MAMMA MIA! THE MOVIE Studio: Universal Year: 2008 Rated: PG-13 Film Length: 1 hour, 49 minutes Aspect Ratio: 1080p High Definition Widescreen (2.40:1) Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, French DTS Digital Surround Sound 5.1, Spanish DTS Digital Surround Sound 5.1 Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish Release Date: December 16, 2008 The Movie ( out of ) Mamma Mia! is the film adaptation of the acclaimed stage musical featuring the songs of the 1970s Swedish rock group ABBA. The stage musical is the brainchild of playwright Catherine Johnson, producer Judy Craymer, and director Phyllida Lloyd. Since its premiere in London’s West End in 1999, the stage musical has moved on to Broadway and been seen by over 30 million people. This movie version of Mamma Mia! is the highest grossing movie musical of all time in worldwide box office receipts, and has been nominated in the category of Best Comedy or Musical in the Golden Globe Awards. Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is living on a Greek island in the hotel owned by her mother (Meryl Streep) and she is engaged to be married to Sky (Dominic Cooper). Sophie has never known her father and she wants her father to give her away at her wedding. After obtaining her mother’s diary from 20 years earlier, Sophie realizes that one of three men is her father. Unbeknownst to her mother, Sophie sends invitations to all three men (Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, Pierce Brosnan) in the belief that she will instinctively know her true father when she meets him. Although Mamma Mia! has received many favorable reviews, a number of critics have shown great enthusiasm in ridiculing the singing ability of this or that cast member. Pierce Brosnan has seemingly been criticized the most of all the cast members. Although I will not say that Brosnan has a singing career in his future, he does a fine job in both his singing and acting performances, and does not spoil the movie as some critics would lead you to believe. Is there any creative endeavor that elicits criticism more than the art of singing? Singing is something that few people can do well, yet it seems that everyone is an expert when it comes to judging the singing abilities of others. It is not hard to imagine that many critics determined to ridicule the performances prior to ever seeing this movie. I believe that the popularity of television shows like American Idol is attributable in some small part to the morbidity in human nature of watching someone else sing and taking secret joy if they fall short in their ambitions. It is this reviewer’s opinion that the cast in this movie version are consistently fine in both acting and singing performances. The actors certainly do not surpass the vocal qualities in the original recordings, but it is not reasonably expected that they would match the originals. Mamma Mia! is a joyful, ebullient movie musical, and the upbeat tempos and harmonies of ABBA are perfectly suited to the story as it unfolds. Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson are executive producers along with Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus of ABBA. Eagle-eyed viewers will catch the cameo appearances by the two band members. The producers wisely kept the creators of the stage musical involved in this film adaptation. The stage director, Phyllida Lloyd, is on board directing her first feature film, and original producers Judy Craymer and Catherine Johnson are also involved as producers. These principals obviously understand the assets of the stage version and have admirably succeeded in translating this musical into the film version. Since the setting is in Greece, the story is structured like a Greek comedy with costumes changing to reflect characters’ moods and townspeople acting as a Greek chorus in reaction to statements made within the songs. Since the ABBA songs as composed in the 1970s were never intended to frame a rock opera story, I was naturally skeptical that the screenplay would be coherent. I had never seen the stage musical, and I was pleasantly surprised at how skillfully the songs have been integrated into a sum greater than their individual parts. Although Mamma Mia! did not rank as highly in domestic box office sales in the United States, its worldwide ticket sales has ranked it sixth overall for 2008. In the United Kingdom, it is actually the highest grossing film of all time, surpassing even Titanic. The success of Mamma Mia! on film has even generated serious studio discussions regarding a possible sequel. Video ( ½ out of ) The movie is in 1080p high definition in a wide-screen 2.40:1 aspect ratio. The picture quality is excellent. Film grain is perceptible only in the earth tones of some of the interior shots but the picture does not appear to be oversaturated beyond the filmmakers’ intent. The azure skies, verdant foliage, and aquamarine seas of the Greek isles have never looked more appealing than they do in Mamma Mia! It would not surprise me if tourism in Greece increases perceptibly in the wake of this film. The very first shots of the film include a panorama of stars in the night sky as Sophie drops her invitations to her three possible fathers into a mailbox. The stars sparkle like no night sky ever has in the real world, and the viewer can sense that this is a fairy tale come to life. Come the dawn, all of the colors in the film are warm and vibrant for the remainder of the film, reflecting the enhanced reality that has been created for this film. The visuals create a sense of wonder not unlike a Harry Potter or other type of fantasy movie, with the difference here being that most of the scenery actually exists in the real world. The most striking and memorable scene of the movie, for me, is the one in which the wedding procession marches up the cliff to the church at the top. Donna (Meryl Streep) is performing “The Winner Takes It All” to Sam (Pierce Brosnan) in the foreground while the wedding procession marches up the trail in the background. The remarkable thing is that this panoramic vista apparently exists in the real world. The camera is always moving, even in this scene, which avoids the static look from which some stage adaptations suffer. Audio ( out of ) Audio options include English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and French and Spanish DTS Digital Surround Sound 5.1. The music has a “Wall of Sound” mixed into it that is consistent with the original ABBA recordings in which harmonies of chorus are achieved by over-dubbing the singers’ voices in multiple tracks. This gives the music a richness of sound that harmonizes with the actors’ voices. The soundtrack is driven by music and not by any unique sound effects, so this may not be the movie to show off the full range of your sound system, but anyone would be hard pressed to find any fault in it. There is a separate audio track with commentary by the director, Phyllida Lloyd. Special Features ( out of ) The special features include all of the following: Digital Copy: A second disc contains a digital copy of Mamma Mia! for transfer to your iPod, Mac, or personal computer. My Chat: Allows you to chat by text with other friends watching the movie on Blu-Ray at the same time linked through the BD-Live internet connection. My Movie Commentary: Allows you to record your own video commentary or text commentary and send it to friends who are linked through the BD-Live internet connection. My Scenes: Allows you to save movie clips and share them with others through the BD-Live internet connection. U-Control: Picture-in-picture commentary during the movie with interviews of cast and crew; and “Behind The Scenes” which has screen pop-ups with information and trivia regarding the songs. Sing Along: This is the “Sing Along” edition of Mamma Mia! released to a limited number of theaters on August 29, 2008. It features the song lyrics on the bottom portion of the screen for viewers to sing along to the movie. Deleted Scenes (8:06): Several scenes deleted from the theatrical cut. Outtakes (1:33): A few dialogue mistakes and set malfunctions during filming. Deleted Musical Number: “The Name of the Game” (3:02): Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) and Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) in a musical number cut from the theatrical release. The Making of Mamma Mia! (24:05): This making-of featurette highlights the history of the stage musical and the efforts to translate Mamma Mia! into a film. It is divided into 3 parts which can be viewed together or separately: The Musical, The Film, The Cast. Anatomy of a Musical Number: “Lay All Your Love On Me” (5:42): This featurette includes interviews with production and cast members and shows some of the technical challenges in filming one of the song sequences for the film. Especially interesting is the fact that the actors were feeling cold on the beach during filming, since the completed sequence has such warm color tones that it appears to have been a very hot day on the beach, not a cold one. Credit the actors with creating the illusion of warmth on a cold day at the beach. Becoming a Singer (10:55): Cast members talk about the challenges of performing in song. A Look Inside Mamma Mia! (2:40): Short featurette with archival footage of ABBA performing in the 1970s. “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)” Music Video (3:49): Amanda Seyfried performing “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” in a music video that was released originally in Europe. Bjorn Ulvaeus cameo (1:35): Movie clip in which original ABBA composer plays a lute as one of a group of Greek gods. Conclusion ( out of overall) This reviewer is like many other critics who enjoy this movie a little more than they care to admit, making it a guilty pleasure that I will probably see again. The beautiful scenery of the Greek Isles made me feel like I had vicariously been on a fun vacation for the duration of the movie, and I look forward to revisiting that world the next time I watch Mamma Mia! I will not pretend that this is the greatest musical ever made, but I believe that its successful box office success is well deserved. The producers deserve credit for translating what must have been a fairly entertaining stage musical into a vibrant, colorful movie musical. Mamma Mia! on Blu Ray is a fun, entertaining movie filled with eye candy and catchy music, making it a feast for the eyes and the ears. The upbeat tempo of the music is matched well by the romantic plots and subplots in which all of the major characters become involved. The characters in this film live through many of the joys and disappointments of love that we all can relate to, but the despair of love lost is always in smaller proportion to the pleasure of love found, or regained, by the respective characters by the end of the story. This movie comes highly recommended on Blu Ray, and there will be people who normally shun musicals who will derive great enjoyment from Mamma Mia!