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Franchises are the bread and butter of the movie studios. Create a successful one and you can pretty much be assured that people will return to the theatre to see the further adventures of your characters. After all, some of the biggest movies in the action genre have gone on to have long and successful series'. Die Hard has a fourth instalment on the way, while The Terminator will return for a third appearance next summer. There's even talk about at least two more Spider-Man films after the gigantic success of that film this past summer. One film that surprised moviegoers was 1999's The Mummy starring Brendan Fraser. It was so successful that it spawned 2001's The Mummy Returns, a film which betrayed everything I liked about the first film and quickly became one of my least favourite movies of all time. I believe the quote I used to describe that film was "The Mummy should return my money", even though it only cost me two bucks to see the film on opening night. That film introduced the world to the character of The Scorpion King played by WWE's Dwayne Johnson, better known to most as the Rock. After the enormous success of that film it was announced that The Rock would return in a prequel to the Mummy series. The Scorpion King is that film and I went in expecting the worst, as the previous instalments had me divided. On one hand I enjoyed The Mummy, but hated The Mummy Returns so much that if I ever see it again, it would be too soon.  Still, I tried to keep an objective mind set as I sat down to view The Scorpion King.

The film opens a number of years before the events of the previous two films and tells the story of Matthaysus (The Rock), one of three surviving Acadians, a race of men known for their skill in combat. Matthaysus is an assassin for hire and his latest job has him going after a Sorceress (Kelly Hu) whose vision and insight allows her master Memnon (Steven Brand) to conquer the land with relative ease. Memnon has defeated almost all of the various tribes throughout the land and is planning his final quest which, when sucessful, will allow him to rule the entire land. Removing the sorceress will enable the remaining tribes to fight for their land without being totally slaughtered by Memnon and his ever-increasing army. However Matthaysus quickly realizes that he's been set up from within the group and is immediately captured. He manages to break free and through his fighting ability manages to meet up with the Sorceress who asks him to save her from Memnon's evil grasp. Together they begin to set a plan into motion to defeat Memnon and return order to Egypt. In doing this they find they have some allies in a horse thief as well as with Balthazar (Michael Clarke Duncan), leader of one of the remaining survivor groups.

The Scorpion King is the third film in the series, though it's the first to take place chronologically. The film doesn't really offer up a story on the origin of the main character either, because there is no mention of how the person from this film goes on to become the almost entirely CG generated villain that appears in The Mummy Returns. However, that doesn't really matter, as it doesn't affect one's enjoyment of this film. The Scorpion King is without a doubt a film that's going for the popcorn quality factor. Something light and fluffy that consumes just over ninety minutes of your life and leaves you with nothing.  On that note the film actually works to some degree. I say some degree because this film plays out like a rehashed version of so many better films before it. Sure it's action packed and fast moving, but it seems as though every other scene is something I've seen from another film. There are moments that seem ripped out of Indiana Jones or even something like Conan. In terms of special effects there aren't really that many in the film, but the ones that do appear are certainly far from impressive in that they don't really break new ground. However, they aren't as hokey and fake as the special effects done for The Mummy Returns. I'm not saying that they were all that improved, because they weren't, but at least they weren't so bad that I had trouble watching the film.

Scorpion King, The
Being an action movie I wasn't really expecting much in terms of performances. After all, in most action films the lead character is pretty one-dimensional and just runs around saving people and eventually the day. However to be successful the audience still needs to believe the main character's motivations. "The Rock" made his acting debut in The Mummy Returns and reprises his role in this film. He isn't always given the best material but he does manage to do a great deal with what he's given. He has decent comedic timing and managed to get a few laughs out of this jaded reviewer. It'd be interesting to see what he's able to do with a character that's more flesh and bone and less cartoonish. None of the supporting performances are very noteworthy with the possible exception of Kelly Hu as the Sorceress. Michael Clarke Duncan isn't given much to do at all and even looks bored in his few short scenes. One performance I was disappointed in was that of Steven Brand's Memnon. Brand seems to be completely miscast as his villain is anything but evil.

This is director Chuck Russell's sixth film and after a couple decent efforts with The Mask and Eraser it seems as though he is on a downward spiral. Russell's last film was the dreadful Bless the Child. The Scorpion King is a step up from that feature though certainly not by much. The problem with the film isn't so much his direction but the poor screenplay and characters he is given to work with. It's never a good sign when it takes four screenwriters to come up with a film that barely hits the ninety-minute mark, but that's what's happened here. Working off a story by Jonathan Hales and Mummy director Steven Sommers along with William Osbourne (Kevin of the North, Twins) and David Hayter (X-Men), they create a film that wants an epic feel but comes up severely lacking. They also rely too much on scenes from other motion pictures that have been successful in trying to create this medieval thrill ride.

I won't say that I was totally bored and uninterested in The Scorpion King because I wasn't. It simply passed ninety minutes of my time leaving no impression whatsoever. It didn't break any new ground instead it resorted to the age-old Hollywood formula. Director Chuck Russell is capable of much better as is Steven Sommers, who directed the original Mummy film and it's dreadful sequel, as well as creating the character of The Scorpion King, and was involved with the writing aspect of this film. Now that there are three films in the franchise, I think it's safe to say that it's time to lay the Mummy to rest. The first film was great, the second horrible and the third the epitome of average. Is it too much to ask that an action movie have some sort of a plot or perhaps some three dimensional characters? In the case of The Scorpion King the answer is yes.

Universal Home Entertainment presents The Scorpion King in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen recreating the theatrical viewing experience. I saw the film opening night and wasn't overly impressed with the film's visual look, which appeared too dark during some sequences and overly washed out during the daytime scenes. This DVD betters the viewing experience somewhat, but the film's overall look and feel still doesn't work as well as I thought it would. Sharpness and detail remain excellent giving the transfer a very film-like feel. Daytime scenes tend to look sharper and more defined than their night-time companions, though the transfer remains strong at all points. In comparison, I was watching a TV program before the disc and that looked flat and lifeless whereas the Scorpion King had a very real, almost three-dimensional type look to it. The film doesn't make much use of colour, as things remain fairly subdued due to the time period of the film. There are a few instances including some scenes involving fire ants that utilize more colour but as a whole there isn't anything to speak about colour wise. Flesh tones look pretty accurate, though during a few scenes I did feel that they were a bit on the orange side. This may have been due to the way the film was shot and lit. In terms of problems in the film-to-digital transfer there really isn't anything to report as I didn't see any edge enhancement or pixelation and there were only one or two specks of dust on the print. This is pretty much as good as it gets transfer wise, though I'm still holding back giving this transfer a nine as I felt that a few things just seemed a bit off to me. However this is still very strong work from Universal and they should be proud of their accomplishment.

Universal brings The Scorpion King to DVD with Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes in English and French. In the past Universal had been known for including DTS tracks on most of their releases including some of their smaller lesser-known theatrical releases. However lately the lack of DTS tracks on their new releases has come as a disappointment. It's even weirder when you consider Big Fat Liar, a recent family oriented release has a DTS track and The Scorpion King does not. Now that we have that out of the way, let's get down to business. There's no mistaking the film as anything but an action movie and while this track delivers for the most part I was a bit disappointed with some aspects of the audio presentation. The film opens with a bang but the audio mix during the opening scene seemed kind of laid back. However that is quickly rectified as the film begins to use all the channels to provide an adequate if nothing exceptional action soundtrack. All five channels are put to use with sound effects moving from channel to channel to create a realistic and engaging audio experience. The soundtrack is often loud and aggressive though the surrounds still offer some slight ambience during the film's slower moments. I had a bit of a problem hearing some of the dialogue, as it seemed to be mixed just a tad lower than I would have liked. That problem was easily remedied by boosting the centre channel up ever so slightly. As expected the film also makes good use of the subwoofer to provide some room-shaking bass. All in all this is a pretty good representation of what I heard theatrically though in both cases I wasn't blown away with the audio the same way I was with, say, Pearl Harbor or Armageddon. However technically speaking aside from the dialogue being a bit low there's nothing wrong with this mix.

Scorpion King, The
It seems as though Universal has laid to rest their Ultimate Edition line of DVD releases, however fans of bonus materials shouldn't worry as they still have their "Collector's Edition" discs which are more often than not jammed packed with bonus materials. In the case of The Scorpion King fans will be hard pressed to find anything missing from this release.

What would a DVD do without an audio commentary track? Well thankfully you don't have to answer that question as Universal has included two feature length audio commentaries on this disc. The first is a discussion with director Chuck Russell while the second is an enhanced commentary with film star Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. Due to time constraints I didn't have a chance to listen to both tracks in their entirety but for the most part these are interesting tracks. The Rock does have some informative and funny stories to tell but at times he simply falls into narrating the on screen action while Russell talks about the difficulties the production faced and what it was like working with "The Rock".

In addition to the two feature length commentaries we have the Spotlight on Location featurette. Posing as a sort of semi making-of documentary these programs offer very little in the way of in depth information surrounding the films they depict. This edition is no different the viewers are given a very typical and surface look at the making of The Scorpion King. Consisting of a mixture of behind the scenes shots, interview footage and film clips this 14 minute and 25 second featurette just scratches the surface of what the production of this film was like. Stars like The Rock, Michael Clarke Duncan and Kelly Hu are joined by director Chuck Russell, his producers James Jacks, Kevin Misher and Sean Daniel as well as executive producer Vince McMahon sit down to discuss their thoughts and feelings surrounding the film. All of the participants are clearly hyped up about the film they've been working on as such having nothing to negative or even that interesting to say about the proceedings. Everyone discusses what a fun time they are having and how they enjoy hanging out with the entire cast and crew. This is nothing more than your typical fluff promotional piece and while it's a bit more fun than some of the others I've seen lately that's likely only due to the participants involved and not the program itself. Is it too much to ask for studios like Universal to create quality making of documentaries and not pawn off material that would be better labelled as an extended trailer with interviews?

The menu option labelled Outtakes consists of three minutes of gags removed from the final film. Most of these are dialogue flubs from The Rock, Michael Clarke Duncan and Kelly Hu, though there are a couple short gags involving the Scorpion King's camel. Although this only runs for a tad over three minutes these are some pretty funny gags, a couple of which made me laugh harder than anything in the film itself.

Alternate Versions of Key Scenes is pretty self-explanatory as it allows viewers to see different versions of key sequences from the film. These can be watched either from within the movie itself using branching technology or separately from the bonus features menu.

Featurettes and more featurettes make up the next section of the disc's bonus materials. Each of these featurettes focuses on a different aspect of the film's production.

"Ancient World Production Design" runs just over three minutes and gives the viewer a look into how production designer Ed Verrueaux turned areas of California and Universal Studios into Ancient Rome. "Preparing the Fight" (5:35) goes over the process of creating one of the film's major fight scenes involving The Rock and Steven Brand. Director Chuck Russell and actor Steven Brand discuss how the fight scene was staged and choreographed so that it looked more authentic in the final film. Russell also goes over what he feels makes a good fight sequence. "The Rock and Michael Clarke Duncan" (4:00) details the friendship and rivalry between the two stars of the film. We see interviews with Duncan and The Rock as well as director Chuck Russell who tells us a story about an altercation that occurred on the set. "Working with Animals" runs for just under three minutes and deals with the various animals that populate the world of The Scorpion King. Director Russell is on hand once again to offer another fairly mundane anecdotal story from the set. Lastly we have two brief special effects featurettes, one dealing with the Cobra scene in the film and the other dealing with the Fire Ants. Each of these brief featurettes detail how on set photography and CG effects were combined to create the final visual product.

In the Universal Showcase lies the teaser trailer for The Hulk as well as the trailer for Steven Spielberg's big Sci-Fi Channel miniseries Taken. Both trailers are presented in non-anamorphic widescreen.

Also included are promotional spots for Universal Studios Theme Parks, The Scorpion King Playstation 2 video game, WWE Legends, a strange text listing called The Scorpion King Movie Club, production notes, cast and crew biographies and the music video "I Stand Alone" by Godsmack.

If that's not enough the disc also offers "Total Axess" DVD-ROM features which allow the viewer to access ever changing bonus material stored online.

Scorpion King, The
If you were to look up the definition of the word "popcorn movie" in the dictionary then one of the examples listed would be The Scorpion King. It's nothing spectacular, amazing or even original but it does manage to make ninety minutes pass by pretty quickly. I'll never be a huge fan of the film and I doubt that I'll ever go out of my way to see it again, but it's not one of those movies that's so bad that I wouldn't waste my time watching it again. Universal's DVD presentation is very strong, featuring a good transfer and a soundtrack that packs a punch. If you've seen the film and liked it then buying this DVD is a no brainer. However if you haven't seen the film it's probably better that you rent first, buy later.