Monday, December 21, 2009

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

Why do I bother to watch films like this one? I was off from work for the holidays, no one else was at home, and in a weak moment I decided to indulge in something inexcusable. First I tried Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009). Then I resorted to The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008; dir. Rob Cohen). This is the third film in the resurrected Mummy franchise, all of them featuring Brendan Fraser as Rick O’Connell, famed hunter and battler of resurrected mummies. The first of these films was entertaining, with suitable special effects, decent acting, and some truly frightening scarab beetles. The second film was less impressive, basically focused on the desire of the mummy from the first film for revenge against O’Connell. The third film moves to China, where O’Connell’s son, following in his father’s footsteps, unearths an army of terracotta soldiers, all of whom come back to life in time to give the retired O’Connell and his wife an excuse to come out of retirement and join their errant son in China to battle the moiling mass of mummies.

It seems pointless to note that this film relies on CGI effects. They are everywhere, and CGI is basically the medium of choice. There’s little attempt to merge it with actual film images. It’s just there, take it or leave it. It’s become its own form. It has been applied here with all due diligence but no real enthusiasm or creative energy.

Fraser is a very fine actor. But his role in the mummy films seems to have pegged him as the actor of choice in half-wit adventure films for which Harrison Ford is unavailable or too old or plagued by some degree of self-respect: we’ve seen Fraser in too many films with names like George of the Jungle (1999) and Dudley Do-Right (1999), and Adventure at the Center of the Earth (2008). He was very fine in Gods and Monsters (1998) and Blast from the Past (1999) and Bedazzled (2000).

Fraser is hardly the only actor of note in this third mummy film. Jet Li is here, along with the excellent Michelle Yeoh. That they are here makes no difference. The film required no real acting—only available bodies to occupy the requisite roles, to carry out the necessary motions of swashbuckling and leaps and bravado.

I was ashamed at how I’d spent my time once this film was over. A test pattern might have been better.

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