Just to get this out of the way, The Scorpion King is a prequel to The Mummy Returns in the same way that...oh, I don't know, Mork and Mindy was a spin-off of Happy Days: a completely peripheral character takes center stage, and you don't have to have given one a whirl to get much of anything out of the other. Universal was really just hoping to cash in on another franchise after the first two Mummy flicks raked in close to a billion dollars at the box office worldwide, and to keep The Scorpion King as accessible as possible, there's nothing aside from the name and general appearance of a character connecting 'em. If you haven't seen The Mummy Returns, you're not missing anything, and...yeah, you can take that however you want.
I'm not big on writing plot summaries that read like "...and then the despot Memnon did slay Jesup, brother of Mathayus, rending the future Scorpion King the last of the Akkadians", so I'll recap the flick using my own character names. King Bad Guy (Steven Brand) has decimated every kingdom that dared to stand in his way, relying on the
Sure, the plot's pretty generic, and acting's kinda beside the point. The Rock does alright in his first starring role; he's packing the physicality and presence of a Big Action Star, but he over-Schwarzeneggers his smirking one-liners, and he goes the Kevin Costner route of not trying to sound like...well, whatever people would sound like if you rolled the clock back a few thousand years. Still, the sprawling battle sequences are spectacularly choreographed, the flick's propelled by a cacklingly goofy sense of humor (I'm sure I'll regret saying this later, but think of some middle ground between Indiana Jones and Army of Darkness), the action comes at a steady enough clip that the movie never has a chance to drag anywhere throughout its lean hour and a half runtime, it never takes itself too seriously, there are entire battalions of scantily-clad women... I mean, I couldn't go the Larry King route and type out "if you see one movie this year, make sure it's...The Scorpion King!" with a straight face, but Chuck Russell and company set out to make a straight-ahead, fun, mindless action/adventure flick, and that's exactly what they did. Recommended.
Even though this master's closing in on eight years old, The Scorpion King holds up pretty well in high-def. A few scattered shots seem unusually soft, and a handful of tiny flecks creep into the frame, but those are really the only gripes I have. The thin sheen of film grain hasn't been smeared away, and the VC-1 compression has enough headroom that challenging sequences like a brawl with flaming swords never devolve into a blocky mess. Its palette skews towards weathered yellows and browns, but color saturation is remarkably bold and vibrant when The Scorpion King calls for it. Reference quality...? Nah, but this is still a solid looking Blu-ray disc.
The 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio track isn't overwhelmingly impressive but is decent enough. The low-end doesn't rattle the room but is reasonably meaty, and the surround channels are teeming with whizzing arrows, the rushes of swiped swords, skittering fire ants, clomping hooves, and the roar of a devastating sandstorm. All of the dialogue is reproduced cleanly and clearly as well. Not great, no, but I'll give it the nod as good enough.
The rest of the specs are looking pretty familiar by now: DTS 5.1 dubs in Spanish and French alongside subtitle streams in English (SDH), Spanish, and...yeah, French.
Universal opted to carve apart the extras from the DVD and HD DVD, slapping what's left together for one of their picture-in-picture U-Control features. Some of the bells and whistles from earlier releases have been completely chucked out, including a Godsmack video, the branched extended-slash-alternate versions of a few scenes, and The Rock's commentary track. Oh well. The U-Control is pretty sparse, really, lobbing out a few notes about how quickly the movie came together, the elaborate set design, both the punishing physicality of this sort of action flick as well as the more actorly end of things, and fiddling with all sorts of venomous cobras. There's so little footage that it's really a waste of time, although there are quite a few storyboards tossed around in here to try to make up for it.
Oh, and director Chuck Russell pops up for a very chatty, screen-specific track that tackles pretty much every last aspect of production. It's on the dry side and wastes a bit too much time backpatting, but it's a solid, average commentary.
The Final Word
I really do dig The Scorpion King, and that mix of over-the-top action with a deliriously campy sense of humor makes for a surprisingly great double bill with Army of Darkness. Recommended.