The sands will rise. The heavens will part. The power will be unleashed.
Universal comes through (as usual) with a loaded-with-extras, terrific collector's edition version of the recently updated version of The Mummy.
In addition to yanking their old horror classics out of the closet (witness the recently released Frankenstein—with more to come), Universal has given The Mummy a fresh look based on 1999's technology and moviemaking ability. The result is a visually stunning adventure story, which leaves one wanting a bit more.
The Mummy tells the story of the wicked Imhotep, high priest to Pharaoh Seti I. Imhotep covets the beautiful Anck-Su-Namun, the concubine of the Pharaoh, who no man is allowed to touch. For their love, the two kill the Pharaoh and are caught by Pharaoh's guards. Anck-Su-Namun commits suicide on the spot knowing Imhotep holds the power, as the keeper of the dead, to resurrect her. Instead, Imhotep is captured during the resurrection ceremony condemned to suffer the Hom-Dai, the greatest curse of the all. His tongue is cut out and he is wrapped in mummy cloth and buried alive with a casket-full of scarabs, which will eat his flesh slowly. If he were to be awakened, he would bring with him the ten plagues of Egypt and reign death over the entire earth.
3000 years later we are introduced to Rick O'Connell, a soldier who fights a fierce battle at Hamunaptra, the burial place of Imhotep. He later winds up in a Cairo prison where he loses an artifact to Jonathan and Evelyn, the son and daughter of great and wealthy archaeologists. The trinket turns out to hold the map to Hamunaptra, which doubles as the storage place of the great wealth of the Pharaohs as well as the burial place of Imhotep.
Naturally, Rick is sprung from prison with the promise that he will lead an expedition to Hamunaptra. Once there, the team encounters a group of Americans who has found the book of the dead, which will resurrect Imhotep if read from. Fortunately, they lack the key to open the book (it's locked, you see). Unfortunately, Evelyn holds the key and steals the book, reads from it and awakens Imhotep. The rest of the film we see Imhotep destroying those that opened the crate that contained the book of the dead (he has to fulfill the curse, doesn't he?) as well as the remaining group of survivors desperately searching for a way to destroy the mummy.
The story here, written by the director Stephen Sommers (Deep Rising, The Jungle Book) is actually quite good. There are a few missteps, which will be discussed later, but overall the story is original and compelling. The acting is rather good too. Brendan Fraser (Gods and Monsters, Blast From The Past) does a fine job in an Indiana Jones-type role. Don't get me wrong, he's no Harrison Ford, but he does a credible job nonetheless. Rachel Weisz (Stealing Beauty, Bent) is also very good as the sweet but clumsy Evelyn. Lastly, Arnold Vosloo (The Progeny, Zeus and Roxanne) does a marvelous job as the mummy. Unfortunately, the South African was probably chosen more for his exotic look than his acting ability, but he pulls the job off splendidly.
The video quality of The Mummy is outstanding. The anamorphic 2.35:1 presentation lacks any compression artifacts at all. The black level is dead on and flesh tones were solid and accurate. I did notice a slight hint at grain during some very dark scenes, but on the whole the video is outstanding. Especially impressive is Universal's ability to handle desert storms with ease, even if they are CGI effects. Wow, this disc looks terrific!
The audio was impressive as well, with ample usage of sub and surround throughout the movie. Dialogue on the 5.1 English soundtrack was well centered and never thin or tinny. The front soundstage is generally well presented and well rounded. I think you will be duly impressed. The soundtrack also contains a French Dolby Surround track, which I did not listen to, and a commentary track with director Sommers and Editor Bob Ducsay that was very informative and largely entertaining. One can tell that Mr. Sommers really enjoys his work in general, and making this movie in particular.
Also included on the disc are a wealth of extras, including an hour long (roughly) documentary called Building A Better Mummy which deals with the CGI and other visual effects by Industrial Light and Magic put into creating this version of the mummy. Also included is a section that shows the visual effects formation during five different scenes in the film. A very cool feature, it goes through the process in detail. There are a few deleted scenes thrown in for good measure and a whole section called Egyptology 101, which details Egyptian sites, Gods and terminology. The disc includes a couple of trailers for the film and two trailers from upcoming Universal films which have yet to be released to theaters called End Of Days starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and For Love Of The Game starring Kevin Costner. Frankly, we have been asking for this feature for some time and it is about time someone listened. Thanks Universal! Lastly, the disc includes some DVD-ROM content including a Mummy game, two screensavers and some Universal Web links. Since I do not have a DVD drive attached to my computer, I could not test these extras for you.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
My only real problems with this DVD are more ethereal than practical. As I said above, the video and audio are outstanding and I found the story entertaining and original. My problem lies in the fact that this film had a few major flaws, none of which really can show up in our ranking system. Individually, this film looks pretty damn good if you check out the numbers below. But something was wanting here.
I think the problem is the movie took entirely too much from other films. It clearly was trying to be another Indiana Jones-type franchise film. In fact, replace this character with Indy, and you could easily have had a Jones movie. But it was more than that. This film has a bit of an identity crisis. It is trying to be all things to all people, and in so doing failed quite badly. There is not enough horror to be a horror movie, not enough action to be an action movie, not enough humor to be a comedy, yet it possesses elements of all these types of films.
In addition, I felt something was definitely missing from the writing. In fact, during the commentary, we learn that some exposition was eliminated from the beginning of the story due to some pacing concerns. This missing footage may have helped. Fraser's character Rick O'Connell is simply thrown at us without any reason why, only to pop up three years later—again without any reason why. Also, we are never invested enough in the characters here to care whether they live or die, especially the Americans. I think this film had some real potential, but someone fell asleep at the wheel a bit, which is too bad.
The other sense one gets is that this film is simply a stylized version of its true self. By that I mean to say that everything is out in the open for all to see and almost perfectly so. It's almost as though the production value is too high, if that is possible. I would rather the director kept us in suspense instead of shoving the recently resurrected Imhotep down our throat as soon as Evelyn speaks the magic words. Perhaps that would have let us wonder a bit and our imagination might have taken over. I have to admit, I have not yet seen The Blair Witch Project nor will I until it arrives on my doorstep for a review. But I have to say I hope it pushes Hollywood in the opposite direction it seems to be traveling now. In other words, leave a bit to our imagination! It is far more powerful than the biggest computer over at ILM. This film would have been just as powerful, if not more so, had we not seen the mummy until the last reel. It is called suspense folks and it is something I never felt while watching this DVD.
My only other complaint is that Universal has disabled the audio button, which means one must return to the menu system in order to change to the French language track or to the commentary track. Whether this is part of their modus operandi or just a simple gaffe, I suggest they get with the program with this one, because that was annoying as all get out. Other than that, Universal keeps showing us the goods. From everything to packaging to labeling and extras, they continue to shine as one of the best DVD studios out there.
Visually stunning and with a nicely written story (for the most part), The Mummy still leaves a lot to be desired. The extras make the disc well worth the asking price though. So if you are a fan of this movie, or of monster movies in general, go out and grab this disc. Otherwise, it is still worth a rent. You may find you liked it a whole lot better than I did.
The disc is acquitted without even lifting a finger to defend itself. Universal proves once again that they have their act together big time. Stephen Sommers needs a class in subtlety.
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Scales of Justice
• Original Documentary "Building A Better Mummy"
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