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Case Number 01208

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The Lost Empire

Artisan // 2001 // 170 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // June 19th, 2001

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All Rise...

Editor's Note

Our review of The Lost Empire (1985), published May 25th, 2014, is also available.

The Charge

Reluctant hero, beautiful goddess, three days to save the world.

Opening Statement

I've had the opportunity to review several television mini-series brought to DVD, and have mostly been very kind to them. This will not be one of those times. It is a rare time that I find a production so woefully, unintentionally comically bad, as The Lost Empire an absolutely terrible waste of three hours of your time and mine. This mini-series based on ancient Chinese legends was filmed for TV and originally aired on the Hallmark Channel as The Monkey King but somehow was brought over to NBC as a mini-series. There are so many puns I could use here: The Lost Plot, Monkey Kings Flying Out of My Butt Wouldn't Make Me Watch It Again, or so many more puns on the title, and none of them would communicate how poorly directed, written, acted, and implemented that is the cinematic fiasco called The Lost Empire. Add in fraudulent advertising of absent extra content on the disc and this may prove to be the shortest review in my career. Avoid this like the plague.

Facts of the Case

Based on a piece of 500 year old Chinese literature known as "Journey to the West," this tale originally depicting the bringing of Buddhism from India to China has been bastardized beyond belief into a tale of a modern day American (Dharma and Greg star Thomas Gibson) get duped by a goddess (Bai Ling) into a fantasy land to save both her and our own world. With his new friends the Monkey King (Russell Wong), Pigsy (Eddie Marsan) (both animal/human hybrids), Friar Sand (Kabir Bedi) and the help of the Bodhisattva of Compassion Kwan Yin (Bai Ling) work to defeat the host of Hong Kong stuntmen led by Shu Chung Shing (Randall Duk Kim), the evil despot. They will fly, fall into whirlpools, run from out-of-place explosions, and interact with mythical creatures drawn on an Etch-a-Sketch along the way.

The Evidence

You're saying "Can it really be that bad?" right now. Well, it isn't all bad. There's a good half hour or so of entertainment crammed into the three hour sans commercials running time. Some of the stunts are well choreographed, but there are too many nearly identical martial arts fights to remain impressed for long. There are a few funny lines here and there. The makeup used for the Pigsy character was actually pretty good for making up someone half man, half pig. Bai Ling is a gorgeous woman without a doubt, and she shines just being on the screen. It's too bad she was stuck in this "film." Out of the large number of CGI shots a few of them looked pretty decent. I'm running out of good things to say, so I'll shut up now.

The DVD is decent so long as you don't cry bitterly over the waste of digital space used up for this program. The full frame picture has great clarity, only a smattering of grain, and is very clean. The effect shots do show signs of ringing, and colors tend to be understated with some shift in flesh tones. Bright colors fare better and remain vibrant. Sound is an uninspired 2 channel Dolby Surround, with sporadic use of the mono rear channels and most of the show anchored in the center. It sounds clear enough, but the explosions aren't going to wake you up for long.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

This could also be my longest review, if I were to try to list everything wrong with this production. First, it is a terrible misuse of the source material. Confucius has been changed beyond all recognition from his writings and philosophy. The whole theme of attaining enlightenment from "Journey to the West" is lacking. Let's forget for a moment taking it out of its time and place and hooking a modern day American twist to it. The result of all this is to lose the audience most likely to enjoy an adaptation of the tale; those who grew up with the legends and stories and would like to see the characters come to life. They will be left dumbfounded.

Equally bewildered will be those who don't know the story and legend. The plot is convoluted, choppy, hard to follow, and poorly acted. I've seen better acting in high school plays than the wooden stumbling around by Thomas Gibson, who looks like he stepped right off the Dharma and Greg set and still thinks he's there.

I could forgive all this…all of it, if it were not for the horrendous special effects. Perhaps a special effects budget of $10 million more could have saved this thing; I don't know. I started giggling about ten minutes into the thing at the cheesy special effects, and this grew into howls of incredulous laughter as it went on. The repeated words "I can't believe anyone put something this bad on the screen!" could be heard next door, I'm sure. Creatures so laughably bad that there is no possibility of tension or fright. Flying effects that make 1940s process shots look realistic. Only the practical effects hold up at all, but I kept wondering why there were all these explosions. I confess I gave up on any hope of this program long before it was over, but even then I found the last half hour tedious, boring, and anticlimactic. I could go on and on, there is so much wrong here.

Let's get back to the disc. The back of the case advertises production notes, cast and crew info, a trailer, and an interactive game. None of these are present on the disc. There is a 14 minute making of featurette not advertised, so perhaps we could call it a wash. The featurette is pretty decent as such things go, except that it is apparent that the cast and crew being interviewed thought they were in a much better feature than the one they ended up with.

Closing Statement

Sorry for all this. I could have summed up the review with "Worst thing ever; run far, far away from this and don't look back" but my editor probably wouldn't have credited me with an actual review. {Editor's Note: Hey, if it's this bad, dude…] So I'll let that sentence, which could have been my whole review, stand as my closing statement.

The Verdict

Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. So guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 68
Audio: 70
Extras: 40
Acting: 25
Story: 39
Judgment: 30

Perp Profile

Studio: Artisan
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
• None
Running Time: 170 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Bad
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Featurette


• IMDb

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