Wednesday, April 09, 2014

The Quest for The Rock and Youth Lost in the 90s

The heart of INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE is, of course, the father/son dynamic between Indiana and his dad. It's significant to note, however, that the movie title employs a certain ambiguity and specifically leaves out mention of the object that serves as the catalyst of the crusade. By evoking the word "crusade," which itself is rife with numerous socio-political and historical implications, and then introducing an artifact central to the Judeo-Christian mythology, the filmmakers effectively misdirect the audience. The "misdirect" here, however, is more in line with its use in relation to a magic trick rather than, oh, I don't know, distracting someone so you can slip something into his drink and unwittingly make him the host of an alien life form of unknown make or model.

By the end of the movie, though, it becomes clear that the grail was a metaphor for what both Indiana and his father were really searching for, which was an emotional connection (People... People who need people...).  THE LAST CRUSADE is actually thematically similar to FIELD OF DREAMS, insofar as the main characters were on a quest for something they thought held some form of Ultimate Meaning, but really they were looking for reconciliation with dear old dad.  For me, one of the final scenes of THE LAST CRUSADE, when Henry Jones Sr. gently urges his son to "let it go" is almost as emotionally poignant as when Ray asks his dad to play catch at the end of FIELD OF DREAMS.  There's a certain catharsis in those moments.  Nothing's really solved per se, but in that moment there's a connection, and all of the shit kind of melts away and there's something Real and raw and significant.

The point to be made here is that the quests that we think we're on aren't necessarily always the ones we actually are on.  In fact, a lot of the time it's one of those the-journey-is-more-important-than-the-destination type deals.  I recently finished a quest in regards to my DVD/Blu-Ray collection.  There was a certain piece that a friend of mine had that I had always admired. And though it's probably not as rare as I had previously thought, I was still pretty fucking stoked to finally pick up a copy of the Criterion edition of the 90s action mainstay THE ROCK.
How do you like how that shit works?!
Considering Michael Bay's ratio of Quality to Shit production, I don't count myself as a Bay fan; however, the dude has had an undeniable (if oftentimes regrettable) impact on the modern movie industry and every once in a while he manages to squeeze out something great.

For me, THE ROCK is one of those great little gems that have to be mined from the shitheap of Bay's regular opus of over-the-top, soulless, explosion-heavy films. To be fair, THE ROCK isn't exactly a cerebral exploration of life's deepest and darkest secrets, but it was well written with just enough intelligence to make it coherent and enough heart to elevate it above the common action film.   The premise was believably absurd and altogether entertaining with some great quotable action lines.  (The whole "Winners go home and fuck the prom queen," "I'd take pleasure in gutting you, boy," and "Rocket Man" scenes are notable examples of some pretty priceless dialogue.)  To a young boy in the mid-1990s, THE ROCK seemed like the heir apparent to the classic action films of the 1980s like DIE HARD, INDIANA JONES, RAMBO, and the Schwarzenegger Action Pantheon, including gems like PREDATOR, COMMANDO, and RUNNING MAN.

My default collecting policy is to go new and factory-sealed with few exceptions, but lately I've been exploring the used market a little more after having been burned before by a few purchases of "previously viewed" movies from the now-defunt Blockbuster.  After having been so long out of print, my best bet for acquiring the Criterion edition of THE ROCK was through the used market, and, recently, I had begun to obsess over this particular item, as I will when it comes to DVDs/Blu-Ray. It was the last stop on yet another epic movie quest when I found THE ROCK Criterion, which I had placed on Immediate Purchase list.

When I first got it home, I was excited to finally add this long-awaited piece to my collection. It was another Criterion edition, and a movie that had been held in awe by the Younger Me since before I could drive or effectively handle an adult-sized corpse.

Then it hit me like a frying pan to the head in the midst of a Middle-Eastern market kidnapping gone awry. It wasn't the movie or the special edition I had really been after. I mean, I'm really glad that when I found that copy of THE ROCK that I didn't break some ancient geographic restrictions and cause a chasm to open up in the ground to swallow it up to be digested in the very bowels of the Earth.  But it was more than just a movie to me. THE ROCK stood out from the swirling mists of my youth like other cinematic exploits like ROBOCOP and TOTAL RECALL.  Each piece in my collection holds its own significance for me, but THE ROCK was in a special category of quest where what I was really searching for was a connection to the past, to my younger self.  In a sense, I was trying to engage with this person I had been through this film that had been so seminal in my development that it stood out so pronounced in my psyche.  It had been a quest to better understand my younger Self (even if one of his earliest sexual memories was jerking off during a sick day home from school to a taped, VHS copy of SHOWGIRLS that his parents had (quite ineffectively) hidden from the prying eyes of children) and in so doing better understand who I had become.

Welcome to THE ROCK.


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