The Scorpion King [DVD]
Director : Chuck Russell
Screenplay : Stephen Sommers and David Hayter and Will Osborne (story by Stephen Sommers and Jonathan Hales)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2002
Stars : The Rock (Mathayus), Steven Brand (Memnon), Kelly Hu (Cassandra), Michael Clarke Duncan (Balthazar), Grant Heslov (Arpid), Peter Facinelli (Takmet), Ralph Moeller (Thorak)
One of the most important rules of the modern movie marketplace is that, to be truly successful, a movie must be able to continue life in sequels and spin-offs. Stephen Sommers' The Mummy (1999), a very loose action-adventure remake of the 1932 Boris Karloff classic, has proved to be exactly that, having spun off a sequel, 2001's The Mummy Returns, which grossed more than its predecessor and also created the character of the Scorpion King, played by wrestling superstar The Rock. Although the Scorpion King was on-screen for all of 10 minutes in The Mummy Returns, the producers knew a potential spin-off when they saw one, and so The Scorpion King went into production. Thus, we now have a prequel to the sequel of a remake.
The Rock (née Dwayne Johnson) returns as the titular character, although here he is cast as a hero, rather than a villain. Taking place in ancient Biblical times, apparently before Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by heaven-sent fire, The Scorpion King tells of how the character gained that title. Known throughout the film as Mathayus, he is a barbaric warrior and assassin, one of the last of his tribe of Arkadians. He is hired by the leader of another tribe to kill a sorcerer who is aiding Memnon (Steven Brand), a ruthless warrior-king who is trying to rule the entire ancient world. Mathayus discovers that the sorcerer is actually a hottie sorceress named Cassandra (Kelly Hu) who has been an unwilling captive of Memnon's.
Mathayus, whose best friend is a devoted camel, picks up some allies along the way, starting with Arpid (Grant Heslov), a savvy weakling of a horse thief whose name might as well be "Comic Relief." Mathayus also eventually teams up with Balthazar (Michael Clarke Duncan, the gentle giant of The Green Mile), a Nubian warrior-king who oversees a desert oasis filled with beautiful women warriors.
The Scorpion King is short and to the point--it doesn't waste much time with character backgrounds or even much in the way of narrative establishment save a brief, computer-generated map with voice-over narration. The movie has you slightly off-kilter from the opening shots, which give you snowy mountains instead of the expected sandy dunes and shows us a gruff character walking into close-up in the foreground, only to have him go down two seconds later when a weapon of some sort is hurled into his skull. The screenplay by Stephen Sommers (who wrote and directed both Mummy films), David Hayter (X-Men), and Will Osborne (Twins) is a blunt tool, showing little interest in anything besides getting to the next action sequence, which is never too soon. There are flashes of genuine humor here and there, even though the movie proves somewhat schizophrenic, seemingly aware of its genuinely campy nature yet reticent about fully engaging in it.
Director Chuck Russell (The Mask, Eraser) does a good job of staging the battle scenes, all of which are significantly scaled back from the battle of thousands that introduced the Scorpion King in The Mummy Returns. Rather, these are mostly hand-to-hand battles with a handful of characters--not a lot of blood, but plenty of gushy sound effects to get the point across. Russell doesn't try to top anything that's been done before, and he keeps the action coherent and even somewhat graceful at times, although it's mostly rote. He even cribs quite obviously from other films, notably the escape by running behind a rolling gong from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) and the sneaky guerilla tactics used by Stallone in Rambo (1985). (I also couldn't help but smile at the tongue-in-cheek visual homage to the John Woo action style when characters are thrown off their feet and fly through the air in slow motion as if they had just been machine gunned by an entire army when, in fact, they had just been shot with a single arrow.)
The Scorpion King isn't a good movie--it certainly doesn't transcend any boundaries or even push at them, for that matter--but it's entertaining enough to get the job done. While it tones down some of the more hectic and headache-inducing aspects of the Mummy films, it also seems less enthusiastic, almost reluctant to embrace its kitschy aesthetic. Seeing as how it was a quickie spin-off made to cash in on what is probably a fleeting trend (or are we fully re-entering the 1950s era of sword-and-sandal epics?), it's not surprising that it feels like precisely what it is, although it's still a shade disappointing.
|The Scorpion King Collector's Edition DVD|
|Distributor||Universal Home Video|
|Release Date||October 1, 2002|
| 2.35:1 (Anamorphic)|
The anamorphic widescreen transfer on this disc is solid all-around. The image is pleasing and well-detailed, delivering excellent textures without any noticeable compression artifacting or excessive edge enhancement. Colors, which are mostly earth tones with the exception of the intrusion of bright shades in a few scenes such as the harem, are well-saturated and natural looking. Black levels are good throughout, and shadow detail is generally excellent.
The disc is also available in a separate pan-and-scan release.
| English, French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround |
The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack packs a wallop without sacrificing detail and clarity. Like the image transfer, this is an all-around good sound mix, with finely detailed sound effects (especially all those grisly gougings and slicings) and a few examples of good, floor-rumbling bass (such as a scene involving a sand storm). Surrounds are used effectively throughout, especially during the various fight sequences.
| Alternate Version in Enhanced Viewing Mode|
This is a feature much like New Line's "Infinifilm," whereby you can watch the film and, at various times, an icon appears on the screen (in this case, a red scimitar). If you click on the icon, you are taken to another scene, which in all cases is simply an alternate version that would have been placed at that point in the movie. The concept is an interesting and creative use of DVD technology, but the result isn't that effective, particularly since all the alternate scenes are available elsewhere on the disc and there's not much reason to interrupt the movie to watch them right then. Another complaint is that, when you are taken to the alternate screens, they are presented in nonanamorphic widescreen.
Enhanced Feature Commentary with The Rock
Feature Commentary with director Chuck Russell
"Spotlight on Location: The Making of The Scorpion King" featurette
"Preparing the Fight" featurette
"The Special Effects" featurette
"The Rock and Michael Clarke Duncan" featurette
"Ancient World Production Design" featurette
"Working With Animals" featurette
Scorpion King: Man or Myth?
Alternate Versions of Key Scenes
Original theatrical trailer
Godsmack music video, "I Stand Alone"
Cast and filmmakers
Copyright © 2002 James Kendrick