Rock ‘n’ Roll High School appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. That’s right – this DVD appeared to simply reuse the same transfer found on older releases of High. The lack of anamorphic enhancement was strike one, but the quality of the transfer created additional issues.
Actually, much of the movie looked pretty good. Despite the usual slight fuzziness that comes with non-enhanced images, High seemed reasonably sharp. It never was terrifically well-defined, and some mild soft spots occurred, but I thought it presented more than adequate delineation. Jagged edges and shimmering were only minor issues, and I noticed just a little edge enhancement.
Colors seemed surprisingly good. The tones were a little runny at times, but they usually came across as pretty peppy and dynamic. Even colored lighting was fairly smooth. Blacks were unexceptional but seemed acceptably tight, while low light shots demonstrated decent delineation.
Unfortunately, a plethora of source flaws dragged down my grade to a “C-“. On the positive side, the movie’s second half looked significantly cleaner than its previous moments. I still saw some issues, but not to nearly the same intensity.
That said, the first half was a disaster. I saw plenty of marks, spots, blotches, specks, nicks and scratches. Very little of that half of the flick passed without problems, as these defects appeared almost constantly. Despite the improvements that came during the second half, this was still a flawed image that could really use a new anamorphic – and cleaned-up – transfer.
I found the monaural soundtrack of Rock ‘n’ Roll High School to fare even worse. Effects appeared dinky and failed to offer great clarity. Speech consistently sounded thin and reedy. Not much edginess interfered, but the lines seemed lifeless and dull.
Music worked the same way, except I also noticed distortion connected to many of the songs. The music lacked dimensionality most of the time. A couple of elements showed decent low-end, but usually we were stuck with a flat presentation that featured no real presence. The elements were scratchy and didn’t impress at all. While I didn’t expect stellar audio from an older, cheaply made flick, I still thought the soundtrack was surprisingly drab and problematic.
When we check out the DVD’s extras, we find two separate audio commentaries. The DVD refers to the first one as the “original commentary” since it first popped up on a DVD and a laserdisc released in 1997. It includes remarks from director Allan Arkush, producer Michael Finnell and screenwriter Richard Whitley. All three sit together for their running, screen-specific chat.
The guys make this a terrific commentary. We learn a lot about the film’s gestation and various changes made along the way, casting, finding a band and aspects of the flick’s music, the low budget and dealing with producer Roger Corman, locations, deleted scenes, influences and inspirations, and plenty of anecdotes. We find tons of good details, all wrapped in a lively and fun piece. I especially dig the tales about working with the Ramones – it sounds like they were exactly the way you’d expect them to be. I really like this amusing and informative commentary.
Created for this DVD, a new commentary comes from executive producer Roger Corman and actor Dey Young. Both sit together for their running, screen-specific conversation. Unfortunately, it proves significantly less interesting than its sibling.
Don’t expect to learn much from Corman and Young. They talk a little about the production, the movie’s legacy, and Corman’s work on other flicks. The latter elements are the most interesting; though off-topic to a degree, at least we get a decent feel for how Corman dealt with film productions.
Otherwise, this commentary is a dud. Lots of dead air occurs, and when the pair talk, they mostly just name participants or praise the film. This makes the track slow and tedious. Skip it and stick with the “original” commentary.
A new documentary called Back to School: A Retrospective. This 23-minute and 45-second show includes archival pieces, movie clips, and interviews. We hear from Arkush, Corman, Young, actors Clint Howard, Mary Woronov, Marky Ramone and Loren Lester, and story writer Joe Dante. It covers the project’s origins and development, visual inspirations, finding a band and impressions of the Ramones, casting and working on the roles, shooting some scenes and blowing up the school, the physical toll taken on Arkush and his one-time replacement, and the flick’s legacy.
Inevitably, since the old LD commentary gets into so much material, a fair amount of repetition occurs here. Nonetheless, we get a reasonable level of new information. The show moves through the production briskly and proves to be fun and enjoyable.
15 minutes and 38 seconds of Audio Outtakes from the Roxy presents the Ramones’ performance for the flick. As described in text at this piece’s start, the movie overdubbed the music and didn’t use this show. That makes this a lo-fi but cool addition to the package.
In addition to the movie’s theatrical trailer, we get two original radio ads. We see movie stills as we listen to them. At the start of the DVD, we get ads for Casanova, Annapolis, and the Roger Corman DVD Collection.
I can’t say that I dig Rock ‘n’ Roll High School as much in 2005 as I did in 1985, but I think the flick still offers a kick. It doesn’t take itself seriously and it provides a good laugh. The DVD suffers from mediocre to weak picture and sound, while it offers some nice extras highlighted by one very good commentary. Because of the problematic visuals and audio, I find it hard to recommend this DVD, but the movie itself is fun enough to overcome the flaws.