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Chuck Russell
Dwayne Johnson, Steven Brand, Michael Clarke Duncan, Kelly Hu, Bernard Hill, Grant Heslov
Stephen Sommers, Jonathan Hales

Warrior. Legend. King.
Box Office:
Budget $60 million.
Opening weekend $36.075 million on 3444 screens
Domestic gross $90.341 million.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence and some sensuality.

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
English, Spanish

Runtime: 92 min.
Price: $26.98
Release Date: 10/01/2002

• Audio Commentary with Director Chuck Russell
• Audio Commentary with Actor The Rock, Including Video Highlights
• Alternate Version In Enhanced Viewing Mode
• Outtakes
• HBO First Look “The Making of The Scorpion King"
• Godsmack Music Video
• Production Notes
• Behind-the-Scenes Featurettes
• Cast and Filmmakers
• The Real King Scorpion
• Universal Showcase
Scorpion King Special Offers
• Theatrical Trailer
• DVD-ROM Features

Score soundtrack

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The Scorpion King (2002)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Does movie “product” get much more cynical than The Scorpion King? Yeah, I suppose so; plenty of flicks enjoy less reason to exist than this one. Still, I find it hard to not feel contemptuous toward a flick like this, since it feels more like marketing synergy than art.

The Scorpion King acts as a prequel of sorts for 2001’s The Mummy Returns. In that flick The Rock played a small role as the evil Scorpion King, whereas in the new one, he portrays the same part as a hero. Buh? Anyway, King introduces us to Akkadian stud Mathayus (The Rock), part of a group who try to stop nasty overlord Memnon (Steven Brand) from ruling the known world. At first this sits mostly as a mercenary mission for Mathayus, but when Memnon kills his brother Jesup (Branscombe Richmond) - it becomes personal!

With help from a weaselly thief named Arpid (Grant Heslov), Mathayus infiltrates Memnon’s compound. There he meets the sorceress Cassandra (Kelly Hu). She’s a vital component of Memnon’s plan, so he kidnaps her to use for his means.

And blah blah blah. All of this does little more than build up to a bunch of fight scenes, especially including the requisite massive climactic battle. Mathayus and Cassandra fall in love, other goofy stuff happens, and a bunch of people kill each other. Did you anticipate anything more?

I didn’t, but nonetheless, I felt The Scorpion King was a disappointment; it lived down to my expectations. I can pinpoint exactly when this movie lost me: at the two minute, 30 second mark. Mathayus enters a tavern to rescue his brother, and as the patrons nervously await his next move, he whispers “boo!” That moment seemed like such a silly and lame attempt at humor that I almost immediately gave up any hope it might be better than I’d heard.

The Mummy and its sequel offered a solid portrait of how filmmakers can make movies in the spirit of the classic Universal horror flicks but also add a modern edge. Though it used some of the same personnel, King felt like a cheesy rip-off of those movies. It went through the same motions, but its attempts to capture the same tone seemed forced and lackluster.

Director Chuck Russell has proven the ability to create comedic action movies in the past. He did pretty well with The Mask and A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, and even 1996’s Schwarzenegger dud Eraser had its moments. However, he seemed overwhelmed with all the pyrotechnics and sets involved here, and he never could bring a personal touch to the proceedings.

It didn’t help that the actors all appeared totally flat. Without question, The Rock is a charismatic guy, but he didn’t come across that way here. He seemed game and tried his best but just couldn’t overcome his lack of acting chops. He presented a strong presence but nothing else, and I felt the same way about Kelly Hu. She’s a gorgeous woman and she looked great, but she read all of her lines in the same emotionless monotone. Maybe she downplayed her part so she wouldn’t upstage The Rock.

The Mummy flicks paid homage to earlier films, but King came across like nothing more than a rip-off. As with The Mummy, it showed many Indiana Jones inspirations; one bit where Mathayus avoids death behind a rolling gong totally stole from the opening to Temple of Doom. It also tossed in a lot of James Bond overtones. In fact, Cassandra was nothing more than a direct copy of Jane Seymour’s character from Live and Let Die, right down to her virginal bones.

Ultimately, The Scorpion King felt like nothing more than a stale and joyless rehash of many superior movies. I liked both Mummy flicks, so I guess I fell into at least part of King’s target audience. However, the movie did nothing for me other than hope we don’t get a sequel to this lame piece of prepackaged product.

The DVD Grades: Picture A- / Audio A- / Bonus B

The Scorpion King appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. As one might expect from a brand-new, big-budget flick, King looked great.

Sharpness seemed excellent. At all times, the movie remained nicely crisp and distinct. I saw no signs of softness or other concerns. Jagged edges and moiré effects caused no issues, and I also witnessed no evidence of edge enhancement. As for print flaws, I detected a few small specks, but otherwise the image looked clean and fresh.

As with many desert-based flicks, King featured a fairly golden tone, and the DVD replicated those hues well. The colors looked nicely rich and vivid, and I saw no concerns related to bleeding, noise or other issues. Black levels appeared deep and rich, while shadow detail generally came across as clear and appropriately opaque. The movie featured some dodgy day for night shots, but usually low-light sequences appeared positive. Overall, the picture of The Scorpion King wasn’t one of the absolutely best I’ve seen, but it seemed very solid nonetheless.

I felt the same way about the film’s Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Not surprisingly, it featured a very active soundfield. All five channels received a brisk workout through much of the film. Of course, the many action sequences brought out the strongest elements. Swords clanged all about us, and arrows flew past us. The movie created a terrific sense of atmosphere and allowed us to become nicely involved in the action.

Audio quality appeared very positive. Dialogue remained natural and warm at all times, and I noticed no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Music appeared lively and bright, and the score showed fine range as well. The banging drums came across especially well in that regard. Finally, effects demonstrated solid clarity as well as good dynamics. Bass response appeared tight and deep throughout the movie. Overall, the audio for The Scorpion King lived up to my expectations.

For this “Collector’s Edition” of The Scorpion King, Universal provide a mix of extras. First we find two audio commentaries. The first comes from director Chuck Russell, who offers a running, screen-specific track. Russell provides an erratic piece. On the positive side, he covers a reasonable amount of information. He goes over a number of technical elements like sets, locations and effects, and he also chats about what the actors brought to their roles. In general, he seems fairly engaging much of the time.

Unfortunately, these positives don’t come without plenty of negatives. For one, he devotes much too much of the track to plaudits for The Rock. Throughout many of this DVD’s extras, we hear about what an amazing person and performer The Rock is, and it feels more like propaganda than honest praise. In addition, the track can be somewhat dry at times, and too many gaps appear. These don’t seem problematic during the film’s first half, but they escalate during the second one and become much more noticeable. Overall, Russell’s commentary remains listenable and frequently useful, but the various issues I noted make it average as a whole.

The second commentary features The Rock, who provides his own running, screen-specific piece. As I’ve noted in other reviews, actor commentaries are the fool’s gold of DVD supplements. With the consistent exception of those that include Ben Affleck, most tracks with actors stink, and The Rock didn’t change my mind about that notion. The main problem stems from the fact that he rarely speaks during the movie. Many minutes pass without any statements; I can’t imagine the entire movie includes more than 10 minutes of commentary.

Even when The Rock does speak, his remarks tend to be fairly useless. He can offer some funny bits, like a crack about the incongruity of some implant-assisted actresses in a period piece, and he includes the occasional comment that actually tells us about the production, such as the need to do many retakes of some scenes with actors trying to hop on horses. Amusingly, we also eavesdrop on a cell phone call The Rock gets from his mother. Otherwise, though, The Rock essentially just tells us how much he loves the movie. Over and over, he relates that “this is one of my favorite scenes”. It becomes unintentionally hilarious to hear him repeat that statement so many times. Despite a few good gags, The Rock’s commentary doesn’t merit a listen.

The DVD refers to The Rock’s track as an “enhanced ”. That means that from time to time, an icon appears on screen. Click “enter” and you’ll see video footage of The Rock as he records the commentary. This is even less exciting than it sounds. He simply stares at a monitor and talks; there’s nothing of interest to watch, unless you simply really love to look at The Rock.

One very annoying aspect of this piece: some of the commentary appears only if you access the “enhanced” moments. This means that if you miss one, you’ll lose out on some material. Granted, since The Rock’s remarks appear so infrequently as it is, you won’t miss much, but it seems really obnoxious that you must click “enter” when those stupid icons pop up or you won’t hear all of the content.

Another feature uses a similar construction. The awkwardly-titled Alternate Version in Enhanced Viewing Mode pops an icon on the screen nine times during the movie, and if you hit “enter”, you’ll see some deleted and/or alternate scenes. None of these seem very compelling, but it’s nice to find them on the DVD anyway. Note that if you don’t want to bother with this method, you can find all nine of the scenes packaged together in the Alternate Versions of Key Scenes section of the DVD. I think it seems cool that we can watch the deleted elements at the right part of the movie; it’s much more interesting to have them pop up in continuity. I also like the fact that Universal offer a choice, so you don’t have to click on the icons to see them; it makes sense that they also appear elsewhere on the DVD.

After this we discover a collection of Outtakes. This section includes three minutes and 16 seconds of footage. Most of these show camel-related goofs, and the piece comes across as fairly lackluster.

A staple of Universal DVDs, Spotlight on Location: The Making of The Scorpion King lasts 14 minutes and 26 seconds. It combines shots from the set, movie clips, and interview snippets. We hear from actors The Rock, Michael Clarke Duncan, Grant Heslov, Kelly Hu, Steven Brand, and Ralf Moeller as well as producers James Jacks, Kevin Misher, and Sean Daniel, director Chuck Russell, executive producer Vince McMahon, and production designer Ed Verraux. If you’ve seen any other examples of this series, you’ll know what to expect: lots of movie pieces and promotion and little real material. Some of the behind the scenes shots seem fun, but we learn very little about the production during this light and puffy promotional piece.

Next we get a series of featurettes. Ancient World Production Design lasts three minutes and 26 seconds and it concentrates on the sets of The Scorpion King. We see images from the shoot and hear from director Chuck Russell, production designer Ed Verraux, and director of photography John R. Leonetti. The piece offers a few good details about these elements, but it seems too brief to provide much useful information.

In Preparing the Fight, we get a five-minute and 56-second that focuses on some of the action choreography. We see material from the set and receive comments from director Russell and actor Steven Brand. Again, the brevity of the program holds it back, but this one seems more satisfying, largely due to some solid behind the scenes material. I like the rehearsals and outtakes, and a mix of informative comments makes this a worthwhile featurette.

For a less compelling program, check out The Rock and Michael Clarke Duncan. The fluffy three-minute and 58-second featurette mainly tells us what great buddies the pair are. We hear from Russell, The Rock, and Duncan, and see a mix of movie shots and outtakes, most of which appear in that part of the DVD. The latter make this show moderately entertaining, but it still seems somewhat weak.

Another featurette with a self-explanatory title, Working With Animals lasts two minutes and 55 seconds as it mostly concentrates on camels. We hear from Russell, co-producer Richard Rothschild, and The Rock as they tell us anecdotes that relate to those beasts. Most of the stories appear elsewhere on the disc, so this program seems superfluous.

The Special Effects tosses in two short featurettes: “The Cobras” (104 seconds) and “The Fire Ants” (147 seconds). Both of these include comments from Russell, and despite their brevity, they provide some good material. We see interesting “before and after” shots of added CG material and also of pre-CG images such as The Rock’s improvs as the fire ants approach.

The requisite music video appears next, as we check out Godsmack’s “I Stand Alone”. The four-minute and 55-second video also includes a 30-second ad for the soundtrack after its end. The song seems like nothing more than the usual metal noise, but the video tries to improve upon the usual formula. Yeah, we see the standard lip-synching from the band, but it features fewer movie clips than usual, and it tries to tell a little story. It’s not a good piece, but most videos created for songs from films absolutely reek, so this one seems above average for the genre.

Next we run into some text pieces. King Scorpion offers a fairly interesting discussion of a possible real-life historical Scorpion King, while the Production Notes give us some decent general coverage of the shoot. Unfortunately, as with many of the DVD’s extras, this information too heavily fawns over The Rock. Cast and Filmmakers includes listings for actors The Rock, Kelly Hu, Steven Brand, Michael Clarke Duncan, Bernard Hill, Grant Heslov, Peter Facinelli, and Ralf Moeller plus director Chuck Russell and screenwriter/producer Stephen Sommers. Oddly, all provide biographies except for Heslov, Facinelli, and Moeller; their domains feature simple filmographies. (The DVD’s booklet tosses in a shorter variation on these notes.)

As with too many Universal DVDs, The Scorpion King pours on the promotional materials. We get the film’s theatrical trailer - presented non-anamorphic 1.85:1 with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio - and some ads in the Universal Showcase. There you’ll find a teaser for The Hulk and a promo for TV’s Taken.

An odd feature, in The Scorpion King Movie Club you’ll see a list of “Ultimate Collectors”. I have not the slightest clue what these people did to get their names scrawled on the DVD, and frankly, I don’t really care, but I’m sure it excites them. The Scorpion King Offers presents promos for Universal Studios Theme Parks and The Scorpion King PlayStation 2 game, while WWE Legends offers nothing more than a wrestling ad that features old wrestlers. Blech!

In addition, when you start to watch The Scorpion King, you’ll first encounter trailers for the DVD releases of both ET and the Back to the Future trilogy. While one can easily skip these, I still wish Universal wouldn’t put them in front of the movies. It seems really tacky to me.

For DVD-ROM users, the fun doesn’t end there. In addition to the standard weblinks to sites for Universal Home Video, Universal Pictures, Universal Theme Parks, Universal Studios and the DVD Newsletter, the disc includes something Universal call “Total Axess”. This offers a link to a site that will provide additional material related to the movie. This stuff might be good or it might not, but since I reviewed the DVD more than a month before street date, none of it appears active; when I clicked the link, it went to a dead end.

I’ve seen worse movies than The Scorpion King, but this lackluster and silly action flick remains a disappointment nonetheless. It felt like nothing more than one big promotional opportunity and it never remotely engaged me. The DVD offered very positive picture and sound quality, and it tossed in an erratic but periodically useful set of extras as well. Other fans of The Mummy series might feel more forgiving toward The Scorpion King, but I thought it deflated the sense of fun found in the prior films, and I can’t recommend this clunker to anyone other than diehard fans of The Rock.

Note: three different releases of The Scorpion King came out simultaneously. In addition to this widescreen version, Universal unleashed a fullscreen edition as well as a “Limited Edition”. The latter includes the movie’s CD soundtrack and retails for $39.98; it clearly states “DVD + CD Soundtrack Limited Edition 2 Discs” at the top of the case. It appears that the LE only can be purchased with the widescreen version; I see no evidence of a fullscreen LE.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.6818 Stars Number of Votes: 66
3 3:
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