66 – The Mummy:
Cheesy blockbusters, who doesn’t love them? Critics usually. There’s guaranteed to be one film each year that leaves critics crying and pulling out their hair, while the Box Office numbers go right up. The Transformers movies are probably the shining example of this, while stuff like Fifty Shades of Grey is proof that female-oriented fare isn’t immune to this. Critics were actually rather kind to this particular piece. Roger Ebert in particular gave it a high rating – purely because of how fun it was. And that’s really all this movie was intended to be. It’s a loose remake of a 1932 horror film about a mummy being resurrected. But it has more in common with the likes of Raiders of the Lost Ark or the Tomb Raider video games. Essentially it’s running entirely on how much fun its audience is supposed to be having. I can remember quite vividly how I first saw it. The Mummy might be the only film on this list to have been first watched by me on a rainy day in a holiday complex in Spain – with a bunch of children crowded around a TV set. At the time we all thought we were so grown-up for getting to watch it (it had a 15-rating in the UK) – since the trailers had advertised it as a straight horror movie. Naturally there was much bragging about how we didn’t find it scary at all.
The movie pisses off Ancient Egypt buffs with its very opening shot. Historical record tells us that no pyramids were at Thebes, the city depicted. But I think if you go into this movie expecting historical accuracy then you deserve to be disappointed. Anyway, according to legend, the city was home to the high priest Imhotep – memorably played by Arnold Vosloo – who was in love with…
Years before she’d get killed by smoking a cigarette laced with acid, Patricia Velasquez was Anuck-Su-Namun, the Pharaoh’s bride. No other man was allowed to even touch her, and she was covered in body paint to make sure none of them tried. For those wondering how she managed to go to bathroom without being smudged, I’m pretty sure the Pharaoh’s mistress would have ladies-in-waiting whose job was to reapply the paint. Nonetheless, their affair is discovered and they murder the Pharaoh. Anuck-Su-Namun also kills herself, knowing Imhotep has the power to bring her back from the dead. He takes her body to Hamunaptra, City of the Dead, to perform said ritual. He’s stopped by the Medji – the royal body guards – and mummified alive in a curse that ensures he remains undead for eternity.
Some three thousand years later, there’s some kind of gun battle going on in the ruins of Hamunaptra. There’s also a little bit of banter going on between Beni (Stephen Sommers regular Kevin J O’Connor) and Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser). I really do miss seeing Brendan Fraser in films lately. Part of the reason this movie was such a hit is because Brendan Fraser isn’t afraid to cut loose. He knows exactly what kind of movie he’s in, and lets the audience in on the fun. He’s not afraid to be goofy and occasionally unmanly at times. It doesn’t stop him from being left the sole survivor of the battle when his enemies inexplicably run away.
Maybe it’s because Hamunaptra is the City of the Dead, and Rick is battered with dramatic winds forming an evil face in the sand. Beni deserts him and he is left to fend for himself in the desert. The Medji’s descendants, charged with keeping Imhotep contained, decide to spare him – believing he’ll perish in the desert anyway. But it’s now time to switch to Cairo, where we meet.
This is Evelyn ‘Evey’ Carnahan, a librarian played by Rachel Weisz. It might be because I’m now so used to seeing Rachel in her other movies since this one was made – but I feel as if she is quite underrated in this role. Since she got noticed by Hollywood, she’s made a career out playing strong, intelligent women of power. Mostly because that’s who she is in real life (she studied at Cambridge, darling) – but Evey is drastically different from Rachel’s usual characters. Although she’s brainy, Evey is a clumsy, pompous ditz. That’s also why I think this movie did so well. Evey isn’t a one-dimensional glamorous love interest (although she is indeed very beautiful). Rachel Weisz isn’t afraid to make Evey goofy or kick up her heels at various points. She’s still a really good character – so it’s nice that we can have a female lead that gets to be fun while still having her own role in the story. But there’s no way my writing can do this scene any justice.
It turns out that besides her appalling shelving skills, Evey actually knows how to read and write Ancient Egyptian. But the museum curator only puts up with her and her clumsiness because her parents were rich patrons of the place. Evey’s day doesn’t get much better since she reveals that the Bembridge Scholars have rejected an application because she doesn’t have enough experience in the field. It’s a good thing that her oafish big brother Jonathan may have found something.
Jonathan is played by John Hannah. Having just rewatched Spartacus: Blood & Sand where Hannah plays the evil scheming gladiator trainer, it’s a relief to see him in a lighter role. You know how those old style adventure movies would have that odd character out? The one who’s there to be a dork and all kinds of useless? Stephen Sommers apparently realised that by playing a character’s incompetence for as much laughs as possible – and by giving him little moments of competency here and there – he’ll not only not be annoying. He’ll be one of the best characters in the story. But anyway, what was it Jonathan found?
That is, the very key that would open Imhotep’s sarcophagus. It also has a map to the legendary city of Hamunaptra. Evey’s research tells her that the city could possibly have existed. Too bad the museum curator accidentally burns some of the map. Good thing Jonathan remembers where he got the key in the first place. It turns out the man is Rick O’Connell himself, who’s now about to be hanged for undisclosed reasons. He says he’ll take them to Hamunaptra if they get him out of prison.
Once Evey reveals to the prison warden Hassan that Rick knows where Hamunaptra is – and grudgingly agrees to give him 25% of the treasure – they’re good to go. There’s another team of adventurers on the same boat, headed to the same place. There’s an Egyptologist and three dudes called Henderson, Burns and Daniels. They claim to have a guide who has been to Hamunaptra too.
Evey meanwhile reveals the real reason she’s so keen to visit Hamunaptra – well besides the fact that it’s there. She wants to get her hands on the gold Book of Amun-Ra – which contains all the incantations of the old kingdom. Unfortunately, the Ancient Egyptians never actually wrote books in the way we’re familiar with. Evey should really be looking for something written on papyrus scrolls. And in her own mind, she really shouldn’t be thinking about Rick so much. Especially when they’ve got visitors on the ship.
It’s the Medji – who somehow know that the boat is headed for Hamunaptra. So they try to kill everyone on board. Too bad they decided to attack a boat full of Americans – who naturally have plenty of guns. Rick takes care of most of them, and Evey is no slouch herself – burning one guy’s eye out with a candle. They have to abandon ship and swim all the way to shore – Rick and Evey giving us some delightful banter along the way. Jonathan is also able to grab the key. Alas, all Evey’s clothes were still on the boat. But since this is a late 90s movie, she gets to have an ‘oh wow, this person is actually really hot’ moment.
Thankfully this little bit isn’t as heavy-handed as the makeover in She’s All That or the like. And that dress is quite nice on her. As Beni’s side of the river got all the horses, they have to make do with camels – better known as the ship of the desert. They make it to the apparent site of Hamunaptra, but it’s empty. At least until the sun rises.
After our tourists have a little race to see who can get to the site first, Evey’s camel is the lucky winner. And once they’re underground, Evey lights the tomb with a neat trick that involves lots of mirrors.
While awesome, don’t forget that you’d need people constantly readjusting the mirrors to account for the sun’s changing position. In the movie’s defence, they’re not underground that long. Hassan wanders off and falls victim to scarab beetles – who work their way under his skin and do what you’d expect. The Americans encounter problems of their own – when one of the sarcophaguses is booby-trapped with salt acid. But if it’s any consolation, Evey finds a sarcophagus of her own.
They can’t dwell on that too long, because the Medji attack. Rick calls a halt to it by threatening to light a stick of dynamite. The Medji leader Ardeth Bay (Oded Fehr) warns them that they should leave this place or else die. Since there’s still plenty of movie to go, they naturally don’t listen. The Americans find an ancient chest with an inscription – “death comes on swift wings to whoever opens this chest” – and a warning about not resurrecting Imhotep. This is enough to spook Beni – and he runs away – but the Americans open it.
Using the key, Evey and friends open the sarcophagus they found. The inside is covered with fingernail scratches – implying that he was buried alive. So I guess that is Imhotep’s coffin. The Americans find the Book of the Dead in their chest, along with four sacred jars. Later on, Evey guesses that the key opens the book too. According to her research, it’s a sign that the nastiest curse ever was reserved just for their guy. The Ancient Egyptians never used it because they feared it so. So what does she do? Read from the book. Out loud.
Oh and Evey’s research also says that the curse victim would bring the Ten Plagues of Egypt if he was ever released – so they’re immediately attacked by a swarm of locusts. That was the eighth plague so I guess Imhotep isn’t exactly picky about the rota. And don’t ask why an Ancient Egyptian curse victim would bring a Christian plague unless you want your head hurt. The others also get plague number two in the form of scarabs – presumably replacing the lice in the Bible. Poor Mr Burns sadly suffers what usually happens to people who wear glasses in these kinds of movies.
When Evey gets separated from the others, she finds him missing his eyes and his tongue – while a resurrected Imhotep decides to put the moves on her. Rick luckily saves her – and you should really watch the subtitles caption Rick yelling at Imhotep as ‘Macho Roar’. Once everyone gets away, the Medji take the time to tell them exactly what a huge boo-boo they’ve made. Beni is still underground and bumps into Imhotep – who decides to take him on as his own personal Igor.
Back in the hotel in Cairo, Evey has now had the scepticism shaken out of her and she wants to find a way to stop Imhotep. Rick meanwhile just wants to get the hell out of dodge. After a brief conversation with a British pilot called Winston who will probably come in useful later in the movie, the survivors of Hamunaptra mull over their chances. Suddenly they all spit out their drinks – which have turned to blood. It’s not long before fire rains down from the sky too. This means that Imhotep is here too – and has just drained the life out of Mr Burns. He once again tries to put the moves on Evey – until he spots a cat in the room.
Evey takes everyone to the museum to see the curator – and finds Ardeth there! It turns out the curator is part of the Medji – which explains why he burnt the map earlier in the film. But even though they’ve failed in preventing Imhotep from getting out, they can at least give us some handy exposition. He fears cats because they are the guardians of the underworld, and he must regenerate by draining the life of everyone who opened the chest back in Hamunaptra. The reason he’s keen on Evey isn’t (just) because she’s Rachel Weisz; he wants to once again resurrect Anuck-Su-Namun – and he’ll need a human sacrifice to do so.
There is a plus side to this – besides inevitably getting Evey into some kinky sacrificial costume later on. This will buy them enough time to possibly kill Imhotep before he can cause some serious trouble. Apparently their definition of ‘serious trouble’ doesn’t include blocking the sun out, as in one the plagues. Henderson and Daniels guard Evey in her room, while Rick and Jonathan hunt down the Egyptologist. In his house, they find Beni, and guess he’s under new management. They’re also too late to save the Eyptologist – and Imhotep moves onto Henderson next. Turning himself into sand, he creeps through the keyhole of Evey’s room and gives her a wee kiss.
Rick fends him off with a cat, but sadly doesn’t bring any brain bleach for Evey. But she’s also started thinking that there might be a way to send Imhotep back to the realm of the dead. If the Book of the Dead can revive him, then maybe the Book of Amun-Ra she was searching for can kill him again. According to the museum, the gold book should be hidden in Hamunaptra under the statue of Horus. Too bad that Imhotep has enslaved the people of Cairo to chant his name as mindless zombies.
Jonathan rather awesomely pretends to be one of the brainwashed zombies as he goes outside to get the car ready. They get away in the car, but the zombies form a human road block. In the ensuing kafuffle, Daniels ends up separated from everyone – and thus prime to give Imhotep his last bit of regeneration. Evey decides to go with him willingly in exchange for sparing the others’ lives. And since the ritual has to be performed at Hamunaptra, that’s bought them some time. Well, before Imhotep orders his followers to kill them anyway.
The escape through the sewers but the curator goes down fighting. If you’re wondering how they’re going to get back to Hamunaptra, remember that British pilot called Winston? I told you he’d come in handy. And he doesn’t mind dying, so there’s a plus. An even bigger plus is that Ardeth is clearly having the time of his life flying on a plane for the first time.
Imhotep travels via sandstorm, taking Evey and Beni to right outside Hamunaptra. Showing that the Ancient Egyptians were aware of the concept of recycling, he then directs the tornado to take Winston’s plane down. Evey distracts Imhotep by giving him a big kiss. The plane goes down anyway and ¾ of the passengers are alive. And the one that died is the one who didn’t mind doing so. Now in the tomb, Imhotep realises the others have survived, and summons mummy servants to take care of them.
Beni meanwhile finds himself lost in a treasure room and naturally goes nuts. Evey wakes up chained to the sacrificial thingy, Anuck-Su-Namun in mummy form right next to her. As Rick and Jonathan start digging under the statue of Horus, Ardeth now gets to try out a gun for the first time on the mummies. They get the book but they have to hurry it up – as Imhotep has brought Anuck-Su-Namun to life. He just needs to sacrifice Evey to make it permanent. And Jonathan can’t open the book without the key – that Imhotep already has.
While Rick frees Evey and does battle with the mummies, Jonathan reads an inscription on the front of the gold book. It ends up summoning more mummies – though Evey claims he can control them if he finishes the inscription. But she can’t help him right away, because Anuck-Su-Namun is trying to kill her. I guess gals stick together in all ways. Nonetheless, Evey translates the last symbol for him and he commands the mummies to kill Anuck-Su-Namun.
Imhotep understandably gets very pissed and wrestles with Jonathan for a bit. But it turns out that losing his robes isn’t just an excuse to get Arnold Vosloo fully shirtless – Jonathan has nabbed the key from inside them! Evey reads the inscription to turn him mortal, and Rick does the necessary slicing and dicing. Too bad the rest of the tomb starts collapsing afterwards. And poor Beni gets trapped. Even worse – Jonathan loses the gold book!
Our three heroes make it out alive as Hamunaptra crumbles around them. Oh and Ardeth is alive and well. He was going to be killed off too but the filmmakers realised that would be a horrible decision. There are now two more things to wrap up – the sexual tension between Rick and Evey, and the matter of their future finances. The two kiss and the audience is shown that Beni had already loaded up one of the camels with treasure.
Roger Ebert gave the film three stars out of four, saying that it didn’t offer much in the way of plot or script – but it managed to be a whole lot of fun. And that’s really all you need. I don’t care about the umpteen inaccuracies with Ancient Egyptian history, or the questionable reasons Imhotep got cursed in the first place. This movie is just fun. The characters are fun, the story is fun, the action is fun and even the sets are fun to look at. This is a film that happily and openly says to check your brain at the door, sit down with as much popcorn as you want, and enjoy what they’re delivering. Obviously this was a huge success – spawning two theatrical sequels, a prequel in the form of The Scorpion King, several direct-to-video sequels to that, and an animated series of all things. But more importantly, there’s a ride at Universal Studios.
And of course, as with every 80s and 90s thing imaginable, there’s a reboot in the works. I don’t expect it to make much headway – because this is the kind of franchise that can’t really be rebooted. With properties such as superheroes or cult characters, it’s usually the concept that’s unique or memorable. And thus a reboot allows them to try and put a different spin on it. Here, the concept is nothing special. What makes it work is the dynamic of Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz and John Hannah as our leads, Oded Fehr as our badass side character, Arnold Vosloo as our intimidating villain and Patricia Velasquez as our eye candy. The third film only had two of those elements, which is a huge reason for why it was such a let-down. Stephen Sommers managed to strike gold here with this particular combination – but it’s not one that can be easily replicated.
No harm ever came from grading The Mummy eh?
*Story? It’s riddled with things that really get your mind thinking as to the logic, and there are a metric ton of research mistakes with Ancient Egypt. It holds together just barely. C
*Characters? They’re nothing special, but they’re still a great combination. Evey and Jonathan in particular are good examples of how to write side characters who don’t have battle prowess but can still be useful in the story. B
*Performances? Brendan Fraser doesn’t try to be Bruce Willis – he’s not afraid to be goofy or tongue-in-cheek at times. Rachel Weisz meanwhile is perfect as the clumsy librarian type. John Hannah is even more perfect. Arnold Vosloo has little dialogue, but an impressive presence. Oded Fehr was his usual badass self. A-
*Visuals? I’d rather look at this movie than Exodus: Gods & Kings anyway. The visuals were pretty creative, and the 1920s Egyptian setting lent itself to some nice sets. A-
*Special Effects? We have a lot of late 90s CGI. Sometimes it looks horribly dated – Imhotep and his sand faces for one – but it shockingly holds up surprisingly well for a pre-LOTR blockbuster. B-
*Anything Else? It’s a massive achievement that a story that’s hanging by a thread manages to be so darned fun. A
We move from Egypt to Australia – with the erotic drama Sirens next.