The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

(2008) * 1/2 Pg-13
112 min. Universal Pictures Distribution. Director: Rob Cohen. Cast: Brendan Fraser, Jet Li, Maria Bello, Michelle Yeoh, John Hannah.

/content/films/3162/23.jpgSo the Emperor responsible for at least one iteration of the Great Wall of China learns from mystics mastery over the elements, see? And then he asks a witch to invoke a secret spell of immortality, but she double-crosses him with a curse. Centuries later, in 1946 England, treasure hunters are called out of retirement to hand-deliver the Eye of Shangri-La to China, but in the process they awaken the Emperor. All involved want to use the Eye of Shangri-La to point the way to the Himalaya-hidden "Pool of Eternal Life." While you're in the area, why not check out the Golden Tower and the fabled land of Shangri-La? I'm tired just describing the plot of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. I bet you're tired, and you haven't even watched it. If you know what's good for you, keep it that way.

Writer-director Stephen Sommers (The Mummy, The Mummy Returns) has stepped into the emeritus role of producer, leaving this sequel's writing duties to Alfred Gough & Miles Millar (Smallville, Shanghai Noon) and the directing job to Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious). The results are a lame screenplay and an empty, effects-driven exercise. Okay, the first two films in this franchise were empty, effects-driven exercises, too, but at least they had the courage of their convictions and therefore entertained. This conventional late-summer action picture is all joyless spectacle: it has a certain epic sweep (especially in its location lensing), but it also has tacky CGI Yeti. So, y'know, it's not David Lean.

In the pro column, as adventurer Rick O'Connell, Brendan Fraser doesn’t skip a beat from the earlier Mummy movies—he’s just as goofy, energetic and convincing in the action scenes. And the Emperor's terra-cotta army is pretty cool. That's about it. Everything else is a con, in more ways than one. Rachel Weisz has wisely jumped ship, leaving a miscast Maria Bello gamely to plunge ahead in the role of Rick's wife Evy (though John Hannah returns as Evie's brother Jonathan) . In an obvious grasp at extending the franchise, this sequel skips to 1946 to age the O'Connell's son Alex (once Freddie Boath, now Luke Ford) to leading-man age.

Worst of all, the filmmakers take the franchise's cultural subtext—its obvious angling for reflected glow from the Indiana Jones films—and make it insultingly explicit: a stunt from Raiders of the Lost Ark here, a major plot point from The Last Crusade there, and a handful of the memorable setpieces from Temple of Doom: a Shanghai nightclub that expodes into action, a harrowing airplane ride over snowy crags, and the usual tour of rope bridges and booby-trapped tombs. (In an odd acknowledgement of creative bankruptcy, we also learn that Evie has written novels called The Mummy and The Mummy Returns, before hitting a writer's block that only a new adventure can solve.)

The presence of Jet Li (as the Emperor) and Michelle Yeoh (as the good witch of the East), both wasted, serves both to prove that this film means business and that it hopes to coast on the goodwill of the cast and the franchise. There's also a seemingly studio-mandated stock romance between Alex and Yeoh's ninja partner (Isabella Leong) and enough pallid one-liners to build the Great Wall of Bad Dialogue: "Why do I always have to save the day?" "Look, kid, I've put down more mummies in my time than you." "I hate it when the kid's right." "I hate mummies! They never play fair!" "Mad Dog can outfly a three-headed lizard any day of the week!" In the midst of Cohen's noisy action sequences, the lines only serve to enhance the consistently careless ridiculousness of what we're watching. Instead of giving us our adrenaline fix, The Mummy: The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor numbs us with a placebo.

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Aspect ratios: 2.40:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround

Street date: 7/31/2008

Distributor: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Universal goes all out for the third entry in The Mummy series, now available on Blu-ray. The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is available both on its own to complete the set for early-adopting fans, and as a part of a new Mummy Trilogy set. The film gets a sterling transfer on Blu-ray, with gorgeous and accurate color rendering and a seemingly flawless picture quality in terms of fine detail and overall solidity of the image; similarly, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 gets high marks for its potent lossless presentation.

Among the voluminous extras is a feature commentary by Rob Cohen, who talks a good game and keeps up a steady pace while imparting a great deal of information about the film's depiction of history and culture, the characters and where they find themselves in this third story (also whom they find themselves, in the case of Rachel Weisz's replacement, Maria Bello), the cast, and a bevy of production details. This feature is best enjoyed in its visual commentary form, accessible from the U-Control menu.

"Deleted and Extended Scenes" (10:45, HD) offer some not terribly exciting trims. "The Making of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" (22:48, HD), on the other hand, is the latest in the series of Universal's impresive making-of featurettes. Here are Cohen, producers Stephen Sommers and Bob Ducsay, associate producer Marc Pitre, costume designer Sanja Hays, Brendan Fraser, Maria Bello, Michelle Yeoh, Luke Ford, Isabella Leong, David Calder, set decorator Anne Kuljian, stunt coordinator Mark Southworth, 1st assistant camera Nicolas Marion, 2nd unit 1st A.D. Terry Madden, 2nd unit asst. camera Taylor Matheson, special effects coordinator Rick Thompson,  SFX man Joe Viskocil, VFX plate data asst. Hugo Lalonde, Fraser's stunt double Patrick Kerton, Colin Decker of Fire for Hire, French carpenter William Picard and (in what may be a first) Production Services Company representative Bill Kong, collectively telling the tale of making the movie. They're surrounded by a ton of cool on-set footage revealing the secrets behind the action and special effects. Some of the more interesting bits are a set construction meeting with Cohen, visual effects supervisor Matthew Butler, and 1st AD PJ Voeten speaking up; an "energy circle" with cast and crew on the first day of shooting; and, oh yeah, the parts where they light Jet Li's hands and John Hannah's ass on fire.

"From City to Desert: Shooting Locations of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" (15:44, HD) deals with the film's large scale and location work, from the studios and streets of Montreal to a Quebec river to the deserts and studios of China. Going on record are Cohen, Sommers, Fraser, Li, Yeoh, Bello, John Hannah, Calder, Anthony Wong, Ducsay, Hays, Southworth, Lalonde, DP Simon Duggan, executive producer Chris Brigham, producer Sean Daniel and his assistant James Engle, Voeten, China production manager Liu Er Dong, A camera operator Francois Archambault, line producer Lee Chiu Wah, and greensman Stacey Godding.

"Legacy of the Terra Cotta: The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" (13:35, HD) focuses on the historical and cultural aspects of the storyline (best represented by the Terra Cotta Warriors) and how crew and cast attended to them during production. Participants include Cohen, Daniel, Sommers, Ducsay, Fraser, Bello, Li, Ford, Hayes, Rhythm & Hues senior art director Mike Meaker, and set decorator Daniel Carpentier.

This disc's U-Control (available from a special menu or on-the-fly during playback) has many exclusive Blu-ray assets. There's the visual commentary with CohenScene Explorer is a very cool multi-angle tool offering three different views (storyboard, animatic, and B-roll behind-the-scenes) of several enabled action and special effects-laden scenes. Know Your Mummy launches quick instructional featurettes with relevant mummy knowledge spanning the three films. The Dragon Emperor's Challenge is an interactive in-movie trivia track posing true and false ("Fact or Fiction") questions. Last but not least is a Picture-in-Picture track with most of the same talent from the documentary appearing in behind-the-scenes footage and cast and crew insights doled out to correspond with the appropriate scenes in the film.

As is its wont, Universal also provides a My Scenes bookmarking feature and BD Live access allowing one to share those scenes or access additional features housed at the studio website. A second disc unlocks a Digital Copy for convenience of portable playback. Have at it, Mummy fans!

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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