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Bitten by a Scorpion: The Scorpion King

01/05/2002. Contributed by Mark R Leeper

Buy The Scorpion King in the USA - or Buy The Scorpion King in the UK

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Mark R. Leeper says Conan the Barbarian (in virtually all but name) clobbers again in another sword and sorcery adventure, but this time he is played by The Rock and called Mathayus, the Scorpion King.

This film has a little too much tongue-in-cheek kidding and some really absurd in clothing and hair styles. But for some of the peek-a-boo fashions, this would be a good children's matinee film. Nothing special, but it could have been worse.

Back in 1982 Universal gave us the film CONAN THE BARBARIAN which I enjoyed a great deal. I don't believe in calling a film a guilty pleasure, but I will say it was a film of selective appeal.

John Milius as writer gave it a literate and interesting script that borrowed lines from the likes of Ghengis Khan and Nietzsche. As director he combined dark and light emotions. And then Basil Poledouris topped him by giving it what I still consider to be my favorite film score of all time.

Making what is essentially another Conan film is far from Universal's worst decision this year.

In THE SCORPION KING, plot is a commodity in relatively short supply compared to action. A certain king hires Mathayus and two cohorts to kill a threatening conqueror. (The king sits pensively on his throne in the same pensive posture that is the last image of CONAN THE BARBARIAN, if memory serves.)

The evil conqueror is one Memnon, played by Steven Brand. (Memnon is a Greek or Ethiopian name, but not an Egyptian one, by the way.) Mathayus spends the rest of the film fighting Memnon with the help of two other minor barbarians, a humorous thief, and a friendly child.

The first question the producers must have faced was who to cast as the new barbarian strong man.

There are probably any number of reasons that they could not get Arnold Schwarzenegger. Still they do seem to have gotten lucky. The Rock (real name Dwayne Johnson) is a part-Samoan professional wrestler with a chest just a little smaller than Rhode Island. (I think.)

The man looks like he really could be a barbarian giant if they do not give him too many lines like "Boo!" He does not do the brooding hero thing quite as well as Schwarzenegger, but he has a lighter and more pleasant style.

Personality that Schwarzenegger seemed to be laboring to create comes more naturally to The Rock. While I was not expecting much from his acting after THE MUMMY RETURNS, now I am a sorry that film did not give us more of him. There is one veteran actor here, Bernard Hill as a "scientist" playing with gunpowder.

The Rock may not be such a bad choice, but so many other choices made in the script and production are.

This is a film that has absolutely no sense of where or when it is taking place. The real King Scorpion ruled in what is now Egypt about 3200 BC. Yet at the beginning of the film he is someplace covered with snow and where breath freezes.

That has to be a long way from Egypt. People just did not get around that much in 3200 BC. Since there is not much to tie it to Egypt we might as well just assume this film takes place in Ancient Never-neveristan.

The villain Memnon has a styled LA haircut and a carefully maintained one-day-growth of beard. The sorceress wears diaphanous things that show about as much as will not get the film into ratings trouble.

A so- called "scientist" has gunpowder which he says he got from China. Indeed gunpowder was invented in China, but it was about 4400 years after King Scorpion died.

This is no small anachronism. This is a film that really needed John Milius's literacy and intelligence (though rumor has it he is working on his own new Conan film).

THE SCORPION KING does not really tell us much about who Mathayus really is but a desert assassin. I suppose THE SCORPION KING got along with a John Debney score that at times sounded a little like John Williams, but it was not a particularly memorable score.

Again, Poledouris might have been the right choice to score the film.

I cannot in good conscience call this a quality film.

It is a film with many faults and few virtues.

But one of the virtues is that the film is fun and that makes up for a lot.

I rate it a 4 on the 0 to 10 scale and a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale.

Mark R. Leeper

Copyright 2002 Mark R. Leeper

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