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The Scorpion King (2002)

Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 7/22/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/28/2008

The rules are usually pretty simple. Movies have sequels. When a movie is successful or popular, the powers that be can make another film with the same characters or situations. (And if it's set before the first movie, we call it a prequel.) Television shows have spin-offs. When a certain character or characters on a show have become very popular or that show has reached its conclusion, the character(s) can emerge in a new show, which typically has a different location or storyline. Rarely do we get spinoffs in movies. But, that was the case with 2002's The Scorpion King, a movie which was based on a character who appeared briefly in the 2001 film, The Mummy Returns. Can this movie live up to the reputation of The Mummy movies?

The Scorpion King is set centuries ago. As the film opens, we are introduced to Mathayus (The Rock), one of the last of a race known as Akkadians. Akkadians are renowned for this skills as assassins, and Mathayus and his two fellow warriors (one of whom is his brother) are approached by a group leaders to kill Memnon (Steven Brand). Memnon is a tyrannical warlord who has been attacking and taking over every territory in the land. His sorcerer, Cassandra (Kelly Hu), has the ability to see the future, thus assuring victory for Memnon at every turn. Mathayus' raid on Memnon's caravan is not successful, and he barely escapes with his life. He then travels to Memnon's headquarters in Gomorrah, where he plans to find and kill the ruler. Along the way, Mathayus is assisted by a horse thief named Arpid (Grant Heslov). Can one man take down an empire?

Wait a minute...wasn't The Scorpion King one of the villains in The Mummy Returns. Wasn't he like a big bug or something? Even when he wasn't a big bug, didn't they show him trying to take over the world? How did he get his own movie? As a hero, no less? Well, chalk all of that up to the popularity of The Rock as a wrestler. With WWE guru Vince McMahon credited as Executive Producer, this entire production is simply a vehicle to promote The Rock and place him in his first starring role.

Was this a good vehicle for The Rock? That question is debatable, as the film can be compared to Arnold Schwarnenegger getting his breakout role in Conan the Barbarian. The role is more about being big and fighting than anything else. Now here's a more important question; Is The Scorpion King a good movie? The answer there is not really.

Speaking of Conan the Barbarian (and we were), The Scorpion King does nothing to differentiate itself from all of the other films in the "Sword & Sorcery" action subgenre. Movies like the Conan films, The Beastmaster, and The Sword and the Sorcerer were very popular in the mid 80s and The Scorpion King seems to simply be mimicking these films. It includes all of the requisite components; an evil tyrant, a scantily-clad heroine, sword-play, magic, a goofy sidekick, an old wizard, and, of course, our muscle-bound hero. The film hits on all these pieces and never misses a beat. In addition to these age-old ingredients, we get some Scharzenegger-esque humor and one-liners.

Despite these issues, The Scorpion King isnít a terrible film. Director Chuck Russell (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, The Blob) is a veteran and gives the film a nice, polished look. He also moves things along briskly and the 90-minute running time is perfect for this film. The action set-pieces are well-done, with the ambush in the cave being the filmís highlight. Familiar faces like Michael Clarke Duncan and Peter Facinelli fill the cast.

Looking back, The Scorpion King was an interesting experiment. It grew out of The Mummy movies, but really isnít a part of that series. Again, the film was a vehicle for The Rock, who is good in the movie, but itís clear that he hadnít completely let go of his wrestling attitude and doesnít show the charm and charisma which he displays today. In the end, The Scorpion King is simply a mediocre action move and nothing more.

The Scorpion King invades Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Universal Home Entertainment. 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 image here is sharp and clear for the most part, with the exterior scenes looking especially good. However, these same shots show some mild grain and defects from the source material, such as minute black specks. The image is not overly bright during these scenes, nor is it too dark in the nighttime shots. The colors look very good, especially reds. The image has a nice amount of detail and the landscape shots display good depth. The Disc offers a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.8 Mbps. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. For a demonstration of the quality of this track, simply go to the fight scene in the cave. There, you will see how detailed the stereo effects are and how much the prominent surround action adds to the scene. Most of the film is like this, as the stereo effects show good speaker separation and the surround sound is nearly constant and well-placed. Subwoofer effects are fine as well, as every explosion and punch is punctuated by the bass.

The Scorpion King Blu-ray Disc contains only two extras. Director Chuck Russell provides an AUDIO COMMENTARY, where he speaks at length throughout the film. Russell does a great job of discussing locations and how certain scenes were shot. But, he trips over himself praising The Rock, and this sentimentality gets old after a while. The other extra is the "U-Control" feature, which offers pop-up Picture-in-Picture offerings which appear throughout the film. These include interviews, on-set footage, and storyboards.

UPDATE: On February 10, 2009, Universal Studios Home Entertainment released a Blu-ray Disc 3-pack of films featuring The Rock.  This included The Scorpion King, The Rundown, and Doom.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long