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Mamma Mia! - The Movie Print E-mail
Monday, 15 December 2008
Image"Mamma Mia!" first hit Broadway back in 2001.  It was instantly a smash.  While it used to be un-cool to like ABBA (and it still is I suppose), the stage show drew in millions of viewers.  While I absolutely adored the stage version of the musical, I can't quite make my mind up about the theatrical version of the show.  It is campy fun, but at the same time it is a cinematic disaster.

First, let's move past the story.  Some think it is silly and weak, while others think it is interesting and fun.  I find myself stuck between the two.  You have to remember that stage musicals usually do not have complex stories.  It is just too hard to convey on the stage.  Cinema is much for forgiving.  Viewers expect complex.  We don't get that here.

Basically, a 20 year-old Greek girl, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), who has never known who her father is, narrows her father down to three guys.  Longing for her father to give her away at her wedding, Sophie invites all three men to her wedding, believing that she will be able to tell which one is her father with a simple glance at them.  All three men accept the invitation, believing that it had come from Donna (Meryl Streep), Sophie's mother.

Once the men arrive (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgard), Sophie tries to keep them from her mother.  However, it doesn't take Donna long to realize all three of them are on the island.  The rest of the movie is filled with Sophie trying to figure out which one is her father, and Donna trying to hid all three from Sophie.  Fairly simple.

Now, the bad.  First, Phyllida Lloyd should not have directed this film.  Lloyd is the original director of the stage version of the musical.  However, she proves that when it comes to cinematic directing, she doesn't know up from down.  Her claustrophobic shooting style is a bit of an annoyance.  She also choreographed the film in way that only works for the stage.  Seemingly all the dancers flailed about, hoping that some simple editing would bring it all together. What is disappointing is that the story takes place on a beautiful Greek island, and yet the bulk of the film was shot on a soundstage in England.  The blue screen effect is readily apparent.

Lastly, the performances are not all up to snuff.  There are big name actors in the film, and while most give it their all, it just isn't good enough.  Sadly, Pierce Brosnan is by far the worst.  His singing is almost atrocious.  Watching the behind the scenes material you learn how frightened he was to sing on camera, and with good reason.  I feel bad for Meryl Streep because she put it all on the line and she just looks cuckoo.  Her singing is not the greatest but will suffice.  Personally, I think that Christine Baranski did a great job.  I know many will object to that statement.  By far the best acting and singing came from relative newcomer Amanda Seyfried.  Bets known for her work as Karen in "Mean Girls," Amanda delivers a stellar voice and a cute face.

The film contains some wonderful ABBA songs - it is just unfortunate that the professional actors could not pull them off.  Although, the "Super Trooper" number is quite impressive.  The film just doesn't live up to the stage version.  However, it will be well-liked by most ABBA fans.  I can honestly say that it was a complete film, just poorly developed in some areas.

The video quality is slightly above par.  Universal gives us an MPEG-4/AVC transfer in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  For such a beautiful setting, the image is not very appealing.  However, the Blu-ray presentation is accurate to the stylistic intentions of the filmmakers.  The black levels are impeccable.  The contrast is near perfect, with no overblown sequences (expect for those shot in the natural daylight).  The colors are ugly due to poor lighting design, however they do pop off the screen.  There is no edge enhancement or artifacting and the source is near pristine.  There are some instances of graininess.  Details are strong for the most part, but sometimes the blue screen effect gets in the way.  Still, the video presentation is pretty stellar.

The audio quality is terrific.  It is presented in a DTS-HD  5.1 format.  The surround channels are constantly engaged by ambience and music.  There is not much need for discrete effects in the rear channels, but they do appear occasionally.  The dialogue is strong and clear.  The musical numbers are all studio produced, obviously.  What always irks me with theatrical musicals is the vocal compression.  This is not a flaw of the transfer, simply the original recording.  The vocals are constantly over-saturated, yielding a distortion and brittle sound in the upper frequencies.  There is surprisingly little dynamic range.  The LFE channel is good and tight during the musical numbers.  Overall, a good audio track presentation.

As is usual with Universal titles, "Mamma Mia!" is packed with extras.  Most are presented in high-definition.  For some reason or another some aren't, like the deleted scenes, hich is disappointing.  First up is an audio commentary with director Phyllida Lloyd.  She is passionate, however the commentary moves extremely slowly.  "The Making of 'Mamma Mia!'" is a basic featurette that covers everything in the audio commentary.  The featurette "Becoming a Singer" is an interesting piece about the actors and their singing abilities.  "Anatomy of a Musical Number" briefly covers the choreography of the number, "Lay All Your Love On Me."  There is a collection of deleted scenes that run all together for about eight minutes, along with outtakes.  Separate is the presentation of the deleted number, "The Name of the Game."  There is a music video of "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!" by the cast.  A Sing-Along version of the film is also present, allowing for karaoke type view of the movie.

Exclusive to the Blu-ray is a picture-in-picture commentary that is probably the best feature in the bunch.  It is, again, a bit slow-paced.  "Behind the Hits" is a pop-up discography that provides material about the original ABBA song during film playback.  The BD-Live section of the disc contains the sharing of My Scenes and My Chat, which allows you to chat with others while watching the film.  Finally, as promised, the BD-Live section features the My Movie Commentary feature, which allows you to create your own video commentary and share it with other viewers.  Lastly, the package comes with a Digital Copy of the film.

"Mamma Mia!" is a love it or hate it film.  No one can deny the poor singing performances, but the film still has a draw about it.  I recommend this disc if you are any type of fan of ABBA or the musical.  Watch the film and decide for yourself if it is your cup of tea.  Take a chance on me.

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