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The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008)

Universal Studios Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 12/16/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/16/2008

The summer of 2008 could be categorized as the summer of the delinquent sequels. For example, The X-Files: I Want to Believe arrived 10 years after the first film. And, of course, the biggest gap accompanied Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which appears some 19 years after the last Indiana Jones outing. That trend is echoed by The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, bringing the characters by to the screen for the first time since 2001. Do these sequels symbolize Hollywood's recognition of the audience's desire for old characters and nostalgia, or does it represent the fact that no one has any new ideas anymore? The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor leads me to believe that it may be the latter.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor takes place in 1946, over a decade after the events of The Mummy Returns. Rick (Brendan Fraser) and Evelyn (now played by Maria Bello) O'Connell have given up their exciting lives of archaeology (and apparently, being spies) and have settled in London. Evelyn has written two novels based on her earlier adventures, but she can't think of anything else to write. Rick tries to find ways to pass the time, but he's often antsy. Meanwhile, their son, Alex (Luke Ford), who is now a young adult, has taken the family mantle of tomb hunting, and has discovered an ancient tomb in China. He and his team enter the tomb of Emperor Han (Jet Li), a cruel leader who was cursed just before his death. At the same time, Rick and Evelyn have been asked to deliver a rare gem to Shanhai. Once there, they visit Evelyn's brother, Jonathan (John Hannah), and then see Alex. The group soon realizes that local military man General Yang (Chau Sang Anthony Wong) wants to resurrect Emperor Han and that he'll stop at nothing to succeed. Soon, Rick and Evelyn, along with Alex, are facing a revived ancient warrior who is made of terra cotta.

Before we delve into The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, let's answer the most obvious question: Was another Mummy film necessary? The answer to that is no. The Mummy Returns ended on a good note, and the finale of that film got so wacky that trying to top it seemed like a really bad idea. On the other hand, the Rick O'Connell character is a fun one and I wouldn't be opposed to revisiting his adventures.

So, if the makers of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor were determined to go ahead with the sequel, they should try to do something different. Series creator Stephen Sommers steps back into a Producer role for this film and hands the screenwriting duties to Alfred Gough and Miles Millar. They have opted to move away from Egypt and place the action in China. (Who knew that there were mummies in China?) This should change everything, right?

Well, actually it doesn't, and this brings us to the big problem with The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor -- it doesn't do enough to differentiate itself from the other films. We get a backstory on an evil ruler, he's killed, we jump to the present (in the film) and see a tomb uncovered, the evil ruler is resurrected, he's amasses an army and modern-day helpers, a battle between good and evil is fought...and that's about it. The locations and players have changed, but the overall story still resembles those found in the first two films. The film's mid-section follows more of a classic action-adventure path as two factions race to be the first to scale a mountain, but this doesn't feel original either.

The movie is also marred by some silly elements. When Han first turns to terra cotta, it looks as if chocolate is suddenly pouring from his orifices. (That would have been a different movie!) In real life, Fraser is only 13 years older than Ford, and in the world of the film, it never rings true that Rick and Evelyn would have a son that age. And then we have the yetis. For the most part, the scenes with the yetis are actually pretty cool, but I think that I saw a yeti give a "the field goal is good!" signal, and that's wrong on so many levels.

However, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor's worst crime is its treatment of the Rick O'Connell character. While some would most likely call Rick a knockoff of Indiana Jones, I've always liked the character, most for his apathetic and non-chalant attitude. (See the scene in The Mummy where Rick calmly re-loads his gun while bullets fly all-around.) He was both a straight-man and comic-relief in the first two movies. Here, weíve got a supposedly middle-aged Rick who doesnít have much to say or do. Perhaps the intention was to have the torch passed on to Alex, but Rickís lack of contribution to the film really hurts it.

Having said all of that, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor isnít a total loss. The action sequences and special effects are well-done, and the pace is good. Director Rob Cohen (who is well on his way to becoming a hack) manages to bring us a pretty film, and the set-pieces, most notably the chariot chase, look great. However, there isnít much emotion in the film and instead of opening the door on a new chapter in the series, it simply made me long for the two original movies.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is unearthed on DVD courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. The image is nicely detailed and has a good depth. The colors look fine and the picture is never too dark or bright. There was some mild artifacting at times, but otherwise, this is an impressive DVD transfer. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are nicely done, and show good stereo separation. Surround sound effects are nearly constant and really add to the film. During the action scenes, the booming bass will have the walls shaking.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor has several extras spread across two discs. Disc 1 kicks off with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Rob Cohen. This is a pretty good talk, as the filmmaker gives us many scene specific details. By discussing the story, the actors, the sets, and the location, he paints a detailed portrait of the filmís production. The Disc also contains 10 DELETED AND EXTENDED SCENES which run about 11 minutes. One of these was presumably cut to secure the PG-13 rating, while another falls a little too close to Terminator 2. The others are mostly dialogue scenes.

The remainder of the extras are found on Disc 2. "The Making of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" (23 minutes) examines the planning of the film, including the construction of the sets and the film's look. From there, we go on-set to witnessing the making of some key scenes. Weapons training, fight scenes, green screen work, practical effects, and location shooting are explored. The piece offers a nice amount of behind-the-scenes footage and comments from cast and crew. "From City to Desert" (16 minutes) looks at the location work done in the film -- shooting in Montreal, Shanghai, and Beijing. Again, on-set footage abounds. "Legacy of the Terra Cotta" (14 minutes) is essentially a second "making of" which focuses specifically on the reframing of the film to China and how it incorporates actually Chinese history. "A Call to Action: The Casting Process" (5 minutes) explores how Jet Li, Maria Bello, Michelle Yeoh, and Luke Ford were brought into the fold. Fight choroegrapher Mike Lambert walks us through the fight training which the actor's received in "Preparing for Battle with Brendan Fraser and Jet Li" (11 minutes). "Jet Li: Crafting the Emperor Mummy" (8 minutes) shows us how the terra cotta version of Jet Li was created. "Creating New and Supernatural Worlds" (9 minutes) takes us behind the scenes of the set design and production design of the film.

Universal Studios Home Entertainment has also brought The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor to Blu-ray Disc. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The picture is very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. The image has an amazing depth to it and the landscape shots look fantastic. The colors are realistic and arenít oversaturated. The image is nicely detailed, allowing us to see intricate workings on costumes, amongst other things. The overall crispness of the image renders nearly flawless action scenes. The Disc offers a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.5 Mbps. This track delivers clear dialogue and sound effects. Again, hereís another action movie Blu-ray from Universal with great audio. The surround sound effects are audible throughout the film and we never have to strain to hear them. These are nicely separated from the front channels, but the two often mingle as the action movies across the screen. Stereo effects are well-placed and very detailed. The subwoofer effects are bone-jarring.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor Blu-ray Disc contains the same extras as the DVD, plus a few more. The "U-Control" feature delivers five options; "Picture-in-Picture" offers behind-the-scenes footage and interviews for certain scenes; there's a "Visual Commentary" with Rob Cohen; "The Dragon Emperor's Challenge" is an on-screen quiz game; "Know Your Mummy" shows parallels between this film and the first two movies in the series; "Scene Explorer" allows the viewer to toggle between the finished scene, storyboards, and on-set footage.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long