Running for years now, the ABBA jukebox Broadway hit Mamma Mia! supposedly has audiences dancing in the aisles to the incessantly catchy tunes of the somewhat creepy Swedish pop group. I assume that the show has the tacky pleasures of a night out at a karaoke bar, but this film version of Mamma Mia! is such a full-scale disaster in every way that it’s hard to know what has held theatergoers’ attention for so long. Director Phyllida Lloyd sets new lows in cinematic ineptitude by mixing and matching different takes at will and using frantic cutting and a lot of zooms to try to create some kind of arbitrary energy; there are lots of “big” production numbers where the lead actors and many extras seem to be going through some sort of hellishly disorganized calisthenics routine on boardwalks and beachfronts. Aside from the amateurish young lead, Amanda Seyfried, everybody in the cast looks game, but no one has the vaguest notion of what they’re doing or why they’re doing it, mainly because the ABBA songs have been so carelessly shoehorned into the flimsy narrative. A golden-tressed Meryl Streep is self-consciously loosey-goosey as Seyfried’s mother, and so aimlessly grand and unfocussed that in her big power ballad, “The Winner Takes It All,” she suggests a weird mixture of a hyperactive toddler crossed with Irene Papas playing Clytemnestra. There are still pleasures to be had from musical films, and even films of Broadway shows like Mamma Mia!, but none of them can ever be anything but painful to sit through if they continue to be helmed by theater directors who have no idea how to stage a musical number for the camera.
Image is clear and colors are appropriately saturated on this two-disc edition of Mamma Mia!, though slight edge enhancement is noticeable around trees and leaves in some location shots and around bodies in some interior scenes. No car chases in this one, but surround work is good. Every hammy musical number and over-extended vibrato is loud and clear.
Disc one of this two-disc special edition of one of the worst films of the year includes the feature film with optional Sing-Along so you can, you know, sing along to all 22 musical numbers, and director commentary, in which Phyllida Lloyd-bless her heart-has plenty to talk about considering that Mamma Mia! was her directorial film debut. There are interesting tidbits (the striking opening shot was filmed day-for-night, a mix of live and prerecorded vocals were used during most musical numbers), others not so much (the horrid "flipper ballet" is apparently one of the filmmakers’ favorite sequences). Lloyd is a little overzealous in her praise of what she calls Meryl Streep’s "Charlie Chaplin-esque comedy skills," but her commentary is never dull. Also included on disc one is the wisely excised musical number "The Name of the Game"-too bad the whole movie wasn’t. Ehhhhhhhhhhhh!
Disc two is crammed to the rafters with additional bonus features: a series of deleted scenes, including an extended expository sequence showing Amanda Seyfried’s three potential daddies setting off for Greece and a pseudo-S&M sex scene between Seyfried and her beau that, along with a handful of outtakes that aren’t very funny or large in number, vary drastically in sound level (you’d think Universal could have spent at least a few dollars of its $144 million theatrical gross on mixing and mastering the DVD’s bonus features); the 24-minute, three-part featurette "The Making of Mamma Mia!," which explores issues of gender in the movie business, the construction of the film’s sets, casting, choreography, and musical direction, all of which is sufficiently entertaining and informative (seriously); and another featurette, "Becoming a Singer," which delves into how quickly former ABBA members Benny Anderson and Björn Ulvaeus were able to entrust their music to the film’s actors. Rounding out the disc are several more featurettes, including "A Look Inside Mamma Mia! The Movie" (which is shockingly not that redundant of the abovementioned extras), "Behind the Scenes with Amanda," "On Location in Greece," and "Anatomy of a Musical Number: ’Lay All Your Love On Me’" (which goes into further details about those pesky flipper-ballet dancers).
This special edition DVD of Mamma Mia! will be the perfect holiday gift for your ABBA-lovin’ roommate.and a reason for you to invest in earplugs. Ehhhhhhhhhhhh!