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 been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This was a new transfer – unlike the 2005 DVD that reused an old presentation. It marked the film’s first anamorphic rendition and despite some problems, it also demonstrated real growth over the earlier disc.
For the most part, 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 weren’t issues, and edge enhancement remained absent.
Colors seemed 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.
Source flaws were the major problem with the old DVD, and they continued to mar this one, though not to as significant degree. Through the film, I saw instances of spots, specks, blotches, nicks and tears. These created distractions, but not on a constant level, as most of the film looked pretty clean. The print problems almost knocked my grade down to a “C+”, but I liked the rest of the transfer enough to merit a “B-“.
While not as good, the monaural soundtrack of Rock ‘n’ Roll High School also demonstrated improvements over the feeble mix on the prior DVD. Actually, most of the same comments applied. 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. Hiss accompanied much of the film, and I also noticed some pops and clicks.
Much of the above replicates what I said about the old DVD’s track, and I gave that one a “D+”. So why did I bump up my grade to a “C” here? I simply thought that while all those problems were present, they didn’t cause as many distractions. Maybe I’m just getting soft in my old age – or maybe the improved visuals lent a halo effect to the audio – but I felt more pleased with this DVD’s audio. It wasn’t very good, but I thought it was average given the movie’s age and origins.
The 2010 Special Edition mixes old and new supplements. We find a whopping four audio commentaries, two of which come from prior releases. Originally from a 1997 laserdisc, the first 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 behaved exactly the way you’d expect. I really like this amusing and informative commentary.
Created for the 2005 DVD, the next 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.
Two new commentaries appear exclusively on this 2010 release. For the first of these, we hear from director Allan Arkush and actors PJ Soles and Clint Howard. All three sit together for their running, screen-specific look at cast, characters and performances, costumes and sets, inspirations and influences, working with the Ramones, and various production stories.
While a substantial improvement over the Corman/Young track, this one’s not as good as the Arkush/Finnell/Whitley discussion. Arkush dominates, though the actors still chime in with a fair amount of content. We find moderate amounts of redundancy, as more than a few of the details from the original track reappear here – occasionally we different thoughts about the subject matter, though Arkush tends to remain consistent.
Overall, the director/actors commentary is satisfying, though it never becomes better than pretty good – and not because of the redundant elements. This one just tends to be a little too heavy on praise, as we get a lot of fluff about the film’s wonderful legacy. That side of things doesn’t wear us down, and the enthusiasm of the participants can be contagious. Nonetheless, this remains a good but not great chat.
Finally, the fourth commentary features Screenwriters Richard Whitley and Russ Dvonch. (Dvonch also had a small role in the flick as the freshman.) They discuss script, character and story issues, cast and performances, music, sets and locations, influences and inspirations, working under the Corman umbrella and general thoughts about the film.
After three commentaries, one might wonder how much remains to be said about High. Plenty, as evidenced by this chat – well, for the movie’s first half, at least. During the initial 45 minutes or so, Whitley and Dvonch offer a nice little tutorial in screenplay writing, and they fill in some gaps missing elsewhere; finally someone explains how this low-budget production obtained an unreleased Paul McCartney song!
For the flick’s second half, however, the guys peter out pretty seriously. Oh, they still through out some decent insights from time to time, but their remarks tend to become more banal and also less frequent. They use music to give themselves a break; they’ll often say they don’t want to yammer over the Ramones, but this comes across like nothing more than a way to excuse their relative lack of material.
Which is a shame. The first half of the commentary is a consistent delight, while the second half is often a bore. The former engendered enough goodwill in me to let me make it through the latter, but the manner in which the track sags remains a disappointment. Still, it’s better to have half of a good commentary rather than a consistent dull one.
New to the 2005 DVD, a documentary called Back to School: A Retrospective goes for 23-minute and 45-seconds. 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 commentaries get 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.
Three new featurettes follow. Staying After Class runs 15 minutes, 58 seconds and provides notes from Soles, Young and actor Vincent Van Patten. They chat together and discuss how they got their roles, working with the Ramones and others, and general memories of the shoot. Nothing earthshaking appears here, though it is interesting to learn that Soles had to fight off Rosanna Arquette for her part. Still, it’s fun to see the three leads together after all these years.
We hear more from the director via An Interview with Allan Arkush. During the 11-minute, 33-second piece, Arkush chats about his musical experiences prior to making the film, getting the production going, music, and the movie’s legacy. We’ve already heard a ton from Arkush, and he doesn’t have much new to offer here. He remains chatty and engaging, but it’s tough to find unique material in this piece.
Film critic Leonard Maltin conducts a four-minute, 34-second Interview with Roger Corman. They discuss the film’s origins and other general aspects of the production. This comes from a longer interview about Corman’s career, and it doesn’t offer much of interest.
A text Special Introduction from Arkush also appears. This mostly consists of his thanks to those who worked on the project. The text includes no date, but I’d guess Arkush wrote it for the mid-1990s laserdisc, he implies the movie hasn’t been available on home video for years, and he doesn’t note the death of three Ramones. It’s not a particularly useful piece, but it’s good to have for completist purposes.
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. The disc also includes promos for Suburbia and Grand Theft Audio.
Finally, the set provides six Photo Galleries. These feature “Photos from Richard Whitley’s Personal Collection” (32 screens), “Pressbook” (7), “Script Pages from a Deleted Scene” (five minutes), “Script Pages from Deleted Shower Scene” (5:51), “The Ramones Gallery” (8) and “Photos, Posters and More” (14). All have value, but the script pages are the most interesting of the bunch.
The package also includes a 16-page booklet. This presents a new intro from Arkush, another interview with the director, an essay from Whitley and Dvonch, and chats with Johnny Ramone, Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov. Inevitably, some of the info repeats from elsewhere, but the booklet finishes the set in a classy way.
I can’t say that I dig Rock ‘n’ Roll High School as much in 2010 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 offers decent picture and audio along with a superb selection of supplements. High remains a fun little flick, and this DVD brings it home well.
To rate this film, visit the Special Edition review of ROCK 'N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL