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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 9/27/02

The Scorpion King
Widescreen Collector's Edition - 2002 (2002) - Universal

review by Graham Greenlee of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Scorpion King: Widescreen Collector's Edition Film Rating: C

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/A-/B

Specs and Features
94 mins, PG-13, widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, dual-layered (no layer switch), Amaray keep-case packaging, audio commentary with director Chuck Russell, "enhanced" feature commentary with The Rock, alternate takes viewable separately or incorporated into the film using "Enhanced Viewing Mode", outtakes, Spotlight on Location: The Making of The Scorpion King featurette, five additional featurettes on the making of the film, Godsmack I Stand Alone music video, History of the Real Scorpion King text, theatrical trailer, production notes, filmographies, film-themed animated menu screens, scene access (20 chapters), languages: English and French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English and Spanish

"What?! No one goes through the Valley of the Dead. That's why they call it the Valley of the Dead! Hey... wait for me, please!"

Adam Jahnke's recent review of Blue Velvet pointed out that it's a pretty hard task to pick out a line of dialogue to start off a Digital Bits review. It's even harder when I have to try to find the least cringe-worthy line in The Scorpion King, that can still sum up (or give a picture) of the film. So, if you find that line particularly funny, then you'll love The Scorpion King, a film that fails for all of the right reasons... and yet succeeds for all of the wrong reasons.

Dwayne Johnson (better known as "The Rock") is Mathayus, an Akkadian assassin in "Ancient, Ancient Egypt" (a time before the pharaohs and pyramids). He has been sent, with his brother, to kill a sorceress that is aiding an enemy tribe. But Memnon (Steven Brand), the leader of the enemy tribe, captures both of them and Mathayus's brother is killed.

Left for dead in the desert, Mathayus and a criminal named Arpid (Grant Heslov) make their way to Gomorrah to avenge his brother's death. Though they are almost killed, they have managed to capture Memnon's sorceress, Cassandra (Kelly Hu). Mathayus makes it very clear to Cassandra, "I was sent to kill you. Right now, you're more use to me alive. Don't make me change my mind." But Cassandra was never really happy with Memnon to begin with, and soon falls in love with Mathayus. Unfortunately, in consummating her love in a very hokey romantic scene, she has lost her powers and is now unable to predict the very tumultuous future.

Aided by the leader of another tribe, Balthazar (Michael Clarke Duncan), this motley crew must make their way back to Gomorrah to stop Memnon before he can rule the world. In doing so, Mathayus can assume his destiny as the great Scorpion King.

The Scorpion King works, but not in the way the studio executives would have planned it to. The planned comic relief character just isn't funny... but other little things are, such as Kelly Hu's worried reaction shots or Peter Facinelli's horrible pseudo-English accent. These are not the fault of the actors, who don't exactly have a lot to work with. I call it "Hayden Christensen syndrome," after his performance in Attack of the Clones. Christensen is a good actor, but he was just so unintentionally funny in his romantic scenes in that film due to the plain silliness of the dialogue. The same goes for these actors. They give it their all, but they know that this is all just silliness, and no matter how they play the material, it's going to come off BAD.

But then, it's not really the fault of the writers either, who include Stephen Sommers (of the The Mummy) and Jonathan Hales (co-writer of Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones). They were most likely coerced into having to write a film whose sole purpose is to make The Rock a star. And strangely, it isn't the fault of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, who appears to simply be "just another victim" of fame.

Everything in this film looks like it was put together the night before the shoot, using cardboard and glue. It cost sixty million dollars, but it looks like five. But thought all these problems are pretty bad for a big Hollywood film, they somehow contribute to the film taking on a charming Saturday-matinee feel. It's all very campy, to the point that the actors look like they're about to crack up during the more "serious" moments.

Summed up, The Scorpion King is a bad film and there is no way around it. It was a horrible concept. But its execution is - somehow - subversively tongue-in-cheek and somewhat clever. Everyone and everything in this film knows that it's on a crash-course for disaster... and yet the film somehow escapes that fate by acknowledging it.

Universal's initial release (and I say "initial" because you just have to know that an Ultimate Edition release of this disc will come eventually) of The Scorpion King attempts to cram a lot of extraneous value-added material onto one disc, which somewhat degrades the video quality. Don't get me wrong. The picture is okay. The image is bright and crisp and blacks are solid. Edge enhancement, though quite noticeable, is not too distracting. The problem here is in the low video compression bitrate that was required to fit all this material on a single disc. Though the film runs 94 minutes, it really could have used more space than just one layer of a disc (the extras are on the other layer). Detailing suffers, and artifacting is definitely noticeable in fast moving shots. Other films that are longer, with primarily static shots, can get away with one layer, but The Scorpion King could have used more.

On the other hand, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track is really good. It makes a great surround sound tester, as most scenes put you right in the action. The sandstorm (Chapter 11) is especially well done. Since you are put in the POV of the enemy guards, the winds are especially disorienting and are quite a fun listen. But while the surrounds are strong, they never overpower the music or the dialogue, which is always clear throughout the film.

Extras-wise, first up is the screen-specific commentary by director Chuck Russell. Russell, also responsible for The Mask, is quite a good listen. He loves to talk about how much fun it was to film The Scorpion King, yet the track never becomes an "Everyone was great" session. Russell enjoys talking about the cinematography and the effects, and you get really good information out of this. Granted, it doesn't rank as one of the best commentaries ever, but if you like the film, you'll definitely want to listen to this one.

On the other hand, only people who like the sound of The Rock's voice are going to really want to hear his "advanced" commentary track. Firstly, The Rock doesn't add too much at all, mainly laughing at things that happen. What makes the track more annoying is that every now and then, a red "s" appears on screen, which you can click to bring you to the "enhanced" mode, allowing you to actually watch The Rock do his commentary for a brief second. Here is why this is annoying; the video switches from anamorphic to non-anamorphic widescreen, and The Rock appears in a little box. If you are watching the film on a widescreen display, it's incredibly distracting. And if you are watching it on a low-end, set-top player, it will take FOREVER to load up. The idea is interesting, so I have to commend whoever came up with it, but it was poorly executed. It would have worked much better as a DVD-ROM extra. And while it's not so interesting with a single person on a day and date release, it would be great with a cast reunion on a catalogue title (say the Willy Wonka commentary track).

Next up, are the Alternate Versions of Key Scenes, which are basically alternate takes of various scenes, presented in non-anamorphic widescreen. The alternate takes aren't very interesting, comprising mainly different inflection and reaction shots. You can view these scenes separately or in the "Enhanced Viewing Mode." Like The Rock's commentary, this feature was also poorly executed, and viewing the scenes separately is the recommended method. Then there are about three minutes of outtakes, which are somewhat entertaining. The Spotlight on Location is basically an extended trailer for the film, no real information here. But you'll find a bit more information in a group of five featurettes. Ancient World Production Design focuses, oddly enough, on the production design of the film, and you'll see all kinds of concept art that illustrates how they turned Southern California locations into the locations for the film. Preparing the Fight shows off the fight choreography, The Rock and Michael Clarke Duncan focuses on the friendship between the two actor/friends, while Working with Animals makes me NEVER want to work with animals. The Special Effects is split up between looks at the cobras and the fire ants, showing how these two relatively believable effects were achieved.

The Godsmack I Stand Alone music video is included, which is annoyingly loud and out of place. Also, you get nine pages of text on King Scorpion (interesting information presented in a boring fashion), along with production notes and cast & filmmaker bios. The theatrical trailer is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen, and Universal has included the teaser for The Hulk, a trailer for Sci-Fi Channel's mini-series Taken, DVD trailers for E.T. and Back to the Future, and a WWE promotional piece.

Though certainly paling in comparison to other action/adventure films of this "scope," The Scorpion King's so-bad-it's-good quality is certain to make it a great "guilty pleasure" movie in time to come. And there's no need to feel too guilty about it, since Universal's put together a nice package for the film's home video debut.

Graham Greenlee

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