Directed by Chuck Russell
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:11080pVC-1 codec
Running Time: 92 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD MA 5.1 English; DTS 5.1 Spanish, French
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
MSRP: $ 29.98
Release Date: July 22, 2008
Review Date: July 24, 2008
Chuck Russell’s The Scorpion King is good old-fashioned fun. Not designed to be heavy-breathing, serious, or deep, this popcorn flick has handsome heroes, dastardly villains, comic sidekicks, and beautiful ladies all working through a throwaway story of good triumphing over evil. It has the same sensibility and sense of play that characterized the Johnny Weissmuller/Gordon Scott Tarzan movies of decades ago. This is in widescreen, features thousands of extras, and has mounds of special effects, but the goal is the same: simple entertainment with a little bit of everything folks go to escapist movies to encounter. In that regard, the film succeeds pretty well.
Mathayus (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) is an Acadian warrior who finds himself the declared enemy of cutthroat warlord Memnon (Steven Brand) who’s interested in conquering vast territories of the Middle East and establishing himself as ruler. His ace in the hole is a sorceress (Kelly Hu) who predicts great victories for him, and her accurate predictions have given Memnon’s army such confidence that they’re undefeatable in battle. Once Memnon executes Mathayus’ beloved brother, however, it’s only a matter of time before the two meet in a final duel to the death. Equally matched as warriors, the battle promises to be quite spectacular. Since the film is only 92 minutes long, it’s not a lengthy wait for the audience before the two men meet face-to-face in final combat.
Before we get there, of course, director Russell and his team of writers (Stephen Sommers, William Osborne, David Hayter) contrive a fair number of challenging obstacles which Mathayus must deal with. They’re fun perils: everything from facing a sea of ravenous red warrior ants to playing Rambo inside a cave picking off Memnon’s men one-by-one through a series of ingenious surprise attacks. The writers get a bit lazy with their plotting when it comes to the sorceress borrowing her story from the James Bond adventure Live and Let Die (virginal young lady with clairvoyant powers will lose them if she loses her innocence), but they’ve supplied a fair number of comic lines for The Rock, and Russell manages to keep things moving at a fast clip so that the slight story never lingers too long on any one sequence. Even the final battle between the two combatants doesn’t seem protracted as these affairs often do.
This was Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s first lead in a movie, and he handles the starring role with authority and presence. It’s no wonder that he’s had a very successful career following up this role with a series of turns, some starring and some supporting, as he gains experience handling all different types of characters. Steven Brand was interesting casting as his nemesis. Not remotely sporting the extreme musculature of The Rock, he nevertheless manages to convince as a fierce competitor and gives weight to all of their scenes together, as humorless and dour as The Rock is seriocomic and playful. Michael Clarke Duncan plays an African chieftain who’s initially antagonistic to the upstart Mathayus only to begin to work with him after being bested in battle by him. Duncan, however, seems a bit out of his element here, seeming a bit anachronistic in this pre-pyramid land and not always at ease with what he's saying or doing. Kelly Hu’s sorceress is attractive and matches well with The Rock, but her role is limited. Less successful is the comic relief work of Grant Heslov’s Arpad and the wily science-loving character Philos played by Bernard Hill.
The Scorpion King has a feel-good vibe that’s perfect for a movie that wants to entertain and nothing else. It doesn’t aim high, but it often scores in the areas where it points and shoots.
The 2.35:1 Panavision frame is accurately reproduced in this 1080p transfer using the VC-1 codec. Color is strong and dimensionality superb for most of the film with an occasional lack of sharpness the only negative in an otherwise very strong high definition transfer. The encode seems to have no problems with the smoke, fog, and sand clouds which occur throughout the movie (and the overall clarity betrays the poorly executed CGI ants which are featured in one sequence) making for an extraordinarily pleasing visual experience. The film has been divided into 20 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is a terrific achievement. Featuring an outstanding dimensional soundscape with wonderfully inventive use of the surrounds, the film showcases three truly magnificent audio sequences: the sand storm, the cave sequence, and the final vision of doom, all of which feature aggressive use of the listening space and powerful use of the LFE channel.
Director Chuck Russell contributes an audio commentary which seems almost unnecessary with the U-Control option. Still, it’s here with the talkative director praising his cast and commenting on the filming in various locations on the Universal backlot and other picturesque sites. There are gaps in the commentary when he runs out of things to say or pauses to let the viewer listen to John Debney’s music which he greatly admires.
The U-Control feature works like a charm if selected by the user. It features interviews with cast and crew, behind-the-scenes shots of the filming, and storyboards for several action sequences, some with commentary and others silent, always returning to the full DTS-HD MA track once the picture-in-picture audio is completed.
Good for a well intentioned action-filled evening of light entertainment with a few laughs, The Scorpion King soft pedals the gore and violence and instead concentrates on pure amusement. It’s a pleasing upgrade in picture and sound from the Collector’s Edition DVD though it’s missing many of the separate featurettes from that set (much of the content of the U-Control supplement are from these previous vignettes on the DVD.)