In keeping up with their recent wave of Blu-ray 3-Packs, Universal Studios has collected a trio of motion picture fiascoes starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The Rock Collection proudly sports the high-def Blu-ray editions of The Rock’s first-time live-action theatrical starring role (The Scorpion King), his first collaboration with the unfunny funnyman Seann William Scott (The Rundown), and finally settles with an epic adaptation of a first-person shooter video game (Doom).
Get the Dramamine ready, kids, ‘cause this ride may make you a bit nauseous.
The Scorpion King (2002) / 92min / PG-13
OK, so first off, I have this theory about movies featuring the word “Scorpion” in the title: they all suck. It’s actually more than a theory, it’s a fact. Go ahead, just type “Scorpion” in the IMDb search engine and then pop in a couple of anti-seizure meds (you’ll need ‘em). I’ve said this before (and I‘ll say it again until somebody proves me wrong, which I won‘t admit to anyway, so it really doesn't matter), is that any movie featuring the word “Scorpion” will only sting you.
Before we being, let’s go back to Stephen Sommers’ remake of The Mummy in 1999. In actuality, it really wasn’t that bad of a movie (much better than most of the other films Sommers has made, like Van Helsing for example), but then, as is frequently the case in Hollywood, the inevitable sequel came to pass and… ta-da!, The Mummy Returns came along and ruined everything a full two years later.
The Mummy Returns contains a flashback/subplot sequence featuring The Rock (who, at the time, was nothing but a former defensive tackle and current professional wrestler and caused many a groan from male audience members possessing an IQ higher than 90) introduced audiences to the character of Mathayus, the Scorpion King. Quite frankly, this flashback moment was the only redeeming thing about The Mummy Returns (even if it did feature a pro-wrestler), but the whole thing was sullied at the conclusion of the film when a big half-scorpion/half-man CGI creature appeared bearing the digital face of Rob Schneider. Sigh.
So anyway, Universal execs saw potential with the character of Mathayus, and the following year resulted in The Scorpion King, quite possibly one of the dumbest movies ever made. It’s still a hoot, though, especially if you’re a bad movie masochist. The film follows the plight of warrior Mathayus as he rises up against an evil Scotsman (Steven Brand) and bands together with Balthazar (Michael Clarke Duncan, who pretty much condemned his career to death after starring in Tim Burton’s awful Planet Of The Apes and this). Actress Kelly Hu is on hand to show some cleavage in this beefcake extravaganza that surely sits next to 300 as part of every woman’s "Uh-Oh, I’ve Run Out Of Chocolate!" movie collection.
Between its bad acting, mediocre special effects, and recycled story, The Scorpion King is one that definitely packs a powerful stinger.
The Rundown (2003) / 105min / PG-13
Known under the more appropriate Welcome To The Jungle abroad, The Rundown had the potential to turn The Rock into the next Arnold Schwarzenegger (who is seen briefly at the beginning, as if to pass the Olympic Torch of Summer Blockbusters on). It could have been a contender–and the idea of an action/comedy was perfect for The Rock, as he has a natural knack for the funny (which anyone who has ever watched his WWE gigs can attest to).
Alas, Hollywood had a dire tendency to really suck during the first couple of post-9/11 years: an unimaginative script, excessive high-wire and slow-mo stunts (just a few years after Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon conquered the world), and director Peter Berg’s overindulgence of aerial/zoom-in shots ultimately bog the film down. Co-stars Christopher Walken (as the villain who is filmed only from the mid-waist up in order to avoid showing his gut) and lovely Rosario Dawson (as a bartender/guerrilla leader) do their best with what little is given them, but it’s second-billed Seann William Scott (as the most annoying person in the world, a role he frequently winds up playing in motion pictures) almost makes The Rundown unbearable.
Plot? Well, if you must know: The Rock is one of them big tough guys that says "Hey, you owe so-and-so money. We can do this the easy way or I can kick your ass." His sleazy employer sends him down to a suspiciously Hawaiian-looking Amazon jungle to retrieve his good-for-nothing son (Scott). While down there, The Rock has trouble with the bad guy (Walken) and the good-for-nothing kid goes off in search for a legendary treasure. Yawn.
Doom (2005) / 113min / Unrated
Moving on, we find ourselves facing certain Doom, the 2005 live-action sci-fi action flick inspired by the popular video game series of the same name. OK, I must confess: I really don’t care for big screen video game adaptations — they’re kind of like movies with the word “Scorpion” in them — but Doom possesses a sort of naïve charm to it that tends to make even people who sat through Van Damme’s Street Fighter (1994) stand up and cheer "Oscar! Oscar!"
The plot is simple: space marines suit up and head for Mars via a Stargate-like contraption in order to find out what is causing a handful of scientists to disappear. Turns out there’s some real trouble brewing up on the red planet in the form of big nasty ugly critters that like to kill people. C'est la vie, I guess.
It’s obvious that most of the actors in Doom were having a good time and leaving it at that. Occasionally, The Rock tries his best to be serious, but those moments simply wind up coming off as campy instead. Sure, the man could easily pummel me into a pulp with his pinky finger, but you know he’s just not that menacing onscreen. The other major supporting actors in Doom (i.e. the ones that live) are that Keith — er, Karl — Urban guy and Rosamund Pike (Die Another Day), both of whom sport some pretty bad American accents and show just how far a single facial expression can take you.
Yes, yes, yes, Doom is a completely campy, nerdy, and downright dumb at times, but it sure as hell beats the pants off really crappy big screen spin-offs of video games like Resident Evil: Extinction. Plus, it’s one of the few video game adaptations that actually includes a POV shoot-'em-up segment that the original game is best known for. Extra points for that alone.
The Blu-ray Disc
The Scorpion King is presented in its original 2.35:1 scope ratio and a 1080p transfer (VC-1 codec). Frankly, I feel that this title has the best video presentation out of all, and has a very vibrant and robust look to it, with virtually no flaws whatsoever (that I saw). The film features an absolutely magnificent English, French, and Spanish DTS-HD Master 5.1 lossless soundtracks that are guaranteed to have your neighbors wrapping their pillows around their ears. Subtitles are available in English, French, and Spanish as well.
The Rundown comes to us in 2.35:1 widescreen with a 1080p transfer (VC-1 codec) transfer and, much like The Scorpion King, is a truly offering in the soundtrack department (again, we’re treated to a selection of English, French, and Spanish DTS-HD Master 5.1 lossless soundtracks and Subtitles). The video quality however, failed to wow me: the lush greens of the daytime jungle sequences were all fine and dandy, but a lot of the darker scenes just don’t have as much oomph to them that they probably should have.
Doom is also brought to a Blu life via an oh-so-dark 1080p transfer (VC-1 codec) with a 2.35:1 widescreen ratio. If you really like the colors black and blue, you’ll love this one. However, providing you aren’t colorblind, you probably won’t be as thrilled over the other colors here, and while the occasional shade of orange comes through looking like fire, the reds (especially on the actors’ faces) just look like a bad shade of pink. I know that Doom is set in outer space and all, but I personally felt that Universal could have added a bit more to the color palate with this one. Thankfully, the decidedly average video presentation is redeemed by a much superior English language DTS-HD Master 5.1 lossless audio soundtrack that will give your stereo setup a great exercise.
Sadly, no new special features have been created for The Rock Collection on Blu-ray–and most or all of the bonus material has been carried over from the previously released SD-DVD editions of the respective films. In the case of The Scorpion King, all of the movie’s extras have been compressed into one of Universal’s U-Control doohickeys (with the exception of the Audio Commentary, that is), which plays as a picture-in-picture feature. Personally, I find the U-Control concept to be annoying (especially on the BD version of John Carpenter’s The Thing), but fortunately, the whole U-Control thingy was overlooked when The Rundown and Doom went to press, as both of those releases contain their individual special features as they were seen on SD-DVD.
While the soundtracks may rock and the image quality is very acceptable, the movies contained in The Rock Collection themselves don’t quite do it for me. However, taking into account the fact that studio execs actually OK'd a direct-to-video sequel to The Scorpion King, it is perfectly reasonable to assume that these movies do it for others. Therefore, The Rock Collection comes highly recommended (to those of you who enjoy such a thing).