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Mamma Mia! (2008)

Universal Studios Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 12/16/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/8/2008

I always keep an open mind when I approach a movie for review, but sometimes I have to put my foot down. I've never boycotted a movie before, but this is simply too much. I saw the trailer for Mamma Mia! and right there, prominently featured, was a female character wearing a Duke University t-shirt. What?! As a Tar Heel alum, I can't in good conscience review this movie. Hold on...my wife is saying something to me...something about overreacting. Fine, I'll review the movie, but I may have to deduct some points simply based on the costuming.

Mamma Mia! takes place on the small Greek island of Kalokairi. There, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) lives with her mother Donna (Meryl Streep), who runs a small inn. Sophie is engaged to be married to Sky (Dominic Cooper). Sophie finds her mother's diary and learns that there are three men who could be her father. Wanting her Dad at her wedding, so -- unbeknownst to her mother -- she sends invitations to Harry (Colin Firth), Bill (Stellan Skarsgard), and Sam (Pierce Brosnan). The three men arrive on the island, with no idea that they are there for the same purpose. At the same time, Donna's two oldest friends, Rosie (Julie Walters) and Tanya (Christine Baranski), arrive as well. Donna eventually learns that Harry, Bill, and Sam are on the island and she's mortified. How can she confront her past, when Sophie is about to make her first big step towards the future? And, who will give Sophie away at the wedding?

Mamma Mia! is based on the stage musical which has become an international phenomenon. To be honest, I didn't know anything about it, save for the fact that the music of ABBA was involved. Now, that I've seen the movie, I must say that Mamma Mia! plays like two people who had two different ideas attempted to shove them together. The result is an unusual experience.

On the one hand, we have the story. The idea of a young woman who wants to learn the identity of her father on the eve of her wedding is an interesting one. We learn that Donna was once a free spirit and that she never really talked to Sophie about her past. However, we learn little about these characters beyond that. I don't think that we ever learn why Donna lives in Greece, and we never learn if Sophie has ever traveled off of the small island, or how she met Sky. The second half of the film is more interesting than the first, as Donna attempts to juggle the three men who have suddenly resurfaced in her life.

Apparently, someone read that story and said, "You know what this needs? ABBA!" (Although, my answer would have been "zaz".) I don't know where the inspiration came from (it's not revealed in the DVD extras), but the story of a young girl who is getting married is a musical where the characters suddenly burst into songs by ABBA. Most of the songs fit the mood, although some of them are a stretch, and some are simply "performed" because a character in the story is "performing". The result truly feels like two different movies at times. The story comes to a half for some of the musical numbers, but I'm not sure that the basic story would have been long enough to sustain feature-film length without the musical interludes.

Fans of Mamma Mia! would most likely say that I'm nitpicking too much and that the movie is simply meant to be fun. And the film does have an undeniably plucky spirit. This is the kind of bright and colorful musical film which Hollywood used to churn out all of the time. The actors are clearly game for their roles and there's no denying that the songs are catchy. But, there are still some problems. The movie gets very slapsticky at times -- embarrassingly so. (Was the stage show like this?) This broad humor doesn't seem to fit. Also, the singing abilities of the actors definitely varies in quality. Amanda Seyfried has a great voice and is great in the central role. On the other end, Pierce Brosnan should stick to spy movies. In the middle, we have Meryl Streep, who is very good with some of her songs, but when she attempts to belt out "Mamma Mia!", she butchers it. Given the current state of the world, a light, frothy musical is a welcome sight. And while Mamma Mia! certainly has its issues, it will leave you feeling good.

Mamma Mia! becomes the dancing queen on DVD courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. However, it is a bit soft at times. There is no notable artifacting or video noise. The colors look very good, as the film is filled with vibrant pastels. The image is well-balanced, and the detail level is acceptable for DVD. The DVD offers a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Of course, we're here for the music and it sounds very good here. The stereo effects are good and the musical numbers fill the speakers. However, outside of that, there is little in the way of surround or subwoofer effects.

The Mamma Mia! 2-disc DVD set contains several extras. On Disc 1, the film can be viewed in "Sing-a-Long" mode which offers large, karaoke-like on-screen lyrics. The film can also be watched with AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Phylidda Lloyd. This is a good commentary, as she discusses the challenges of taking the show from the stage to the big screen. She points out which scenes are on location and which are in the studio and she praises the actors. There is a DELETED Musical Number, "The Name of the Game" (3 minutes), which is letterboxed at 2.35:1.

The remainder of the extras are found on Disc 2. The DVD offers 5 DELETED SCENES, which run about 8 minutes. The bulk of this is taken up by a much longer sequence showing Bill, Sam, and Harry preparing to leave for the island. There is also a musical moment between Sophie and Sky that I don't remember from the movie. We get an 90-second OUTTAKES reel. "The Making of Mamma Mia!" (24 minutes) contains interviews with Producer/Creator Judy Craymer and Writer Catherine Johnson and Director Phyllida Lloyd, who discuss the transition from the stage to the screen. We then get an on-set look at the making of the film, focusing mainly on the singing and dancing. The sets and locations are also looked at. The final part looks at the film's cast, and we gets to see Seyfried's audition. "Anatomy of a Musical Number: Lay All Your Love on Me" (6 minutes) looks at the recording of the vocals in a studio and the shooting of the scene. In "Becoming a Singer" (11 minutes), ABBA's Benny Anderson discusses the recording of the music for the film. There is then an examination of the work that went into turning actors into singers. "Behind the Scenes with Amanda" (4 minutes) simply follows the actress as she goes to make-up and the set. The importance and challenges of shooting in a specific location is explored in "On Location in Greece" (4 minutes). The cast, filmmakers, and members of ABBA talk about the show and its impact in "A Look Inside Mamma Mia!" (3 minutes). The DVD contains the MUSIC VIDEO for "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!" The final extra, "Bjorn Ulvaeus Cameo" is an extended shot from the end credits which shows where the ABBA founder appears in the film.

Universal Studios Home Entertainment has also brought Mamma Mia! to Blu-ray Disc. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The transfer looks fantastic, as the image is very sharp and clear. The picture shows no grain or defects from the source material. The picture is nicely detailed, eliminating the softness seen on the DVD. The colors look great and they never bleed into one another. The crisp picture lends to a nice amount of depth, separating the foreground from the background. The Disc offers a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. If you're going to see the film, then this is the way to do it, as the audio sounds great. The music fills the speakers and the audio is very crisp and clean. We can hear each individual instrument (listen to the acoustic guitar on "Honey, Honey") and the voices sound very strong. The stereo separation is great and the audio is nicely detailed.

The Blu-ray Disc contains the same extras as those found on the DVD. In addition, we get Universal's "U-Control" feature. "Behind the Hits" delivers pop-ups which gives background information on the songs, such as the source album. "Picture-in-picture" gives us interviews and behind-the-scenes footage.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long