The Scorpion King -- April 26, 2002
So, I watched the Scorpion King with Gord because Bruce and Manmeet, despite knowing that I was the only one that really wanted to watch it, went to see it last week without me. I wanted to watch the Scorpion King because I really liked The Mummy and The Mummy Returns, and I thought that since Scorpion King was related, it might sort of have the same visual impact. The visual impact was mostly what I liked about the other two; since they basically had no plot to speak of, I wasnít really expecting that much here either.
Well, Scorpion King didnít quite have the same visual impact. It was, shall we say, a bit rougher around the edges. It didnít have any cool supernatural CG warriors and it didnít make any effort to reproduce the glittering brilliance of the Pharaonic court. It was sort of like a piece of artwork by Boris Vallejo, or what a Gor novel would look like if you made it into a novel. Iím not saying it was bad, but it certainly wasnít up to the standard of the Mummy and the Mummy Returns.
As the movie opened, Gord said to me, ďSee, this is kind of like what I imagine an SCA event is like.Ē I have to admit, in many places he was not far off the mark. Imagine a bunch of unwashed sort of guys with long hair and scantily clad women, drinking and hollering encouragement at some guy speechifying in a yurt. Or a giant tent city after dark, with torches flickering everywhere, or a marketplace of sunshades featuring all sorts of cool things you donít really need. On the other hand, I never saw an antler chandelier with open flames inside anybodyís yurt, and if three guys are sneaking covertly through a tent city at an event itís because theyíre planning to raid somebodyís beer cooler.
There the resemblance to the SCA pretty much ends, although playing fast and loose with history is also a feature of both the SCA and the Scorpion King. The Rock plays an Akkadian (not an Acadian) named Matthias (kind of a Biblical sounding name). Apparently all Akkadians are assassins. The bad guy (resembling very much Russell Crowe in Gladiator without actually being Russell Crowe) is named Memnon (kind of an Egyptian sounding name). He initially appears to be the leader of some sort of Horde, that looks in the introductory animation to be some sort of Mongol horde, since they have horses and yurts and look like they come from the East, but it soon becomes apparent that Memnonís capital is Gomorrah, of Biblical fame. Gomorrah looks a lot like the illustration of Mount Doom on the front cover of my edition of Lord of the Rings, but a bit more sunbaked. I guess it kind of looks like an Ancient Near Eastern city. Besides, only a Near-East archaeology major could ever keep straight all those city-states: Akkadians, Sumerians, Mesopotamians, Babylonians etc etc, so I guess it doesnít really matter that much.
Anyway, Memnon has become the ruler of this Horde by being the mightiest warrior (okay, so there are more resemblances to the SCA), and having become the ruler he has proceeded to massacre or subjugate all of the rest of the free people of the world. Since we are dealing with a mythico-historical period here, that really does mean everybody, from the Chinese to the Nubians to the Amazons to an aged but sort of Merovingian looking king and his sulky, traitorous son. Memnon is aided in his quest to dominate the world by a sorceror who foresees the outcome of all of his battles. The Rock is hired by the Merovingian king to kill the sorceror, but, surprise surprise, the sorceror turns out to be a beautiful and extremely scantily clad Chinese woman (at least, I assume sheís actually meant to be Chinese, given that the people in this movie have heard of China. The actress is definitely of Asian ancestry). She tells him what a terrible life sheís had with Memnon, and then the Rock spends the rest of the movie trying to kill Memnon.
The Rock is aided in his quest to kill Memnon by the usual array of stock characters: the Plucky Kid, the Eccentric But Centuries-Ahead-of-his-Time Inventor, the Beautiful, Scantily-Clad Sorceress, the Faithful and Extremely Above-Average-Intelligence Camel, and the Irritating Sidekick.
Iíd like to make a slight digression on the topic of the irritating sidekick. I am really sick of The Irritating Sidekick. I realise heís a stock character, but heís really irritating (Iím saying he because Iíve never seen a movie with a female Irritating Sidekick). Ever since the Phantom Menace Irritating Sidekicks have got a lot more irritating. I have seen three movies in a row now with an Irritating Sidekick and Iím really irritated. First there was the donkey in Shrek. That was okay. Then I saw another CG film the next week, Ice Age, that featured a sloth as the Irritating Sidekick to a morose mammoth. That was definitely more than enough, because the sloth was, like, really irritating, and unlike the donkey in Shrek, the sloth did not become less irritating as the movie went on. Then there was the Irritating Sidekick in Scorpion King, who was actually not that bad as Irritating Sidekicks go, except that Iíve had it with Irritating Sidekicks.
The Rock is also aided in his quest to kill Memnon by Michael Clark Duncan, who plays a pretty convincing Nubian king, except that in several shots the glue the costume department used to attach the scarification prosthetics is clearly showing. Michael Clark Duncan is the Character Who Initially Doesnít Trust the Hero But Comes Around to His Side In Time For the Final Battle. I was disappointed that the Amazons didnít have any speaking lines, but one of them did best the Irritating Sidekick at arm wrestling, and they definitely held their own in the final battle scene.
So what youíre seeing here is that Scorpion King is pretty formulaic. Okay, what did you really expect from a movie starring a pro wrestler? Now youíre all saying, ďSee, this is why we didnít want to watch this movie in the first place. We could have told you it would be bad.Ē But thatís alright, because I knew it would be bad. Besides, now that I have a new standard for the Worst Movie I Ever Saw (Brotherhood of the Wolf) everything else is pretty good in comparison. On a related note, although this movie is called Scorpion King itís not quite clear why the Rock is the Scorpion King. Memnonís device is a scorpion, and he tries to kill the Rock on more than one occasion with an arrow poisoned with scorpion venom. Maybe there was a prophecy or something that got left on the cutting room floor. And on another related note, apparently there is a mythico-historical figure involved in the Ancient Egyptian ďFounding of EgyptĒ story called King Scorpion (I am not making this up. I saw it on a website somewhere. They could have been making it up, except it was like an archaeology website reporting a find of some new stela or mural depicting the King Scorpion story.)
The Rockís acting was ok. Heís a pro wrestler, so you kind of have to expect him to be at least a passable actor. Besides, he didnít have much to work with - if you gave him a more challenging script he might turn out to be a really bad actor after all. Iíve heard Michael Clark Duncan is a fairly good actor, although this is the only thing Iíve ever seen him in. This movie was definitely beneath the skills of a good actor. The script and plot were pretty formulaic. The visuals were ok. This movie gets two and a half pints of mass produced yellow American beer, because it was better than staying home with nothing to do except read my textbooks or scrub my bathtub; but it was also not the best movie I have seen, nor even the coolest to look at.
Suggestions for future movies: Scorpion King did delve into some territory I donít think Iíve ever heard of done on the big screen before. Egypt gets a lot of screenplay, but the Ancient Near East (Mesopotamia etc) doesnít seem to. Iíd like to see a big old Mesopotamian epic on the screen, maybe something like the Epic of Gilgamesh or like a big battle epic, but one that took itself a little bit more seriously about having everything from the same time and place. Iím not saying it has to be super historically accurate or anything, because actually what Iíd really like to see would be some of those really cool Mesopotamian sphinxes like in the British Museum come to life (or at least CG). I think what Iím saying is that Iíd like to see something where it was more than just a few place names thrown in here and there that made it Mesopotamian. I also kind of thought the Amazons had some promise as protagonists for a future movie in this semi-related chain, but on the other hand, it would probably just end up as cheesecake, if Scorpion King was any indication.