THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Universal Home Video has just put two new DVDs on the shelf. One is a mass appeal action blockbuster from earlier this year; the other is a French film that became a surprise hit on the arthouse circuit. I liked both movies when I saw them in the theater, and I want to recommend them as a double feature on video. What's interesting is the way they were made in different countries to appeal to the same audience.

The Rock hits DVD with his action blockbuster The Scorpion King
The better known of the titles is The Scorpion King, which marks the starring debut of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. He plays Mathayus, a deadly assassin of great renown who is hired to kill an evil warlord named Memnon (Steven Brand). His efforts are guided by a seer called Cassandra (Kelly Hu), with whom he eventually falls in love. Or lust, perhaps. I admit some intrepidation about seeing a movie starring a WWF wrestler, but there were enough tongue-in-cheek action scenes to hold my interest. My favorite occurs when Mathayus is captured and buried neck-deep in the ground. His enemies use torches to smoke a flood of fire ants out of their homes...and right for Mathayus's head. One of the ants actually reaches his face, so what does he do? Chews it up and spits it out. The scene is creepy and funny and campy all at once. Many of the other parts play at the same level, giving you action but also winking at you in recognition. As an actor, it's safe to say The Rock is much more accomplished than Hulk Hogan; he looks the part, doesn't mangle his lines, and appears to be having a good old time. The feeling is infectious, as long as you realize this is supposed to be campy.

The Collector's Edition DVD is packed with features, including one feature-length audio commentary by The Rock and another by director Chuck Russell. There are a handful of outtakes and alternate scenes, as well as behind-the-scenes featurettes examining the special effects, fight sequences, and production design. A music video from the film ("I Stand Alone" by Godsmack) is also included, as are a couple of segments on the movie's charismatic star. The Scorpion King also comes with Universal's Total Axess feature, which allows you to pop the disc into your DVD-ROM drive for even more special features.

The Scorpion King obviously had a built-in audience with WWF fans, although it pulled me in as well. Sure, it's silly, but it's good silly.

( out of four)

The Scorpion King is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence and some sensuality. The running time is 1 hours and 30 minutes.

Mark Dacascos plays a warrior in Brotherhood of the Wolf
So many American movies have been influenced by foreign films that it's fascinating to see it the other way around. When it was released in France, Le Pacte Des Loupes was a smash. Inspired by American horror flicks, it was obviously something quite different from normal French fare. Titled Brotherhood of the Wolf here in the States, the movie played on the same arthouse screens normally reserved for more traditional imports. It ultimately proved popular enough to branch out to multiplexes as well.

Very loosely based on true events during the reign of King Louis XV, Brotherhood of the Wolf tells the story of a deadly wolf known as the Beast of Gevaudan that brutally killed woman and children. No one lived to tell of the beast, and his legend grew. He was reported to be almost mythical in size and strength. The first couple times we see the creature attack, it remains a blur to us as well as to its victims; only toward the end do we get a good look at it. The country is struck with fear, and the Royal Court calls in a man named Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) to track down the creature. Mark Decascos plays Mani, a Mohawk Indian who helps Fronsac.

On the surface, Brotherhood of the Wolf has all the elements of the American films that inspired it. There are moments of graphic blood spillage, several exciting martial arts sequences, and some impressive special effects. What makes it different is that, while it looks familiar, the movie has a distinctly foreign feel. Director Christophe Gans may have taken his cues from our own horror flicks, but even without the subtitles you could easily peg this as French. There's a lot of subtext about class structure and royalty that would never enter into an American film. Also, while the movie has some gory violence, it never lingers on things in quite the same way. The beast's attacks are shocks that punctuate the story rather than being the center of it.

The DVD contains fewer special features than The Scorpion King - a couple deleted scenes, production notes, a theatrical trailer - but this stylish, effective movie is really worth seeing. Since it was shot in a 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio, the DVD is the only way to go if you missed Brotherhood of the Wolf on the big screen.

( out of four)

Brotherhood of the Wolf (Le Pacte Des Loupes) is rated R for strong violence and gore, and sexuality/nudity. The running time is 2 hours and 24 minutes.

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