritz Gretel (Loren Lester, Daniel Davies), she promises to end this musical fascination once and for all. Of course, Riff and her friends won't let Miss Togar stand in their way, especially when The Ramones come to town to put on a concert and eventually become honorary members of the school! Some of the other characters you'll meet on your journey include Riff's best friend Kate Rambeau (Dey Young), a plain-Jane nuclear-physicist-type (literally) attracted to star quarterback Tom Roberts (Vincent Van Patten). Eaglebauer (Clint Howard) runs Eaglebauer Enterprises, which supplies students with literally anything they want, from fake I.D.s, to test results, to make-out lessons and dates (his office is in the school's bathroom, and comes complete with his own secretary). Also appearing in the film is the ever-delightful Paul Bartel as music teacher Mr. McGree, who goes from Beethoven to The Ramones during the course of the film; Los Angeles radio personality Don Steele (The "Real" Don Steele) as Screamin' Steve; and another neat cameo by New World favorite Dick Miller as the Police Chief. Rock 'N' Roll High School is just a terrific film from beginning to end, and this is thanks to the obvious chemistry between the cast members, not to mention the wonderfully irreverent script (which I can absolutely relate to, since I tend to have a completely irreverent attitude to most things as well). Even though The Ramones were not the director's initial choice for the rock band, their songs and general looks and attitudes were perfect for this picture, and it's impossible to imagine any other group in this movie. There was a lot of talent behind the screen as well: the Director of Photography was Dean Cundey, who moved on to such pictures as Jurassic Park; directors Joe Dante and Jerry Zucker also directed portions of the film; and makeup artist Rob Bottin even created this amazing giant mouse costume for the film (for which he got paid $50.00 and a credit). And don't forget to keep your eyes open - there are sight gags hidden in nearly every corner of the screen!
Lumivision released this outstanding DVD edition of Rock 'N' Roll High School on June 4, 1997, and it contains all the supplementary materials that were available on their laserdisc release released a few months previously. While the film previously existed only in horrible, worn out, dreadful looking prints, Lumivision was able to use the original film negative for both the laserdisc and DVD transfers, and the results are outstanding. Authored by AIX Entertainment, Rock 'N' Roll High School has never looked better. Originally filmed full-frame in Spherical Panavision and matted to 1.85:1 for theatrical release, Rock 'N' Roll High School also appears letterboxed with an approximate 1.75:1 aspect ratio, and the intended framing works very well. The image is much clearer than we've ever seen it, it's fairly sharp, and the colors are accurately represented and much better than we ever thought they could be. Even so, you should remember the film's ultra low-budget origins (it cost $280,000 to make) and understand that this isn't a glossy-looking Hollywood production and that the print isn't completely pristine. Although the print has an overall clear quality to it, so small marks and a couple of splices do show up. But short of going back in time and switching the film stock they used, this film looks the best it is ever going to look (and it probably looks better than it did in its initial theatrical run). For those of you who were worried about artifacts, AIX Entertainment has done a better job with the compression, and we noticed only a single, very minor artifact at the end of the film when a wall behind "Screamin'" Steve moves a little.
As is noted on the disc packaging, the audio is presented in "glorious monophonic sound," which can also be referred to as an English-language "2-channel" Dolby Digital mono mix. Contrary to the "2-channel" description that the disc displays onscreen, the audio is definitely 1-channel mono. As with the picture transfer, the audio transfer is clear and distinct and I've never heard it sound better. The disc also contains a 93m25s audio commentary by director Allan Arkush, producer Mike Finnell and screenwriter Richard Whitley on Audio Track 2 (the commentary starts before the movie itself during the opening New Horizon video logos at chapter #1). These three guys are just having way too much fun with this running commentary - their enthusiasm for the film and the LD/DVD is obvious, and since their attitudes automatically rubs off on the viewer, it makes for a wonderful listen. They are never boring and they never just sit there and simply describe what's happening onscreen (unless several other commentaries we could mention). They put forth an amazing amount of information relating to the film's production and stars, although they do generally tend to be a little lax on some technical details. They start out by talking about a joke they put into the beginning of the film over the "New World Pictures" logo, with some birds going "cheap, cheap, cheap," a reference to eternally budget-conscious executive producer/legend Roger Corman (Corman's cheapness is continually brought up time and time again throughout the course of the commentary). They discuss the various aspects of creating a story, including how they were only paid $150.00 for the script (the Writer's Guild later sued Corman and made him pay a fair fee). Various cameos in the film are talked about (such as that the infamous "freshman" continually harassed by everyone was Russ Dvonch, one of the screenwriters), as well as how they got The Ramones to be in the film and how they were during the shooting. You also find out that Joe Dante was called in to direct a few scenes (the main scene being the entire gym sequence). As far as technical details go, the two major points mentioned are the "airplane" sequence and the final explosion of the school. And there's lots more here, folks - I'm only touching the surface! The audio for the commentary is listed as being 2-channel Dolby Digital, but it again is a 1-channel monaural mix. The sound quality of the commentary is excellent, but the film's audio plays in the background just a little too loud for my tastes (I'm just nitpicking here, so take that lightly).
In a comparison between the Lumivision's earlier LD release of Rock 'N' Roll High School and the new DVD, we found the true differences to be relatively minor. While the laserdisc looks terrific (taking the original source materials into mind), the DVD looks a little bit better. The picture is a little sharper, and the colors just a little more solid since there is no chroma noise. On the other hand, although the differences in the sound quality were minor as well, I thought the soundtrack sounded just a bit more natural on the LD than on the DVD. In any event, both are excellent presentations, and you can't go wrong with either choice.
The DVD does not contain any subtitles, nor is the program closed-caption encoded.
Rock 'N' Roll High School's interactive menu allows you access to the film's chapters and various other supplementary features. The menu itself is split into three separate "pages," with the first two pages devoted to finding a selected scene through chapter descriptions. The third page is dedicated to the disc's supplementary features. "Theatrical Trailer" shows an original 2m08s theatrical trailer, letterboxed at around 1.75:1. While the trailer is in pretty good shape, the colors are mostly faded; also, the trailer features at least one alternate take (the shot which starts at Cheryl's chest and then pans up to her face). Next up is "Leonard Maltin Interviews Roger Corman," a 4m36s piece directed by Steve Gainer. Corman quickly discusses several aspects of the film's production - its "Disco High" origins, why the film works, the controversy surround the film's moral message, the cast, Corman's favorite scene, and the "sequel." Shot directly on video and presented full-frame, this interview looks and sounds fine (the audio is in mono). "Radio Spots" presents two original radio commercials for the film (30s and 29s respectively). Each is presented on the audio track over a video montage featuring William Stout's film artwork and four black & white stills. The audio recordings date back from 1979, and the sound quality is fair; also the audio on the second commercial has some problems, and fades in and out for a few seconds. This is followed by "Original Audio Outtakes" taken from The Ramones' concert sequence. This live performance audio was recorded on December 14, 1978 at Los Angeles' Roxy Theater, and none of the audio heard in this segment was used in the final film (The Ramones' later overdubbed it for the final mix). These outtakes presented are for "Blitzkrieg Bop," "Teenage Lobotomy," "I Wanna Be Sedated," "California Sun," "Pinhead," "She's the One" and "Sheena is a Punk Rocker." This outtakes sequences runs 15m33s, and the audio is presented over another video montage feature nine black & white still (some, if not all, which are publicity photos) as well as a 2 "page" opening text description of the materials. The last song fades out over a Lumivision logo. The monaural audio is a little muffled, but it's basically okay considering the original source. Strangely, the entire supplementary section also features a second audio track, which is completely silent (this is likely just a carryover from the earlier audio commentary presented on Audio Track 2). I should also mention that unlike several other discs which feature commentaries, there is no menu selection to automatically choose the appropriate audio track and start the commentary - there is only a very small blurb on both the booklet and the back cover mentioning the commentary.
For all the good things that I've said about this disc, there are a couple of problems with it...or maybe we should call them "oversights" by AIX. The biggest problem is that the disc lacks both onscreen time elapsed listing and chapter encoding - you never know how far into the film you are, and forget about figuring out what chapter you are on. While the disc is chapter encoded internally - you can skip from chapter to chapter, or enter a chapter number and go directly to it - all of the chapters listed on the booklet are off by one (i.e., "Opening Credits" are located at chapter #2, not chapter #1). It's more of an annoyance than anything else, and if you like Rock 'N' Roll High School, you shouldn't let this dissuade you from picking up the disc. Hopefully this problem will be fixed for future repressings of the disc, but in the meantime, I highly suggest accessing the menu options to select your chapters.
This DVD is "Available in North America," which means that it has apparently been encoded for Region 1 players only. Rock 'N' Roll High School has been packaged inside a standard, compact disc "jewel box," and the four-page booklet included within contains a listing of all 40 chapter markers.
Review by Jeff Krispow
Original Review: 06/27/97
Last Updated: 08/22/97