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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Scorpion King
Scorpion King
Universal // PG-13 // October 1, 2002
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted August 27, 2002 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:


WWF star The Rock will be a big action star and might eventually branch out to other genres. That occured to me while watching the wrestler's new action picture, "The Scorpion King". It also occured to me as the movie went forward that I hope that he'll eventually be presented with better material than this uninspired film, which takes occasionally from other films before it.

"The Scorpion King" is a prequel of sorts to the "Mummy" series, the second of which introduced us to "The Scorpion King", a character who was presented as the villian. This character was also played by the Rock, although half of his performance was ruined by some completely terrible CGI that covered him. This film really doesn't show how this character gets to the point of the character in the second "Mummy" picture, but that doesn't seem to be a concern.

This film has The Rock starring as Mathayus, an ancient assassin who is hired by a group of villagers to kill the sorceress of Memnon (Kelly Hu), as she is part of the reason why the powerful Memnon (Steven Brand) is conquering the lands, since she can forsee the result of any battle. Of course, it's only a matter of time before Mathayus gathers together an army of his own, including warrior Balthazar (Michael Clarke Duncan), an inept thief (Grant Heslov), a wisecracking kid and the previously mentioned sorceress, to take on Memnon.

I appreciated, at first, the way that "The Scorpion King" fully embraces its own ridiculousness, not treating it as too "wink wink", but taking it all pretty seriously. The Rock isn't given the best material to work with, but he's got fairly sharp comedic timing for the film's few attempts at comedic relief and he can also easily handle the film's many battle sequences. The film's special effects are also not particularly special. While the "Mummy" sequel suffered from too many CGI effects that either were terrible or pretty good, "The Scorpion King" only has a handful of sequences that offer rather lackluster CGI. While I appreciate a more old-school action film that doesn't get buried under a mass of computer effects, this film didn't seem to have much of a "scope" or "epic feel", either.

There's also a point in this film where I began to lose interest. The film does provide a solid quantity of action sequences, but there are also sequences that don't seem very inspired and a couple of moments that seemed ripped off from the "Indiana Jones" movies and the "Mummy" pictures. The film doesn't offer a strong villain, either, as Brand doesn't make Memnon anything beyond ordinary.

Overall, "The Scorpion King" shows that The Rock has screen presence and can do well in a picture, but he is capable of handling better material than this. The film was never boring, but I never really found much of a reason to care, either. I expected a bit more, considering that "Mummy" director/writer Stephen Sommers was one of the writers, while Chuck Russell ("Eraser") directed. I'm not quite sure where this whole franchise is headed next, but hopefully everyone can regroup and provide something fresh and enjoyable that provides a better balance between old-school primitive battles and new-school effects. It's better than "The Mummy Returns", but a little less fun and swift than the first "Mummy" film.


The DVD


VIDEO: "The Scorpion King" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen by Universal. While this is occasionally a dark picture, John Leonetti (director Russell's "The Mask")'s cinematography actually looked better to me on this DVD release than it did when I saw the film theatrically. Sharpness and detail remained superb throughout the bright, daylight sequences, but also looked equally impressive during the night scenes.

The near-complete lack of the usual concerns made the presentation even more noteworthy. Edge enhancement was not seen throughout the film, making for a smooth, natural and "film-like" appearance. Aside from a speck or two, print flaws were not seen and no pixelation was spotted.

The film's color palette, which is usually on the subdued side, looked a little richer on the DVD edition than I remember it appearing theatrically. Black level on the DVD remained especially strong, while flesh tones appeared accurate and natural. A terrific effort from Universal.


SOUND: "The Scorpion King" is presented by Universal in Dolby Digital 5.1. Surprisingly, no DTS option is offered. Still, this is likely a soundtrack that will please any action fan, as the surrounds are often going full-throttle throughout the picture with various sound effects flying around the listening space. There's also some nice moments with slighter, more subtle ambience in the surrounds. Audio quality was very good, as the rock/metal score sounded powerful and dialogue/sound effects remained clear and natural. As one would expect from a film like this one, low bass is often awfully powerful, as well.

MENUS: Lively animated menus, complete with the score in the background and animated transitions between the main & sub-menus.

EXTRAS:

Commentaries: "The Scorpion King" DVD includes two audio commentaries: one with star The Rock and the other with director Chuck Russell. The commentary with the Rock does include some additional video footage of the star recording the commentary for some scenes. However, instead of doing this feature as a "multi-angle" one (see Universal's "Mallrats" DVD with it's video clips of the audio commentary), it's another instance where the user must click when an icon is on-screen.

Director Chuck Russell provided an excellent commentary for New Line's DVD of "The Mask" (with Jim Carrey). His commentary on that film provided intelligent analysis of the film's production and even some good laughs on occasion. Browsing through Russell's commentary on "The Scorpion King" reveals an almost equally enjoyable chat. Here, the director talks in-depth about working with the Rock on his first starring feature, as well as many of the major and minor production issues the movie faced. Even when praising the film's stars, Russell thankfully manages to offer some depth and insight about the performances behind the praise for the stars. What I didn't like about the commentary was the fact that Russell occasionally simply states what's happening on-screen. While did happen a little more than infrequently, it didn't ruin the commentary. The Rock's commentary is a little more of a mixed bag; while the star certainly seems very energetic about the opportunity to discuss the movie, there's quite a few passages of silence. Also, for all of the moments where the Rock has some very funny stories about the production, there's also points where he simply talks about what's going on in the movie or how great everyone was.

Outtakes: Although there's only three minutes worth of goofs shown, most of these are very funny.

Alternate Versions of Key Scenes: This feature offers viewers the chance to watch alternate versions of several of the film's scenes. These versions can be watched within the movie via an icon feature or separately by choosing the option in the Special Features menu. All of the scenes are in Dolby Digital 5.1

On-Location: Universal's "On Location" documentaries can either be excellent or rather dull. This one unfortunately falls into the second catagory, as it really is far more promotional than informative. Starting off with what looks like an extended trailer for the movie, the majority of the 14-minute documentary is largely focused on interviews with the cast and crew, who talk mainly about the characters and story that DVD viewers have just seen and not much else.

Featurettes: Five short featurettes are offered, each running a few minutes: "Anicent World Production Design", where the film's production designer discusses his tasks on the film; "Preparing the Fight", a look at the film's fight choreography; "The Rock and Michael Clarke Duncan", where the two discuss working together; "Working With Animals", where the director and others talk about the film's animal extras and "Special Effects", which offers two featurettes that break down how effects were used in two scenes ("Cobras" and "Fire Ants").

Also: Godsmack, "I Stand Alone" music video; text notes about a possible real "Scorpion King"; the film's theatrical trailer; cast/crew bios; trailers for Universal's upcoming "The Hulk" (teaser trailer/5.1 audio) and Steven Spielberg's upcoming TV miniseries "Taken"; production notes and DVD-ROM features including Universal's "Total Axess" online-based feature, which is apparently not available until the DVD's release date.


Final Thoughts: "The Scorpion King" is cheesy, unoriginal, mindless and often pretty silly, but it does manage some fun performances and moments of solid action. Universal's DVD presentation offers excellent audio/video quality and a strong helping of supplements. Recommended for fans of the film, while action fans who didn't see the film in theaters may want to check it out as a rental.

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