|Mummy, The (Ultimate Edition) (1999)|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 24 April 2001|
Although "The Mummy" has a horror title, it is much more in the spirit of "Raiders of the Lost Ark." While "The Mummy" doesn’t entirely provide the pure adrenaline rush of its most obvious source of inspiration, it is good, popcorn-munching fun.
A prologue set in ancient Egypt introduces us to the high priest Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo), who with his mistress Ank-Su-Namun (Patricia Velasquez), assassinates the Pharaoh. Imhotep is punished in particularly grisly fashion and buried alive with a terrible curse: he is to endure eternity without death or release. Flash forward to the 1920s. Soldier of fortune Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser) is rescued from hanging by beautiful, klutzy Egyptologist Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) and her wastrel brother Jonathan (John Hannah). This is because Rick knows the location of the lost city of Hamunaptra, where Evelyn hopes to find a rare book and Jonathan expects to dig up treasure. Rick knows there’s something nasty under the sand at Hamunaptra but a deal’s a deal and he leads the way. A party of fortune-hunters tries to beat our heroes to the site and – wouldn’t you know – somebody sets Imhotep loose. Imhotep is no ordinary undead mummy, either: he’s got all sorts of magical powers, some of which can bring about the end of the world. Added to this, he’s determined to resurrect Ank-Su-Namun, which means that Evelyn is in special peril.
"The Mummy" doesn’t take itself very seriously, which is both an asset and (pardon the expression) a curse. Director/writer Stephen Sommers, working from a story credit to him, Lloyd Fonveille and Kevin Jarre (a small army of uncredited writers, one after another, has been attached to the project from 1987 through the present), goes for a light, tongue-in-cheek tone. Sommers’ heart seems to be in moments of slapstick, like setting up a ring of library shelves that collapse domino-style due to a clumsy move of Evelyn’s, rather than in setting up true scares. Although some of the goings-on are fairly gruesome, they occur either just off-camera or in heavy shadow, eschewing many images that real horror films would deem necessary. The pace bounds along.
It’s a good thing for both "The Mummy’s" distributor and its audience that DVD extras don’t have physical weight – this two-disc set would be impossible to lift, otherwise. Each disc has its own full-length "Mummy," with the handsome widescreen 2.35:1 version on Disk 1 and the full-screen version on Disk 2. Why anybody would want to watch a movie with so much production design, detail and movement throughout the frame in a cropped, full-screen version is a mystery, but that’s a separate issue. This will mainly be a problem for widescreen fans whose primary language is Spanish or French, as those tracks are on Disk 2, along with an English track in Dolby 5.0 Surround (the French track is also 5.0; the Spanish is 2.0 Surround). The widescreen Disk 1 does come with subtitles in all three languages, along with audio choices of English DTS 5.1 Surround or Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround.
"The Mummy" has so many intense and varied sound effects that it probably qualifies as a reference disc in DTS. This said, it should be noted that in a quiet Chapter 3 scene, the ambient sound fails a bit around the clear dialogue. Elsewhere, however, the audio track is rich indeed. In Chapter 4, a dropped bandolero hits a table with a directional wood-on-metal smack, and the desert comes alive around you with the grunting and muttering of camels. Chapter 5 has a wonderful combination of crackling flames, explosion, debris hits on deck and in the water and various knuckles impacting flesh, with the sub coming to life to add heft to the proceedings. Chapter 6 has an oil painting-beautiful desertscape – that changes totally with a mighty kick from the subwoofer to send us racing breathlessly across the sands. In Chapter 7, 45 minutes into the film, true horror begins, with some effectively-reproduced screams. Chapter 8 has a subtle but good effect, with a whinnying horse isolated in the left rear. Chapter 10 has an almighty enveloping sound that vibrates through the whole system as the Mummy awakens, and Chapter 11 has positively apocalyptic audio, with individual explosions everywhere, as Cairo is bombarded with fireballs. Chapter 12 has a deafening buzz of locusts on the move chomping through the entire range of speakers, and Chapter 14 assigns specific positions for various elements in yet another huge effects sequence, with plane rotors, a shrieking wind and a loud, full explosion that punches through the soundtrack music. Chapter 15 gets creepy, with individualized whispers brushing through the rears.
The commentary tracks, all on Disk 1, are lively, engaging and often very funny. The director/editor track is in two channels, as is that of star Fraser, who has a lot of amusing asides. The three-way commentary of Vosloo, Oded Fehr (who plays the heroic Arab priest Ardeth Bay) and Kevin J. O’Connor (who plays a slimy comic villain) actually gives each of the trio a position, with Vosloo in the right main and center and the other two in the left main and center. Their accents are all so different that it would be easy to tell who’s talking in any event, but the specific locations give their commentary track an appealing three-dimensional quality.
The making-of featurettes – including one on the upcoming "The Mummy Returns" – are likable and one of the deleted scenes is surprisingly action-filled. The most intriguing goodie in the package, however, may be the interactive special effects featurette on Disk 2, which gives the viewer a choice of five major sequences in which the entire process is broken down into segments on plate photography, visual effects additions, the composite shot and the final sequence.
Fraser combines enormous charm with a physique that makes him persuasive as a swashbuckler. Weisz and Hannah both play their roles in true ‘30s serial manner – enthusiastically if unsubtly – and Vosloo is suitably authoritative as Imhotep in human form. O’Connor has a lot of fun with his weaselly opportunist and Fehr has terrific presence.
Rick’s hard-headed, good-hearted resilience, Evelyn’s feistiness and Jonathan’s feckless blundering – even the O’Connor character’s toadying cowardice – are all the stuff of old adventure flicks of yore. It can be argued that Sommers has tweaked the comedy element a little higher than may be good for the picture overall – any time we’re in danger of really getting into the story, he reminds us that he’s just kidding – but "The Mummy" is still quite entertaining.
Click here to read Abbie's review of the film The Mummy Returns