It’s Memorial Day Weekend, but unlike past holidays where audiences would be crowding the theatres for the latest summer blockbuster, cinemas are closed thanks to COVID-19. ‘To Touchstone and Beyond’ is paying tribute to many great Disney blockbusters of the past from uber producer Jerry Bruckheimer with four-weeks of Jerry Bruckheimer Blockbuster Bonanzas.

This week be prepared for lots of explosions in the 1996 action packed blockbuster bonanza, The Rock.

The Movie

General Francis Hummel, played by Ed Harris, makes a vow at his wife’s grave to do what is right by the men who died under his command. Together with a crack team of renegade soldiers led by Major Baxter, played by David Morse, and Captain Hendrix, played by John C. McGinley, they steal VX Gas rockets and take over Alcatraz in San Francisco. Hummel demands a ransom to be paid to the families of the men who died under his command, or he will launch the rockets at San Francisco.

Stanley Goodspeed, played by Nicholas Cage, is an FBI chemical weapons expert, who is brought to San Francisco to aid the Navy Seal team that will breach the island and secure the rockets. Thanks to FBI Director Womack, played by John Spencer, the Seals will be able to question a federal inmate who successfully escaped from Alcatraz in the 1960’s. John Mason, played by Sean Connery, is a former SAS agent who was captured after stealing J. Edgar Hoover’s personal files. Womack and Goodspeed visit him in prison to enlist his help. Mason agrees to help with the promise of freedom, and they join the assembling Navy Seals and the local FBI field team led by Ernest Paxton, played by William Forsythe.

Mason and Goodspeed join the Seal Team led by Commander Anderson, played by Michael Biehn in San Francisco. The Seal led incursion on the island does not go according to plan. The Navy Seals are surprised by Hummel’s men, and Goodspeed and Mason are the only two that survive. Prompted by the knowledge that his pregnant girlfriend Carla, played by Vanessa Marcil, is in San Francisco, and Mason’s daughter Jade, played by Claire Forlani, are in danger from the rocket attack, both Mason and Goodspeed work together to stop Hummel and defuse the rockets.

The Best

Sean Connery is fantastic as Mason. Being locked up for decades, he emerges from prison as a force to be reckoned with. Tough, smart, and able to fight, Mason could not be played by any other actor. Connery brings a gravitas and attitude to the role that no other actor could do justice to the role. The audience believes that Mason can do what he does, because it is Sean Connery on screen.

Ed Harris is a conflicted villain. Hummel is a challenging role for Harris because while trying to portray the menacing role of a madman, the audience can sympathize with him. Hummel is a soldier who has watched for too long the soldiers who served under him be killed and forgotten. His actions on Alcatraz are that of a man who has been pushed to the extreme, and Harris does a remarkable job of letting us be afraid of what Hummel might do while empathizing with him.

Nicolas Cage is not your typical action hero in The Rock. Paired with Connery’s Mason, Cage brings a regular guy approach to Goodspeed. While he has his quirks and quarks on screen, Cage makes us believe that his chemical weapons expert is capable of what he is doing on Alcatraz. Cage much like the audience uses Goodspeed to stare in wonder at what Connery’s Mason does in a scene. Cage’s unique sense of humor lets us laugh at the silliness of the film.

The Worst

The Rock is an intense action-packed bonanza of explosions and dead bodies that will make your head spin if you don’t like these types of films. Each shot in the film lasts less than three seconds, and there is an unrelenting amount of testosterone throughout the picture. The main characters always survive the most impossible situation. If none of what I describe sounds appealing to you, then it’s best to avoid The Rock.

Michael Biehn and David Morse needed more screen time in the film. Both actors are incredible with the scenes they do get, but I feel like they should have been given bigger roles.

Film Facts

  • The world premiere of the film was held in the recreation yard at the site of Alcatraz Prison.
  • Aaron Sorkin, Quentin Tarantino, and Jonathan Hensleigh were all uncredited screenwriters on the film.
  • Producer Don Simpson, Jerry Bruckheimer’s partner, died while the film was shooting.
  • Cage’s Goodspeed only swears twice in the film.
  • Connery brought in writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais to punch up Mason’s dialogue.  
  • The average shot length for the film is 2.6 seconds.
  • There was a lot of feedback from studio executives during filming. Director Michael Bay was often forced to meet with executives about the film's progress, which would often lead to tension for Bay. He was relieved to have Connery join him for one meeting that seemed to calm the nerves of the Disney executives.
  • Connery signed onto the film after learning that Cage had been cast as the co lead.
  • Connery’s Mason character is an allusion to his James Bond role. Both characters were trained by the SAS, and Mason was captured in 1962, the same year that Connery debuted as Bond in Dr. No.
  • Tony Scott was originally supposed to direct but opted to film The Fan instead.
  • This was the second time Ed Harris and Sean Connery worked together, the first being 1995’s Just Cause.
  • The Rock would be the first of two movies where Nicolas Cage and Ed Harris would play the hero and antagonist roles. The second film would be National Treasure: Book of Secrets in 2007.
  • When Connery meets his daughter in San Francisco, they meet at the Palace of Fine Arts which was built for the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition.
  • The car chase scene through San Francisco is, according to Michael Bay, one of the worst experiences he has ever had filming. Thousands of permits were needed, and time was not on the director’s side, which delayed shooting, and caused more issues with city officials in San Francisco.
  • Nicholas Cage was the presenter of the Best Supporting Actor category at the 1987 Oscars. That was the year that Sean Connery won for his role in The Untouchables.

See It/Skip It?

See It! I loved this film. The Rock is an absolute success on multiple levels. We get a complex villain that has good motives for his terrorism, and our hero characters of Goodspeed and Mason are less than perfect. The pairing of Connery and Cage is perfection. They have amazing chemistry on screen, and while explosions are rocking the set, they keep the viewers in check with their sarcasm and humor.

Next week on ‘To Touchstone and Beyond’ we look at Nicolas Cage’s 1997 action follow up Con Air.

Director: Michael Bay

Production Company: Hollywood Pictures

Principal Cast:

  • Nicholas Cage as Stanley Goodspeed
  • Sean Connery as John Mason
  • Ed Harris as General Hummel
  • Vanessa Marcil as Carla
  • David Morse as Major Baxter
  • John C. McGinley as Captain Hendrix
  • William Forsythe as Ernest Paxton
  • John Spencer as F.B.I. Director Womack
  • Michael Biehn as Commander Anderson
  • Claire Forlani as Jade        

Release Date: June 7, 1996

Budget: $75 million

Box Office Gross Domestic = $134,069,511

                      Worldwide = $335,062,621