Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Mummy (1999)

The Mummy (1999)

In the summer of 'The Phantom Menace', there were some other excellent 'event' films playing that managed to dampen the pain of the punch to the solar plexus that was George Lucas' highly anticipated prequel. 'The Matrix', of course, is the obvious one that comes to mind. Stephen Sommers' 'The Mummy' is another that still holds up today as a fun adventure film that hasn't been eclipsed by newer effects extravaganzas or tarnished by its inferior sequels (though I've only seen 'The Mummy Returns' once and remember it being an overblown sequel, I'll be checking it out again soon just to make sure I was right the first time).

'The Mummy' begins with a prologue that introduces us to Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo), high priest of the Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Seti I, who has an illicit affair with the Pharaoh's queen Anck Su Namun (naked & painted Patricia Velasquez). The two kill the Pharaoh but are caught, and Imhotep is mummified alive in the most horrific, and hitherto unused, punishment known to the Egyptians. Several millennia later, in the 1930s, Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser) discovers the location of the ancient Egyptian city of Hamunaptra, which coincidentally is where Imhotep was entombed. Librarian / archaeologist Evey Carnahan (Rachel Weisz) and her fortune seeking brother Jonathan (John Hannah) hire him as a guide to take them there. The journey is fraught with danger as they are attacked by a mysterious group who are dedicated to keeping people out of Hamunaptra; it seems that Imhotep's punishment was a curse so horrific that if he were ever to be awakened from his tomb he would have unspeakable powers (yeah I know, I'd love to be punished like that too), and so the guardians of Hamunaptra keep strangers out to prevent a catastrophe.

Naturally, after our heroes get to Hamunaptra they awaken Imhotep, aka 'The Mummy', who begins to acquire powers at an alarming rate that will allow him to take over the world if left unchecked! It's left to our heroes to use their wits, courage, and physical prowess to bring the mad mummy priest's grand plans crashing down!

Alright so it's a fairly cheesy film, that goes without saying. But it isn't one that has lofty ambitions for artistic greatness, it's a film that's meant to be a fun adventure, and considering what it's aiming for it succeeds brilliantly. The story itself is not too bad and holds together well in its own sketchy way. It has a very balanced structure that sets up its world and characters well in the first act, builds up to the unleashing of the Mummy (an event that happens around halfway into the film), and continues to raise the stakes until the action filled finale. It's worth noting that this isn't a horror film but more a light adventure, and there are no scares present despite the subject matter. This fact is evident in the visual approach to the Mummy and the other creatures, which are computer generated and are portrayed in a slightly wacky style.

Speaking of the CGI, it hasn't aged all that well, but it isn't bad and sits comfortably with the goofy tone of the film. The overall production values are satisfying even if they are not particularly impressive. There's plenty of action and adventuring throughout and it's all well handled by director Stephen Sommers, with the scenes being a blend of action and comedy where the characters' personalities contribute immensely to the proceedings. And while this is an effects heavy film, compared to his subsequent films Sommers' use of effects here seems downright restrained (which is a good thing, as Van Helsing proved).

The script is basically exposition interspersed with jokes, and while the characterization is pretty sketchy the cast more than makes up for it. These guys know what kind of movie they're in, and they play their roles in the requisite exaggerated manner. They're all stereotypes without depth, and they play it up for all it's worth. Brendan Fraser is hardly one's idea of action man material, but he's convincing in this, goofy grin and all; sure, the fight scenes between him and a bunch of mummies look bizarre and it's obvious that he's just swinging wildly against thin air, but it all adds to the film's charm. And Rachel Weisz is just plain adorable as the effervescent and tenacious Evie. John Hannah rounds out the central trio with his comical turn as the avaricious brother. Arnold Vosloo doesn't do much as the Mummy apart from glaring and smirking, and most of the time he's covered in special effects anyway, but the guy still makes an impression. Oded Fehr makes a memorable appearance as the leader of the protectors of Hamunaptra, and his character is a badass despite being a complete failure in the context of the story (seriously, the character contributes virtually nothing apart from one scene). And then there's Sommers' regular Kevin J O'Connor as the annoying villainous sidekick. He has a few funny moments, but I just can't stand the guy and thus I thoroughly enjoyed his final scene in which he gets his comeuppance!

I love this movie; I've seen it many times now and never grow tired of it. And while I may be a little biased here, I think that objectively it is well made and succeeds as being a modernized old fashioned fun adventure. It has a decent story, an epic scope coupled with a light hearted tone, crowd pleasing and well executed action sequences, and a terrific cast that holds everything together. And the rousing score by Jerry Goldsmith is the icing on the cake! 'The Mummy' is, simply put, a wonderful piece of entertainment.

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