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December 16, 2008

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DVD of the Week – The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008)

by HELEN GEIB

The third installment of The Mummy franchise, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor moves the action from Egypt to China and pits our heroes against the revivified first emperor of China. Much as I enjoyed what the film did with its portrayal of the emperor (and of course, Jet Li’s performance), the highlight of Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is seeing the tomb’s great terracotta army brought to life by Hollywood filmmaking magic.

I had the good fortune to see some of the real terracotta warriors this fall in a special exhibit on tour in the US from China. An unexpected byproduct of my museum visit was that I left the exhibit with a greater appreciation of the film. I didn’t change my critical opinion (read my review here); learning that the film’s portrayal of the emperor and his army had a substantial grounding in fact just made me like it more.

It was no surprise to learn that the historical emperor was, as portrayed in the film, brilliant, ruthless, despotic, and megalomaniacal. (Who among the world’s great empire-building military leaders hasn’t been those things?). What the film got right that I hadn’t given it credit for was the emperor’s obsession with discovering the secret of immortality. That he might have sent out a trusted general to track down a particularly promising lead, and killed him when he failed in his mission, is totally plausible.

The film writes an ingenious mythology for the creation of the army: the flesh and blood army, with its emperor, was turned into clay and fired by the blood curse of a powerful sorceress who does, in fact, possess the secret of a certain species of immortality. This is a wonderful myth for a terracotta army composed of 7000 unique figures for which the artisans hand-molded the features of every warrior’s face.

Other new releases this week: Mamma Mia, Sangre de Mi Sangre


1 Comment Post a comment
  1. doc
    Dec 25 2008

    Many interpreters believe the First Emperor built his terra cotta army to fight his final, greatest, battle in the spirit world — where his enemies would regroup in a last struggle for the mandate of heaven. The film would not disagree.

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