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THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Brendan Fraser, Jet Li, Maria Bello, John Hannah, Luke Ford, Isabella Leong, Liam Cunningham, Michelle Yeoh
Director:  Rob Cohen
Audio:  DTS HD 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio:  Universal
Features:  See Review
Length:  112 Minutes
Release Date:  December 16, 2008

“I'd tell you to fasten your seatbelts, but I was too cheap to buy any."

"Why am I laughing?"

Film ***1/2

If the Indiana Jones movies were throwbacks to the old Saturday morning adventure serials, one could say that the Mummy films were throwbacks to Indiana Jones.  They came along after Dr. Jones had seemingly hung up his fedora for the last time, and quenched our thirst for period piece tomb-raiding guns-blazing action.  So if Indiana could have one last triumph under the sun last year, why not Rick O’Connell?

The ever versatile Brendan Fraser seemed to make a conscious move back toward action, making Journey to the Center of the Earth and returning for a new Mummy adventure.  And though the original sequel and subsequent Scorpion Kings movies left a bit to be desired, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is a full return to form, in what might be the best and most fun offering in the series.

It’s been quite a few years since Rick (O’Connell) has gone around doing battle with dead things.  He and his wife Evelyn (Bello) have settled uncomfortably into a quieter life, with Evelyn’s books about their adventures being successes.  But now their son Alex (Ford) is doing the family’s dirty work, and his latest expedition takes him face to face with a legendary and brutal king.

When the movie opens, we get the story of the Dragon Emperor (Li), a warrior with powers over the elements and a design to turn a nation warring with itself into the grandest and most unstoppable army the world has ever seen.  He plans on using the knowledge of a witch (Yeoh) to make himself immortal, but she betrays him.  Dead but not forgotten, if he is ever awakened, he will use his powers to seek eternal life for himself and his army, making the world his.

Leave it to an O’Connell to go a-meddling in such affairs.  Alex hasn’t been seeing eye to eye with his father of late, preferring to skip college and make his own name.  With the finding of the Dragon Emperor’s tomb, he has what he needs.  Well, you know, providing he and his family can save the world from the fury he unknowingly unleashes.

So it’s off to China for the ultimate battle.  The O’Connells are not alone…the ever-funny and hapless-but-reliable Jonathan (Hannah) is there, as well as a mysterious young girl named Lin (Leong) who possesses the knowledge of their only hope of stopping the Dragon Emperor.  It won’t be easy…especially with throngs of terra cotta warriors at his disposal.

The film is an amusing blend of actual Chinese history, legend, and some good old-fashioned modern imagination coming together to craft an action adventure of large and stylish proportions.  It helps that director Rob Cohen had well-established characters to guide us through and lend weight to the amazing battles and CGI spectacles.  Rick still has more quips per scene than anybody, and Fraser’s natural charm makes for an endearing character. 

Maria Bello does well stepping into the role originated by Rachel Weisz, but for me, the real treat is seeing legendary stars Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh in action…always a plus.  Apart from Lethal Weapon 4, I can’t recall Li playing a villain, but the normally heroic star makes for one of the year’s most memorable baddies.  And the eternally young and beautiful Yeoh automatically adds weight to any production just by her elegant presence.

Cohen’s sense of action and his mastery of CGI, letting it enhance rather than overwhelm his scenes, made him the perfect choice to handle the latest installment in the franchise.  If there’s to be any more movies, I’m hoping the powers that be will return to him.  One thought, though…if they ever reach Mummy on Mars, it may be time to let the series rest in peace.

Video ****

Simply spectacular.  The best aspect of this high definition transfer is that there are fully realized action scenes in both day and night settings, making this the perfect demonstration disc.  If you marvel at how intricate and detailed the city streets are during the night of Chinese New Year, you’ll be equally impressed at the desert oriented scenes.  Colors are plentiful and well-rendered and contained, and images are extremely sharp and crisp throughout.  May I just say…I LOVE how China looks in Blu-ray.  'Nuff said!

Audio ****

If there are any lulls in this explosive and dynamic DTS HD soundtrack, they are too few to bother counting.  The almost relentless action keeps every signal in your theatre working overtime.  There is no place to duck and cover from the guns, arrows, swords and spears, not to mention some of the most ingenious booby traps this side of the Well of the Souls.  Dialogue is well handled and the music is wonderfully old fashioned and potent.  But be warned…this is a LOUD, loud track.

Features ****

Universal’s exclusive U-Control feature is present and packed on this Blu-ray.  You can Know Your Mummy by exploring the connections between the films, watch multi-angle presentations of some of the big scenes, play the Dragon Emperor’s Challenge to test your knowledge of early China (if you play to the end, you get scored), or either watch or listen to a commentary from Rob Cohen.

There are three featurettes mastered for HD, including a making-of one and looks at the locations and the legend of the terra cotta warriors (most interesting).  There’s about 10 minutes of deleted scenes, looks at how Fraser and Li prepared for battle, and CGI looks at how Li became the mummy and how the intricate visual worlds were crafted.

Summary:

I don’t know whether to call it the third film or the fifth film or what, but The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is pure action-packed adventure fun that really shows off what the Blu-ray format is capable of.  Recommended.

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