Over the summer, I had the pleasure of returning to the Mummy movies in my role as reviewer here at DVD Talk since Universal re-released the 1932 black and white Boris Karloff classic, the 1999 action fantasy re-imagining, and its 2001 follow-up The Mummy Returns in "deluxe" 2 disc editions in a marketing tie-in for the summer theatrical release The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.
The 1932 The Mummy is one of the best horror movies of the 1930s. It tells the story of the desiccated Im-ho-tep, brought back to life millennia after his demise and out to capture the spirit of his lover. Universal's successful 1999 retread keeps the very basics of the story but reimagines it as a comic action adventure fantasy - a fantasy continued in The Mummy Returns to lesser success.
I recommend all three movies - especially the 1932 and 1999 versions.
Now, in time for the holidays, Universal is giving The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor its home video debut in a 2-disc deluxe edition whose artwork reflects those of its predecessors this summer. It took the studio seven years to produce this latest entry in the franchise, if you don't count the mediocre spin-off The Scorpion King. Was it worth the wait? Many critics thought not - as it seemed to be panned by many.
My response was, well, meh.
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor brings back the O'Connell clan from the previous films. Roughly a decade has passed since the events of The Mummy Returns and the now-wealthy Rick O'Connell (played likeably again by Brendan Fraser) is decidedly bored in his retirement. His wife Evelyn (Rachel Weisz opted out and is replaced by Maria Bello, who starred in the atmospheric horror flick The Dark) has become a successful novelist of mummy stories - but she's bored too. "The magic's gone," as the old expression goes.
Luckily for the movie, they're offered a chance to play caretaker for a large jewel bound for China - which just so happens to be where their now-grown son Alex (Luke Ford) is trying to strike it out on his own as an adventurer / archeologist. Oh, and Evelyn's brother Jonathan (John Hannah resuming the role) also conveniently now runs a nightclub there. So, ye olde Mummy gang reunites in China to take on a resurrected but cursed dragon emperor (Jet Li) and his army of computer generated undead warriors. Throw in some obliging abominable snowmen and a centuries-old Zi Juan (Michelle Yeoh), and you've got yourself another action-heavy free-for-all.
And that's the thing about The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. It has a lot of physical comedy and computer-generated creatures as the previous two movies did. However, the change in locale to China and the aged family, in the end, are only superficial alterations to the formula. This ends up being a retread that offers little new to the now decade-old franchise.
That's not necessarily a bad thing if you like the formula, but given the length of time that transpired between this and The Mummy Returns, one would think that this would have more to offer.
Fans of the Mummy films will be entertained as long as their expectations are checked at the door. I, for one, still enjoyed the mindless entertainment despite myself. It just feels a bit stale here - especially with the inventive first go-round so recently re-released on DVD fresh in the mind.
I recommend The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor - but just barely.
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen. The image seemed quite sharp and pleasing. Colors appeared a bit muted - favoring blue and brown hues at times.
A whopping four audio tracks (not counting the director's commentary) are available: an English language Dolby Digital 5.1, a Spanish language Dolby Digital 5.1, a French language Dolby Digital 5.1, and a really nifty English language Dolby Digital 2.0 track that's described in the menu system as "DVS 2.0 Descriptive Video Service." This last track includes additional narration for the visually impaired. I'd like to see this option on more mainstream DVDs.
The default audio track is the English language Dolby Digital 5.1 and the one I watched the film in. It sounded very good. Dialogue was always clear, and sound effects boomed appropriately. The mix was dynamic and utilized all channels effectively.
Subtitles are available in English, Spanish, and French.
Unsurprisingly, Universal placed a lot of advertising before the main menu: trailers for Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior and Beethoven's Big Break; ads for the TV series My Own Worst Enemy, the video game Wanted: Weapons of Fate, and the blu-ray disc format; and a behind-the-scenes look at Coraline. There's no link to these in the menu system, however.
Disc one also has a feature-length commentary track with director Rob Cohen. A random sampling suggests he is talkative and informative. Rounding out the content on the first disc are Deleted and Extended Scenes (10:46), which, of course, offers a number of cuts from the theatrical version of the movie. These are presented in anamorphic widescreen.
The bulk of extras are available on disc two.
The first option on the menu system for that disc is a featurette called The Making of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (22:48). It's the typical fluff piece one would expect from a Hollywood blockbuster - with cast and crew talking about how great it was to work on the film. From City to Desert (15:44) goes over location shoots. Legacy of the Terra Cotta (13:35) looks at the historical context for the film. A Call to Action: The Casting Process (4:45) reviews the casting process for the movie - no surprises there. Preparing For Battle With Brendan Fraser and Jet Li (10:41) takes a look at the fight sequences. Jet Li: Crafting the Emperor Mummy (8:00) reviews the creation of the titular monster. Finally, Creating New and Supernatural Worlds (8:35) examines the production design of the movie. If my math is accurate, that's over 80 minutes. Much of the behind-the-scenes stuff on this disc is in that rapid-edit form that includes lots of quick cuts and scenes from the movie to enliven the academic material. I'd have preferred a simple movie-length documentary that covered all the aspects of the making of this film in one unified whole rather than getting it in chunks like this. Still, all the extras are in anamorphic widescreen and come with optional English, Spanish, and French subtitles, so Universal is to be commended for at least that.
Rounding out the extras on disc two is a digital copy of the movie. The merit in the recent fad of having digital copies included with DVDs has been debated quite a bit here in the DVD Talk forums and elsewhere. I'm not going to chime in on it, but the extra is here should you need it. A code is printed on an insert placed inside the packaging should you want to transfer a digital copy of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor on your PC or MAC.
Abject silliness from start to finish, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is the weakest entry in Universal's current Mummy trilogy. Still, as mindless escapist fare, the movie does offer a lot of diverting CG antics, and the 2-disc deluxe edition has a lot of extras. Recommended - just barely.