The Rock (film)
The Rock is a 1996 American action thriller film directed by Michael Bay, produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, and written by David Weisberg and Douglas S. Cook. The film stars Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage and Ed Harris, with William Forsythe and Michael Biehn co-starring. It is dedicated to Simpson, who died five months before its release. The film received moderately positive reviews from critics, and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Sound at the 69th Academy Awards. It was a box office success, grossing over $335 million against a production budget of $75 million.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Michael Bay|
|Edited by||Richard Francis-Bruce|
|Distributed by||Buena Vista Pictures Distribution|
|Box office||$335.1 million|
In the film, an FBI chemist and a former SAS captain are tasked with stopping a group of rogue US Force Recon Marines who have seized Alcatraz Island, taken hostages, and threatened to launch rockets filled with nerve gas over San Francisco unless they are paid $100 million. The film plot may have inspired descriptions of weapons for the false account of the Iraqi chemical weapons program presented to the UK Secret Intelligence Service. This account was described as the justification for UK joining the Iraq War in 2003.
A group of rogue U.S. Force Recon Marines, led by disenchanted Brigadier General Frank Hummel (Harris) and his second-in-command Major Tom Baxter (Morse), storm a heavily guarded naval weapons depot and steal a stockpile of deadly VX gas-armed M55 rockets, losing one of their own men in the process. The next day, Hummel and his men — along with newly-recruited Marine Captains Frye (Sporleder) and Darrow (Todd) — seize control of Alcatraz Island, taking eighty-one tourists hostage. Hummel threatens to launch the rockets against San Francisco unless the U.S. government pays him $100 million from a military slush fund, which he will distribute to his men and the families of Recon Marines who died on clandestine missions under his command but whose deaths were not compensated.
The Pentagon and FBI develop a plan to retake the island with a U.S. Navy SEAL team led by Commander Anderson (Biehn), enlisting the FBI's top chemical weapons specialist, Dr. Stanley Goodspeed (Cage). FBI Director James Womack (Spencer) is forced to offer a pardon to federal prisoner John Mason (Connery), in return for information. Mason, a 60-year-old British national imprisoned without charges for three decades, is the only Alcatraz inmate ever to escape the island. After being set up in a hotel, Mason escapes, resulting in a car chase with Goodspeed through the streets of San Francisco. While Mason seeks out his estranged daughter, Jade (Forlani), Goodspeed arrives, but he covers for Mason by telling Jade that Mason is aiding the FBI.
Goodspeed, Mason, and the SEALs infiltrate Alcatraz but Hummel's men are alerted to their presence and ambush them in a shower room. All the SEALs, including Anderson, are killed — leaving only Mason and Goodspeed alive. Mason sees his chance to escape custody and disarms Goodspeed, but is convinced to help defuse the rockets after the Marines use explosive devices to flush them out.
They eliminate several teams of Marines and disable twelve of the fifteen rockets by removing their guidance chips. Hummel threatens to execute a hostage if they do not surrender and return the guidance chips; instead, Mason destroys the chips and surrenders to Hummel to try and reason with him as well as buy Goodspeed some time. Though Goodspeed disables another rocket, the Marines capture him. With the incursion team lost, the military initiates their backup plan: an airstrike by F/A-18s with thermite plasma, which will neutralize the poison gas and kill everyone on the island.
Mason and Goodspeed escape, after which the former explains why he was held prisoner: he was a British SAS Captain who stole a microfilm containing details of the United States' most closely guarded secrets, refusing to give it up when captured because he knew he would be killed if he did. When the deadline for the transfer of the ransom passes, Hummel is urged by his men to fire one of the rockets; at first he does this, but then redirects it to detonate at sea. Hummel, confronted by Frye and Darrow, declares the mission is over — explaining that it was all an elaborate bluff as he never had any intention of harming innocent lives. Hummel orders them to exit Alcatraz with a few hostages and the remaining rocket to cover their retreat while he assumes blame. Frye and Darrow rebel upon realizing they will not be paid their $1 million apiece, killing Baxter and mortally wounding Hummel — who tells Goodspeed where the last rocket is before dying.
Darrow and Frye proceed with the plan to fire on San Francisco. Goodspeed seeks out the rocket while Mason deals with the remaining Marines. As the jets approach, Goodspeed disables the rocket before killing both Darrow and Frye. He signals that the threat is over just as one jet drops a bomb; though no hostages are injured, Goodspeed is thrown into the sea by the blast and Mason rescues him.
Goodspeed and Mason part ways after Mason reveals the location of the microfilm; Goodspeed fakes Mason's death by telling Womack that he was killed in the bomb explosion. Sometime later, Goodspeed and his newlywed wife Carla (Marcil) are seen stealing the microfilm from a church and driving away.
- Sean Connery as Captain John Patrick Mason, Special Air Service (Rtd.)
- Nicolas Cage as FBI Special Agent Dr. Stanley Goodspeed. At one point, Arnold Schwarzenegger was to have played the role of Dr. Stanley Goodspeed. Schwarzenegger turned the role down because he did not like the script.
- Ed Harris as Brigadier General Francis X. "Frank" Hummel, USMC Force Recon
- John Spencer as FBI Director James Womack
- David Morse as Major Tom Baxter, USMC Force Recon
- William Forsythe as FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Ernest Paxton
- Michael Biehn as Commander Charles Anderson, USN SEAL
- Vanessa Marcil as Carla Pestalozzi
- John C. McGinley as Captain Hendrix, USMC Force Recon
- Gregory Sporleder as Captain Frye, USMC Force Recon
- Tony Todd as Captain Darrow, USMC Force Recon
- Bokeem Woodbine as Gunnery Sergeant Crisp, USMC Force Recon
- Greg Collins as Private Gamble, USMC Force Recon
- Brendan Kelly as Private Cox, USMC Force Recon
- Steve Harris as Private McCoy, USMC Force Recon
- Jim Maniaci as Private Scarpetti, USMC Force Recon
- Stuart Wilson as General Al Kramer
- Danny Nucci as Lieutenant Shepard, USN SEAL
- Claire Forlani as Jade Angelou
- Stanley Anderson as the President
- Xander Berkeley as Lonner
- Philip Baker Hall as Chief Justice
- Anthony Clark as Paul
- Sam Whipple as Larry Henderson
Jonathan Hensleigh participated in writing the script, which became the subject of a dispute with the Writers Guild of America. The spec script (by David Weisberg and Douglas Cook) was reworked by several writers, but other than the original team, Mark Rosner was the only one granted official credit by guild arbitration. The rule is that the credited writing team must contribute 50% of the final script (effectively limiting credits to the screenplay's initial authors, plus one re-write team). Despite their work on the script, neither Hensleigh nor Aaron Sorkin was credited in the film. The director Michael Bay wrote an open letter of protest, in which he criticized the arbitration procedure as a "sham" and a "travesty". He said Hensleigh had worked closely with him on the movie and should have received screen credit. Quentin Tarantino was also an uncredited screenwriter.
Los Angeles-based British screenwriting team Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais were brought in at Connery's request to rewrite his lines, but ended up altering much of the film's dialogue. It was Nicolas Cage's idea that his character would not swear; his euphemisms include "gee whiz." Bay had worked closely with Ed Harris to develop his character as concretely as possible, later adding a sympathetic edge to Hummel.
There were tensions during shooting between director Bay and Walt Disney Studios executives who were supervising the production. On the commentary track for the Criterion Collection DVD, Bay recalls a time when he was preparing to leave the set for a meeting with the executives when he was approached by Sean Connery in golfing attire. Connery, who also produced the film, asked Bay where he was going, and when Bay explained he had a meeting with the executives, Connery asked if he could accompany him. Bay complied and when he arrived in the conference room, the executives' jaws dropped when they saw Connery appear behind him. According to Bay, Connery then stood up for Bay and insisted that he was doing a good job and should be left alone.
Most of the film was shot on location in the Alcatraz Prison on Alcatraz Island. As a national park, it wasn't possible to close Alcatraz down, and much of the filming had to accommodate tour parties milling around. The scene in which FBI director Womack is thrown off the balcony was filmed on location at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. The filming led to numerous calls to the hotel by people who saw a man dangling from the balcony.
In the original UK DVD release, the scene in which Connery throws a knife through Scarpetti's throat and says "you must never hesitate" to Cage was cut, although the scene was shown on British television. Consequently, a later scene in which Connery says to Cage, "I'm rather glad you didn't hesitate too long," lost its impact on viewers who had not seen the first scene. Other cuts included the reduction of multiple gunshot impacts into Gamble's feet in the morgue down to a single hit; a close-up of his screaming face as the air conditioner falls onto him; a sound cut to Mason snapping a Marine's neck and two bloody gunshot wounds (to Hummel and Baxter), both near the end of the film.
Iraqi chemical weapons programEdit
A scene from the film was the basis for incorrect and false descriptions of the Iraqi chemical weapons program. Britain's Secret Intelligence Service was led to believe Saddam Hussein was continuing to produce weapons of mass destruction by a false agent who based his reports on the movie, according to the Chilcot Inquiry.
In September 2002, MI6 chief Sir Richard Dearlove said the agency had acquired information from a new source revealing that Iraq was stepping up production of chemical and biological warfare agents. The source, who was said to have "direct access", claimed senior staff were working seven days a week while the regime was concentrating a great deal of effort on the production of anthrax. Dearlove told the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), Sir John Scarlett, that they were "on the edge of (a) significant intel breakthrough" which could be the "key to unlock" Iraq's weapons programme.
However, questions were raised about the agent's claims when it was noticed his description bore a striking resemblance to a scene from the film. "It was pointed out that glass containers were not typically used in chemical munitions, and that a popular movie (The Rock) had inaccurately depicted nerve agents being carried in glass beads or spheres," the Chilcot report stated. By February 2003 – a month before the invasion of Iraq – MI6 concluded that their source had been lying "over a period of time" but failed to inform No 10 or others, even though UK Prime Minister Tony Blair had been briefed on this intelligence. According to The Independent, the false claims of weapons of mass destructions were the justification for UK's entering the war.
The film's co-writer David Weisberg said, "What was so amazing was anybody in the poison gas community would immediately know that this was total bullshit – such obvious bullshit". Weisberg said he was unsurprised a desperate agent might resort to films for inspiration, but dismayed that authorities "didn't do apparently the most basic fact-checking or vetting of the information. If you'd just asked a chemical weapons expert, it would have been immediately obvious it was ludicrous". Weisberg said he had had some "funny emails" after the report, but he felt "it's not a nice legacy for the film". "It's tragic that we went to war", he concluded.
Produced on a $75 million budget, The Rock was a smash hit, grossing a total of $134 million in the U.S. and Canada, and $201 million elsewhere, for a worldwide total of $335 million. Of the year 1996, it was the seventh-highest home-grossing film in the U.S., and the fourth highest-grossing U.S. film worldwide.
The film received mildly positive reviews from film critics. On Rotten Tomatoes it has an approval rating of 66% based on reviews from 64 critics. It remains the highest rated film directed by Bay, and only one to have a "fresh" score on Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale.
Roger Ebert awarded it 3.5 out of 4 stars, praising it as "a first-rate, slam-bang action thriller with a lot of style and no little humor. Todd McCarthy of Variety gave the movie a positive review, commenting "The yarn has its share of gaping holes and jaw-dropping improbabilities, but director Michael Bay sweeps them all aside with his never-take-a-breath pacing." Richard Corliss, writing for the Time expressed favorable opinions towards the film, saying "Slick, brutal and almost human, this is the team-spirit action movie Mission: Impossible should have been."
The Rock won several minor awards, including 'Best On-Screen Duo' for Connery and Cage at the MTV Movie Awards. It was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Sound (Kevin O'Connell, Greg P. Russell and Keith A. Wester).
The film was selected for a limited edition DVD release by the Criterion Collection, a distributor of primarily arthouse films it categorizes as "important classic and contemporary films" and "cinema at its finest". In an essay supporting the selection of The Rock, Roger Ebert, who was strongly critical of most of Bay's later films, gave the film 3 1/2 out of four stars, calling it "an action picture that rises to the top of the genre because of a literate, witty screenplay and skilled craftsmanship in the direction and special effects."
The soundtrack to The Rock was released on June 7, 1996 by Hollywood Records, where The Rock came out on the same day along with the soundtrack. Nick Glennie-Smith, Hans Zimmer and Harry Gregson-Williams were the principal composers, with additional music composed by Don Harper and Steven M. Stern. The main theme (Hummell Gets The Rockets) was composed by Hans Zimmer and Nick Glennie-Smith.
Credits adapted from FilmScoreMonthly.
- Composers, Producers – Nick Glennie Smith, Hans Zimmer
- Conductors – Bruce Fowler, Don Harper, Nick Glennie Smith
- Contractor [Music] – Sandy De Crescent
- Compilers – Marc Streitenfeld, Nick Glennie Smith
- Copyist [Music Preparation] – Dominic Fidelibus
- Editing [Assistant Editor] – Shannon Erbe, Sienna Pascarella
- Editing [Music Editor] – Bob Badami, John Finklea
- Engineer [Additional] – Marc Streitenfeld
- Executive Producer [Soundtrack] – Jerry Bruckheimer
- Electric Guitar ["the Rock"] – Bob Daspit
- Electric Guitar ["the Roll"] - Michael Thompson
- Acoustic Guitar ["the Roll"] – Michael Stevens
- Mixing [Score] – Alan Meyerson
- Music [Additional] – Don Harper, Steven Stern
- Orchestrating – Bruce Fowler, Dennis Dreith, Ladd McIntosh, Suzette Moriarty, Walter Fowler
- Other [Assistant To Hans Zimmer] – Justin Burnett, Marc Streitenfeld
- Other [Executive In Charge Of Music For The Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group] – Kathy Nelson, Bill Green
- Other [Executive In Charge Of Soundtracks For Hollywood Records] – Mitchell Leib
- Sound Programming [Euphonix], Computer Programming [Steinberg Cubase], Programming [Yamaha, Fairlight CMI] - Hans Zimmer
- Recording [Assistant Recorder] – Brian Richards, Gregg W. Silk
- Recording [Paramount Recordist] – Paul Wertheimer
- Recording [Score] – Alan Meyerson, Bruce Botnick, Paul Wertheimer
- Technician [Score Former] – Emma Burnham
In June 2017, director Michael Bay discussed his idea for a follow-up to The Rock that never developed past the concept that Mason is chased by the government after escaping.
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- Stone, Jon (July 6, 2016). "Supposed Iraqi WMD described in dossier resembled inaccurate portrayal in Holywood film The Rock, Chilcot notes". The Independent. Retrieved November 4, 2019.
No weapons of mass destruction were ultimately found after the invasion of Iraq. The war was justified to the British public and Parliament on the basis that Saddam Hussein could attack Britain with WMD in 45 minutes.
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