PictureThe picture, on the other hand, is an all too different beast. Whereas the film itself suffered from being the worst of the trilogy, here the transfer is surely the best - I cannot imagine the other two in any way trumping this as it is very much in the sphere of reference quality. The transfer, being 1080p, AVC encoded and in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, is spotless. Colours are rich and vibrant, with the wood of the O'Connell's house/mansion being deep and polished whilst retaining wonderful texture to the different hues of conker brown. Skin tones are adeptly realised with superb detail evident during close-ups. That flesh is so well represented is great to see in a film that contains both Chinese and Western actors and thus has various strata of skin colours, all different, to depict. Contrast is strong, with whites and blacks both having a definite completeness to them without appearing overbold and crushing/blooming. Overall, detail is immense, as I was able to pick out the downy ear hair on an actor's lobe. The horses in the prologue all have well realised coats, representing the plethora of textures each contains as it moves. The balance between earthy matted textures of the ancient world and the shine of the Emperor's armour is another wonderful juxtaposition. The moment when Li throws a gleaming dagger into the miniature map of Chinese territory shows the intricate grooves of the three dimensional microcosmic landscape, covered in dull matted textures, whilst still casting the decorated gold hilt of the weapon to perfection. If I were to nit pick, there were the occasional moments of a slight lack of focus and sandy/dusty scenes are always going to be hard to judge so I'll not condemn them for being a gnat's hair away from perfection. Put simply, this is another Universal action adventure that has been given the best from the transition to Blu-ray.
SoundI focussed on the DTS HD Master Audio track for the purposes of this review and I'm certainly glad I did. There is nothing wrong with the other sound options available here, it's just that the lossless track is truly great. It has no trouble keeping up with the picture and, for the most part, equals it. This is a suitably bombastic affair, with the fronts and centre taking most of the work on. The dialogue may seem a little muted to some, but this is more to do with the level the film needs to be played at. The fronts and sub crash through the whole experience but don't be under the impression this is simply a bass heavy mix. Each speaker is used well and handles audio right across the spectrum. Minor details are easy to pick out and the rears become a true asset during the many action scenes. Speech reproduction is clear and concise, but allows itself to be swamped when necessary for the purposes of blockbuster thrills without losing any clarity. The myriad of noises during the cargo plain flight are excellent in their even nature. You can hear the dialogue alongside the rattling joints of this flying tin can as well as the beautiful burble of the propellers. The overall feeling is that of an aggressive mix that pushes hard to make the listener feel every gunshot and dodge every fireball, whilst retaining a broad dynamic range that fills the soundstage perfectly and utilises all available channels well.
ExtrasThe extra material for this film comes split across two discs. Though, rather than being two Blu-rays, this is instead a single Blu-ray, with the overflow contained on a separate DVD. Thus it's worth noting, that whilst this US release is region free, the supplemental DVD is not, so if you haven't got a multi-region DVD player, then it might be best to wait for the UK release.
Feature Commentary with Rob Cohen
A fairly informative track that includes Cohen's in depth explanations of some Chinese history - a subject clearly close to the man's heart. Things remain a touch dry but he has a pleasing ability to comment on what is relevant to the viewer rather than drift off into other matters as many a director is prone to do on such features. He also talks knowledgably about the progression of CGI and the like throughout his career. Even if the film left you bemused, the commentary is still well worth a listen.
Whilst the film is playing, through the use of a couple of button presses (via the colour buttons on the remote), users may create bookmarks and even save particular clips from the movie, dictating where it should start and end. Certainly a handy feature if you want to save a particular fight scene etc that isn't at the beginning of a chapter. It is accompanied by an animated user guide that explains the potential uses of the tool very well.
Deleted and Extended Scenes - 480p - 10:45
Here we see a few choice cuts, which, for once, actually could have added to the film's impact had they been included. It explains why the figure of General Ming's skeleton only has one arm as well as fleshing out the doomed love story of Ming and Zi Yuan. Add to this a scene where a terracotta figure catches a grenade before blowing up and the T2-esque shattering and reassembling of Jet Li in his stone from and frankly I was left wondering why these scenes were cut.
The Making of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor - 1080i - 22:49
Rather than the usual retrospective press feature, we are actually given more of a shoot diary that looks at key stages of the 89 day filming process. We get to see the sets in construction, gun training and why the action scenes are so shakily filmed. The only grating factor is Rob Cohen constantly patting himself on the back with quotes such as “this one is edgier and bigger and a little more, y'know, like a film of mine”
From City to Desert - 1080i - 15:44
A tour of the shooting locations of the film, the sets and exteriors, from Canada to China. This mainly serves to impress upon the viewer the sheer scale of the production and to be fair the sets used are pretty phenomenal, though such phrases as “creating magic” and “I think it's going to be the chase to end all chases” are perhaps a little annoying.
Legacy of the Terracotta - 1080i - 13:35
A little insight into the attention to detail that made the opening prologue so good. We hear lots about Cohen's vision and how much he knows about Chinese culture and history etc. It at least explains why Li was physically in the movie for such a small amount of time (it being due to his busy schedule rather than a directorial decision).
This isn't listed amongst the rest of the special features but surely must be bundled in for the sake of this review. It gives the viewer an alert when extra content is available about a particular on screen scene whilst the movie is playing. These are: Scene Explorer (storyboards and CGI of the current action), Know Your Mummy (correlations drawn between this and the previous films of the franchise as shown through clips and text), The Dragon Emperor's Challenge (a quiz about various facts linked in with the film), Visual Commentary with Rob Cohen (simply a window that allows you to see the director's face whilst he's giving the aforementioned commentary), Picture in Picture (production clips and talking heads relevant to what's on screen). These are all fairly lightweight and it's only really the Scene Explorer and Picture in Picture that are likely to be viewed for more than a few minutes by all but the most devoted.
A version of the film that can be transfered to ipods etc.
Disc 2 - region 1 DVD
A Call to Action: The Casting Process - 4:44
Essentially, who was cast and why (though it doesn't mention why Weiss is absent and Bello's subsequent involvement). We are given what feels like a monologue whereby Cohen can enthuse about how great everyone is.
Preparing for Battle with Brendan Fraser and Jet Li - 10:41
Mike Lambert (the film's fight choreographer) takes us through the actor's preparations and their different fighting styles. It's safe to say that Yuen Woo Ping isn't looking over his shoulder but it's a nice look behind the scenes at the logic of the various techniques given to each actor such as Krav Maga for Fraser and, obviously, more Wushu based martial arts for Eastern actors (particularly Li, who as many will know, was a Wushu champion in his youth).
Jet Li: Crafting the Dragon Emperor - 8:00
What sounds like a study of how Li came to flesh out the titular character is, in fact, nothing more than a diary of sorts of the CG process used for when Li wasn't available. We learn about the liquid/solid theory that Cohen came up with that is highlighted by the constant cracks and reformation of terracotta seen on the Emperor's face. It's nice to see the process and hear about cyberscan, facial animation and the calibration of the actor's from but all we see of Li himself is one head shot and not once does he speak.
Creating New and Supernatural Worlds - 8:35
How the sets were designed, what was their inspiration and how they melded blue screen with them. The craftsmanship is superb and we are taken from ancient China and the Emperor's tomb, through mid 20th century Shanghai, all the way to the gates of Shangri La. It allows the viewer to appreciate not only the sets but also how the film industry differs in different parts of the world.
VerdictBy and large, this probably rates as a disc to be bought for the sumptuous sound and visuals offered and less so for the actual film itself. Whether a fan of the franchise or not, this is very much a let down in terms of a narrative that, by rights, could have further built upon the sterling work that preceded it. Humour is all but lost in its painful attempts at it and the best characters are given the least screen time. If one were to make the defence that this is supposed to be dumb fun, then there are other suitably guilty pleasures out there that outperform this movie in almost all departments. That it should be a great action film only serves to emphasize the fact that it isn't. The budget is there, the actors are able but ultimately uninspired choreography and by the numbers direction leads these segments to be merely tepid rather than red hot. This is all the more perplexing given that the director has such a knowledge of Chinese culture that he should consider these confrontations as “full tilt martial arts fights”.
Not all is negative though. As family fare, this could pass the time and is far from worthless. The sonics will pin the viewer to their seat and the visuals will convince many a sceptic about the benefits of HD. The extras also provide a pleasant distraction for those with a genuine interest in the film. However, all this must be considered secondary, as most of us will buy films, in whatever format, first and foremost for the movie itself. In this category, all but the most devoted to the series will find little here to truly please.
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