THE MUMMY was “built for speed” in this vigorous 1999 romp update of one of moviedoms legendary cursed-dead-people sagas. Not only does ‘Imhotep’ move ten times faster than the shuffling wrap-job of the 40s, the picture—a crowd-pleasing box-office smash—holds its amusement factor better than many of the “kitchen sink” action epics of its day. *
EVELYN: “Look, I… I may not be an explorer, or an adventurer, or a treasure-seeker, or a gunfighter, Mr. O’Connell, but I am proud of what I am.” RICK: “And what is that?” EVELYN: “I… am a librarian.”
Egypt, 1926. A clumsy librarian but a dogged Egyptologist, ‘Evelyn Carnahan’ (Rachel Weisz) has a treasure map and special box-to-unlock secrets of the buried tombs in ‘Hamunaptra’, the “City of The Dead” (realistically, your first clue in Don’t Go There). Since her fumbling brother (John Hannah) stole the items from adventurer ‘Rick O’Connell, late of the Foreign Legion (Brendan Fraser), it seems right, according to the Law of British Fair Play, that they work together with the roguish American hunk. Ruthless competitors and vengeful desert tribesmen will not hold them back. They will be staggered by an onslaught of gross insects, sandstorms and the awakened ‘Imhotep’ (Arnold Vosloo), once a high priest back in 1210 B.C., now on his feet and on a rampage to locate his long-lost lover ‘Anck su-namun’. Evelyn is in dire straits as resurrecting the ancient dame requires her sacrifice (who knew?), but Rick—good with guns, knife, sword, fists and one-liners—will just have sort things out (for tomb raiding, make-out possibilities and sequels).
Produced for $62,000,000+ by James Jacks and Sean Daniel—yes, a ‘Jacks Daniel’ serving—the project had been cooked over for seven years: Clive Barker, Joe Dante, John Sayles and George A. Romero were involved with various concepts and scripts at one time or another. The eventual screenplay and direction were the handiwork of Stephen Sommers, who drives the tongue-in-cheek, high-body-count, cool-gruesome gust of silliness along with few pauses for a breather. Whatever he did to whip it into shape, it worked like an age-old curse, grossing $415,933,000, the 6th-biggest treasure raid of the year. It made a star of 28-year-old Weisz, who endearingly plays the girl-in-peril shtick off Fraser, steadfast, handsome and handy, going Full Flynn Ahead as the hero. Vosloo makes a fearsome adversary from beyond-the-past and Patricia Velásquez raises up whatever might be thought dead with her costume and attitude as the mistress to… well…die for.
The effects are prime yucky fun–especially those grotesque and voracious scarab beetles, and the rollicking, jolts, and joking are given a proper surge of Pretend for Hell of It, in the old-time soundtrack boost from maestro Jerry Goldsmith.
The flurry of fury pulled an Oscar nomination for Best Sound. With Kevin J. O’Connor, Oded Fehr, Erick Avari, Jonathan Hyde and Bernard Fox. 124 minutes zoom by in style: a good example of a blockbuster done right.
“Rescue the damsel in distress, kill the bad guy, and save the world.”
* “Keep moving, keep shooting and make a lot of noise” as a recipe made for passable popcorn munching—and megabucks—in a host of the same-time-period escapist flicks of the day, but, years on, re-watching some of the big guns provokes more headache than heartiness. The prosecution calls Con Air, Armageddon, The Rock, Total Recall, Cliffhanger, Die Hard 2, Broken Arrow…
Just when the dust settled: Fraser, Weisz, Vosloo and Hannah followed up in 2001 with The Mummy Returns and finally Fraser and Hannah did The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor in 2008, with Maria Bello replacing Weisz. The 2002 spinoff/prequel The Scorpion King was successful enough that it bred four limping sequels, but it does claim the honor of launching a new bright action star in The Rock/Dwayne Johnson.
Sommers: “Whenever people find out that I directed The Mummy, it puts a big smile on their faces.”