I've never been so eager to skip past the story to get to the special features.
It would not be untrue to say my favorite thing about the 2-disc Deluxe Edition DVD ofThe Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor was the extended preview for Henry Selick's adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Coraline. It might seem unfair, especially considering that this conclusion was reached less than a third of the way through viewing the DVD, but it would not be untrue.
This is not a prejudice (although I freely admit my ardent admiration for all things Neil Gaiman), for I am a big fan of just this sort of action-adventure and I loved—I own—the first two in this series, as well as the 1932 original upon which they were based. In fact, I really wanted to like this movie, despite the critical rumblings surrounding its theatrical release, but it wasn't meant to be. The prologue showed promise, with its grand scale, palpable sense of foreboding and a formidable Jet Li as the evil emperor in search of immortality who uses the bodies of his enemies and his own people to build the Great Wall. Sadly, the promise dried up as soon (and almost as quickly) as the emperor himself when he was cursed by the Sorceress (Michelle Yeoh).
By the time the film catches up with Rick and Evelyn O'Connell, who are now retired (she writes pulp novels, and he attempts fly fishing), I found myself envisioning unflattering summaries for this review along the lines of, "Perhaps it should have been titled The Mummy: Curse of the Third Installment, because the franchise may as well be buried in the Tomb of the Dragon Emperor." What a waste of Jet Li! One of the most exciting action stars in cinema today spends most of the first half of the movie as pottery and much of the second half morphing into mythological beings! What a waste of Brendan Fraser, too, though he is certainly the best thing about the movie. He still has the perfect combination of swaggering physicality and deft comic delivery necessary to inhabit the shoot-first, take-a-pratfall later kind of romantic action hero Rick O'Connell has to be. But even he can't save the day, or the dialogue, here. Even the bickering banter between Rick and Evy, such a big and enjoyable part of the first two films, portrays here as canned and dusty.
Though not the fault of Fraser or Maria Bello, who gamely steps into the role vacated by Rachel Weisz, it certainly cannot be helped by taking the focus off of the relationship between their characters. That's exactly what has happened by reintroducing their son, Alex (Luke Ford), as a college dropout trying his hand at archeology/tomb-raiding. Sure, his discovery of the emperor's tomb provides the catalyst that gets the O'Connells back in the mummy-bashing business, but far too much of Tomb of the Dragon Emperor focuses on Alex and an insipid romance with the immortal daughter of the Sorceress (Isabella Leong). Much of the story gets lost on these two rather expendable characters, that Rick, Evy and brother-in-law Jonathan's (the always superb John Hannah) best lines then seem oddly out of place when they surface, as if they were dropped in randomly during a late session in the editing room.
That appears to be an issue in other parts of the film as well. Even the grand battle sequences seem disjointed. And, in the final battle between Fraser's Rick and Jet Li as the reconstituted emperor, it all seems a little rushed and far too easy. This is partly because footage of the fight was deleted (a major bit of CGI wizardry, in which a shattered emperor gathers and reconstructs himself piece by piece, is included in the bonus features), but also it seems someone was simply in a hurry to get to the end. And I can't really say I'd blame them if that were the case. I've never been so eager to skip past the story to get to the special features.
So, on to the bonus features we go, and this being a 2-disc Deluxe Edition, plenty exist. First up, disc one contains several deleted and/or extended scenes. A commentary on why these scenes were cut would have been nice, but then, perhaps the filmmakers couldn't be bothered. Disc one also has a feature-length commentary track with director Rob Cohen, and he has plenty to say, but it's likely only the hardcore fans will be listening.
The bulk of extras, available on disc two, clock in at nearly 85-minutes in all. The Making of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, a pleasant, if predictable, featurette finds the cast and crew taking turns talking up the film and each other. The feature From City to Desert looks into the movie's various locations. Legacy of the Terra Cotta discusses the film in its historical context. A Call to Action: The Casting Process, obviously, explains the casting process. Unfortunately, more time is spent lavishing praise -- as well deserved as it is -- on the beauty of Michelle Yeoh and Isabella Leong as The Sorceress and her daughter, than on the decision casting Maria Bello to replace Rachel Weisz as Evy O'Connell. Next ,Preparing for Battle with Brendan Fraser and Jet Li breaks down the stars' fight sequences, while Jet Li: Crafting the Emperor Mummy takes viewers behind the creation of this different sort of mummy, and, finally, Creating New and Supernatural Worlds tracks the production design of the movie. In addition to the fact all the extras are in presented in anamorphic widescreen and come with optional subtitles in English, Spanish and French, disc two comes with a digital copy of the movie.
That's a whole lot of extras, and as fabulous and numerous as they are, one can't help feeling some of the energy focused on them would have been better spent on the movie itself.