DVD Review: The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

Hi all!

In August 2008, Brendan Fraser and Rob Cohen brought the latest chapter of The Mummy franchise to the big screen with The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. Instead of heading back to Egypt, Rob Cohen and Stephen Sommers have set the picture in China. This time Rick O’Connell (Fraser), Evie O’Connell (this time played by Maria Bello), and their son Alex (played by Luke Ford) and his Uncle Jonathan (Evie’s brother, played by John Hannah), are thrust into the mid 1940s where an ancient, cursed Emperor (Jet Li) comes back to life to reclaim his empire. (You can read my original review here.)

Along the way, we meet Zi Juan (the always amazing Michelle Yeoh) and her daughter Lin (Isabella Leong), and the Emperor’s right hand man and Zi Juan’s lover, General Ming (played by Russell Wong). And if the amazing cast wasn’t enough, we’re thrust into a world where the Terra Cotta Warriors of Xi’an come to life to serve their ancient Emperor and retake their world.

Though the script wasn’t great, it did have a number of fun things about it. I really liked the Yeti guardians of Shangri-la and the special effects were amazing, as you would expect in a film in The Mummy franchise. Be sure to watch to see if the Yeti score a field goal during the battle near Shangri-La!

Unfortunately, though I like Maria Bello and think she’s an excellent actress, she was given the impossible task of replacing Rachel Weisz in the role of Evie. Somehow it just never worked for me, though Bello did give it her all.

And ultimately for me it comes down to the fact that Emperor Han (played by the always amazing Jet Li) was a cursed Terra Cotta Emperor, not really a mummy. This is a sticking point for me. There are hints at the end of the movie that there may be another Mummy movie that leads us to Peru, where actual mummified remains were found. So hopefully if there is another one (and after the success of Tomb of the Dragon Emperor it’s most likely going to occur), they’ll actually go with mummies again.

The 2-Disc Deluxe Edition of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor includes a ton of great extras that really show the care and work that went into the movie. 89 days of shooting in Montreal and China was quite a monumental process, involving the creation of enormous sets and elaborate costumes, as well as detailed and amazingly rendered special effects.

Disc 1 includes the movie as well as a Digital Copy of the film (instructions are included on the inside of the DVD case), feature commentary with Director Rob Cohen, and a number of Deleted and Extended Scenes.

Of the Deleted and Extended Scenes, I have to say I’m puzzled as to why some of these didn’t make it into the finished film.

  • “Secret Lovers” provides a missing link between the finding of the Oracle Bones and the fact that General Ming and Zi Juan’s affair did not remain secret for long (Emperor Han had spies everywhere).
  • “General Ming’s Death” was a bit gruesome, and I can see why they cut it a bit for the film. Being drawn and quartered by horses is not a good way to go.
  • The “Conversation in Shanghai” was another scene that I thought could have stayed in the movie to flesh out the relationship between Alex and his parents.
  • It was pretty obvious why “Night in the Himalayas” was cut from the movie, as it was a bit awkward with Fraser and Bello and Lin and Alex (though the scene with Jonathan and the yak was pretty funny!).
  • “Tea Time: Yang & Choi” was another easy decision to cut, though it was interesting to see the relationship between General Yang and Choi in a different light.
  • “Motorcycle Grenade Toss” was fun, but frivolous. It’s always nice to see more things explode.
  • “Female fight in Cog Room” showed a bit more of the battle between Lin, Evie, Choi, and General Yang in the final fight, but it duplicated other parts of the fight unnecessarily.
  • “Emperor Reassembles” was just plain cool. Why they left that scene out of the final movie is beyond me.
  • “Jonathan & Maguire at Club” was another extraneous scene, basically adding to Jonathan’s exit from the club at the end of the film.

Disc 2 has all the juicy extras in this 2-DVD set.

  • “The Making of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” provides a great process of making this movie, from constructing enormous sets in Montreal and the start of 89 crazy days of shooting until they wrapped filming in China. The indoor and outdoor sets in Montreal and China were unbelievable, as well as the army of cameramen, stunt men, craftsmen, costume designers, and on and on. One of my favorite parts of this feature was seeing Fraser and Bello practicing with the many guns used in the picture. It looked like a lot of fun.
  • “From City to Desert” focused on the shooting done on sets in Montreal, indoors and outdoors, as well as in China in enormous outdoor sets as well as on these amazing street sets in Shanghai. Rob Cohen’s enthusiasm as a fan of China can be easily seen as he talks about not only the creation of the sets, but the reasons behind why they shot certain scenes here or there. Quebec has a huge movie community and is very film friendly. And the Chinese were very accomodating with huge numbers of designers and access to both remote and in-city locations.
  • “Legacy of the Terra Cotta” was a discussion of some of the history behind the scenes. For instance, I learned that it took 700,000 workers 30 years to build the Terra Cotta warriors.
  • “A Call to Action: The Casting Process” discusses some of the casting decisions behind this movie. With such an amazing cast, it was easy to build characters around them. And to hear the cast members discussing each other was also great. New villains and new heroes mixed with the old. What more could you ask for?
  • “Preparing for Battle with Brendan Fraser and Jet Li” covered Fraser, Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, Maria Bello and Luke Ford all getting ready for their fight scenes (of which there are a lot of them in the film!). The battles at the Emperor’s tomb, the museum, Shangri-La and the sequence at the Great Wall at the end are all extremely well staged and choreographed. It helps to have actors skilled in physical activities such as dance, martial arts, or firearms, but all of the actors appearing in the movie put in a ton of hard work and training to make sure they could make it look as real as possible without harming themselves or others.
  • The “Jet Li: Crafting the Emperor Mummy” feature told the story from the point of view of the special effects artists involved from Rhythm & Hues Studios and Digital Domain. The creation of the living terra cotta look for the Emperor was very cool, as it showed that like everything else in movie making, it was a long process filled with ups and downs before they settled on the look seen in the film.
  • “Creating New and Supernatural Worlds” looked at the set design, artwork, costumes, and the many thousands of little touches that went into adding depth to every scene. Literally it was an amazing army of talented and skilled artisans that turned the director and art director’s sketches into a reality where the actors could interact and feel like they were really in the scene.

If you’re a fan of The Mummy franchise, this 2-Disc Deluxe Edition DVD set of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is a must have for your collection! Even if you didn’t like the film all that much (like I didn’t), the extras are worth it.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor at Amazon!

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Babylon A.D. – No Miracles Here

Babylon A.D.Image via Wikipedia

Hey all…

So today I was able to see the movie I couldn’t see yesterday due to issues with the all digital theater. Now I’m wondering if I should’ve skipped it. It starts with a bit of a bang, but ends with a very weak whimper.

[rating:2/4]

Babylon A.D., starring Vin Diesel, Michelle Yeoh, Melanie Thierry, Gerard Depardieu, and Charlotte Rampling. Set in a not too distant future, Toorop (Vin Diesel) is hired by Gorsky (Gerard Depardieu) to transport Aurora (Melanie Thierry) and Sister Rebeka (Michelle Yeoh) from a nunnery in Eurasia to New York City in 6 days. Who knew it would be a tough job?

What did I like about this movie? Well, the action scenes were actually pretty good. And the opening sequence where we are introduced to Toorop is gripping enough to keep me interested for a while…

And it all leads to a particularly unsatisfying, boring ending.

I like Vin Diesel. And Melanie Thierry is a very pretty girl. Michelle Yeoh can always handle herself in a movie (she was also in this summer’s Mummy movie). And it took me until Gorsky’s demise to realize that it was Gerard Depardieu.

But this movie didn’t live up to its potential. I can see why the Director is angry about how Fox handled production and publicity. According to Perez Hilton:

I’m very unhappy with the film… I never had a chance to do one scene the way it was written or the way I wanted it to be. The script wasn’t respected. Bad producers, bad partners, it was a terrible experience. I should have chosen a studio that has guts. Fox was just trying to get a PG-13 movie. I’m ready to go to war against them, but I can’t because they don’t give a <bleep>.”

Babylon AD - Sister Rebeka, Aurora, Vin DieselI purchased the book the movie was based on — Babylon Babies by Maurice G. Dantec. I’m hoping that the book follows through on a lot of the themes that were barely glossed over in the movie.

Ultimately the movie focuses on the dangers of science used to prove religion right. Manufactured miracles.

I think Fox is going to have to hope for a miracle to get any money out of this movie.

So Babylon A.D. only gets 2 out of 4 from me. It showed promise and wasn’t a total waste of time, but it was pretty close.

Let me know what you thought!

–Fitz

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Tai Chi Master Packs a Punch! Released July 29!

Tai Chi Master Box ArtHi all!

I was recently given a rare treat to review – a martial arts movie made in the early 1990s starring Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh. Tai Chi Master, also known as Tai ji: Zhan San Feng, was directed by Yuen Wo-ping, widely acclaimed as one of the greatest martial arts directors of all time. (Brett Ratner of Rush Hour fame talks about Wo-ping in one of the special features on the DVD.)

[rating:3/4]

Watching Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh in a martial arts movie together is just amazing. Both are fun to watch as martial artists and can act. What a concept!

You can read more about this movie at IMDB here.

Tai Chi Master - Jet Li

The general synopsis is:

A pair of lifelong friends are expelled from their Shaolin temple after being accused of cheating.  Tienbao (Chin Siu Ho) becomes a powerful and oppressive military leader while the other, Junbao, (Jet Li) joins the rebels.  Only the discipline of Tai Chi can help Junbao defeat his former friend.

There are a number of great fight scenes, but what got me with this film is that it has a heart. Junbao does everything he can to avoid having to fight his friend Tienbao. But in the end, he must defeat him.

Tai Chi Master - Michelle Yeoh

The story propels the movie forward (unlike some martial arts movies) and the acting and action are fun and frenetic. What’s not to like?

The only thing I’ll say is that there are little things about the movie that detract from it. Though the wire work is great, there are times where you can tell it’s wire work – not as smooth as something like Crouching Tiger or Hero. But other than that, this is a great martial arts movie faithfully reproduced on DVD.

So I’ll give this 3/4. Be sure to check it out if you like martial arts movies, Jet Li, or Michelle Yeoh!

Tai Chi Master will be released on July 29th! Be sure to look for it at Amazon or other retailers!

Until next time, go see a movie!

–Fitz

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