L  e  n  s  V  i  e  w  s

A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

 

Introduction: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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Mamma Mia! [Blu-ray]

 

(Phyllida Lloyd, 2008)

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Universal Pictures

Blu-ray: UNiversal Studios Home Entertainment

 

Disc:

Region: All

Runtime: 109 min

Chapters: 20

Size: 50 GB

Case: Standard Amaray Blu-ray Case w/slipcover

Release date: December 16, 2008

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 2.40:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: AVC

 

Audio:

English DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1; Spanish & French DTS 5.1.

 

Subtitles:

English SDH, Spanish & French

 

Extras:

• The Making of Mamma Mia! The Movie (24:05) in HD

• Deleted Musical Number: The Name of the Game (3:02) in HD

• Anatomy of a Musical Number: Lay All Your Love on Me (5:42) in HD

• Becoming a Singer (10:55) in HD

• A Look Inside Mamma Mia! The Movie (2:40) in HD

• Commentary with Director Phyllida Lloyd

• Sing-Along for 22 songs

• Deleted Scenes (8:06)

• Outtakes (1:33)

• Björn Ulvaeus cameo (1:35)

• Music Video: Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (3:49)

• Disc 2: Digital Copy

• U-Control Picture-in-Picture & Behind the Hits

• My Chat

 

 

The Film:

If you had occasion to be driving to Las Vegas anytime over the past five years, you couldn't help notice the many billboards advertising Mamma Mia! The Musical. Lazy me. For the longest time, I thought this was a musical version of My Big Fat Italian Wedding. Was I out of touch!. While I'm at it, I might as well admit to some difficulty in listening and understanding to the lyrics of songs. Until I saw the movie, I hadn't realized that the title song was merely an expression of exasperation and not a statement about relationship. (OK, I imagine I'm going to lose some readers with that one, but they say confession is good for the soul.)

In any case, hysterical excess is the name of the game here: it's there in every aspect of the production: color (saturated with cool tones dominant), lighting (as if for the stage, perhaps, since sometimes the exteriors look like interiors), plot (a clothesline for the ABBA songs), performance (such that it wouldn't be fair to call any of it overacting), choreography (Busby Berkeley would have been amused), photography (Madam, your close-up, please), direction (for which the Ed Wood award would be generous), audio (I know its them singing, but where did that offstage chorus come from?, singing (poor, poor Pierce.)

 

 


It is the men who comment in the extra features that they were in this movie only to serve as bimbos for the ladies. True enough, but it also true that everyone, without exception, gets stupider as the movie goes along, so no one is spared - the young couple, who should know better, especially.

So, why was I smiling instead of pulling my hair? Perhaps it reminded me of that giddy feeling I have when Ewan McGregor launches into "The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music" at the beginning of a turn of the century romantic fable about a poet and a courtesan in Moulin Rouge. I turned to the reviews of pros for insights. Not much there, but Mamma Mia! did inspire some wonderful writing, my favorite being Anthony Lane HERE.



The Movie: 6
The movie opens with 20 year-old Sophie on the eve, more or less, of her wedding. Sophie lives with her mother (Meryll Streep) on a fabulous Greek isle where mom runs a broken down, but stunning rustic hotel, as she has for the past 15 years or so. There remains a mystery: who is Sophie's dad? Until recently Sophie hadn't a clue, but she came across mom's old diary that makes it pretty likely that it's one of three possible hunks (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgaard), so Sophie invites all of them in her mother's name. When they all show up, neither they, nor mom know Sophie's true plan: to have her real dad walk her down the aisle. Mom and Sophie protect each other from who these guys are, which informs the gist of the comedy. Of course, how Sophie would know which one is which, when not even her mother knows, and certainly the men don't is a question that Alan Alda (think: Same Time Next Year) wouldn't have anticipated.

 


 

Image: 7/8
In keeping with the overall excessive hysteria of Ms. Lloyd's direction is the saturated, sun-drenched, high contrast image, rendering skin tones a mite overcooked and highlights without detail at times. The night scenes have deep, noiseless blacks, but some shadows in the daytime scenes are brightened, as if not lit correctly in the first place. The color is nothing if not vivid and entirely in keeping with the tone of the movie. Still, there is sometimes an inexplicably flat, undimensional quality to the scenes not shot on location. Bit rates are dynamic, from the upper teens to the low 30s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 7/8
Before settling in to watch the movie, I sampled a couple of the musical numbers to hear how they were recorded and how they grew out of the dialogue that preceded them. My impression was not a happy one, feeling that the move from dialogue to singing was so inflated and unrealistic as to be jolting. And, since many of the numbers involved considerable prancing through various environments, the disconnect due to their having been pre-recorded was considerable. In context, however, I was far less concerned. Still, I couldn't help notice that there was an overall lack of attention paid to how the music, dialogue and ambiance worked together. It was as if the wildness of the story and mood was expected to trump basic audio considerations.

 

Operations: 8
The menu is laid out like other Universal Blu-rays. Arrows tell you which way to direct your remote, and the bonus feature instructions are detailed and intuitive. The chapter menu includes buttons for U-Control in case you want to approach those functions from that point. And, there are the usual number of U-Control opportunities to invite and confuse.

 

 

 

Extras: 6
What I was hoping for was an exploration into the ABBA phenomenon that made a musical like Mamma Mia! Possible. There's a 3-minute featurette (actually a little less) "A Look Inside Mamma Mia!" that purports to do just that. Really! Way better was "Becoming a Singer" in which ABBA composers Benny Anderson and Björn Ulvaeus, together with some of the original ABBA backup musicians and the movie's music supervisor help the cast through some of the numbers. "The Making of Mamma Mia!" covers much of what Director Lloyd (who also was in charge of the staged version from 1998) talks about in her earnest audio commentary in a quarter of the time. Universal's U-Control offers yet more features, among them: "Behind the Hits" which is a series of pop-ups that detail all sorts of bits about the ABBA songs.

 

 

Bottom line: 6
This is one movie, at least on first viewing, where I found myself going with the flow - despite its technical, problems, despite Brosnan's singing, despite Streep's having to utter dialog that should have embarrassed her more than it did me, despite that Sophie's three bridesmaids – introduced at length in the opening number – were pretty much dropped from the story, and despite the leaps of logic that pervade. Perhaps a second viewing will break the spell – which I blame on ABBA. We shall see.

Leonard Norwitz
December 6th, 2008

 

 

 

 

 


 

 





 

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