|Mummy Returns, The (Collector’s Edition)|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 02 October 2001|
Even bigger, louder, more effects and action-laden than its 1999 predecessor, "The Mummy Returns" is amazingly good fun. This is an instance of a sequel that improves on the original. In fact, even more than "The Mummy," "The Mummy Returns" feels like a worthy successor to the big, adrenaline-pumping yet tongue-in-cheek adventure banner held high by "Raiders of the Lost Ark."
Nearly all of the team on both sides of the camera from the first "Mummy" are back, crucially writer/director Stephen Sommers and star Brendan Fraser, which gives the new film the benefit of continuity without succumbing to repetition. Although "Returns" is scrupulous about adhering to plot points set forth in the earlier film, new viewers won’t be confused by the story, while those already in the know won’t be bored.
"Returns" begins with a battle in Chapter 1, complete with impressively distinct and discrete sword hits in each of the speakers and great roaring sands as the Scorpion King (wrestler the Rock), transformed from a mortal monarch into a monstrous warrior, leads an army of dog-headed Anubis soldiers before being consigned to the underworld. All this takes place thousands of years before treacherous Egyptian high priest Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo) is mummified and cursed with undeath, as shown in "Mummy 1." Anybody who can kill the Scorpion King can command the unstoppable legions of Anubis – but before the Scorpion King can be killed, he must first be resurrected.
In 1933, eight years after the events of the first film, devotees of Imhotep think he’s the man to vanquish the Scorpion and take over the world. True, the last time Imhotep was brought back from living death, he was reduced to dust by Rick O’Connell (Fraser), but you can’t keep a bad mummy down. Soon Rick and klutzy but brilliant Egyptologist wife Evelyn (Rachel Weisz), their seven-year-old son Alex (Freddie Boath), Evelyn’s wastrel brother Jonathan (John Hannah) and heroic cult leader Ardeth Bay (Oded Fehr) are racing around in a frantic attempt to save the world yet again.
Filmmaker Sommers has an excellent balance of action and humor, with a racing pace leavened by enough character moments to keep us emotionally engaged, even as we appreciate the essentially light-hearted nature of the proceedings. Fraser hits all the right notes with charisma, Weisz is likably erudite and feisty, Hannah is a hoot, Vosloo is richly menacing and Fehr has appealing gravity. Patricia Velasquez as the mummy’s beloved Anck-Su-Namun is even more alluring than in the original, with wickedly good presence. Boath is bright without being overly cute. The cast all play off one another with confident, precise timing and do superb work in shots where they are playing opposite special effects added in post-production.
The sound is mostly excellent, although there are a few isolated spots where the elements separate a bit noticeably in the mix. Mostly, though, the audio track is both dimensional and directional. Chapter 2 has a good, jarring thump, courtesy of a heavy tomb door, and Chapter 3 has lots of good rumbles that produce a sensurround effect on the viewer’s floor. Chapter 4 likewise has nice thudding impacts as a series of columns crash into one another like collapsing dominoes. In Chapter 5, it’s easy to be impressed by the earthquake-like loud effects, but listen also for the subtle trickling of sand at different rates in each of the rears and mains. Chapter 6 puts us inside a vision, moving sound from rears to mains as we soar along with the point of view. Chapter 7 lets us appreciate how the dialogue track staunchly holds its own during a flurry of directional bullet hits. Chapter 10 has more specific gunshots and a wonderful blast from the rears as a train makes itself heard behind us. In Chapter 14, listen for a shriek from behind as a nasty pygmy ghost races through the rears. Chapters 16 through 18 take time to smell the roses, sonically speaking, by making sure that we hear the meaty punches of hero and villain duking it out while all hell loudly breaks loose around them, and Chapter 19 again puts the rears to work, providing depth as a whole landscape is sucked away.
The images are super-widescreen (2.35:1 as opposed to the more common 1.85:1), giving us the full power of the shots as designed. When characters charge across the frame, we get a real sense of distance. The visual quality is lovely, particularly in a Maxfield Parrish-like sequence in Chapter 12, in which a small dirigible glides through the night sky.
The visual effects supervised by John Berton are pretty spectacular, especially with the enormous numbers of Anubis soldiers in Chapter 1 and Chapters 16-18. The Scorpion King is not quite up to the level of some of the other effects (the attempt to replicate the Rock’s human face winds up looking a little more like "Lawnmower Man" than might be desirable). The mummies and various other CGI characters, not required to resemble specific people, fare much better in the credibility department and look perfectly dimensional. In all cases, the CGI fluid movement and perspective in relation to the flesh-and-blood performers is very impressive.
The DVD comes with plenty of cool extras. The outtakes are fun (more would be welcome) and the audio commentary by director Sommers and executive producer/film editor Bob Ducsay in the center channel is enthusiastic and informative. The interactive step-by-step look at visual effects on four different sequences is conceptually and visually intriguing. The two-channel Live music video of "Forever May Not Be Enough" is handsome, if not especially stirring, and there’s a nice long trailer for spinoff film "The Scorpion King" for those who are curious.
Sommers knows how to stage a jump without traumatizing the audience, adeptly treading the fine line between action and horror without quite crossing over into the latter territory. In his more lyrical moments, he conjures the feel of an especially satisfying storybook. "The Mummy Returns" isn’t all that deep, but it’s made with tremendous craft and is stupendously enjoyable.