Universal // 2008 // 109 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Jennifer Malkowski // November 27th, 2009
"Mamma mia! Here I go again..."
...with another double-dip in time for the holiday shopping season. The Mamma Mia! The Movie: Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! More Gift Set includes last year's very good Blu-ray release of last year's joyously silly musical, but what Universal has added for this year doesn't amount to all that much.
Sophie (Amanda Seyfried, Big Love) has a lot going for her: she's young and in love, she's got a cool mom, she lives on a ruggedly gorgeous Greek island, and she's smokin' hot. But as her wedding approaches, she feels like something is missing and decides to solve the mystery of who her father is. The problem is that there are three possible paters, all of whom her mother hasn't been in touch with for years: American businessman Sam (Pierce Brosnan, The Thomas Crown Affair), British banker Harry (Colin Firth, Love Actually), and Swedish travel writer Bill (Stellan Skarsgård, Dancer in the Dark). Without telling her mom, Donna (Meryl Streep, The Hours), Sophie invites all three of these guys to her wedding. Donna's thrown when she finds out, but she's got backup in the form of BFFs Tanya (Christine Baranski, Cybill) and Rosie (Julie Walters, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix).
All this filters through more than a dozen ABBA tunes sung by the cast, which communicate the story (sometimes) and emotions through their lyrics, and which inspire frenetic eruptions of dancing.
Mamma Mia! is a movie musical adapted from a stage musical inspired by the oeuvre of a Swedish pop band, so as you might imagine, it's loaded with pleasures for the eyes and ears, but not many for the mind. Even for a musical, it's quite light and fluffy, which is just fine, in this case. If you want to see Meryl Streep walk around sparse sets weighing difficult moral issues in a habit, see her other big 2008 movie, Doubt. If you want to see her jumping on a bed in a pair of overalls and belting out lyrics like "Dancing queen, feel the beat from the tambourine, oh yeah!" then Mamma Mia! is the one for you. Did I mention the number where she sings on the bow of a luxury boat in a brief Titanic parody/fantasy? How about the part where a bachelorette party full of feisty young women tie Skarsgård to a pole and start to strip him? Pure frivolity like this carries through to the end of the story -- and past it, with an extravagantly over-the-top sparkly-costume rendition of "Waterloo" playing alongside the credits.
If I read the above description and hadn't seen Mamma Mia!, I'd probably make a point of avoiding it. But the film is so unabashed in its excesses that it all becomes strangely charming. This charm even survives its occasional pacing problems and uneven casting. Streep is predictably amazing -- so unfailingly good that we can call her success "predictable" even when she's trying her hand at unexpected new challenges. Her performance is infectiously fun, with her own palpable delight in playing the role spilling out of every frame. Seyfried is another casting highlight, pulling of a sexiness that feels organic, and an earnestness about her goofy three-dad scheme that wins our sympathy. She's also got a great singing voice, and is fully convincing as Donna's daughter (even though Seyfried's youth and Streep's age strain the timeline here). Baranski and Walters also make the most of their supporting role, with exuberant sidekick comedy.
Perhaps appropriately for a project helmed by three women and targeted at women (the theater full of middle-aged ladies I saw it with were fanatically into it), it feels like less thought went into casting the male parts. As Skarsgård puts it, he and he Y-chromosomed colleagues are the "bimbos" of this story. Skarsgård is all right, and Firth is actually pretty great, infusing his bemused character with incredible sweetness. But Dominic Cooper (An Education) as Sophie's hubby-to-be doesn't rise above the level of eye candy, and Pierce Brosnan is so wrong for this part. He looks all right, but whenever he opens his mouth -- either to speak or sing -- everything falls apart. He's got something weird going on with his accent, and, bless his heart, he simply can't sing. In one way, Brosnan is to Mamma Mia! what Sarah Palin was to the 2008 presidential campaign -- just as she sent the message "anyone can be vice president, no matter how unqualified!" his casting seems to make a parallel argument about being in a big-screen musical. But both assertions were wrong. This wouldn't be such a huge problem if he'd been cast in one of the other male roles, but Sam has some very important singing parts in "S.O.S." and especially in the emotional "When All is Said and Done." I can tolerate, and even enjoy, the looseness and silliness of most of Mamma Mia!, but it just isn't fun to feature a poor singer prominently in a musical. The best advice I got in dealing with this aspect of movie was to pretend it was ABBA karaoke instead of a polished, professional musical -- which makes it feel a little better.
Audiovisually, this is a very rich film well transferred in its Blu-ray release. The on-location footage from Greece is gorgeous, with excellent color saturation that keeps things vibrant and bright. The day-for-night scenes shots there that begin and end the film also have an appealing look, luminous and unique. The only problem with the image is some softness in the green-screen work, and some intentional softness that perhaps conceals a few wrinkles for the leads. That latter variety isn't bad on its own, but contrasted to the razor-sharpness of other scenes it feels jarring. Sound quality is excellent, as it should be for a musical.
Now for my criticisms of this specific Mamma Mia! The Movie: Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! More Gift Set (Blu-ray) release. The Blu-ray disc itself is identical to the one from last year's Blu-ray release, but Universal has swapped out the second disc's digital copy for the official CD soundtrack, featuring cast recordings of the ABBA classics. This is one of the few good aspects of the gift set, as I'd guess that more fans of this film would want the music than would want to watch this large-scale lavish production on their computer screens. Also good is the little button on the box that plays a snippet of the title song when you press it and lights up some little blue lights that sparkle on the cover. That silly little perk is completely in keeping with the tone of the film, and I have to admit I pressed it at least ten times during the course of this review. Unfortunately, the box the button and lights are attached to is cheap and flimsy. Considering that this set probably wants to appeal to serious fans of the movie who would invest in another release, Universal should have packaged it in a sturdier box that fans could imagine having on their shelf for the next decade or two (for a stunning example, see My So-Called Life: The Complete Series). The other exclusive in this release is a little 32-page book with pictures and quotations from the cast and crew. Since it covers a lot of the same ground as the on-disc bonus features, even with some direct quotations, I don't think it adds all that much.
Everything else we get was on last year's Blu-ray release, which provided a good set of extras. There are a lot of them, but appropriate to the content, they're pretty brisk. Five behind-the-scenes featurettes, ranging 5-11 minutes, cover different aspects of the production: a general making-of, a look at the three women in charge, one on casting, one that shows the cast training with a vocal coach, and one that gives an in-depth exploration of the "Lay All Your Love on Me" number. This last one was particularly fun, as we learn that the casting team had to look at 400 shirtless young dudes to find the 20 who dance in their flippers here, and that shooting this part was less romantic than the song itself. Seyfried reports that Greece is unexpectedly cold and windy; she says in a deadpan voice, "If it looks sexy, I don't know how that happened." In the others, we hear director Phyllida Lloyd admit, "I don't think any of our three gentlemen had sung on-screen before," and ABBA member Benny Andersson talk about having to relearn all his own songs ("I don't sit at home and play 'Dancing Queen'"). The eight minutes of deleted scenes are a bit dull, since most of them are just extended footage of the three possible dads traveling to Greece, without music or full sound work. The two minutes of outtakes are more fun, focusing on Streep horsing around or making minor, amusing errors. The sing-along function lets you play the movie karaoke-style, following the lyrics on the bottom of the screen. U-Control also has a trivia mode and picture-in-picture mode, though I found these cumbersome. Other little tidbits include extended footage of ABBA member Björn Ulvaeus' cameo as a Greek god, a kind of lazily conceived music video of Seyfried doing "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!" and a two-minute promo for the movie, with footage of old ABBA concerts and of the stage show on Broadway. A full commentary track from Lloyd is included, which I found more informative and enjoyable than such tracks usually are.
Lastly, as I said in my Away We Go (Blu-ray) review, I really detest Universal's Blu-Ray menu template. The studio seems to use the same "high-tech" feeling interface for all of its films. So when Mamma Mia! loads up its menu screen, you see the craggy Greek landscape and hear the exuberant music of the film, but laid on top of that is the sleek, metallic design of the menu buttons with harsh electronic clicks and beeps sounding as you scroll through your options. The mismatch is laughable and distracting. Unless Universal wants to focus solely on action and sci-fi releases from here on out, I'd strongly recommend that they spend a couple of extra bucks to customize each Blu-ray disc's menu.
Chock full o' ridiculous fun, Mamma Mia! has surprising appeal, even for viewers who aren't too familiar with ABBA or too wild about musicals. But for anyone who already owns the Blu-Ray, this gift set probably doesn't add enough for an upgrade -- light-up, singing box aside. Hoping for a little extra payout from this box office smash, Universal obviously "can still recall our last summer" and all its profits.
Mamma Mia! The Movie is free to go, but this gift set has to do some time.
Review content copyright © 2009 Jennifer Malkowski; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes
* Deleted Musical Number
* Sing-Along Version
* Music Video
* CD Soudtrack
* Official Site