Title: Rock and Rule (1983)
Director: Clive A. Smith
You might not have heard of Rock and Rule, the animated post apocalyptic Rock and Roll fantasy, but that’s okay, it’s not your fault, the film got the shaft from MGM during one of those major studio shake ups where a lot of people get fired and some movies get ignored and lost in the shuffle; one of those movies was Rock and Rule. Basically, what happened to Rock and Rule is one of the worst things that can happen to any film: all the work, sweat and tears that went into making it got ignored because another film screwed it up for them. Said film was Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate (1980) one of the most expensive turkeys in the history of cinema. That particular film cost United Artists 44 million dollars; an astronomical amount of money back in those days. The film ended up making little more then 3 million in box office returns. Obviously heads were going to roll over at United Artists. By the time it was all said and done, MGM bought United Artists (which almost went bankrupt over the whole Heaven’s Gate fiasco) and MGM ended acquiring all of United Artists films. Problem was that MGM was not enthusiastic about Rock and Rule, therefore the proper promotional push needed for a film to take off was not given.
A similar situation happened to Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988); an amazing film, but in the middle of a studio shuffle (this time it was Columbia Pictures) the film lost the people that championed it, the ones that cared. The way things work in
Hollywood is that when
new studio executives come in, they don’t want to market the films that the
previous studio executives were producing and so, though Gilliam’s Adventures
of Baron Munchausen was an epic fantasy film with some amazing images and
effects….the film ultimately got the shaft from the new guys at the studio. As
a result, the film tanked at the box office. Not because it wasn’t any good,
but because when a studio gives a movie the shaft, it doesn’t get the proper
merchandising, and when a film doesn’t get that needed promotional push to get
into audiences psyches…well, then the movie tanks because the movie doesn’t exist
in the publics’ consciousness. They don’t know about it, because the studio
didn’t make sure the public knew; this is what happened to Rock and Rule.
Now I’m not saying Rock and Rule is the best animated film in the universe, or that it’s even any good, I’m just saying it never got the chance to find its audience. What kind of film are we talking about anyways? Well, Rock and Rule is one of these old school animated films. The kind that was painstakingly hand made, without the use of digital anything. This thing was done frame by frame by the efforts and passion of a talented group of animators. Some reports say that over 300 animators worked on the film. The animation studio that produced Rock and Rule was a Canadian one known as Nelvana; they were they guys responsible for doing that animated segment in the Star Wars Holiday Special (1978), the one were Boba Fett makes his first appearance. So anyhows, this little animation studio wanted to make it big, so they decide after producing various half hour animated shows for television, that they would make their first full length animated feature film. These guys even turned down Ivan Reitman, who asked them to produce Heavy Metal (1981) for him; I mean these guys were obviously really driven, they really wanted to make their own thing, and that they did.
Rock and Rule tells the story of a rock band that’s trying to make it. Omar, the lead singer, is having a hard time accepting the fact that Angel, the bass player can sing as well, maybe even better than he can. Together they play in a rock and roll bar called Mylar. At the same time, the biggest Rock and Roll god on the planet, a guy by the name of Mok; is looking for a way to open up a portal to another dimension (presumably hell) so he can bring forth a demon (presumably the devil himself) so he can take over the world, or something like that, it’s never really quite clear. Mok’s computers tell him that the only way to open up the portal is by using something called ‘The Armageddon Key’; said key can only be used when certain musical cords are sang by “a very special voice”; that voice is the voice of Angel. So he goes about trying to convince her to sing for him. Will she accept his offer or will Mok have to end up using other methods to persuade her?
Rock and Rule started out as a children’s film in the mind of the guys at Nelvana; they were going to call it ‘Drats!’ But as time went by, the project evolved. It got darker and darker, until it became adult oriented and finally ended up being what it is: a post apocalyptic rock and roll sci-fi. This film is often times compared to Heavy Metal (1980) and for good reason; same as Heavy Metal, it mixes the worlds of science fiction and Rock and Roll. They also share the fact that they are animated films made for adults. Both films include foul language, drug use and nudity, both films have trippy visuals. This is probably what made it a hard sell for the guys at MGM. It got what I like to call the ‘assured death formula’ for any film: it was too kiddy for adults, and too adult for the kiddies. Topple that with the fact that Americans were having a difficult time accepting that animated films could be made for adults, and voila! You got yourselves a turkey. The film cost 8 million dollars, yet recuperated little more than 39 thousand at the box office. Ouch!
But that doesn’t mean this is a bad film. Same as HeavyMetal, it’s not the best animated film ever made, but it certainly wasn’t the worst either. Rock and Rule has some cool ideas going for it. For example, the soundtrack for the film was produced by artists such as Debbie Harris (strange, she’s playing on my I-pod right now as I type this…), Iggy Pop, Cheap Trick, Earth Wind & Fire and Lou Reed. It also has a cool sci-fi angle to it, we get flying cars, and Blade Runner like city landscapes. We get a strong female protagonist in the form of Angel, the girl with the ethereal voice. The best thing about the film though is MOK, the villain; a mix between Mick Jagger and David Bowie, but certainly more
than Jagger. The only problem I had with the film is that it sometimes didn’t
transmit some of its ideas in the best way possible. I guess the animation was
too crude, or didn’t really show us what we needed to see in order to
understand the ideas. For example, the opening scroll tells us that this is
supposed to be a post apocalyptic world, yet we have cities and flying cars? Nothing
terribly post apocalyptic about it. Mok wants to bring a demon from another
dimension, but it’s never really stated why he wants to do so. What’s his
purpose? As a viewer, you have to kind of fill in the blanks, which tells you
that the film needed some work storytelling wise.
Still, there are times when the film dazzles and shines. What we need to keep in mind is that this film was made in a time when computer animation was in diapers, in fact, computer animation is used sparingly on this film; 90% of the film is hand drawn frame by frame. We need to remember what a painstakingly difficult process this was back in those days! This was a film that started production in ’79 and was finally released in ’83! That’s about four years of production! To animate one of the characters they used real brains! The animation gets really psychedelic and trippy at times, so I guess, visually, the film does have its strengths. But at the end of the day it’s a mixed bag. It might have some cool visuals, but storytelling wise, script wise, it needed work. This is something that the animators themselves acknowledge when they say that they didn’t really have a script to work with. They had a “pool of ideas” but not a script; hence, the uneven, underdeveloped nature of the plot and characters. Across the years, Rock and Rule has garnered cult status, and in my opinion the film is a curiosity in the world of American animation. It can proudly stand next to films such as Heavy Metal (1981), American Pop (1981), Wizards (1977) and other American animated films that were trying to break the mold, trying to present themselves as something more than just for kids; and as such, this one succeeds
Rating: 3 out of 5