People who love classic rock (like really love classic rock) are some of the most passionate individuals in the world. If communities were half as passionate about social concerns as classic rock fans are about classic rock, the world would be a much better place. Sure, classic rock fans tend to come off as wildly pedantic, and all they want to do is talk about music that was popular 40 years ago, or how "Ted Nugent's 'Stranglehold' will melt your face right off," and nothing recorded today can even come close to the magic that was '60s and '70s rock, but, yeah, basically, there's nothing wrong with being passionate about classic rock.
In fact, the notion of the over-the-top rock music lover is universal enough that when Mike White decided he should write a screenplay for his then neighbor Jack Black about a failed rock musician spreading the good word to a bunch of sheltered, semi-privileged children, 'School of Rock' was born. The idea was so good it didn't even have to make much sense. Take the guy who wowed everyone with his vocal prowess in 'High Fidelity' and his pseudo rock 'n roll outfit, Tenacious D, have him riff on a bunch of familiar rock tunes, hand it to Richard Linklater to direct, and apparently a hit movie is in the making. Never mind that the film hinges on a plot so completely ludicrous that 'Three's Company' would have thought it too outlandish, or that Black's wattage shines so bright because he mostly shares the screen with child actors who are, let's say, still a work in progress. It's a feel-good movie; it doesn't have to make sense or be remotely plausible, as long as it puts a smile on your face.
And that's pretty much exactly what 'School of Rock' does. Essentially, the film is just 109 minutes of Black pontificating on the glory of classic rock, while his character, Dewey Finn, brings the music he loves to a generation of uninspired kids who have only been exposed to mass marketed bands popularized by the icky commercialism of today's music industry.
What's most endearing about 'School of Rock,' is the fact that the film really could not have come together in any other way. With the possible exception of Phillip Seymour Hoffman reprising his role as Lester Bangs from 'Almost Famous,' Jack Black makes it seem as if he's the only actor capable of making such a premise work. Here, Black rises above the mostly tepid screenplay and banal plotline to infuse the proceedings with such energy and vigor that the film essentially becomes 'The Jack Black Show.' Though surrounded by (musically) talented kids, they're mostly present as window dressing, or to provide Dewey Finn a captive audience and basically prevent the need for the character to break the fourth wall and directly address those viewing at home.
Backing Black up is the film's writer, Mike White, taking on the role of the weak-willed, but good-intentioned best friend who just wants to see Dewey grow up and accept some responsibility; the somewhat divisive Sarah Silverman (who is apparently a comedian's comedienne, so there's that) and the always-entertaining Joan Cusack (just take a look at her performance on Showtime's 'Shameless,' for proof) as Principal Mullins. Everyone, including the film's director Richard Linklater, is more than willing to overlook the obvious problems with the film's set up, and, like the audience, simply sit back and enjoy watching Black engage in a series of spastic monkey dances, wild vocal declarations and on-the-fly song writing that's a treat for fans of the aforementioned Tenacious D. In fact, the only thing Black's performance is missing is small walk-on roll for his musical partner, Kyle Gass, so the two can share a knowing glance.
Of course, everything is just building up to the battle of the bands competition Dewey's fraudulent substitute teacher is entering his students into. Again, like in 'High Fidelity,' Black wows behind the microphone, but here, the performance is far more saccharine and intended to tug at the heartstrings rather than serve as icing on an already strong comedic film. In comparison, this film is undeniably fun and cute, and that is a huge part of its initial success and warm critical reception. Where 'School of Rock' falters in the storytelling category, it more than makes up for it with its spirit and liveliness. In the end, the audience is presented with a film that is so eager to please that one almost wishes they could grade the film on effort alone.
Though not quite a decade old, the film is already showing some signs of age, which could have been improved with a more thorough Blu-ray transfer, but thankfully, 'School of Rock' hinges on a performance unlikely to inspire nitpicking of the transfer. Unfortunately, that's what we're here for.
The 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 codec oddly seems to get stronger and more pristine as the film progresses. In the beginning, there is a noticeable veneer of grain on the picture that is exacerbated by an abundance of soft focus shots. The effect of this leaves the picture looking dull and colors rather drab. By the end of the film, however, clarity and contrast levels seem to peak and the disc is left with a far more impressive, but still imperfect, presentation than it started out with. Whether or not this is intentional on behalf of the director and cinematographer is unclear, but given that the film is stylistically the same throughout, it seems doubtful that this was done for artistic purposes.
On the bright side, fine detail is present throughout – despite the wide disparity in contrast levels during the film's runtime. The transfer is mostly clean, noise is never an issue, and the grain that is present only serves as an indication of when the film was made. All in all, not a bad transfer, but for a film released in 2003, one would expect better.
As it has in the past, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track shows just how lovely music can sound when presented in this format – even when it's being played for laughs by Jack Black. Here, the film's audio track is at its best with rich, even musical notes being balanced out by the crisp, clear dialogue that is at the center of 'School of Rock.' Even during the big musical number, there is no hint of distortion, while the overlay of crowd noises and additional dialogue sounds genuine without diluting the efficacy of the stage performance. All in all, it's mixed very well.
There is little in the way of additional sound effects, though rear channels do come in handy on occasion to support crowd noise or the additional accent of a car's engine and other ambient noises. There is little to complain about, as dialogue is consistently clear when not spoken over a musical performance, which makes for an all around nicely done audio track.
All the supplements are in SD, and come from the previous DVD release of the film. If you've already poured over the special features on the DVD, then there'll be nothing new for you here.
Provided you're down with Jack Black's shtick, 'School of Rock' will come off as a breezy, feel-good comedy that (some crude humor aside) is appropriate for most families to watch together – especially if someone in the family has been listening to Skrillex or Insane Clown Posse and a music intervention is needed. Time has established as Black a more skilled actor than his earlier roles suggested, so taking a look back at one still considered to be among his best is interesting in that regard. This is the film that proved Black to be an unconventional leading man, and it's a must own for his fans and fans of classic rock, alike. It's not a perfect high definition transfer, and the supplements are old, but 'School of Rock' is a worthwhile addition to your Blu-ray library.