Release Date: December 16, 2008
Rating: 2 ½ ½
Starring: Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, Julie Walters, Dominic Cooper, Amanda Seyfried and Christine Baranski
Music and Lyrics by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus
Based on the songs of ABBA
Directed by: Phyllida Lloyd
Mamma Mia! is the cinematic adaptation of the stage musical, itself based on the 70’s pop songs of ABBA. The story follows a young woman on the verge of marriage who summons the three men who could potentially be her father to her home in Greece. Rather than this becoming a nasty situation (like Lace, for example), this instead creates an upbeat scenario that teaches the woman, her mother, and the potential fathers about their relationships with each other. While the live theatre event has been known for its high energy, the film version expands the landscape by physically setting the story and musical numbers in picturesque Greek locations and populating the company with name actors including Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan in the key roles. As an adaptation of the stage play, it’s hard for the film to match the energy of the live performance, and this problem is exacerbated by the singing of some of the cast, particularly Brosnan and Skarsgard. As a theatrical film in its own right, Mamma Mia! works in fits and starts, with the characters initially coming across as grating but eventually finding a more comfortable presentation in spite of the singing. Some of the musical numbers are mounted on an expressive, even epic, scale, particularly the expected large-scale treatment of “Dancing Queen”. In its best moments, the film can be a lot of fun, particularly for fans of the stage play, of ABBA, or just of the idea of Meryl Streep singing these songs. Given that the stage play and the film were primarily created by a female team as a fantasy of middle-aged longing and love, it is likely that the film will appeal more to a female audience (particularly a middle-aged one) than it will to a younger male audience. Since the film was extremely successful, I find it likely that there is a quite large following ready to pick up this DVD, if they have not already done so.
The edition under review here is the 2-Disc Special Edition, which includes both the single-disc edition and a second disc loaded with featurettes. The film itself is contained on the first disc, in a 2.40:1 anamorphic transfer and a 5.1 mix that carries a pretty good musical punch, along with a director’s commentary, a karaoke mode for the film, and a deleted musical number. The second disc contains a wealth of materials, including some deleted scenes and outtakes, and a bunch of featurettes. Fans of the film and the stage play will definitely want to pick up this version rather than the single-disc release, as the featurettes, while fluffy, do give a better idea of what actually happened during the making of this film than one might initially think. For a limited time, the 2-Disc edition also includes a digital copy of the film.
VIDEO QUALITY: 2 ½/5 ½
Mamma Mia! is presented in an anamorphic 2.40:1 widescreen transfer that is a touch soft in several sequences, reflecting the print quality of the released film. The panoramic views of Greece are certainly entertaining throughout, and there is an expressive range of color on display, from the scenery to the flesh tones, but there are unfortunate areas of soft focus. I tended to notice these much more during sequences with the older members of the cast, which leads me to believe this was a deliberate choice made by the filmmakers rather than an error in the transfer.
AUDIO QUALITY: 3/5
Mamma Mia! is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix in English, French and Spanish that turns the home theatre into a soundstage for ABBA songs and big musical numbers. The dialogue lives in the front channels, but the surrounds come to life both for atmosphere in the spoken “book” sections and for the power pop of the many songs presented throughout the film.
SPECIAL FEATURES: 3/5
Mamma Mia spreads the special features across two discs on this release. The first disc, identical to the single-disc release, includes a director’s commentary, a deleted musical number and a karaoke feature. The second disc contains a lot more material, including deleted scenes, outtakes and many featurettes, along with a digital copy of the film.
On the first disc, we find:
Director’s Commentary with Phyllida Lloyd – This scene-specific commentary features Phyllida Lloyd, who directed the stage play and the theatrical film. It’s a bit dry, but she probably has more knowledge about the production history than anyone else. She takes time to describe where and how the various scenes were filmed, including great descriptions of Meryl Streep driving nearly blind (and very quickly) for an early road sequence and some memorably horrifying “Dancing Queen” rehearsals with eighty Greek locals who spoke no English and had to learn the song phonetically.
Deleted Musical Number: ”The Name of the Game” – (3:01, Anamorphic) - This deleted song would have extended a revelatory scene between Stellan Skarsgard and Amanda Seyfried, but its absence doesn’t hurt the film.
Sing-Along! – And this is the special feature that may sell the most copies of this DVD. This is a karaoke function that puts the lyrics of the ABBA songs on screen and gives the viewer the proper timing to be able to sing along with all the numbers in the movie. Now, readers of my prior reviews may remember that with some DVDs I have mentioned that playing the movie really loud late at night may result in some unfortunate encounters with angry neighbors. I cannot stress this concern enough with this feature! (Although I cannot but imagine that countless slumber parties will use the heck out of this...)
When the first disc is put into the machine, a series of non-anamorphic trailers are presented for the DVD release of Beethoven’s Big Break, the NBC series “Kath & Kim” and the now-cancelled “Lipstick Jungle”, along with an anamorphic trailer for the Mamma Mia! stage event, and then non-anamorphic trailers for the Billy Elliot stage event, the ABC Family series The Secret Life of the American Teenager, the theatrical release of Milk, an anti-smoking ad, and the Universal Blu-ray trailer.
The second disc is home to the following special features:
Deleted Scenes (8:03, Non-Anamorphic) – The scenes here are mostly extended location introductions of the three potential fathers in the film, along with extensions of the “Lay All Your Love On Me” number and a few other bits.
Outtakes – (1:32, Non-Anamorphic) - Here is a quick series of scene flubs and general silliness with Meryl Streep. The best one has Streep forgetting to start lip synching and then reacting to her own voice and the music suddenly blaring into the situation...
The Making of Mamma Mia! (24:06, Anamorphic) –This is actually a trio of featurettes joined together. Individually, they are “Birthing Mamma Mia!”, “The Filmmaking” and “The Cast”. The featurettes can be viewed separately or with a “Play All” function. The material covered includes the creation of the stage musical by the team and the conversion of the play to a motion picture. It’s openly acknowledged that this film was created by the same female team that did the stage play, with Brosnan and Starsgard having a bit of fun with this in their interviews. The principal cast are all interviewed along with the producers and Phyllida Lloyd and original ABBA members Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, with the usual intercuts of set video and film clips. Brosnan in particular relates a moving and personal story explaining why he did the movie. And there’s a refreshing honesty from Firth and Starsgard about their singing and dancing abilities (or lack thereof.)
Anatomy of a Musical Number: ”Lay All Your Love On Me” (5:41, Anamorphic) – This featurette covers the work done to create the musical number focused on the younger cast. It’s refreshingly frank, with Amanda Seyfried saying and showing that this beachside number was filmed in cold weather. (She openly states “I mean, if it looks sexy, I don’t know how that happened. But everyone says it looks nice, so just take their word...”) There’s an added challenge of the male chorus entering from underwater SINGING ON CUE. Musical Director Martin Lowe has a great moment trying to get the male chorus to pick up the energy, responding to an unsatisfactory rehearsal by shouting “GUYS! And that’s what I mean by an apathetic start!!! You’re singing! Three, four!” This is one of those moments in making-of featurettes where you can really see past the artifice and the mutual congratulations. It’s also telling that it’s not one of the numbers with Streep or Brosnan that got this attention...
Becoming a Singer (10:53, Anamorphic) – This featurette starts with Benny Andersson discussing the recording of the music accompaniment for the film, and his assembly of his original session players to do it. Meryl Streep discusses her early session introduction to Andersson and we’re shown video footage of her and the rest of the cast working with Andersson, intercut with descriptions by Martin Lowe. It is acknowledged that Streep sang her songs live and didn’t just lip synch her numbers. Phyllida Lloyd states that some of Streep’s live songs are in the movie, but she won’t say which ones, only that there’s a blend...
Behind the Scenes with Amanda (4:12, Anamorphic) – This is a few minutes of on-set video footage of Amanda Seyfried goofing off, being silly or unaffected, and generally acting as you would expect from a young woman having fun on a movie set. There’s probably a bit too much information in various parts of this, but her fans from this film will probably enjoy her enthusiasm.
On Location in Greece (4:04, Anamorphic) – This short featurette focuses on the location work in Greece. The film itself is a combination of the Greek locations and stage work filmed at Pinewood on the 007 stage. For this featurette, Phyllida Lloyd and the producers discuss how they decided which of the Greek islands they would film, intercut with some beautiful footage of Greek islands and landscapes. Christine Baranski has some fun with the idea of needing to not party every night with the Greek locals. One of the producers opines that the cast energy at the location really comes from their “ouzo ration”...
A Look Inside Mamma Mia! (2:40, Anamorphic) – This is a really quick introductory featurette for the film, covering the success of the stage show and the film production. The interview snippets with the film’s cast are clearly from the same interviews done for the DVD. Given that the featurette ends with a note that the film comes out “Summer 2008” with a soundtrack plug, I must conclude that this is actually a preview of sorts, seen either in theatres or on other DVD releases. (Although I certainly haven’t seen it before and I’ve had pretty much all the Universal releases this year...)
Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! Music Video (3:49, Non-Anamorphic) – This is a non-anamorphic music video with Amanda Seyfried singing the listed song in a studio session, intercut with some footage of her singing for the video on location, and some footage from the film.
Bjorn Ulvaeus Cameo (1:34, Non-Anamorphic) – This is a quick assembly of coverage of Bjorn Ulvaeus in a group of singing extras off to one side of the musical number “Waterloo”. The endlessly laughing woman standing next to Ulvaeus appears to be the same person that was featured in the old commercial about the guy locking his keys in the car...
Digital Copy – This digital copy can be downloaded to your PC, Mac or portable device. Instructions on how to do this are included in the packaging. One warning – you cannot access this via the regular menus. In order to get it, you need to put the disc in your computer and follow the autorun menu that should come up. (If all else fails, use the instructions on the insert in the DVD case. But for my computer, an autorun popup appeared that asked if I wanted to access the digital copy or just play the DVD.)
Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish for the film itself, as well as for the special features. A standard chapter menu is included for quick reference.
IN THE END...
Mamma Mia will no doubt be a hit with the many people who went to see it in the theatres, and probably to a whole new group of people who haven’t seen it yet. Fans of the stage musical, ABBA, Meryl Streep or any combination of the above will probably have already bought the DVD before even reading this review. More casual fans will probably already have rented it. I may have some issues with the film, but I don’t see how they’ll really have any impact on what has been a very popular release.
December 22, 2008.