Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, The (US - BD)
Gabe calls it the Tomb of Missed Possibilities and Opportunities...
Mummy hunters Rick (Brendan Fraser) and Evelyn O'Connell (Maria Bello) are out of retirement when their son Alex (Luke Ford) salvages the tomb of the evil Dragon Emperor (Jet Li). When the Emperor (who like Nickelodeon’s Avatar can control the elements, and can change shape into monsters) is set free, the family gets together with the immortal who cursed him (Michele Yeoh), and starts a little war.
I never connected with the Mummy series. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is the fact that they aren’t very good movies, but I think it mostly comes down to expectations. When Stephen Sommers was making The Mummy I was still reading a lot of Fangoria magazine, and was working under the misconception that the film was going to be an R-rated horror movie, not a PG-13 adventure movie. I think I just never forgave the film for being something unexpected. I was happy to see that the producers were using a different mummy and setting this time out, but was immediately suspect of the hiring of director Rob Cohen, who may have the dullest action movie cannon in film history.
It’s interesting to note that unlike James Bond or Indiana Jones, no one has ever really cared about the actors in the Mummy series. Like the Star Wars series, they were adventure movies that were most notable for special effects instead of stars (Harrison Ford aside). The familiarity with the literary character probably has something to do with the series’ continued box office prosperity, while the starless Hellboy series continues to flounder. No offense to Brendan Fraser or John Hannah, but I just don’t think either one of them guarantee number one on the charts opening weekend.
For this semi-reboot the producers of the third Mummy ensured a little bit of popularity in Asia, and with us idiot, die hard Hong Kong fans by hiring Michele Yeoh, Jet Li and Isabella Leong, but none of the three really translate to box office bucks in the States. Maria Bello is brought on to replace Rachel Weisz (who was wise to stay away), and she never fits in. Bello choosing to be in the movie is strange enough, but her flat acting and bad English accent is a huge shock. The real bummer of the cast is Luke Ford, who is entirely miscast as Fraser’s adult son, and supposedly the person left to carry on the series. Ford is charmless, exuding none of Fraser’s self-effacing humour, wit, or cartoony handsomeness. Of course, all is forgiven because Cohen cast the immortal Anthony Wong as the second in line villain. I don’t care if his talents are wasted on a cheap Raiders of the Lost Ark Nazi knock off, so long as he’s on screen and sneering.
Sommers was always pretty open about citing the Indiana Jones series, but Cohen goes full on copycat at times. This means there were two Indiana Jones impersonators this summer. Unfortunately for Mummy III (in comparison to Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) even at his worst, Steven Spielberg does a better Steven Spielberg impersonation than Rob Cohen. Cohen also doesn’t do a very good Tsui Hark or Zhang Yimou either (the Wire-fu stuff is terrible). The biggest disappointment in the whole thing is the Li/Yeoh sword fight, which marks the first time the two have had an on-screen battle. Cohen has enough of a craftsman’s control to not make a total mess of the movie, he just has zero identity visually. He achieves a sense of scope, but his pacing could use a tune-up, he’s a stylistic bore.
But as seems to be the issue for every big budget action movie, the worst of the worst here is the film’s rotten sense of humour. Most of the audio jokes are stale and juvenile, and the physical humour is the saddest Chuck Jones impression in live action pretty much ever. Actually, I take it back, the romantic subplot is the worst element, and may be the stiffest and most tacked on I’ve seen in my lifetime. All the warm bits, love and comedy just about sink the ship. On the other hand, the film is brutally violent for a PG-13 rating. Of course, just like the other Mummy movies, the violence is never enough for us horror fans, who’d rather the series was closer to the older Mummy movies than Indiana Jones. Especially the Yeti scene, if ever there was a chance to see some good, bloody monster on man carnage…
Mummy III was one of Universal’s biggest tent poles this year, and tent poles usually look pretty good in 1080p. The transfer is consistent, though the photography is not. Some scenes are shot very softly, and others quite sharply, but the disc itself displays each style with the same solid, noiseless colours, and deep, dark blacks. The snowy mountain sequence is probably the sharpest in the film, unfortunately for the badly rendered special effects. I hate to be a broken record, but the sharpness of the image (especially when the photography is so inconsistent) really gives away the digital effects. They’re just that much sharper than the real photography. The digital painting of Shangri La is especially odd looking in 1080p. If I could find anything negative to say about the film it would be in reference to its overall darkness, which seems a little overdone.
Tent poles given DTS-HD Master Audio tracks usually sound pretty good too. The majority of talking and talky scene’s sound effects are effectively centred. Actually, a lot of the movie is effectively centred. The surround channels are mostly used for Randy Edelman’s score, which is actually as generic as humanly possible. The scenes that really count, the big chase, the Yeti fight, the big final battle, are all surround heavy on the effects though, so I see no reason to complain too staunchly about the lack of subtle surround work during the chatty scenes.
Our special features begin with more of Universal’s U-Control options. This time our list includes a ‘Scene Explorer’, ‘Know Your Mummy’, ‘The Dragon Emperor’s Challenge’, a visual commentary with director Rob Cohen, and a PiP option. The commentary and PiP options would not work on my profile 1.0 player. ‘Scene Explorer’ is, again, an option to watch a scene from different points in production. This time we’re given a choice of two options. ‘Know Your Mummy’ is a cut away branching option that runs down each character, and a few other continued elements from the previous films. ‘The Dragon Emperor’s Challenge’ is a sort of fun ‘true/false’ game where the viewer is asked questions about the reality of the film’s factoids.
Fortunately (or unfortunately) I don’t need to see director Rob Cohen’s video commentary to hear it. And boy golly, is this a boring and numbing commentary. Cohen is very consistent, actually, leaving few blank spots, it’s just that his tone, and the items he finds interesting enough to talk about are bland. The track is predictable, and despite all the talking, quite uninformative. Funnily enough, Cohen promises that this Blu-ray will be the most jam packed we’ve ever seen.
A collection of deleted and extended scenes are next, presented in HD, but only surround sound. Some of the cuts appear to have been made to avoid an R-rating for violence (if only), the rest are cut for pacing and repetition. Each scene is preceded by a title card, most of the special effects seem finished, and in all things run almost eleven minutes.
Then we have the making-of documentary. It’s a full little doc, running through a little bit of pre-production, then most of production. Watching the on-set footage is pretty dull, but nicely cut between raw footage and interviewing. At only twenty three minutes it could’ve been a whole lot more boring, though I don’t feel as if I’ve learned anything. ‘From City to Desert’ is more behind the scenes stuff, with questionable focus. I guess the point is the country jumping the production did, but it mostly seems like just another collection of behind the scenes footage set to cast and crew interviews to me. ‘The Legacy of the Terra Cotta’ is another making-of featurette with a suspect focus. There’s some additional focus on the pre-production process, but otherwise there’s just more step retracing for thirteen and a half more minutes.
Disc two, which like Universal’s recent Hellboy II release, is a standard DVD, starts with ‘A Call to Action’, a look at the cast. This is yet another fluffy featurette that appears mostly to have been made for television. The entire main cast is run down in a super quick four and a half minutes, with generic interview praise and some behind the scenes footage—again.
‘Preparing for Battle’ at least has some focus; it’s a look at the film’s disappointing wire-fu and large scale battle choreography. It’s another vague and fluffy featurette with rough behind the scenes footage and generic interview footage, but it runs a longer ten and a half minutes (with credits). It is cool to note how many of her own stunts Maria Bello actually did.
‘Crafting the Emperor Mummy’ is also more focused; it’s a look at the production of the digital Jet Li. I admit that the cracking and reforming terracotta aspect of the character is a very cool way of recalling the previous Mummy movies without more of the same flappy bandages. The featurette is mostly made up of technical stuff, like the specifics of the animation and scanning Li’s face. The coolest news in this eight minute featurette is that Li mo-capped the monsters too.
‘Creating New and Supernatural Worlds’ closes out the disc with an eight and a half minute look at the production design. Surprisingly there isn’t a single preview trailer on this entire disc.
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is a bad movie, but it isn’t entirely painful to watch. Those fond of the other vaguely entertaining Mummy movies will probably be disappointed, but only vaguely, so perhaps a rent is in order. I would personally rather re-watch original Mummy director Stephen Sommers’ equally bad Van Helsing again, if that’s any indication of the film’s overall quality. The Blu-ray disc looks and sounds sharp, but the ‘deluxe edition’ extras are disappointing, so DVD buyers might want to skip to the one disc release.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 16th December 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DTS 5.1 French, DTS 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Extras: U-Control Features, Visual Commentary, Deleted and Extended Scenes, Featurettes, BD-Live
Easter Egg: No
Director: Rob Cohen
Cast: Brendan Fraser, Jet Li, Maria Bello, John Hannah, Michelle Yeoh, Isabella Leong, Luke Ford
Genre: Action and Adventure
Length: 112 minutes
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