Part of a new series discussing why we love both popular and underrated films.
The war was over.
The only survivors were street animals: dogs, cats and rats. From them, a new race of mutants evolved.
That was a long time ago…
Mok, a legendary superrocker, has retired to Ohmtown. There, his computers work at deciphering
an ancient code
which would unlock a doorway between
this world and
Obsessed with his dark experiment, Mok himself searches for the last crucial component…
a very special voice.
The year was 1983 and Canadian animation studio Nelvana was about to embark on a decade of success with animated series like the powerhouse Care Bears series and lucrative licensed animation brands like Star War Droids and Ewoks.
Yet for all of its family friendly entertainment, Nelvana kicked off the decade with a divisive movie with a troubled history and plenty to dislike about it. Rock and Rule was released at the tail end of a period of adult oriented animated films that included Ralph Bashki’s The Hobbit and the sci-fi fantasy film, Heavy Metal.
Films such as these weren’t afraid to indulge in disturbing imagery, violence, and sexuality. Rock and Rule was no exception. With a dance club scene that featured borderline nudity, a scantily clad female protagonist enslaved for a Satanic ritual, alcoholism, drug abuse, and a towering demon that ate concert goers by the handful, the film certainly indulged in its share of vices.
It’s also important to note that it was not a triumph of writing. The plot, while endlessly innovative, featured stilted writing for some of its characters and plot lines that seemed to just slow the film’s pace rather than heighten the stakes. Still, it’s important to appreciate what went right with the film’s narrative.
The plot is . . . strange. Bizarre. But, in the end, it’s several weird concepts mashed together to make something with quite the hook. World War III has occurred, wiping out humanity and giving rise to a race of mutant animal people. A Mick Jagger-David Bowie level rock legend has seen his popularity decline amidst a new generation of rockers taking his place. How does he deal with his declining popularity? He goes on a search to unlock a demon from Hell that he hopes he can use to destroy the world in revenge. The final key to freeing that demon is a singing voice that can breach the dimensional barrier, leading him to host a faux-talent search to find his singer.
The overall plot is interesting, but so is the general setting. Once again, this is a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by rat people. The ruined world is on full display in one shot of the Statue of Liberty, damaged but still standing, yet with homes built into its sides that have basically turned it into a giant tenement. Despite the dilapidated, run down setting, highly reminiscent of Times Square before its massive renovation into a tourist attraction, the world is full of futuristic technology.
First, there’s Mok’s computer, brought to life by an artificial intelligence decades beyond what’s currently available,. The tech is retro-future, more powerful than what we have but clunky looking, like the tech from the film, Aliens. Ohmtown, where Mok lives, is basically one gigantic power station, far larger than anything we currently build. Buildings are basically mega towers, like the structures seen in a Judge Dredd comic book. There’s also the flying hover cars that residents zip around in, not to mention Mok’s personal flying airship powered by future magic.
Also, while some of the characters are stock stereotypes, Angel is a genuinely sympathetic character that you want to see win. If only because many of us are used to the feeling of having our talents and worth overlooked, it’s empowering to see her assert herself in the finale despite the tug-of-war being held for her between Mok and Omar. The way that Omar and Mok both try to control Angel almost falls into excessive chauvinism, though the movie continually shows the audience that Angel is her own woman with her own skills, and her saving the world in the end places her at the center of the heroic efforts.
And it would be impossible to talk about Rock and Rule without talking a little about Mok himself.
Facially Mick Jagger but David Bowie in terms of dress, otherworldliness, and general presentation, Mok is continuously charismatic and usually engaging. His views on morality basically eschew traditional concepts of right and wrong, and he’s written in such a way as to present multiple personalities. Viewers see the rock legend he presents himself as and what he wants others to view him as. However, he’s also the ruthless owner of a mega corporation and abusive boss. Finally, when pushed, his moments when he loses self-control put on display an erratic and frightening individual willing to do anything to win. As a character, he’s well conceptualized and definitely one of the central draws of the film.
As I said, the narrative does have problems. The plot runs circles; There are technically three confrontations with Mok, two attempts to summon the demon, and Omar generally acts like an idiot. However, the movie is also bold and weird in a way that you just won’t find in much of modern cinema. Some of the characters are stock portrayals, but they’re balanced out by truly engaging characters like Mok and Angel. The entire plot is very interesting in conception, and the setting the story takes place in is intriguing.
Up to now, I’ve overlooked mentioning that Rock and Rule is essentially a rock opera. Since Stories in Media is focused on writing elements like plot and characterization, the focus of this review was placed on those aspects of the film. However, it should be noted that the film is populated by multiple songs and even music videos featuring the in-world characters. Mok’s title song, “My name is Mok,” is the sort of catchy, arrogant, self-aggrandizing video you would expect of a megalomaniac. The night club song, “Dance Dance Dance,” was written by Earth, Wind & Fire. Unsurprisingly, it’s among the most toe tapping and memorable songs in the movie.
But the song that most will remember is Angel’s defining song, “Send Love Through.” Written and performed by Deborah Harry of the famous 80s band, Blondie, “Send Love Through” is a rock ballad that bookends the beginning and end of the movies in uniquely different contexts. It’s also a potent narrative device with this type of framing, tracing Angel’s growth and development from the start of the film – when she was the fourth member of a third rate rock band – to the end of the film, when she essentially saves the world by reconciling with Omar before the two fulfill the prophecy of “One voice, One heart, One song.” From performing at unknown clubs to taking the world’s biggest stage, the two developed significantly from start to finish.
Rock and Rule is no masterpiece, but it’s brave, and bold, and weird. It features the type of story and settings that writers should indulge in more. That’s why we love it.
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Bonus! Although there is no released soundtrack from the movie, this fan cut of “Angel’s Song” does its best to present the track sans any talking over the music.