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Mamma Mia!

(2008) *** Pg-13
109 min. Universal Pictures Distribution. Director: Phyllida Lloyd. Cast: Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Amanda Seyfried, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard.


Hollywood seems to be getting savvier by ther week in its counterprogramming. Against the serious, heavy, testosterone-drenched juggernaut of The Dark Knight, we get the female-driven, gaily attired musical comedy Mamma Mia!, a probable inheritor of feminine blockbuster Sex in the City's box-office success. Probably the most successful of the jukebox musicals, the ABBA showcase Mamma Mia! comes to the screen with its energy and color fully intact. It's a wedding farce, a romantic fantasy, and a musical orgy that literally bursts open by its well-made ending.

Amanda Seyfried plays Sophie, a twenty-year-old woman on the verge of her wedding day. She was raised by her single mother Donna (Meryl Streep), but Sophie has discovered that her father is one of three men—not knowing which, she invites all three to her wedding, causing romantic chaos to ensue. Streep gets a sexy, funny showcase that ranges from bubbly pop ("Chiquitita") to light aria (an epically rendered "The Winner Takes It All"), and Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgård are very funny as the possible fathers. Yes, they all sing. So do Julie Walters and Christine Baranski as Streep's best buds.

Mamma Mia! is complete fluff, and proud of it. The characters are broadly drawn, including Streep's hotel proprietor, who sublimates her disused sex drive into the crumbling resort's repairs (of sex, she unconvincingly says, "I don't miss it, at all" whilst wielding a battery-powered drill). Donna's former position in girl group The Dynamos, along with Baranski's Tanya and Walters' Rosie, excuses a number of the film's twenty songs, but the play repurposes the lyrics cleverly enough as opportunities for the characters to emote over their romantic travails or simply express joie de vivre. The film's undeniable musical peak is "Dancing Queen," a thoroughly bubblegum hit that somewhat improbably becomes a feminist anthem here as Donna feels 17 again, the whole company boogies, and a nearby farmer woman throws off her yoke. (This one got a spontaneous applause break from the preview audience, perhaps prefigured by an ABBA cameo.)

At first, the acting in Mamma Mia!--particularly that of serial-overactor Walters--seems obnoxiously amplified, at least for the estrogen-impaired (the screeching female bonding at the film's outset is well-nigh unbearable). Once you adjust your senses, however, you're bound to submit to this vacation of a movie strategically set on an oversexed Greek isle, complete with theatrical redefinition of the Greek chorus. Though the dance numbers feel a bit clunky, those songs are sinfully catchy, despite one's best efforts of denial. Director Phyllida Lloyd, a leading stage director known for her work in opera, keeps her eye on the primary goal: to deliver on that "Dancing Queen" lyric "having the time of your life."

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Aspect ratios: 2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 2

Audio: DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround

Street date: 12/16/2008

Distributor: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Just in time for last-minute holiday shopping, Universal rolls out another impressive special edition on Blu-ray, this time for the glossy, happy-go-lucky musical Mamma Mia! The image quality is sharply detailed and offers nice depth, as is to be expected from a spanking-new title. To my eyes, though, the night scenes could have a deeper black level, and more importantly the excessively color-corrected look can come across as harsh on home video, with hues at times pumped into a dangerously unnatural range (such as the sunset wedding scene that turns the entire cast orange). Despite this caveat, the color scheme looks pretty much as it did in the theater: it's just that the most extreme moments didn't seem so harsh projected on a big screen as they do on an HDTV. Mamma Mia! is one of those rare cases where the audio is arguably more important than the video, and here we get a DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround track that preserves the theatrical experience down to the last bit.

The screen-specific feature commentary with director Phyllida Lloyd offers a mostly serious-minded scene-by-scene dissection of the concepts of the movie and how they were conceived and captured on film; Lloyd also talks quite a bit about her cast, especially Streep, and how they approached the rare challenge of a screen musical. A Sing-Along option allows ABBA fans to join in the fun, karaoke style (though can one watch a Blu-ray in the shower?).

"Deleted Scenes" (8:06, SD) deliver some mildly interesting trims of various lengths (including more sexytime bits from the young lovers), but the real must for fans of the Mamma Mia! property is the "Deleted Musical Number: 'The Name of the Game'" (3:00, HD), a ballad sung by Amanda Seyfried to Stellan Skarsgård. A brief collection of "Outtakes" (1:33, SD) focuses on Meryl Streep's cutting up (when she's not cutting a rug). Along similar lines we get the surreal raw take of the trimmed "Björn Ulvaeus Cameo" (1:35, SD).

"Anatomy of a Musical Number: 'Lay All Your Love on Me'" (5:42, HD) details Dominic Cooper's nerves about singing, confirmed by Cooper himself, Lloyd, Lowe, and a substantial amount of behind-the-scenes footage from the number's shoot. We also see Lloyd staging the number on the beach with Cooper and Seyfried, who gives her thoughts about the unsexy shoot on a cold beach; Lloyd and Van Laast also chat about working with the snorkel-clad dancers, as we watch them put tbhrough their...paces.

"The Making of Mamma Mia!" (24:05, HD) is a surprisingly extensive featurette with cheery input from Lloyd, Streep, Skarsgård, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Christine Baranski, Dominic Cooper, producer/creator Judy Craymer, lyricist/executive producer Björn Ulvaeus, screenwriter Catherine Johnson, composer/executive producer Benny Andersson, producer Gary Goetzman, music director Martin Lowe, choreographer Anthony Van Laast, associate choreographer Nichola Treherne, executive producer Mark Huffam, and production designer Maria Djurkovic. The ample behind-the-scenes footage includes dance training, music direction, the actors and director at work and play during the shooting the scenes and musical numbers, and the choreographers and designers at work. Always an interesting element, audition footage crops up to kick off the segment on the cast: it's Seyfried's crack at the mic.

"Becoming a Singer" (10:55, HD) features Andersson, Lloyd, Craymer, Streep, Goetzman, Ulvaeus, Lowe, Baranski, Skarsgård, Brosnan, Firth, Seyfried, Huffam explaining the process of preparing the music and shooting the musical numbers (Lloyd maintains that a bit of the live audio was used, but the featurette doesn't hide that most was filmed with playback and earbuds). The niftiest aspect of this featurette is all the studio footage of the actors recording the tracks used in the film.

"A Look Inside Mamma Mia!" (2:40, HD) is a pretty generic featurette (seemingly some kind of "sizzle reel" for promotional purposes) with brief comments by Lloyd, Ulvaeus, Brosnan, Streep, Baranski, Craymer, Lloyd, and Goetzman. "'Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!' Music Video" (3:49, SD) is a cheesy, old-school MTV-style clip showcasing Seyfried.

This disc's U-Control (available from a special menu or on-the-fly during playback) is devoted largely to an exclusive Picture-in-Picture track with most of the same talent from the documentary appearing in behind-the-scenes footage and cast and crew insights doled out to correspond with relevant scenes in the film. Also available in U-Control: Behind the Hits, giving pop-up stats for each and every ABBA song and its corresponding album. The picture-in picture track has a bland promotional feel, but it does address the appeal of the property, the concerns about and choices made in translating it from stage to screen fully intact, and the efforts made to craft the big-scale production numbers, many on location.

As is its wont, Universal also provides a My Scenes bookmarking feature and BD Live access to extensive additional features housed at the studio website. A second disc gives access to a Digital Copy for convenience of portable playback.

It's hard to imagine Mamma Mia! fans feeling short-changed by this special edition Blu-ray, which makes a good case for a bit of their money, money, money.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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