Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Meryl Streep,
Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, Julie Walters, Dominic Cooper,
Amanda Seyfried, Christine Baranski
Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Audio: DTS HD 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Features: See Review
Length: 109 Minutes
Release Date: December 16, 2008
Let’s be clear about one thing…real musicians like ABBA.
I don’t say that to be elitist, but the music of the legendary Swedish super group easily lends itself to a dismissive category like catchy bubblegum pop. But for those who play and study music, there’s a lot more. ABBA offered surprisingly complex harmonies and arrangements, and had a sophisticated approach to radio-friendly material that belied the seemingly simple and infectious melodies. I would go so far to say that Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus might be the most accomplished pop composing team since Lennon and McCartney.
It was no surprise that admirers would find a way to turn their catalog of songs into a hit stage show. Mamma Mia: The Movie captures the spirit of that production and expands on it, with a mostly impressive cast and a fun, breezy sense to the modern musical. And those songs…yes, those songs.
The story is exceedingly simple. Sophie (Seyfried) is getting married, but she doesn’t know who her father is. By stealing her mother’s diary, she finds it could be one of three men (Brosnan, Firth, Skarsgard), so she sends them all invitations to the big event in her mother’s name. But her mamma mia Donna (Streep) has no idea, and is more than a little surprised when three blasts from her past show up at her struggling island hotel!
Donna is supported by two friends from her wilder music days (Walters, Baranski), but the question remains…who was the man who actually brought Sophie into the world? Will we ever find out?
Who really cares? The story is as basic and as unimportant as they come. The real treat is the excuse to string together all of ABBA’s biggest hits, though my personal favorite “The Name of the Game” was relegated to the ignoble status of deleted scene…well, you can’t have everything.
The other real treat is seeing prolific screen actors baring their singing chops, mostly for the first time. Amanda Seyfried has a most lovely voice, and one of her highlights isn’t even on screen. She does a beautiful rendition of “Thank You For the Music” over the end credits that makes them worth watching.
Meryl Streep might carry too much weight as a dramatic actress to seem completely comfortable in a lightweight musical, but she holds her own. In fact, her take on “The Winner Takes it All” is amazingly powerful. Julie Walters does a cute version of “Take a Chance on Me”, but perhaps the film’s most joyful moment is Christine Baranski taunting a bunch of young amorous would-be suitors with “Does Your Mother Know”. Priceless!
The men don’t fare quite as well…in fact, Pierce Brosnan, bless him, sings worse than I do. But they all deserve credit for their courage in trying. ABBA songs are not easy to sing; in fact, the musical director remarks that most young women can’t perform “I Have a Dream” because it goes over the natural break in their voice, but Ms. Seyfried pulled it off without a hitch.
This is as inconsequential and as endearing as it gets. Mamma Mia won’t change the world, but it will keep a smile on your face for two hours, and sometimes, that’s more than enough.
This high definition transfer from Universal is a real beauty, encompassing the sunny island exteriors and the brisk, fun night scenes with equal clarity and integrity. The level of detail in both indoor and outdoor settings is remarkable, making this as fun to watch as it is to listen to.
This may be the best presentation of songs in a musical film I’ve heard…the Blu-ray DTS HD track makes the most of the incredible songs, and flushes them out with terrific dynamic range and full vocal orchestrations that make the most of both front and rear channels for an electrifying mix…very well done!
This Blu-ray offers Universal’s exclusive “U-Control” feature, which allows picture-in-picture access to extra behind-the-scenes footage and interview clips while you watch, though you can also see much of them in the separate features as well. Or you can enjoy pop-up graphics during the songs to learn more about the individual tunes and the albums they originated from. BD LIVE allows you to create and share your own commentary with friends.
There is also a commentary from director Phyllida Lloyd, who was also one of the three women responsible for the stage show. There are a few minutes of outtakes and deleted scenes including the aforementioned “The Name of the Game” number, plus a pair of featurettes on the making of the movie and how the actors became singers. They include interviews with composers Andersson and Ulvaeus, who also both have cameos in the film!
You can also watch the movie with a sing-along feature, enjoy a music video for “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!”, and even use the bonus disc to make a digital copy.
Mamma Mia is nothing but a celebration of the music of ABBA, and for fans of the group, that’s more than enough for a good time. This is a terrific Blu-ray offering that will have you singing and humming for days afterwards.