Does the world actually need two films in less than a month starring Brendan Fraser as a cocky action hero in a film where the stakes are supposedly life-and-death but not really? How about just one film like that? Okay, then, let’s just say that Brendan Fraser is having a pretty damn good summer with these two films (a sequel of a sequel and a re-imagining of a classic). Let’s also say, for the sake of argument, that you have a limited amount of bandwidth for this kind of entertainment and are suitably skeptical of Fraser given, say, the crimes against cinema of “Dudley Do-Right” and “George of the Jungle.” If you can only deal with one Brendan Fraser “vehicle” based on previous material this summer, which one should you see now while it’s still in theaters, and which one should you see at home where the popcorn’s cheaper and the bathroom’s closer?
The prologue to “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” starts in Ancient China where an Evil Emperor, Han (Jet Li) is conquering the known world. He has a vast army and his priests have shown him how to shape shift and control the elements. But that’s not enough: he wants Immortality! It just so happens there’s a Witch (Michelle Yeoh) who knows the Secret. The Emperor wants her for himself but she’s in love with his general. She gets the point (literally) that Han’s not a nice man and puts a curse on him and his army, turning them in Terra Cotta statues (because, apparently, in the Far East they didn’t believe in wrapping their mummies in bandages). The proverbial sands of time pass and Alex O’Connell, the grown Son of Rick (Fraser), finds the Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. When bad guys awaken him, Alex is joined by his parents Rick and Evelyn (here played by Maria Bello) who are all too eager to quit their boring retirement and kick some mummy ass. Rick goes three-for-three by putting down the Emperor with the requisite magic blade and saving the world (again).
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The Defending Champion
“Journey to the Center of the Earth 3-D” opens with a prehistoric bug which is squashed by Max who is being chased by a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Not a bad way to start a 3-D movie. Turns out Max is the lost brother of Professor Trevor Anderson (Fraser). Both men are scientists who study volcanoes. Max disappeared years before in search of the Lost World which, loosely translated, is a fully-realized world in the center of the Earth where certain dinosaurs never faced off against an asteroid. Fraser, saddled with his nephew, Sean (Josh Hutcherson, “Bridge to Terabithia”) heads off to Iceland where they hire beautiful mountain guide, Hannah (Anita Briem, “The Tudors”).
One misstep into a volcanic tube and before you can say ‘Jules Verne’ they’re at the Center of the Earth. People fall a lot in this film but they never get hurt. It’s all safe, 3-D fun. Not all theaters are showing this in 3-D but that, I assume, is how the filmmakers prefer you to experience their “art.” ow, Angelina Jolie in “Wanted” — why didn’t they make that in 3-D?!
This doesn’t have a whole hell of a lot to do with the actual Jules Verne “Journey to the Center of the Earth” except that there is a journey and it takes them to the title location. But, as an homage I expect, the characters happen to have the famous novel with them and use it as a guide. It allows them to encounter a fair amount of opportunities that look great on 3-D (the aforementioned T-Rex and bug, carnivorous plants, flying prehistoric fish, glowing birds). During the film I kept wondering what would have happened to these guys if they’d fallen through those tubes and instead of “The Land that Time Forgot” they ended up in “The Core.” Now that would have been quite a film…
Both movies have pretty much the same elements: a lot of action, a little romance, and comedy (tongue firmly planted in cheek, where Fraser is very comfortable). The technological advances shown in “Journey to the Center of the Earth” are impressive, but seeing Fraser’s mug (and annoying hair strands) in 3-D may be more than a movie-goer should have to put up with. What “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” has going for it, besides action auteur Rob Cohen (director of “The Fast and the Furious”) is the kung-fu factor. Jet Li is such a bad ass, he doesn’t need to say anything (which he usually doesn’t since his English is limited); he lets his fists do the talking.
Both of these films feel very familiar. We’ve gone on this ride before into Mummy territory and Verne’s story has been told countless times. I even think Tarzan went to the Center of the Earth once or twice.
Coming down to the techno factor, “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” goes overboard with the CGI: Jet Li morphing into a three-headed, flying dragon AND a furry, horned beast? (Don’t even get me started on the Abominable Snowmen)! On the other hand, “Journey to the Center of the Earth, 3-D” demonstrates where entertainment technology is heading, and it’s a fun, popcorn movie. (The 3-D glasses were comfortable; we’ve come a long way from Disneyland’s “Captain EO’).
And that’s where we have to make this call. If you can still find a theater that’s showing “Journey to the Center of the Earth” in 3-D then you should go see it. “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” will work just fine on the tube you’ve got at home.