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Mummy, The (1999) Print E-mail
Saturday, 01 September 2007

Image Brendan Fraser’s " Mummy" franchise so far consists of two feature films and one spin-off that is a kind of prequel. A third movie in the franchise is slated for release in 2008. Fans of the series can’t wait.

Although the movie was going to be a quiet release and not much was expected, it caught on with audiences was looking for something to fill the vacancy left by the Indiana Jones movies. Brendan Fraser’s portrayal of American adventurer Rick O’Connell, although dwarfed intellectually by the good Doctor Jones, was nonetheless a two-fisted hero of the first water. O’Connell is the kind of hero Saturday matinees and serials made their mainstay back in the 1940s and 1950s. He is quick with his fists and guns, and quicker still with a quip or a cutting remark.

In part, the film written and directed by Stephen Sommers is derived from two older movies, the original “The Mummy” (1932), with Boris Karloff, and the later “The Mummy’s Hand” (1940). Back in the day, even though the mummy took forever to get from Point A to Point B, the creature still proved terrifying and able to kill with the best of the Universal Studios monsters.

There’s something inherently terrifying about a mummy. Part of it has to do with the fact that they’re real. Although no one has actually observed an ambulatory corpse wrapped in natron salt-soaked linens, the belief in mummies is as chilling as the thought of walking through a graveyard at midnight. The majority of the audience seems to easily enter into the willing suspension of disbelief necessary for these movies to work well. Added to that, the special effects in the film are first-rate. It’s the small things that pull everything together, that lead the viewer into believing the larger things that would be almost impossible to absorb if some preparation were not taken. The first time O’Connell is trapped under the evil statue where the mummy lies buried and the mouth forms in the loose sand under his feet, the viewer gets a definite taste of what is to come. By the time the big magic really cuts loose, the audience willingly embraces the atmosphere necessary to enhance the terror and the sense of adventure.

The beginning scenes in ancient Egypt are extremely well done—the city looks real. The narration is awesome, leading the viewer to believe a documentary is unfolding.

Arnold Vosloo (High Priest Imhotep, the mummy) just looks monstrous. Part of it comes from a career of playing bad guys and several previous films. He’s handsome and brooding in appearance, and has eyes so dark they look black. The computer-generated effects that make him look like a rotting corpse with some of the pieces gone are just amazing. It’s one thing to render those effects on a stationary image, but quite another to do it on a three-dimensional figure in full motion.

Seeing Imhotep with the pharaoh’s wife, Anck Su Namun (Patricia Velasquez) at the beginning immediately tells the audience is something bad is about to happen. The fact that she’s nearly nude is a definite tip-off. It’s interesting to see how many of the murders take place in shadows on the wall, first of Anck Su Namun and later of the American grave robbers as the Mummy strips their flesh and organs from them. That may have been a tip of the hat to the source movies, because they often used that device to avoid showing actual murder scenes. It’s not necessary with today’s audience, but the effect is more chilling than one would imagine.

Later, when the pharaoh’s guards discover Imhotep’s efforts to bring his love back to life, he’s bound alive in a casket filled with flesh-eating beetles. The beetles come to the forefront in this scene and get a lot of play during the rest of the movie.

The time and action quickly shift to pick up on O’Connell as he’s fighting for his life. His second-in-command is the cadaverous-looking Beni Gabor (Kevin J. O’Connor). O’Connor plays this role to the hilt. Every time he’s on screen, the audience feels the need to boo and hiss. He’s just that kind of villain.

O’Connell manages to survive basically through pure dumb luck, but that dumb luck has brought him face to face with the most evil thing he’ll ever see. (At least until “The Mummy 3” opens.) He escapes across the desert under the watchful eyes of the Magi leader, Ardeth Bey (Oded Fehr). The Magi have been tasked with keeping Imhotep from rising and bringing plague and destruction to the world.

Rachel Weisz stars as librarian/curator Evelyn Carnahan, an intelligent young woman with incredible bad luck. Of course that luck is going to turn even more sour when everyone discovers Imhotep intends to use her to resurrect his lost love. She fills the role so well she’s an absolute pleasure to watch. She revisited the role in the sequel, but has chosen not to appear in the third film of the franchise. She’s going to be missed.

John Hannah, an excellent character actor, plays Jonathan Carnahan. Several times during the movie he absolutely steals the show. He offers a classic stunned reaction when he blends in with the mob coming to kill everyone. After the audiences see everything else Jonathan has done, this fits right in and moves along without a hitch.

Erick Avari plays Terence Bey, Evelyn’s boss but also a secret member of the Magi. He’s another one of those actors who play second or third bananas in movies; the films wouldn’t be the same without them. He’s marvelous in this role.

Bernard Fox, another veteran of the second banana league whom everyone knows (and probably remembers best as Doctor Bombay from “Bewitched”), plays an alcoholic English Air Force officer that regrets not having died in battle with his mates. Of course, in this movie he finally gets his chance.

It’s these little touches with these actors that moves this movie into the proper historical setting. If “The Mummy” had been shot as a present-day release, it would never have worked. The willing suspension of disbelief would not have been evoked that allows this movie to transcend horror and science fiction and fantasy all in one huge, fun leap. And it would never have spawned what will now become three spinoff movies.

Although on the surface “The Mummy” is supposed to be a horror film, it’s more reasonably categorized as a actioner, with a driving pace, larger-than-life characters, with tongue firmly in cheek at times no matter how bad things get. This is just a fun film to watch, and it can be watched over and over again.

The video aspect of the high-definition presentation is absolutely awesome. It couldn’t be any better. The special effects, like the sweeping the storm near the end, looks as good at home as it did on the big screen. The delineation of all the hieroglyphics on the stones, arches, and walls is sharp and crisp.

The sound seems to lack a little, though. It’s thunderous and loud during the appropriate times, but it doesn’t seem to be very well divided at other times. Conversation in particular sometimes seems more a front speaker or center speaker presentation. There aren’t any background noises to play through the back speakers. That may have been how the sound worked in the original movie, though, and no fault of the disc. Those background noises simply may not have been recorded, and the sound-dampening effect of the enclosed environments of the sets could be a further reason.

There’re plenty of special features to keep fans happy. You can see why the deleted scenes were, and the storyboard progression is pretty good. But it’s the commentaries that really make this disc worth picking up for special features.

All in all, “The Mummy” deserves to be upgraded if you’ve got it in your collection. The HD DVD presentation is well worth the expense, and this disc is modestly priced when compared to many others. The sequel, “The Mummy Returns”, as well as “The Scorpion King” are both available on HD DVD format as well.

Aside from a brief near-nude scene in the beginning of the movie, “the Mummy” is a great selection for family night if you’re looking for a few chills with your thrills. Brendan Fraser delivers the perfect hero for this kind of movie, and Rachel Weisz and John Hannah are excellent. Even if you’ve seen this one on television or from the home library lately, it’s worth popping in again just to see how dramatic the high-definition presentation is.

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