On Location: The Rock


Welcome to "On Location," a micro-feature taking you to little-known cinematic locations of SF and taking a look at the films shot in the city by the bay over the years.

The Rock is a movie about a couple of awesome dudes called Sean Connery, er, Mason, and Nicolas Cage–I mean, Stanley Goodspeed. Like sister Cage vessel Con Air, The Rock never really needed a plot, but here's the one it's got: Marine General Ed Harris and his followers take over Alcatraz Island, point missiles at San Francisco and demand some kind of back wages allegedly owed to them by the US Government. Connery is Mason, one of only prisoners ever to escape Alcatraz, and Cage is a nervous scientist who maybe shouldn't be there, but hey–he's Nicolas Cage right?

To hold fast against the almost ludicrous double swagger of the Cage/Connery combo, Director Michael Bay stacks the deck with jaw-flexing hardcases from all sides of Hollywood. Ed Harris, Michael Bein, David Morse, Bokeem Woodbine, The Candyman, William Forsythe, That Guy from Scrubs… How did they get all these heads in this duffel bag? Heck, even the guy billed as "Kid on Motorcycle" has a headshot on IMDB, and his own page filled with credits. With all the peering and grimacing going on in the Marine's stronghold on Alcatraz and the FBI headquarters across the water, there's a real danger that at any moment that the movie could just turn into a massive yelling match.

As the title suggests, most of the action in the film takes place on "The Rock" itself. Since Alcatraz is a national park, it technically couldn't be closed, so a lot of the filming was done while tours were taking place. Before they head out to the island however, the movie tries to squeeze as much local color into the first few minutes as it can: FBI agents set up in the midst of the touristy hubbub of Pier 39, Mason is plucked out of prison and given a posh penthouse suite at The Fairmont Hotel downtown, and things are officially underway. 

Since Zardoz, rules of Connery engagement have dictated that he must look spiff before undertaking in any serious acting tasks, so naturally the unshorn prison look won't do. Enter the fake gay man! How San Francisco, guys? Right?! They did get that certain monomania often suffered by stylists right, though–after Mason tosses the director of the FBI off the roof in an early scene and jumps into an elevator to escape, the hairdresser prattles, "I never saw you throw that gentleman off the balcony. All I care about is… Are you happy with your haircut?"

Naturally, his haircut is fantastic, but losing his criminal 'do doesn't seem to put a stop to Mason's criminal ways and he hops into a nearby Hummer for the requisite SF car chase. Less Bullitt than bull****, most of it takes place in Los Angeles. If you watch closely, though, you'll see them drive past the The First Chinese Southern Baptist Church on Hyde street at least three times. Interestingly, for eco-conscious SF, there's a ton of trash lurking around every corner–Newsom would have had a heart attack. Ultimately, it ends when Mason manages to knock a Van Ness and California Cable Car off the tracks and it slides down Jones Street until it blows up (naturally) just outside New Russian Hill Groceries and Liquors, which looks much the same as it does today. Before they get to Alcatraz, there's time for a last pitstop at the Palace of the Fine Arts, where Mason meets up with his daughter, played by Claire Forlani, before he's hauled back to HQ and the real fun begins.