The Mummy [DVD]
Screenplay : Stephen Sommers
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 1999
Stars : Brendan Fraser (Rick O'Connell), Rachel Weisz (Evelyn Carnarvon), John Hannah (Jonathan), Kevin J. O'Connor (Beni), Arnold Vosloo (Imhotep), Stephen Dunham (Henderson), Jonathan Hyde (The Egyptologist), Corey Johnson (Daniels), Tuc Watkins (Burns)
If you're one of those who despises the idea of modern filmmakers remaking classics of the Hollywood Golden Age, don't be worried about The Mummy--outside of the title and the barest plot outline, it has little or nothing to do with the 1932 original. It's not so much "based on" as "vaguely inspired by." Writer/director Stephen Sommers dispenses with the deliberate, ominous pacing and romantic pathos of the original film, opting instead for an out-and-out action adventure set in Egypt with millions of dollars worth of digital effects and a booming soundtrack. There are a few jump-in-your-seat moments of pure fright, but this Mummy has more in common with Indiana Jones than Boris Karloff.
The opening 10 minutes give us the background story of Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo), the High Priest of Osiris who was mummified alive 3,000 ago for stealing the Pharaoh's mistress and murdering the Pharaoh. The movie then cuts to the main story, which takes place in 1926, and introduces us to the major characters, starting with Rick O'Connell, a dashing treasure hunter who teams up with Evelyn Carnarvon (Rachel Weisz), an ambitious English librarian at the Cairo Museum of Antiquities. Evelyn is smart enough to read ancient hieroglyphics (which comes in handy more times than once), but can't seem to get ahead in the world of archaeology. Along with her oh-so-English brother, Jonathan (John Hannah), Evelyn and O'Connell compete with a group of rowdy American adventurers to find riches in the ancient ruins of Hamunaptra (well, the Americans want the riches, Evelyn is interested in archaeological discovery).
When Imhotep, who was buried in Hamunaptra, is inadvertently brought back to life, he is at first just a shambling skeleton with only scraps of flesh dangling from his bones. However, Imhotep begins to regenerate himself by sucking the life and vital organs from those who helped resurrect him. This leads to some grisly scenes of people losing their eyeballs and being reduced to dried-up corpses. Imhotep then sets his sights on Evelyn as the woman he wants to sacrifice in order to resurrect his dead lover from 3,000 years ago.
Part horror, part adventure, The Mummy is sort of like Night of the Living Dead crossed with a lot of machine guns and sticks of dynamite. Sommers worked in a similar genre a year earlier with Deep Rising (1998) a modern take on the old B-movie creature features of the '40s and '50s. As he did there, he infuses the older material with modern outlandishness and a great deal of eye-boggling special effects.
The Mummy doesn't have near the creeping tension or suspense of its predecessor, but that's not Sommers' point. The whole mummy plot is simply an excuse for a lot of shoot-outs and action-packed climaxes set in exotic North African locales. The movie is clumsily predictable, but it's also playfully self-aware. For instance, when asked what his plan is, O'Connell replies, "Oh, save the damsel in distress, kill the bad guy, and save the world," essentially summarizing the climax of every film of this type. Fraser plays the entire film with this kind of self-conscious humor, and it lightens the film's tone considerably.
The Mummy reportedly cost around $80 million, and Sommers makes the most of his dollar. Unlike some action films (like Michael Bay's Armageddon) that squander visual effects by making them so frenetic they are reduced to a blur, Sommers relishes his grisly effects and lets them do their work. He makes the most of the 10 plagues of Egypt that come back with Imhotep, swarming the screen with locusts and sandstorms and burning fireballs from the heavens. There are also several creepy sequences involving flesh-eating beetles that have the nasty habit of burrowing under your skin and crawling around until they find your brain. At several points in the film, thousands of these things are unleashed, and anybody unlucky enough to get caught in the tide is reduced to a skeleton in seconds.
The mummy himself is also quite a sight. Numerous times Sommers brings the mummy's decomposed face right into the camera, and the effect is so close and shocking that it's easy to forget the computer-generated origins of the mummy's mug. Of course, Sommers isn't unsatisfied with only one mummy, so in the big climax where Evelyn is about to be sacrificed, he gives us an entire army of mummified priests that are hacked and sliced and shot and blown to bits by O'Connell and the others. Some of it gets a bit repetitive by the end, but it's still an exciting visual extravaganza.
The Mummy is quite violent for a PG-13 film (thus making it questionable fare for younger kids), not so much for what it puts on the screen but for its ideas. The whole notion of being eaten alive inside by one beetle is enough to make you squirm, but the notion of being buried alive in a sarcophagus filled with them is enough to make you dizzy. Nevertheless, The Mummy is a mostly enjoyable, action-filled spectacle of ludicrous proportions. The script doesn't always hold together, the characters are serviceable at best, and it has no depth beyond its slick surface. But, then again, it's never boring.
|The Mummy: Ultimate Edition Two-Disc DVD Set|
|Aspect Ratio||2.35:1 / 1.33:1|
|Audio|| Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround|
DTS 5.1 Surround
Dolby 2.0 Surround
|Languages||English (DD 5.1, DTS 5.1--Widescreen Only) |
French (DD 5.1--P&S Only)
Spanish (2.0--P&S Only)
|Subtitles||English, Spanish, French|
|Supplements|| Disc One|
Three audio commentaries
Building a Better Mummy 50-minute making-of documentary
Cast & Filmmaker filmographies
DVD-ROM Features Live webcast from the premiere of The Mummy Returns
|The Mummy was originally released in 1999 as a "Collector's Edition" in separate 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and 1.33:1 pan-and-scan versions that otherwise included all the same features. This new double-disc "Ultimate Edition" includes both transfers, each on a separate disc. Both look absolutely fantastic, with a razor-sharp image that is completely free of any blemishes, nicks, or digital artifacts. The Mummy is an intensely visual movie, with images ranging from grand, colorful panoramas to dark, dank tombs. Black levels are dead-on with excellent shadow detail, and the vivid color palette is true to life and well-saturated. Of course, I much prefer the original widescreen version, and while the pan-and-scan is excellent in terms of the quality of the transfer, I cannot imagine why anyone would want to watch this movie in such a severely cropped format.|
|The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack is a holdover from the earlier release, but the "Ultimate Edition" now includes a DTS 5.1 surround track, as well. Both soundtracks are excellent, with aggressive and creative use of the surround channels and imaging, as well as a solid low end. The Mummy is filled wall-to-wall with overlapping sound effects, from machine guns, to crashing planes, to the sickening sounds of people being eaten alive by thousands of gnashing scarabs. Both soundtracks render all these effects with exquisite aural detail. Sound purists will likely find the DTS track to be just a slight bit better than the Dolby Digital, with better imagining and a smoother sound (only perfectionists will be able to tell the difference). This disc does have a somewhat odd organization of language tracks, though, with only English (in both Dolby Digital and DTS) being available on the widescreen disc, while the pan-and-scan disc features only the Dolby Digital English track (no DTS), but adds a Dolby Digital 5.1 French track and a Dolby 2.0 Spanish track.|
| Released under the new "Ultimate Edition" banner, this two-disc DVD set of The Mummy includes a combination of supplements available on 1999's "Collector's Edition" and several notable additions. The supplements are spread out evenly over both discs. |
The first disc includes three screen-specific audio commentaries. The first commentary with writer/director Stephen Sommers and editor Bob Ducsay was available on the previous DVD. However, added this time around are two actors' commentaries, the first with Brendan Fraser talking solo and the second with Oded Fehr, Kevin J. O'Connor, and Arnold Vosloo. Sommers and Ducsay have worked together for 12 years, so they have an easy rapport that results in an entertaining, but informative commentary. Fraser's solo talk isn't particularly informative, but it has a wonderfully funny Mystery Science Theater 3000 quality with an even more perversely ironic twist in that the person making all the smart-ass comments about the film is the main star! The third commentary by Fehr, O'Connor, and Vosloo is a little more down to earth, and features plenty of amusing and interesting anecdotes about making the film.
Also held over from the 1999 disc is Building a Better Mummy, an exhaustive (and exhausting) 50-minute making-of documentary that starts out as an exploration of the film's connection to the 1932 original starring Boris Karloff, but quickly turns into a comprehensive analysis of the computer-generated special effects used throughout the film. While Sommers and several of the actors appear, the real stars of this documentary are the various computer artists and effects wizards at Industrial Light & Magic who show us the painstaking processes that went into rendering the film's meticulous visual effects.
The first disc also includes cast and filmmaker biographies and filmographies, as well as production notes. Those who are interested in the historical background of ancient Egypt will find a small taste of trivia in the Egyptology 101 section, which gives brief one-paragraph descriptions of artifacts (such as scarabs and hieroglyphics) and major locations (such as Cairo and the pyramids).
The supplements on the second disc start off with three short deleted scenes that were likely removed because they didn't serve the requirements of the narrative. Together they constitute about four minutes of footage.
A holdover from the earlier DVD is the section on visual and special effects, which presents five scenes from the movie and takes us through the visual effects step by step, with audio commentary by ILM visual effects supervisor John Berton. Each scene is divided into four separate steps: (1) plate photography, which is the original photography without any effects; (2) visual effects elements, which range from conceptual art, to animatics, to isolated digital effects; (3) composited shot, which is a rough version of the combined plate photography and visual effects; and (4) the final feature sequence as it appeared in the completed movie (although, for some reason, they used the pan-and-scan version of the scenes, rather than the widescreen). Although many of these effects are also covered in the Building a Better Mummy documentary, those interested in special effects will find fascinating the step-by-step approach to explaining how these effects were rendered. The most interesting and complex effects sequence is the long opening pan shot across the City of Thebes (which is a combination of a 1/8 miniature model, digital background, and live photography), although one of the more amusing segments is watching the plate photography of Brendan Fraser fight it out with nonexistent mummy warriors.
New additions include the storyboard to final film comparison, which gives us a side-by-side look at three finished scenes from the movie and their initial storyboards. The photography montage contains more than 50 photos that are a combination of stills from the movie and behind-the-scenes shots. The Pharaoh Lineage section continues the historical overview offered on the first disc with Egyptology 101 by giving us a brief historical overview of Egypt's pharaohs from 2700 to 1069 B.C.
Of course, since the expanded DVD release of The Mummy is meant to coincide with the upcoming theatrical release of The Mummy Returns, one of the main supplemental additions is the 11-minute featurette "Highlights on The Mummy Returns." The featurette is nothing spectacular, but it does give a tantalizing glimpse into what's in store in the sequel, as well as brief cast and crew interviews. The disc also includes the theatrical trailer for The Mummy Returns, as well as the original theatrical trailer for The Mummy, both of which are in nonanamorphic widescreen and 5.1 sound.
DVD-ROM content includes a live webcast from the premiere of The Mummy Returns, script-to-screen, screen savers, and the entire Mummy web site.