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Blu-ray Review: Mamma Mia!

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The Film

When undertaking an adaptation of a theatrical production, it's absolutely essential that one takes into account the differences between the mediums. When the source material is a musical, the stakes are even higher. Movie musicals cannot be staged or filmed like the action is taking place on a stage in front of a live audience; it just doesn't work.

Someone obviously forgot to tell that to Phyllida Lloyd, director of both the original Broadway production of Mamma Mia! and the recent movie adaptation. Lloyd is a theater director, and no doubt a very good one, but her first effort for the screen is an absolute mess, robbing Mamma Mia! The Movie of the campy fun it ought to provide.

Mamma Mia! tells the story of a young bride (Amanda Seyfried, Mean Girls) who has narrowed down the identity of her father to three men (Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgård, and Colin Firth). She invites all three to her wedding without telling her mother Donna (Meryl Streep), the owner of a dilapidated inn on a remote Greek island.

Filled with the music of '70s pop superstars ABBA, the film is a romp of hidden motives and double entendre. ABBA's music has kind of a "love it or hate it" quality, but it's hard to question how perfectly appropriate it is for this silly comedy.

Unfortunately, much of the fun has been lost due to some of the most illogical shot choices and worst direction in a recent major motion picture. The song and dance arrangements have been changed from the theatrical production, but the staging still looks like something you'd see live, and thanks to Lloyd's claustrophobic directing style it's often hard to tell what's happening in a number of scenes. This seemingly minor annoyance escalates into persistent frustration making hard to enjoy the film as you realize the direction is not going to get any better.

It’s unfortunate too, because the performances are good, with a number of noted actors having no problem at all hamming it up to their heart’s delight. Streep lays it all out there in a performance that simultaneously makes you feel embarrassment and admiration for her. She’s committed to the role for sure, and her singing is unexpectedly strong. The trio of actors playing the potential fathers is excellent as well, with Brosnan, Skarsgård and Firth all clearly enjoying themselves. Brosnan carries most of the singing load, but he can’t quite pull it off. It’s not exactly awful, and you have to feel for the guy as you watch the special features where he expresses his sheer terror at having to sing on camera, but his songs are a cringe-worthy distraction most of the time.

Elsewhere, Christine Baranski and Julie Walters are uninhibited as Donna’s longtime friends, and Seyfried makes a good impression as Sophie thanks to a voice that’s the best among the leads, but none of the performances are good enough to outweigh the technical problems plaguing the film.

Mamma Mia! is passable entertainment, and its rabid fans won’t even notice Lloyd’s inability to direct a film, but it’s a glaring blight that makes the film a lot less fun than it should be.

The Blu-ray Disc

Mamma Mia! is presented in 1080p high definition and an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The presentation is hit or miss, with some scenes really taking advantage of the high-def capability, and others looking rather drab and muddled. The picture tends to look best in the on-location shots but there aren’t many. Silhouetted figures in the moonlight really pop in the outdoor night scenes, but most of the filming took place on a sound stage, and for one reason or another, these shots lack color definition and sharpness. Overall, the video presentation is very average.

The audio is presented in Dolby DTS-HD, and is superb. With much of the audio coming from studio takes of songs, it’s not surprising. The sound is polished and clean — the perfect presentation for a musical.

The Special Features

There are a number of special features on the disc, although none of them are that interesting. The same footage is recycled across several of the making-of featurettes, which aren’t that insightful, although a look at the actors learning to sing is enjoyable.

There are several rambling unfinished deleted scenes, a deleted musical number, and an utterly pointless outtake reel that lasts less than two minutes and contains all of three “outtakes.” A second DVD disc contains a digital copy of the film.

In-movie options include a commentary track by Lloyd, the ever-popular sing-along option that subtitles the lyrics, and the ability to watch the special features picture-in-picture with the film.

A variety of BD-Live features are available if you have the patience to navigate the network, including live chat and the ability to create your own commentary track.

The Bottom Line

Mamma Mia! the film is a bit of a missed opportunity, but I have a feeling most of the target demo couldn't care less about how the film was shot. Any way you look at it, the music of ABBA shines (you know, if you’re into that kind of thing) and the performances are mostly solid (if you can get past feeling a little embarrassed for the actors).

It’s not much of a performer in the high-def department though, making a Blu-ray purchase rather unnecessary. That is, unless you want to go all Mystery Science Theater on Meryl Streep using that make your own commentary feature.

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.