Responsible for launching Dwayne Johnson's career as an action star, Chuck Russell's The Scorpion King is a laughably bad but still surprisingly fun piece of escapism two decades later. The Ultra HD raids home theaters with an excellent 4K HDR10 presentation, a demo-worthy DTS:X soundtrack but the same set of supplements. Nevertheless, this UHD package is Recommended for fans of sword-and-sorcery fantasy adventure flicks.
The Scorpion King will only be remembered for two things. It's a weird spinoff prequel set in Stephen Sommers' The Mummy franchise, which itself ignited a direct-to-video film series. More to the point, the historical fantasy is also the movie that launched Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's career into A-list action stardom, the first where the former WWE wrestler took top-billing. I still recall during my initial viewing, thinking this production was a complete mess and downright stupid — bad enough to even perhaps end Johnson's potential in Hollywood. But amazingly, Johnson's natural charisma and appealing screen presence made it a tolerable watch, which frankly, could be said of any of his movies no matter how bad. (Doom and Tooth Fairy, anyone?) Revisiting the movie seventeen years later, however, the sword-and-sorcery adventure is surprisingly fun, something reminiscent to Conan the Barbarian, Krull, The Sword and the Sorcerer and many others of that ilk. Granted, the movie is absurdly silly with laughably bad dialogue, but it remains an entertaining actioner for a lazy Sunday afternoon.
For a more in-depth take on the film, check out our 2008 Blu-ray review HERE.
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
Universal Studios Home Entertainment brings The Scorpion King to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a Digital Copy code. When redeeming said code via Universal's website or Movies Anywhere, users have access only to the 1080p HD version with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The dual-layered UHD66 disc sits comfortably opposite a Region Free, BD50 disc inside a black, eco-elite case with a slipcover. At startup, the disc goes straight to a static screen with the usual options along the bottom and music playing in the background.
The cheesily-entertaining historical fantasy storms the gates of 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with a great-looking and, at times, excellent HEVC H.265 encode that handily wins over its Blu-ray brethren, making it the king of the Mummy 4K franchise.
The movie was shot on traditional 35mm film, but it's unconfirmed if Universal remastered the original elements or simply repurposed the same source from the 2008 BD release. The latter seems more likely as there are long stretches of scenes that are comparable to the 1080p version. In either case, this 2160p transfer enjoys a welcomed uptick in overall definition and resolution, especially during the many daylight sequences. Boasting a brighter, crisper contrast, and snappy, brilliant whites, the picture reveals slightly sharper details in the fabric of costumes, blankets, and various other garments. The imperfections and pockmarks along walls are a tad more distinct while faces are a bit more revealing with lifelike textures. Specular highlights gain a small jump boost, as can be seen around the edges of clouds or the way the light from the sunshine or fire realistically glistens off metallic surfaces. However, there is a fair amount of poorly-resolved sequences as well, not only in the somewhat dated CGI effects but also in the many extreme wide shots of the desert.
Similarly, nighttime scenes don't show as much of a dramatic difference either although, on the flip side, brightness levels show a noteworthy improvement. Blacks are richer and inkier, such as the silky, glossy long hair of several characters, particularly Dwayne Johnson and Kelly Hu. Shadows are a bit velvetier and penetrate deep into the screen without sacrificing the background details, providing the 2.35:1 image with a lovely cinematic quality. John R. Leonetti's cinematography largely favors earthy brown tones, amber yellows, and fiery oranges, appearing more full-bodied and richly-rendered than its HD SDR counterpart. The flames from torches, in particular, are quite vibrant and bathe scenes in a warm glow. Primaries likewise are nicely rendered and a tad deeper with the reds of some garments looking more vivid and animated. Meanwhile, facial complexions are notably rosier and healthier, appearing more accurate to the climate. All in all, this is a great upgrade for a mediocre actioner. (HDR10 Video Rating: 76/100)
The sword-and-sandal adventure raids home theaters with a resoundingly bombastic and thunderous DTS:X soundtrack, guaranteed to deliver a rollicking good time and give one's system a healthy workout.
On the whole, engineers make great use of the original sound design, extending most aspects to the front heights without feeling forced or artificial. For much of the runtime, the overheads are reserved for a handful of scenes come with subtle ambient noises occupying the space above the listening area, such as the local wildlife or the bustling street commotion of Gomorrah. In truth, the surrounds are employed more often, providing the hand-to-hand fights, like the one between Mathayus and Balthazar, a larger sense of space. However, battles erupt on screen with flawless panning effects while debris scatters across the air and lands into the sides and rears, creating a fantastically satisfying and occasionally hemispheric soundfield. A genuine highlight is when Mathayus shoots an arrow, especially during his final showdown against Memnon, as the arrow flies directly overhead and to the other side of the room.
Thanks to an anachronistic but rocking selection of music and John Debney's sensationally fun score, the on-screen action feels broad and splendidly engaging. The visuals are continuously kept busy with exceptional background noises and convincing off-screen activity that often bleeds into top heights, generating an expansive and spacious half-dome soundstage. The mid-range could be a tad better and cleaner, but it's highly detailed nonetheless with appreciable warmth and fidelity, display excellent separation and clarity in the orchestration. Action sequences benefit from the smallest piece of debris discretely heard and raining down from the height channels. Meanwhile, a hearty and occasionally commanding low-end adds a palpable wallop and thump to every punch and an authoritative rumble to the explosions. And amid the ear-piercing chaos and tumultuous spectacle, vocals remain distinct and intelligible throughout, making this an absolute fun listen in spite of one's opinion of the movie. (DTS:X Audio Rating: 90/100)
Ultimately ridiculous, silly and laughably bad, Chuck Russell's The Scorpion King is nonetheless a surprisingly entertaining and fun piece of popcorn escapism. But in the end, the sword-and-sorcery fantasy flick will be largely be remembered for launching Dwayne Johnson into A-list action stardom and making him a household name. The Ultra HD raids home theaters with an excellent 4K HDR10 presentation and a highly-satisfying DTS:X soundtrack, easily besting its Blu-ray counterpart. Although it ports over the same disappointing set of supplements as before, this UHD package is the recommended way to enjoy the silly fun.