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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Mamma Mia! - 2-Disc Special Edition
Mamma Mia! - 2-Disc Special Edition
Universal // PG-13 // December 16, 2008
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Brian Orndorf | posted December 8, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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P R I N T
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THE FILM

It was only a year and a half ago when I suffered utter disdain for "Hairspray," a shrill, overdirected musical comedy that I found merciless in its unpleasantness. Turns out all it was missing was the music of ABBA; "Mamma Mia!" is the same vintage of shrill, overdirected musical comedy, yet it breaks free of self-conscious bondage to kick off a suitably electrifying widescreen pajama party of dancing, singing, and devotion to all things Europop.

Working herself into a stupor trying to hold her idyllic Greek island hotel together, Donna (Meryl Streep) is preparing for the wedding of her daughter, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), inviting her old friends (Christine Baranski and Julie Walters) down for the celebration. However, Sophie has plans of her own, sending invitations to three of her mother's past lovers (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgard) to find out which man is her real father. Donna, thunderstruck over seeing these eager candidates back in her life, immediately panics and spends the long weekend trying to avoid a total meltdown as the rush of memories overwhelms her and complicates the festivities.

Approaching "Mamma" is a problematical prospect: to enjoy it to the fullest extent you must a) love ABBA and b) have some working knowledge of the Broadway show on which this film is based. Without these components in place, "Mamma" is going to feel endless, dreadfully over-caffeinated, and perhaps downright childish. It would be a dream for everyone to participate in the picture and come out with an engorged heart and a Google map to the nearest glitter boutique, but let's get real here: "Mamma" is not for every taste.

Gussied up and streamlined for its big-screen debut, director Phyllida Lloyd (who supervised the stage version as well) has refocused the colossal energy of the piece, attempting to strategically portion it out for painless DVD consumption. In any incarnation, "Mamma" is a bullet train of candied romantic stupefaction, lending inescapable yearn to the characters through the application of bubblegum love songs, set against an impossibly heavenly Greek locale. On the stage, the musical strived to evoke Donna's trials with swift timing, song cues that preyed upon the element of surprise, and bellowing audience reaction. The film doesn't share such comfort, and while it hasn't been exhaustively reimagined, it's been pleasingly filled out to create a more encompassing experience for all.

What this "Mamma" has to deal with are bona fide cinema stars, not comprehensively-trained theater actors, so "Mamma" pumps up the soundtrack, offering improved sonic depth to help out the less musically-inclined talent. Make no mistake, performers like Streep and Seyfried belt out the hits like heavyweight champs, able to follow the twisty ABBA melodies without getting thrown off course. Streep especially winds up for the tunes, hurling her whole body into every lyric while Lloyd sprints around trying to find angles to best beautify the performance. The boys can barely keep up with her, but I was particularly smitten with Brosnan, who doesn't possess golden pipes (quite the opposite, actually), but gives his singing a fighting shot, helped out significantly by the enhanced soundscape and the contact high from Streep's keyed up performance.

Special praise must be reserved for Seyfried, who captures Sophie's bewildered state of panic and gentle paternal desires with uncharacteristic polish, considering the actress has previously made a career for herself in unremarkable teen fluff. It's the first adult performance from Seyfried and she anchors the picture with a small, doe-eyed window of emotional reality. It's vulnerable, stirring work I hope to see more of. Seyfried nearly steals the movie away from the pros.

"Mamma" is all about vitality, and the picture is legitimately exhilarating at times, turning songs such as "Dancing Queen" into massive island-wide dance numbers, or giving the critical "Voulez-Vous" number a whirling quality to match the chaotic requirements of the scene. Lloyd isn't an innovative filmmaker, but her instincts and history with the show serve the feature extraordinarily well, underlining the participatory nature of the production at crucial intervals, making sure the audience is still along for the ride. However, her inexperience with filmmaking hurts the picture's early going, as scenes with Donna and best pals Rosie (Walters) and Tanya (Baranski) are sold with a blood-curdling shrillness that was expected on stage, but odious on the screen. Trust me, while the initial moments are played for maximum sun-baked squeak, the picture eventually catches on and settles down to a more harmonious roar.

THE DVD

Visual:

Presented in anamorphic widescreen (2.40:1 aspect ratio), "Mamma Mia" is already a soft-focus film to better deploy the fantastic happenings swirling around the frame. The DVD transfer remains a loose visual experience, but still doesn't put across the proper visual magic found in the theatrical presentation. Black levels tend to run muddy, only revitalized by the outdoor sequences, where the brightness of the locations can accurately fill out the image quality potential. Colors and sparkly costumes still hold their ground, but overall the transfer lacks the energy of the film.

A Sing-Along experience is offered to the more adventurous viewer, employing a karaoke screen set-up for the music numbers.

Examples:

"Take a Chance on Me"

"Mamma Mia!"

"Dancing Queen"

Audio:

ABBA, screechy feminine bonding, and more ABBA. It should come as no surprise that the 5.1 Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix on "Mamma Mia!" is a whirlwind affair. Sending musical numbers and location atmospherics on a journey through the surround channels, the DVD envelops the listener wonderfully. When it comes time to kick down the door sonically, the DVD achieves a pleasing fidelity, maneuvering around the soundtrack without any detectable auditory missteps. French and Spanish 5.1 tracks are included as well.

Subtitles:

English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles are provided.

Extras:

A feature-length audio commentary with director Phyillda Lloyd is a dry listening event, with the filmmaker numbly ticking off the achievements and troubles of the production, Don't get me wrong, Lloyd is quite informative, especially when she discusses the various locations used for filming and her reasons for moving the company into Pinewood Studios for a majority of the dance numbers. She's knowledgeable, confident, and delightful (even when she mispronounces Busby Berkeley's name), but she's not the most energetic of speakers, rendering the track satisfying, but not nearly as engrossing as it should be.

"Deleted Musical Number: 'The Name of the Game'" (3:02) unearths an emotionally charged moment between Sophie and potential father Bill (Skarsgard), only the entire sequence takes place in the dark and doesn't feature the most convincing ABBA interpretation around. A wise cut.

"Deleted Scenes" (8:06) reveal backstory on the three fathers-to-be that was changed to a brief montage in the finished film, unearth more Dominic Cooper (playing Sophie's fiancée), and include bits and pieces of throwaway comedy.

"Outtakes" (1:34) parade around the zanier side of Meryl Streep.

"The Making of 'Mamma Mia!'" (24:07) spends most of the time reminding the viewer that the picture was created by a largely female crew. The rest of this BTS endeavor attempts to pack a complicated production history inside a tiny running time, interviewing cast and crew (including ABBA's Benny Andersson) on their experience making the musical. The highlight is watching music director Martin Lowe at work, trying to stir up the oomph of the fatigued cast with his own bouts of spastic enthusiasm. The song and dance preparation for this film was monumental, and all we get is 24 heavily polished minutes? A shame.

Sample Clip #1

Sample Clip #2

"Anatomy of a Musical Number: 'Lay All Your Love on Me'" (5:42) breaks down the rehearsing, recording, and filming of the big beach number. Lowe returns to add another drop of his delightful, oddly professional, lunacy.

"Becoming a Singer" (10:55) observes the recording process, moving from the fears of a cast forced to conquer the music of ABBA to the actual vocal work, with plenty of footage of the ensemble working out the tunes to enjoy. Regardless of actual musical prowess, the humanity (or is that humility?) of the actors shines through. The featurette is the highlight of this DVD.

"Behind the Scenes with Amanda"(4:14) is home video shenanigans from the actress, effectively bursting the aura of dignity Seyfried manages to achieve in the film.

"On Location in Greece" (4:05) discusses the production's attempt to inject some location reality to temper the studio artificiality.

"A Look Inside 'Mamma Mia!'" (2:41) finally gets around to a discussion of the ABBA legacy, rehashing interview bits to communicate the entire musical experience in a brief period of time.

"'Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!' Music Video" (3:50) hopes to make Seyfried an industry star with her own promotional clip.

"Bjorn Ulvaeus Cameo" (1:36) gives the other half of the ABBA songwriting royalty a longer chance to shine.

Finally, a Theatrical Trailer has not been included on this DVD.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Of course "Mamma" lurches for the throat with its high-flying, bell-bottomed feistiness (a quality that extends into the blinding end credits). It's a musical hell-bent on extorting smiles; an infectious piece of 1970's hokum played at a vociferous, yet agreeable pitch. "Mamma" is intended only for the open-hearted, as cynics will find no island of comfort here. Watching the film rear back and launch constant fireworks of joy is a wonderful thing to behold, positioning itself as an ideal holiday diversion to counteract all the cartoons and superheroes. "Mamma Mia!" is a heavy dose of syrup, but it stomps proudly and effectively, delivering huge on promises of ABBA-approved bliss.


For further online adventure, please visit brianorndorf.com
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