The Scorpion King
When considering the merits of the beloved genre, action/adventure, you have to remember that this class of film serves to provide pure, thrilling entertainment. You cant compare something like the Scorpion King to a film the caliber of The Godfather. Still, this film has merit among its peers. Most films of this genre are to some degree or another created by a formula. Now dont get me wrong, this is not always a bad thing. Here all the usual elements are there and they combine to create a flick that is fun to watch. Take a huge, muscular hero, Mathayus (played by WWF superstar the Rock, real name Dwayne Johnson) and pit him against everything the evil villain Memnon (Steven Brand) throws at him, add a beautiful sorceress Casandra (Kelly Hu), a cowardly sidekick and a faithful camel and you have a blockbuster film. Of course the bad guy is using the sorceress against her will, of course she fights with the hero at first but you know they are going to fall in love. While the plot, or what passes for a plot is predicable one of the main things this film has going for it is pure escapism. Dont view this movie if you expect to think at all. Its an hour and half out of your life when there are no expectations on you except to enjoy the ride. The film mixes together action, comedy, romance and more action for a roller coaster ride. The hero of this film is the good old fashion good guy. He can be brutal but he also lives by a code of honor that is as steady as the rocks. When Mathayus gives his word to a horse thief (who becomes the comic relief sidekick) he is as adamant about keeping it as any contract he enters. The modern trend seems to be a more complex hero, one tormented between right and wrong. Here we go back to the days when you went to a flick and could tell who to root for. There is even the conflict between the hero and a rival, in this case Baltazar (Michael Clarke Duncan), where the two fight almost to the death and then become steadfast allies. The formula here provided me with a sense of familiarity, returning me to the action films of my youth. The action comes fast, within the first minute of the film and is almost constant throughout the film. You paid for action and you will get it. This movie is the prequel to the sequel of the hit action film, The Mummy. It is so distant from the other two films that it can stand on its own. Just dont expect it to fill in any of the pieces left open by the Mummy Returns.
Since Johnson came from the strange world of Professional Wrestling I really didnt expect much in the way of acting from him. I was a bit surprised. He did very well for his first time out in the leading role. Comic action may look easy but its difficult to combine the persona of a rough hero with the ability to crack a tongue in cheek wisecrack. The Rock was able to do this. He brought some life to his role and was able to carry off the comedy. Naturally, there is his trademark single eyebrow arching, thankfully not overdone but they are there for his WWF fans. Hu is beautiful and shows promise as an actress. If you overlook the typical nonsense imposed on her like after days in the desert her lip-gloss and eye make is still perfect, and the wet rags that miraculously stay in PG-13 place, she holds her own in such a testosterone riddle setting. She completes the list of required scenes. Fight with the hero, check. Fight the bad guys, check. Make love to the hero, check. I would like to see her in a role that permitted her to more opportunity to try to act. The least utilized member of this cast is Michael Clarke Duncan. I know for a fact that he can act, just get Green Mile and see for your self. Here he is reduced to a featured stunt man. His character plays well off Johnsons. There is a natural chemistry there that really helps the film along.
Director Charles Russell is near his best here. Personally I liked the Mask with Jim Carrey a bit better but this film joins such films as Bless the Child, Eraser and Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors on his resume. He knows how to pace a film. The action here comes at just the right points in the story, never letting the expository dialogue bog things down. The use of little bits of comedy keep things light and prevents the film from becoming just another excuse for fight scenes. While a lot of this film is special effects Russell uses a lot of talent in how he incorporates them into the movie. They add to the film rather than taking it over. That seems to be the most popular flaw in this type of movie, forget the actors, and just use CGI.
The disc itself is very well done. Universal is rapidly becoming one of the better studios for producing high quality DVDs. Due to pressure apparently from some major retail outlets there are two versions of this disc, pan and scan and widescreen. Get the widescreen. The 4:3 format just cannot present the full impact of the action. In the letterboxed version the video is a crisp, clear anamorphic 2.35:1. In the many scenes that rapidly switch from dark to light there was no discernable flaws or artifacts. The audio is Dolby 5.1. Unlike a lot of action discs today the mastering of the sound was not at a volume that is designed to make your ears bleed. There was plenty of power to the sound but it didnt overwhelm the dialogue. The balance was well done. The rear speakers where used to create a full, rich audio environment. The sub woofer booms into life through most of the film but never to the point of distraction. There is an interesting commentary track by Russell explaining the process of the film and a few featurettes and music video to round out this special edition. It a fun flick that the whole family can enjoy on a Saturday evening. It delivers a good ride for the money.