However I had to give this a go, I mean it's huge isn't it? The stage show is big, the cast for the film is big, and the film did really well in the cinema. So what was I missing, and what is the DVD offering over the show?
The answers will have fans excited, and if you haven't bought it already then you should be nudging your partner right now with the present list.
Sophie Sheridan and her mother Donna have been living on a Greek island, running a guest house and getting on with life together. However Sophie has met Sky and they're in love, he wants to travel the world with her and she wants a big white wedding with all the trimmings, so he concedes and does what she wants, after all he loves her.
However there's something she wants that just can't be found on the island, her father to giver her away. Except she doesn't know who her father is, so she works through her mothers diaries and finds the date she would have been conceived, except her mother has been a little bit of a player and there are three possibilities.
Rather than hedge her bets she sends invites to the wedding to each of the three men who all begin to make their way to the island.
That's pretty much where the film kicks off, and during it, and the plethora of ABBA songs, we find out the individual relationships between her mother and each of the three potential fathers.
Before I go into the review let me say this. Treat Mamma Mia! for what it is, not for what it's not. When reviewing films I find that you have to take it for what it stands for and not compare it to anything else. Mamma Mia! against Citizen Kane or Blade Runner? Stop it. This is a musical feel good film of the highly successful musical show. Let's bear that in mind as we leap into the review.
Since I haven't actually seen the stage show I had no idea how the ABBA songs were going to mix together, frankly I thought it would feel rather forced and difficult to get through, and yet that couldn't have been further from the truth.
What I found was that the music fitted perfectly with the moments, and there was never a feeling of them being pushed in, in fact I was genuinely surprised at just how relevant some of the songs and lyrics were, with perhaps the biggest surprise arriving during the emotional singing of The Winner Takes it All.
Not only did they fit together well, but the plot and the characters pulled out something extra from the songs and I began noticing the lyrics and understanding the meaning a bit more, in the context of this story of course.
The film also brought more drama to the songs to see them performed in this way, and I have to admit that even as I write this review I’ve begun humming some of them. Not only that but while I was watching the film I caught myself singing in my head and tapping my feet, it’s fair to say it had me hooked.
Don’t let those more serious paragraphs fool you though, this is a real feel good film with a lot of laughs. There are some genuinely funny moments, the actors are playing it well for the enjoyment, and that comes through the screen and really grabs the viewer and pulls them right in. Of course the superb songs of ABBA help, but there’s the story and the actors too.
That leads me to the stars behind the film, and the first mention has to go to Meryl Streep, she is stunning. I first heard her singing on screen in A Prairie Home Companion (Filmstalker review) and I was really surprised at how natural a voice she does, and a great singing voice too. In Mamma Mia! she does something a little different with that voice, she acts through the singing, and boy does she do it well.
She really surprises me as an actress and a person, particularly here. She’s full of life and vitality, and really gives the actors and actresses half her age a run for their money. Well more than that, she beats them at their own game.
The strongest moments and the best song of the film go to Streep, her rendition of The Winner Takes it All is very emotional and I was surprised that it managed to touch me so well. That is a testament to the power of her acting through those scenes and the great ability she has to make her acting and singing merge into one.
Amanda Seyfried is blessed with a great voice and she does well alongside Streep, the scene where they sing together as they prepare for the wedding day is another lovely and touching moment. These two actresses are the best singers in the ensemble, and while Julie Walters and Christine Baranski carry off their musical moments with a dash of comedy and flair, the men find it a little tougher.
Colin Firth has a bit more of a voice than Stellan Skarsgård and Pierce Brosnan, and while Brosnan’s voice is rather rougher than most, it’s not fair that he’s received the slating that he did for his singing. Yes he sounds rough, but don’t many artists who have sold millions of records? There are many artists out there that he can be compared to, and while he’s no natural singer, he adds plenty with the performance he puts in and the character he lends to the film.
One thing that does shine through this is that they really are giving it a go and enjoying it, something that comes out later in the extras of the DVD, and that’s worth much more than a polished stage singer for a film like this. The film doesn’t lend itself to seasoned, pitch perfect professionals, and the natural charm of the male actors and their performance just adds to a more realistic and achievable tone.
The story itself is good fun, although the slightly more dramatic moments seemed a little rushed through. I think that the film could have had a wider appeal if there had been a bit more drama to it, sure it had its moments, but they lasted as long as a song, if that.
I do feel that there could have been a little more time spent with each of the fathers and we could have explored the relationship between them and Streep's character. However all we get are glimpses into their lives, and a bit more background to them would have given the whole “who's the father” question more dramatic tension.
The individual revelation of Firth's character was also a bit mishandled. The half hearted speech he gave to Skarsgård's character seemed confused and watered down the moment during the wedding when the real character reveal came.
While I loved the confusion of the wedding ceremony, the post ceremony seems to race forward just a little too quickly for the storyline, and seems intent on tying up the lose ends quickly and neatly.
The early parts of the story play out well, and building to the wedding is written and played out really well. One of the things I loved the best about the lead up to the wedding was the three way friendship between the characters played by Streep, Baranski and Walters. They play off each other perfectly, and form such a strong and believable bond on screen. That and they are hilarious together.
Although the ending is somewhat twee and contrived, it's totally forgiveable in a film like this, it's about the feel good factor, after all that's what the music of ABBA boils down to isn't it?
Dolby Digital 5.1
The sound was good throughout the film, but at the start there were some genuine surround sound moments, but they soon faded and began focusing on the musical numbers, so it isn't a great loss.
Some of the backdrops in Greece look fantastic, and with vibrant colours, strong lighting and a great picture all carried through into the studio shots too, the film looks as exciting and bright as the story itself.
Deleted Scenes, Outtakes, Making of: Birth of Mamma Mia!, Making of: The Film-making, Making of: The Cast, Deleted Musical Number, Anatomy of a Musical Number: “Lay All Your Love on Me”, Becoming a Singer, A Look Inside Mamma Mia!, Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie Music Video, Björn Ulvaeus Cameo, Audio Commentary with director Phyllida Lloyd, Sing-A-Long
There weren't too many scenes and they weren't well presented either, feeling as though they were tacked on and not adding anything to the presentation. That is until the last two scenes which feel as though they are adding something extra.
There are a few amusing outtakes but nothing hilarious and surprisingly not that many. Considering the material, the job the actors had to do, and the general feel on set that you get from the extras, I would have expected many more and some complete corkers too.
Making of: Birth of Mamma Mia!
The standard Making of extra seems to have been split up into different sections and made into short making of featurettes, and this one is perhaps the shortest. We hear from the creators of the show, the producers, Benny Anderson and Björn Ulvaeus from ABBA, some of the stars and a few behind the scenes moments. There’s nothing that exciting or unusual about this and it’s all too short.
Making of: The Film-making
We hear a lot from the producers of the film and show as they talk about bringing the whole stage show to the big screen. There’s an amazing amount of work and detail to the stage settings, which are basically all the sequences filmed atop the island in the hotel, and filmed in the Pinewood 007 stage. There’s plenty of behind the scenes and it follows the production even down to the choreography. I found this featurette very interesting and much better than the previous.
Making of: The Cast
This featurette features a lot more from the cast and crew talking about the film and about the other principal actors, something that is probably the best part out of all the Making of extras. There’s loads of behind the scenes footage to watch, and even some rehearsals which provide for some interesting watching, as well as seeing the artists recording their songs. This section provides some great insights into the production and I found to be the most enjoyable.
Deleted Musical Number
“That's the Name of the Game” is the musical number that was deleted from the film and I found myself watching it and wondering why. It lends a lot to the story and adds a lot more to the reveal moment for Stellan Skarsgård's character reveal and his relationship with Sophie. Looking back on this moment in the film I did wonder why the scene was over so quickly and everything resolved without fuss.
Anatomy of a Musical Number: “Lay All Your Love on Me”
This provides a very interesting behind the scenes look at the rehearsing, filming and recording of a single musical number, however it is a bit shallow and short. I could have seen this as a really strong featurette, exploring the work that goes into a number from the beginnings to the very end moment filming.
Becoming a Singer
The two stars of ABBA join the stars of the film to talk about singing and learning the songs as well as seeing some footage of them recording their songs for real. It's rather interesting and there's some good behind the scenes footage, and it gives you the interesting snippet that Streep sang most of her songs live, and barring poor sound on the day, that was the track that was used for the film. Each actor had the songs played back in their ears as they sang, so they had a silent playback to sing along to.
A Look Inside Mamma Mia!
Really this short featurette has nothing that you won't have already seen in the other sections.
Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie Music Video
This is the music video to accompany the release of the soundtrack with Amanda Seyfried performing throughout as well as having sung the track. She seems to be the main focus of the video.
Björn Ulvaeus Cameo
This is a nice moment at the end of the film where Björn from ABBA gets his cameo. I was a bit surprised that we didn't see the Benny Anderson cameo as a compliment to this piece, but this one is the more engaging one.
Audio Commentary with director Phyllida Lloyd
The commentary from Phyllida Lloyd is really good and she talks about everything from the adaptation of the stage show right through to the post production, on the way she discusses the camera work, casting, rehearsals, and has some anecdotes regarding the actors on set and how they took to the singing and dancing. It's quite an insightful commentary for the film and she manages to keep the information coming rather than becoming repetitive or quiet, problems that many commentaries have.
I perhaps had the most hope for this extra feature, after all a sing-a-long of ABBA tracks in a fun ABBA musical sounded just perfect, however the audio mix seems to have been rather poorly handled. The entire film mix is faded down slightly and the music track, minus the vocals, leaps to the fore with full volume whenever a musical number is about to start. This seems rather odd because for all the moments between numbers, which do make the majority of the film, you're straining to hear anything and just waiting for the music to leap up again.
I do wonder if they would have been better keeping the whole film mix higher and when the musical numbers came, toning down the vocals and bringing up the music just a little. This would have made the sing-a-long a much better version, as it is you'll feel you're killing time between songs or hitting the fast-forward continuously.
However when the songs do come on you can get stuck in, with the animated and timed karaoke subtitles what more could you want? Apart from a better audio mix of course.
Against my preconceptions, I actually really enjoyed this film. It's fun, has a huge feel good factor, and the two lead females give great performances and sing superbly well. Meryl Streep steals the show though, and gives a fantastically energetic and heartfelt performance.
Despite the comments in the press, they are ably backed up by the male and female cast, sure there aren't great singers in there, but they are good enough to sing. I'd like to see some of the negative voices get up there and try singing live on a studio set and being recorded.
Above all the music of ABBA just lifts you up and gets you hooked, and the way it's nigh on seamlessly woven into the story is impressive, it does feel as though some of the songs were written just for this film.
Then there are the extras, the DVD is packed with them, and while most of the features are short and cover similar ground, there are one or two which are interesting and engaging, particularly the audio commentary from the director which is one of the more interesting ones I've heard. Finally the sing-a-long adds a repeatable experience to the DVD, although there are flaws with the audio mix, it is a great idea to help bring it back out at parties.
Overall this is a great fun film and a good DVD offering and I can see it filling many a stocking this year. If you like ABBA, fun films and musicals, I can see you enjoying Mamma Mia!