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Digital Graphics Doom Sequel

August 1, 2008

By Gary Thompson, Philadelphia Daily News

Aug. 1–In the latest “Mummy” sequel, an evil Chinese emperor returns to loose his army of clay soldiers upon the world.

He must be stopped, of course, because if this warlord were to conquer everything with his terra-cotta legions, the world will have gone to pot.

While we pause to consider the awfulness of that last pun, let us also pause to consider the awfulness of the modern movie blockbuster, the kind that bets everything on computer-generated images.

Hollywood believes that the more CGI crap it can cram into live-action movies, the more audiences will be impressed.

This idea goes pretty high up the chain of command. Spielberg and Lucas believe it, which accounts for the dreadful, endless spaceship eruption at the end of “Indy 4.” There should be term for that kind of visual debacle: CGI-sore?

Audiences, to their credit, are trying to send a message that they are sick of it. Compare the plummeting week-to-week receipts for “Indy 4″ to the holdover business for “The Dark Knight,” Chris Nolan’s studied attempt to bring a measure of realism to a cartoon franchise.

Will Hollywood take note? Let’s hope so, but it’s too late for “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor,” an example of the CGI movie run amok.

Brendan Fraser returns as Rick O’Connell, swashbuckling archeologist summoned from retirement to deliver an artifact to a museum in China, where he’s drawn into drawn into a Chinese general’s attempt to resurrect a cursed emperor and his indomitable army.

There is a human story in here somewhere. O’Connell tries to reconcile with his estranged son (Luke Ford), also an archeologist, and revive the zest in his marriage (to Maria Bello, replacing Rachel Weisz, for whom an Oscar was apparently a get-out-of-the-”Mummy”-franchise-free card).

Director Rob Cohen, though, seems to have invested most of his energy in the creation and animated wrangling of digital critters — yetis, hydras and skeleton warriors, the clay army at the service of the evil emperor (Jet Li).

The way Cohen uses (or misuses) Li is a useful example of how CGI can ruin movies.

Li is a martial arts superstar who has mesmerized audiences with his amazing feats of physical skill. Cohen’s bright idea is to immobilize the acrobatic Li in a suit of clay, or to digitize him so that his movements dissolve into the empty maw of fakery.

The boredom such a strategy produces is likely to bring this franchise to a swift conclusion. The curse of CGI will be harder to lift.

Produced by Sean Daniel, James Jacks, Stephen Sommers, Bob Ducsay, directed by Rob Cohen, written by Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, distributed by Universal Pictures.

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