I have always been a fan of Universal's classic horror movies, so billing a film as a reimagining of the 1932 Boris Karloff classic was enough to pique my curiosity and bring me out on opening day for THE MUMMY. Sure, I was expecting to be let down because Karloff's version of THE MUMMY is amongst my all time favorite Universal horror movies. However, this new incarnation of THE MUMMY went beyond my expectations and delivered thoroughly enjoyable escapist entertainment. Actually, I had the opportunity to see THE MUMMY at a first rate theater, with excellent projection and sound. This, of course, made THE MUMMY one of the theatrical highlights of the summer of 1999.
With the 1999 version of THE MUMMY, writer/director Stephen Sommers took elements of the original movie, fused them with an old style adventure serial, and then dressed up the whole package with astounding special effects, thus creating something familiar- yet completely new. THE MUMMY opens with a spectacular recreation of ancient Egypt, which depicts an affair between the High Priest Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo) and the Pharaoh's mistress Anck-Su-Namum (Patricia Velazquez). Of course, the lovers are caught, which leads to the death of both the Pharaoh (Aharon Ipalé) and Anck-Su-Namum.
Unwilling to let his love go, Imhotep dares the wrath of the gods by stealing Anck-Su-Namum's lifeless body and trying to resurrect her with incantations from the Book Of The Dead. However, before Imhotep can complete the resurrection ceremony, Pharaoh's bodyguards arrive and stop him. For his blasphemy, Imhotep is condemned to endure the Hom-Dai, the worst of all ancient curses. In fact, the Hom-Dai is so horrible that it has never before been bestowed. As a victim of the curse, Imhotep is turned into one of the undead and sealed inside a sarcophagus, where he is left to suffer for all eternity. Unfortunately, the curse has one rather nasty side effect. Should Imhotep ever be released from his sarcophagus, he would arise as a walking disease that would exist to plague all mankind.
From the point of Imhotep's burial, THE MUMMY then leaps forward about three thousand years, into the 1920s, where we encounter Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) and Jonathan (John Hannah), a brother and sister who have stumbled onto a map that could lead them to ancient Egyptian city of Hamunaptra. In addition to being the City of the Dead, Hamunaptra is also believed to be the depository for the all the untold wealth of the ancient Pharaohs. Unfortunately, the map to Hamunaptra is incomplete, forcing the duo to seek out Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser), an American adventurer that discovered the location of Hamunaptra during his days in the Foreign Legion. The road to Hamunaptra turns out to be well traveled, with an American expedition also vying for the treasures hidden beneath the City of the Dead.
However, as it turns out, treasure isn't the only thing that lies waiting beneath the sands of Hamunaptra. Hamunaptra is also the resting-place of Imhotep's sarcophagus. With both expeditions arriving at their singular destination, it takes little time for them to unearth the Book of the Dead, as well as the mummy of Imhotep. As quick as you can say you must not read from the book, Imhotep is reanimated and begins to reconstitute himself from the bodies of those who removed the Book of the Dead from its hiding place. Even after three thousand year of imprisonment, Imhotep's love for Anck-Su-Namum still burns as bright, so the mummy sets forth to bring his love back from the land of the dead. Unfortunately, Imhotep plans to sacrifice Evelyn as part of a ritual that will resurrect Anck-Su-Namum.
Filmmaker Stephen Sommers knows how to push all the right buttons, which is why the 1999 version of THE MUMMY proved to be one of the summer's box office successes. Sure, the film received a PG-13 rating for its intense (and sometimes gruesome) special effects, but at heart the movie is an old time Hollywood adventure serial- you know, just like an Indiana Jones movie. THE MUMMY provides its audience with plenty of action and romance, plus the movie is genuinely funny- and a whole lot of fun. Sommers recognized the strengths of the original film and used them to their best advantage for his 1999 update. As in the original, the elements of horror are played down in favor of the romantic aspects of the story. Imhotep, in both versions of THE MUMMY, proves to be something of a romantic figure, or a very least, a man who allows the intoxicating power of love to drive him to ruin and beyond. This makes the character of Imhotep tragic and somewhat sympathetic, even though he is a monster.
Another reason THE MUMMY is a total crowd pleaser is the film's state-of-the-art special effects. Industrial Light and Magic truly push the envelope with the film's very realistic CGI characters. Thanks to ILM, three thousand-year-old mummies are brought to life as realistic desiccated corpses, instead of just actors wrapped in bandages. Additionally, the ability to see through the skeletal remains is so effective, that the notion of walking corpses never shatters one's suspension of disbelief. One last note on the effects, fans of Ray Harryhausen will get a kick out of the film's climatic mummy battle sequence that was obviously inspired by JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS. Also contributing to the film's success is the exceedingly likable cast. Brendan Fraser is perfectly dashing as the film's hero. Rachel Weisz is extremely beautiful and highly effective as the headstrong modern woman who finds herself turned into a damsel in distress. Arnold Vosloo is an absolutely commanding presence as Imhotep. Kevin J. O'Connor utilizes his deft comic skills to get a good number of laughs, as well as making the weasely character of Beni almost likable. The cast of THE MUMMY also features some fine work from Jonathan Hyde, Oded Fehr, Stephen Dunham, Erick Avari, Corey Johnson, Tuc Watkins, Omid Djalili and Bernard Fox.
Universal Studios Home Video has released THE MUMMY on DVD as two separate Collector's Editions, one wide screen, one full screen and both retailing for $29.98. I was fortunate enough to receive the 16:9 enhanced wide screen edition of THE MUMMY, which is absolutely demonstration quality. The film is properly framed at 2.35:1 and looks absolutely spectacular. Both the clarity of the image and the level of detail push the limits of NTSC system. Colors are incredibly vivid, with none of the intensely saturated hues producing any evidence of chroma noise or bleeding. Flesh tones are wonderfully appealing, and manage to stand out from similarly pigmented sandy desert vistas. Blacks are perfectly rendered, like exquisite black velvet. Contrast is flawless and the image displays wondrous amount of shadow detail. Digital artifacts are virtually non-existent, thanks to immaculate DVD authoring and the use of the dual layering to minimize compression.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack has a showy action movie mix that is a whole lot of fun. Every one of the discrete channels sees its fair share from the soundtrack's whirlwind of activity. The forward soundstage is very wide and wraps around into the rear channels to envelop the viewer. Additionally, there are a number of terrific split surround effects, which reminds us why discrete Dolby Digital leaves standard surround in the dust. The bass channel kicks in quite frequently to enhance the numerous sound effects, as well as adding sufficient rumbling to the track. Dialogue is very clean sounding and the track accurately reproduces the timbre of the actors' voices. Jerry Goldsmith's marvelous musical score is faithfully integrated into the mix, without overwhelming, or being overwhelmed by any other sonic element. A French language soundtrack is also provided on the disc, in addition to English subtitles.
The interactive menus are nicely designed and contain a bit of animation, plus sound effects and music. Requisite features, such as scene selection and language set up are available through the menus. Additionally, all of the Collector's Edition supplements can be accessed through the menu system. Topping the list of supplements is an audio commentary featuring director Stephen Sommers and Editor Bob Ducsay. Fans of the movie will find the time spent listening to the filmmakers talk about THE MUMMY to be rewarding. The 49 minute documentary Building a Better Mummy offers a great deal of behind-the-scenes information on the making THE MUMMY, including a look at the astounding special effects work. For those truly interested in the special effects, the Visual and Special Effects Formation section is an absolute must see. This section takes five separate sequences in the film through all of the various stages of special effects production- from initial photography to completion.
Egyptology 101 is a crash course in ancient Egypt, including hieroglyphic, geography, burial practices and mythology. There are a few deleted scenes included amongst the supplements, which is the best place for these snippets. Additionally, there are two theatrical trailers for THE MUMMY (plus several more from other films), extensive production notes and cast biographies/filmographies. Jerry Goldsmith fans will enjoy one undocumented supplement. It seems that if one remains on the "Languages" screen from the interactive menus, Goldsmith's entire score will play in 5.1 channel Dolby Digital. THE MUMMY also contains DVD-ROM specific supplements for those so equipped.
As I stated above, THE MUMMY is wonderful escapist entertainment. The Collectors Edition DVD is a visual and sonic treat that is well worth acquiring. Highly recommended.
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