Blu-ray Review: The Runaways and Rock 'n' Roll High School

Hollywood has always had a troubled relationship with rock & roll. For every fictionalized tale that manages to capture the rebellious creativity of a band or artist worthy of big-screen treatment (think A Hard Day's Night), there are dozens of biopics (like Great Balls of Fire! ) moldering on the scrap heap of cinematic history, along with a few movies "inspired by" particular albums (Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, shudder). Rock 'n' Roll High School qualifies as one of the all-time great rock movies, a goofy 1970s artifact powered by the incompa-rable buzz-saw attack of the Ramones. The Runaways is far more conventional, a big studio film from this spring that does a good job of conjuring time and place and finds its purpose in celebrating one of the first all-female bands. Taken together, the two films shine welcome light on an underappreciated American-music era that paved the way for the punk revolution.

As indicated by the title of the Shout! Factory reissue series that includes Rock 'n' Roll High School, this is one of Roger Corman's Cult Classics, and it demonstrates the producer's pioneering work in ultra-low-budget B-movie mayhem. There isn't much plot here beyond Kids vs. Principal, but that's just as it should be. Instead, there are silly sight gags, hilarious one-liners, and the unvarnished glory of the Ramones. High School was released in 1979 but reflects the quartet's game-changing arrival on the national scene 3 years earlier. Almost inadvertently, it documents one of rock's most legendary bands at the peak of its powers, and the movie has even acquired a certain poignancy now that three of the founding members have died.

Few people mention the Runaways in the same breath as the Ramones. However, the two bands' debut albums were both released in 1976 - and surprisingly powerful Runaways performances by Twilight Saga mainstays Kristen Stewart (as Joan Jett) and Dakota Fanning (as Cherie Currie) may help secure a fi rmer place for the band in rock history. With assistance from executive producer Jett, director Floria Sigismondi has crafted concert sequences that smack of authenticity, though nothing can save the real-life story from its unappealing, druginduced flameout.

Those live scenes and the rest of The Runaways hit their mark very well on this Blu-ray Disc, with intermittent grain in the 2.35:1 picture that's obviously an artistic choice and not the result of a corner-cutting transfer. And the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack, in both tone and dynamic range, is a showstopper. Of course, none of that applies to High School's flat 1.85:1 visuals and muffled Dolby Digital mono (not the stated Dolby TrueHD), but why mess with perfection?

The Runaways is a little thin on extras, with just a couple of brief documentary segments. But fun can be found in the commentary, where Jett tells the kids (Stewart and Fanning) how it was all done for real. High School enjoyed no fewer than three editions on DVD before it hit Blu-ray, and lots of the older extras are included here in an effort to create a truly complete package for fans. It's a little disconcerting to see the actors now well into middle age in the new segments, but their memories have taken on near-scholarly import. Four commentaries (two old, two new) may seem like too much of a good thing; then again, the Ramones deserve no less.