The Mummy (1999) – reviewed by George

This really good film is a mashup – basically an adventure picture, but with strong elements of horror and some comedy mixed in. The stars are Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, and Arnold Vosloo, and the director is  Stephen Sommers. The Screenplay is by Stephen Sommers, from a Story by Stephen Sommers and Lloyd Fanveille & Kevin Jarre. The look of the film is so good that I’m also recognizing the Production Designer Allan Cameron and the Visual Effects Producer Jennifer Bell.
The prologue, set in 1290 BC in Thebes, the City of the Living, introduces Pharaoh Seti the First (Aharon Ipale), his mistress Anck-su-namun (Patricia Velasquez), and his High Priest Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo). The mistress and the High Priest are in love, and choose to let their freak flag fly, despite the danger. And the danger is pretty serious: if caught they would be sent to the City of the Dead, Hamunaptra. Of course Seti catches them (or else we have no movie), and they kill him. However, they are still caught by Seti’s guards. She pleads with him to escape, for only he can resurrect her; he refuses, but she kills herself anyway, rather than face the inventive Egyptian punishment. At this point he could split, but he really wants to perform the resurrection, and so he and his Lower Priests break into her crypt, steal her body, and take it to Hamunaptra anyway, where Imhotep can work his magic with the aid of The Book of the Dead, which he has managed to lift from its holy resting place. He succeeds in recalling her soul into her body, but is stopped by Seti’s Palace Guards before he can complete the ritual. His priests are mummified alive, and he is wrapped and put in a sarcophagus, then covered with wiggling, chittering scarab beetles, and the sarcophagus is sealed, so that he can live forever, powerless and in pain.
Well, what one generation calls “Forever”, the people who come after them (3200 years after them) give quite a different name.
In 1923, in Hamunaptra, Legionnaires, including Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser) and the picture’s rat-coward Beni Gabor (Kevin J. O’Connor), battle the Magi (pronounced Muh-guy), the descendants of Pharoah’s sacred bodyguards, who have always kept watch. When the Magi win, the man in charge, Ardeth Bay (Oded Fehr), says, “The Creature remains undiscovered.”
Cairo, three years later: Evelyn Carnahan (Rachel Weisz) is working for Dr. Bey (Erick Avari) in his library, which is large. In the film’s only unfunny comic bit, she knocks over one bookcase, which then hits the next, and then the next, etc., etc. until all the bookcases in the room have been overturned. Why were they arranged so this could happen? Why not? Apparently a movie-set full of people thought it was funny. At any rate, in quick succession, she is hailed by her brother Jonathan (John Hannah) who has stolen an ancient artifact from a man in a bar. Evelyn thinks it is a key of some sort, so they go out to find the man. It is Rick, and he has been arrested and is in Cairo Prison awaiting hanging. Evelyn tells the Warden of the prison, Gad Hassan (Omid Djalili), that only Rick knows where Hamunaptra is, so the hanging (though already well underway) is stopped.
We end up with two opposing groups after the treasure, or in Evelyn’s case The Golden Book of Amun-Ra. One group consists of just Rick, Evelyn, Jonathan, and Warden Hassan, and the other group: three American adventurers, Henderson (Stephen Dunham), Burns (Tuc Watkins), and Daniels (Corey Johnson), plus an Egyptologist Dr. Chamberlain  (Jonathan Hyde), and our old friend Beni the Rat. The American group has lots of workmen and lots of supplies. In Hamunaptra the groups don’t work together, it’s a race to the treasure. Unwittingly the mummy of Imhotep is freed, and he wants Evelyn so he can resurrect Anck-su-namun.
Sommers really captures the thrill of Egyptology, and the DVD has a bonus feature called “Egyptology” which is a great guide to the gods and places in the story (and those not in the story).
The CGI is particularly good, involving sandstorms, the decomposing mummy (who in one scene has a scarab crawl through a hole in his cheek – he eats the scarab), and all those other skeletal mummies that Rick has to fight.
There are a lot of guys from ILM who get interviewed in the Special Feature “Building a Better Mummy”, like John Andrew Berton, Jr., Alex Laurant, Ben Snow, Dennis Turner, (my sincere apologies to those not listed), but this quote from Michael Bauer explaining the use of motion capture, was one I had to give you here: “It’s the basis for which the animation is built. It gives the audience the feel that the actor himself is the creature, because you’re transforming his movement into our C.G. environment.” And yet the motion-capture artist is still (remember this was 1999) regarded as not acting the part. Someday we may see an academy nomination for Andy Serkis, or we may not be alive when some actor, who is currently 4 years old, finally is recognized.

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