|Scorpion King, The (Collector's Editon)|
|Written by Mel Odom|
|Tuesday, 01 October 2002|
“The Scorpion King” gets off to a rousing start when Mathayus, the hero, breaks into an enemy camp to rescue his brother. The scene opens on a night-drenched, white-capped mountain scene. Immediately, the viewer equipped with a surround sound system gets treated to the noise of the wind howling through the mountains through the center speaker(s), then through the right and left front speakers. On the heels of the wind, furtive footsteps crunch through the snow crust, rolling through the center speaker(s) then through the left and right again, pulling the viewer into the motion.
Something whirls through the air, tracking through the left front speaker and into the center speaker(s). After the properly evil-looking guard is quickly dispatched with a nice “thud” that fires up the subwoofer (letting the listener know that the audio system is going to get a workout during the movie as well), the scene shifts to a crowd inside one of the buildings.
The crowd noises filter through the front speakers as the blustering warrior brags of past conquests through the center speaker(s). The rumble of the boulder Mathayus drags up the side of the mountain echoes in the surround sound system and lights up the subwoofer. Then the battle is joined. Mathayus throws the boulder down into the enemy encampment with a nice, hollow bonging thunder that runs rampant through the surround sound system, followed by the deadly whisper of arrows slicing through the air, whipping through the left front speaker to the right front speaker. Arrows are a big part of the movie, and these lifelike sound effects are used a lot throughout. However, they never lose their chilling impact. Metal-driven rock and roll ignites the subwoofer, thudding through the terrific fight scene. The sound of whipping flames moves the film through the finale of Chapter 1. The sound cycles through the surround sound system, making the viewer think he or she is sitting in the middle of the flames.
Chapter 2 has a narrator speaking over the sound of arrows whipping through the air and the clank and crash of swords and axes slapping against each other. In Chapter 3, the viewer meets the last of several rag-tag armies and people that are being pursued to the death by Memnon. The voices of the crowds roll around the viewer equipped with a surround sound system. One of the eldest chieftains commissions Mathayus and two other Akkadians to kill the sorceress, Cassandra, that helps Memnon plan his victories. Later in Chapter 3, Mathayus mounts his camel while his companions mount horses. The noise of the hooves thudding against the ground comes from the front and back speakers, making the viewer feel he is standing in the middle of the group about to be stepped on by one of the animals.
Mathayus leads the attack on Memnon’s city in Chapter 4. The whir of bolo chains cutting through the air whips through the surround sound system, cycling through the left front and heading into the center speaker(s), then kicking up an explosive noise through the subwoofer. This effect is polished and comes across well enough that some watchers may feel like checking to make sure they weren’t wrapped up in the chains because they were standing so close. The trap sprung on Mathayus and his companions comes in a blur of arrow noises, and only Mathayus is left to continue the assassination attempt.
Chapter 5 offers another big ensemble of battle noises: ringing steel, men’s shouted warnings and screams of pain, and explosive flesh against flesh contact. In a short time, Mathayus is taken captive by Memnon’s soldiers and learns who betrayed them. Before Memnon can kill Mathayus, the sorceress tells the king that the Akkadian cannot die at the hands of Memnon or by any hand that he commands.
In Chapter 6, Mathayus wakes buried in sand up to his chin. Memnon’s troops pour fire and smoke into the homes of fire ants, driving them out into the open so that they will feed on Mathayus and Arpid, the horse-thief. The sound made by the fire ants as they climb from their homes and across the ground is a menacing sibilant slither of movement that sends chills up the spine as the noise rolls through the surround sound system and makes the listener feel as though he or she is in the eye of the storm of six-legged predators. Arpid makes his escape and overcomes the guards posted to watch Mathayus die screaming in agony. When Arpid thumps one of the guards over the head, the man falls into an ant nest and the sound of crumbling rock fills the left front speaker.
Agreeing to the thief’s terms, Mathayus makes good his escape and travels back into the city to wreak vengeance against Memnon. However, he’s unable to bring himself to simply assassinate the beautiful sorceress that saved his life and his mission becomes increasingly complicated. The audio portion of the movie continues gaining steam.
Chapter 7 has a fight scene that has the sound of swords being drawn through the right front speaker. The market sequence a little later circles the viewer with noise from vendors, animals, and armor, putting him or her in the middle of a maze of audibles. Hammer noises as artisans work on the statue of Memnon roll through the left and right front speakers. Later, in the scientist’s lab, Mathayus’ footsteps cycle around the young thief and the scientist as they talk about the recipe for gunpowder.
Chapter 8 highlights Memnon, raising the level of his threat in a blistering display of martial arts. The applause from his admirers runs from the left to the right front speakers. Mathayus’ chosen mission is again interrupted by fate as the young thief gets caught and runs the risk of losing his hand. An explosion of arrows rips through the air, whipping through the front and center speakers, slapping through the subwoofer.
The harem in Chapter 9 is a concoction of thrills and danger, and beautiful women. Their voices surround Mathayus and the speaker as they tell him to stay with them. The sound of cascading water in Chapter 10 offers an immediacy that plays throughout the scene of Mathayus’ and Cassandra’s escape and abduction.
The dramatic showdown between Mathayus and Commander Thorak in Chapter 11 is an assault upon the senses. Beginning with the sandstorm, the viewer is caught in the middle of the action. Sound rolls all around the viewer, then when the battle is taken down into the caves, explosions of noise, impacts, and ringing steel leaps from individual speakers, creating a sense of unease as the viewer tries—like Thorak and his men—to guess from which direction Mathayus’ merciless attacks will come.
The fight between Mathayus and Balthazar in Chapter 13 lends itself to the surround sound experience. As Mathayus and Balthazar beat each other bloody in an amazing display of martial arts and physical stamina, the crowd cheers them on, the noise cycling through the different speakers so that the viewer feels like he or she is in the middle of the action as well.
By Chapter 17, the viewer’s expectations have risen considerably. The flaming swords used in the final battle whip through the speakers, full-bodied enough to present the crackle and snap of the fire. Followed by the magnificent explosions in Chapter 18, the action stays loud, brutal, and sudden till the end of the adventure.
“The Scorpion King” hosts a cornucopia of additional material, including commentary by The Rock that illuminates much about the film as well as the wit, humor, and charm of the actor. The alternate version of the movie in enhanced viewing mode is worth taking a look at to learn of the other prophecy not mentioned in the final cut of the movie as well as some additional action sequences. The Outtakes are hilarious. Chuck Russell’s enthusiasm for the project is infectious, and it’s very enjoyable watching him talk about all aspects of the movie.
As a B+ movie, “The Scorpion King” provides a stirring story, good actors in fairly meaty roles, and settings that—although not historically correct—are nonetheless beautiful to look at. Fans of The Rock will definitely want to add this DVD to his or her collection, as will fans of the two MUMMY movies starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz. “The Scorpion King” adds to the mythos of “The Mummy” but also provides its own staging area for a sequel or sequels. For an evening’s entertainment with an adrenaline-laced no-brainer, “The Scorpion King” succeeds admirably.