Wednesday, June 8, 2005

ROCK & RULE

Finally hitting DVD this week is the new two-disc collector's edition of 1983's forgotten animated classic, ROCK & RULE.

This animated rock musical from Canada's Nelvana Studios (the studio behind the Saturday morning DROIDS, EWOKS, and BEETLEJUICE cartoons), was part of the short-lived trend towards adult animated features in the late Seventies and early Eighties that included films like WIZARDS, HEAVY METAL, and FIRE & ICE. Unfortunately, when ROCK & RULE was turned over to MGM for distribution, it was badly mishandled and never reached its intended audience. Cable airings on HBO and Cinemax in the mid-Eighties garnered it a small cult following, but this new DVD from Unearthed Films should bring it to the attention of classic animation and music fans everywhere.

In a post-Apocalyptic future where animals have mutated to replace humanity, a legendary rock & roll artist named Mok (who looks like a Satanic cross between Mick Jagger and David Bowie) is searching for the unique voice that will enable him to open a gate to a hell dimension and release a demon. He finds that voice in small-time singer Angel, and abducts her, taking her to his home in Nuke York while promising her fame and fortune. The rest of her band goes after her, led by frontman Omar (voiced by Paul LeMat), and eventually everybody winds up at Mok's end of the world concert, where our heroes must face down the forces of evil.

With original songs by Debbie Harry, Iggy Pop, Cheap Trick, Lou Reed and Earth, Wind & Fire, the movie is loosely based on an earlier Nelvana TV production, THE DEVIL AND DANIEL MOUSE. But the hand-drawn animation here is incredible – wholly original in design and execution, with no resemblance whatsoever to Disney, Bluth or Japanese anime. The character designs are appealing and believable, the backgrounds elaborate and strikingly ominous, and the movement fluid and smooth. Voice performances are excellent, too (especially Don Francks as Mok), and the songs – most of which have never appeared on any album – are perfectly integrated into the film story.

Unearthed Films has pulled out all the stops on this 2 disc Collector's Edition. On Disc One, we have a brand-new, anamorphic widescreen transfer of the feature, a presentation that blows away the old MGM VHS tape, with it's perfect color balance and clarity. There's a bit of grain inherent in the source material, and some very minor dirt and speckles here and there, but overall, it's a remarkable presentation for a 22-year old film. Unearthed provides a new 5.1 Surround sound mix, as well as the original stereo track. There's also a vintage "Making of" documentary that originally aired on Nickelodeon back in the day, an extensive sketch gallery, and an informative commentary track by director Clive Smith.

But wait, there's more.

On Disc Two, there's a full-screen alternate version of ROCK & RULE that played on Canadian television. The picture quality's not as great as the version on Disc One (it is, in fact, rather fuzzy), but there are some different voices, some editing differences and a slightly altered ending. It's a great extra, and worth watching for comparison's sake. There's also the entire DEVIL AND DANIEL MOUSE television film, clocking in at 27 minutes. This is a more kid-friendly take on the same basic story, and it's a lot of fun. This is followed with a "Making of DANIEL MOUSE" featurette, more sketches, the original ROCK & RULE theatrical trailer, a 15 minute clip of the workprint version of R&R, a ten-page booklet with extensive liner notes… and a bunch of stuff I'm sure I'm forgetting.

It's a Rolls Royce treatment all the way, and in this case the movie's worth it. ROCK & RULE is a minor gem – flawed but dazzling in its own right. Unearthed Films should be complimented on remembering the movie and making such a great effort to present it for a new audience. Highly recommended.

BUY: Rock and Rule