The Scorpion King Review
Those who have seen The Mummy Returns will know of The Scorpion King, a warrior who gave his soul away and became a rubbish CGI scorpion. The Scorpion King takes us back to his origins in this prequel if you will and explores how his journey into CGI badness began.
Taking place in Egypt, hundreds of years before the events of The Mummy Returns and even before the time of the Pharaohs The Scorpion King introduces us to a band of assassins who are the last of their race - The Akkadians. Mathayus (The Rock) and his brother, Jesup (Branscombe Richmond) head up the last of their family as they are called on a mission to kill the sorceress of the evil Memnon (Steven Brand), a man determined to rule the land. The sorceress, Cassandra (Kelly Hu) has the ability to see the outcome of each battle waged and this gift has been utilized by Memnon since her childhood.
When Mathayus enters Memnon’s residence he and his men are captured and his brother Jesup is murdered in front of his eyes. Mathayus is then left out in the desert to die until a thief by the name of Arpid (Grant Heslov) saves him. The new friends head out to Memnon’s palace where Mathayus vows to avenge his brother’s death. As he flees from a battle, Mathayus falls in on the sorceress and upon witnessing her beauty fails to kill her. Kidnapping her instead he soon learns that she despises Memnon and is willing to help him get his revenge.
They soon meet Balthazar (Michael Clarke Duncan), the leader of a small tribe who agrees to help them in their quest and so the newly formed allies head out once more to finish off Memnon and end his reign of terror.
The legend of the Scorpion King is still a mystery to this day with ongoing arguments over his existence but this film ignores all that and just takes us on a ride back in time where our hero, The Scorpion King was alive and well and running around killing people for money. The producers have also opted to ignore the evil character that appeared in The Mummy Returns in favour of making him a good guy. Aside from the character reference there is no other similarity between this and the aforementioned film.
Director, Stephen Sommers who worked on The Mummy and The Mummy Returns also came onboard The Scorpion King, as producer and lending his writing talents - or lack of them. To think that it took three screenwriters to come up with the most standard and clichéd of plots is unbelievable. Just how much input Sommers had I don’t know but it seems a rather jumbled affair that goes along with some of the more conventional Hollywood blockbusters.
Even with the hammiest of scripts The Scorpion King somehow manages to entertain. It’s a simple 90 minute feature, filled with action, one-liners and pretty girls that all seems so familiar.
The film does feel rushed however as most of the special effects will show. There are several moments that enlist the aid of CGI animals, from red fire ants to poisonous snakes and they don’t exactly impress, particularly on the DVD format which shows more detail but also highlights these flaws. The use of CGI for the sandstorm scene fails to impress as much as it did in The Mummy, a film made a couple of years earlier that utilized the technology better. In The Scorpion King it feels like “the son of sandstorm” and is more of a passing moment.
The action scenes fare better but not by much. For those who are into Hollywood action movies, this should prove to be more entertaining but it doesn’t offer anything new in terms of spectacle. The Rock can perform fight scenes and the actors all trained in sword fighting techniques but the problem lies with the editing which is so choppy you can’t really enjoy the effort put into filming them. With one quick cut after another it is no different than most U.S. action films. Had it offered some originality in the fights then it might have proved to be more entertaining but instead it just about gets away with holding the viewers interest.
The production values also leave a little to be desired with set design looking simple at best resulting in a film that just doesn’t have an epic look to it. The sets are often cheap affairs with cloths draped over them and candles lying around, while the exterior desert scenes manage to look more impressive but then how hard is it to find lots of sand to film on?
In a similar vein to The Mummy films, this one goes for light humour but only manages to pull off a couple of chuckles here and there. Grant Heslov as The Rock’s sidekick does nothing to provide much comic relief, though that seems his main purpose. Instead the good lines are given to The Rock which makes me wonder what the whole point of Arpid’s character was.
As far as comic performances go, The Rock is very adept. He certainly has the charisma to pull off some fun dialogue and even the odd facial feature will make the viewer smile. He could have carried the film by himself and several characters could have been omitted without disturbing the flow. Aside from The Rock’s occasional good line, the rest of the comedy seems tiresome.
As an action star, The Rock will no doubt make it big. With his second feature The Rundown receiving positive reviews it seems success as the next big action hero is secured for him.
If the film was trying to be serious at any point then it fails miserably. It works better as something trying to be fun because these supposed historical figures are hardly what I’d call faithfully realized.
British television actor, Steven Brand takes on the role of Memnon, a ruthless swordsman who is feared by everyone in his land. Brand is a curious choice to play Memnon to say the least. He doesn’t have the presence needed to portray the character convincingly enough and there is never a moment where the viewer can think that he may just be a match for Mathayus. I’m surprised he can move about and fight at all with all the leather he wears in the baking heat of Egypt. Brand tries to make the most of his role but he’s clearly miscast.
Cassandra the Sorceress (I don’t know how they come up with that name) is played by Kelly Hu. Spending most of her screen time scantily clad - which I’m not complaining about for a second - but surely Hu can’t have expected anyone to take her portrayal seriously? She is given little to do other than flashing a thigh or trying to conceal her breasts for prolonged amounts of time. Hu is a good actress with a talent for drama (as she has proven in TV’s Martial Law) so it’s a shame she wasn’t given a better opportunity to show this here, instead she merely provides most of the films pleasant visuals. X-Men 2 also saw her sorely underused as an actress in favour of providing a sleek and sexy character with no background.
Michael Clarke Duncan, another fine actor struggling to find good material since his role in The Green Mile puts in as good a performance as possible given the clichéd role he is dealt. Playing a supposed bad guy who turns good you can't help but like him especially as he shares a good chemistry with The Rock who is also a long time, real life friend.
Bernard Hill is given little to do as a supporting member, his whole point of being there is so he can blow up a rock near the end of the film. Finally the only other name worth mentioning is Gladiator's Ralph Moeller, barely recognisable as one of Memnon’s henchman but an actor I’d like to see more of in future as I believe he’d make an good action hero himself instead of being given smaller roles as bad guys.
Universal present The Scorpion King on DVD with a healthy supply of extras, all on one disc.
The film has been given excellent treatment on DVD that I suppose could have been even better had the extras been put on a separate disc. There are many elements for the transfer to handle and it does so accordingly. Flesh tones appear natural when not basked in various light sources, as scenes switch from cold snowscapes to warm, red evenings. Night scenes hold up very well and make for very pleasant viewing.
The 5.1 Digital track on offer is very well handled. It’s a fully immersing experience that lends plenty of atmosphere to the background effects. Flying arrows and swirling winds come through wonderfully and John Debney’s score gets a few highlight moments, though leaves nothing memorable. Enjoyment of the entire track will depend on how much you can stand “Nu-Metal”. Personally I find this kind of music to be tedious, at least for most of the running time we don’t have to put up with the songs - which are saved for the end credits.
Commentary with Chuck Russell
Director, Chuck Russell provides a fairly interesting commentary but spends much of his time praising the actors and action. It is easy to disagree with his views on the film when he says how great Steven Brand's Memnon is or how good the CGI in the film looks. He's passionate about this film but fails to see the simplest of flaws that hammer you in the face.
Commentary with The Rock
This is perhaps the most frustrating commentary track that I've ever had the misfortune to sit through. I am somewhat confused as to how they recorded this as it appears to be two tracks running at once. You have two choices - You can sit through the entire track and listen to a few comments from the start or, when a red scorpion logo appears on screen you can hit the 'enter' key and be taken to a short visual clip of The Rock talking in the studio. The trouble with this is that every time you hit 'enter' the scene in which he is providing info for loads up - once he’s finished the film pauses and goes back to the start of that particular scene; meaning that in effect it is taking almost twice as long to sit through the commentary. If you decide not to press the 'enter' key then you will often hear nothing in place of that scene, save for the occasional quip.
As for the commentary itself, The Rock offers little information and prefers to describe what is happening on screen while making a few jokes that are often funny but don’t make for an enjoyable experience, also coupling that with him saying that every scene is his favourite and all the actors are suitably brilliant makes this more tedious than it needed to be.
Alternate Version in Enhanced Viewing Mode
Using poor branching technology the viewer can opt to view various scenes from the film at the touch of a button. When an icon appears on screen during the film you can choose to go to an extended version of that scene. When you do you will see the scene in a Non-Anamorphic format, making for a rubbish feature - especially when the same deleted scenes are a separate extra on the disc anyway.
Alternate Versions of Key Scenes
As mentioned previously, these are the same that feature in the Enhanced Viewing Mode and are nothing more than extended versions.
These run for approximately 3 minutes and are quite funny, look out for The Rock giving his friend, Michael Clarke Duncan a swift elbow to the face.
The Making of The Scorpion King
A 15-minute feature, highlighting behind the scenes effects, set designs, choreography and interviews.
Ancient World Production Design
A short feature showing us the work that went into creating the overall look of the film. Shot in California and re-using various sets from previous films the designers did a decent job but don’t quite manage to give the film a better look, even though they’ll tell you otherwise.
Preparing the Fight
Chuck Russell and Steven Brand discuss the fights that feature in the film. Russell praises Brand a lot.
The Rock and Michael Clarke Duncan
Running for just 4 minutes this is still a lot of fun. These two friends discuss what it was like working together but the real enjoyment comes from a certain scene in which The Rock knocked Duncan to the floor when Duncan missed his mark. The Rock enjoys telling the tale of how he knocked out his friend, whereas Duncan insists he was never floored. The proof exists though and it’s a nice little extra.
Working with Animals
Running for 3 minutes there isn't anything of real interest, except for an angry camel who hates humans.
The Special Effects
These are actually not that special but Chuck Russell insists that they are. The short feature is broken down to show you effects for the snakes, sandstorm and fire ants. There is no decent information as to how they were achieved but one would assume that it was with a computer - a rubbish one at that.
Godsmack Music Video - "I Stand Alone"
I'll be honest here - I never watched this feature. Do you know why? 'Cause the song is horrible, that's why.
The Scorpion King: Man or Myth? An interesting if brief history of the real life Scorpion King, presuming such a man existed that is.
Let's show all the good stuff.
Nothing here that hasn't already been covered in the commentaries and features.
Cast and Film makers
A selection of short biographies that are fairly interesting but for some reason don't exist for actors, Grant Heslov, Bernard Hill and Ralph Moeller.
Trailers for The Hulk and Taken.
The Scorpion King Movie Club
A list of names of people belonging to some club.
I've not checked these out but they'll take you to more exclusive content apparently, online.
The Scorpion King Offers
Two short trailers - one for The Universal Theme Park, which looks neat and the other is a trailer for the Playstation 2 game The Scorpion King, which looks really awful.
A 1-minute film featuring old wrestlers that none of us have heard of saying how great they were. Why? Oh yea, because Vince McMahon is the Executive Producer of this film.
The Scorpion King is a silly but fun romp with good pacing that should please the most easy to please people. I didn’t think I would enjoy it nearly as much as I did but even with all its bad points it works well enough. The Rock makes a fine action hero and even though the final product is uninspired (or should I say inspired, because clearly it uses too much inspiration) it passes the time quickly.
Fans of The Mummy series will be somewhat disappointed as we don’t learn about how he became so evil by the end, so perhaps that’s for a future production which wouldn’t be surprising judging by how much this film made at the box-office.