The Mummy (1999) & The Mummy Returns (2001)

Posted by on Dec 30, 2011 in Let's Get Ready to Rumble | 0 comments


Disclaimer: Some tame sexuality and scary moments.

There was very little that I remember actually looking forward to in an elementary school day. Maybe gym. Probably art. Definitely recess. But like dinosaurs and the planets, most young boys (myself included) always looked forward to studying ancient Egypt (and most girls I knew enjoyed it, too).

As such, rambunctious youngsters will love these films from the very first shot, where we are swept through an Egyptian city recreated with computer imagery to look as it might have at its height, instead of the stale images we see now of a crumbling sphinx or pyramid. Immediately we’re tossed into a simple story of a love triangle and political overthrow-gone-awry in which the pharaoh is killed by his mistress, who has been secretly gallivanting with the high priest (and keeper of the dead). But, alas, these love-stricken villains are found out, and sentenced to death. Before the priest is buried alive, he vows to arise again and resurrect his love to rule the known world. As such, generations of Magi have been guarding his sarcophagus for 3,000 years to avoid awakening the mummy. And they’ve been successful … until now. (When you read that last line, did you hear the deep and raspy voice of the movie preview guy?)


The Mummy series is a combination of good and bad. One part Indiana Jones, one part B-horror (the plot is loosely based on the 1932 Boris Karloff flick of the same name). A portion was created by director Stephen Sommers (who also did Van Helsing and GI Joe: Rise of the Cobra), and a portion was re-written by John Sayles (Matewan and Eight Men Out). A good chunk of the visual effects by Industrial Light & Magic still hold solid a decade later, while another chunk are god-awful. On one hand you’ve got Oscar-winning Rachel Weisz, and on the other Brendan Fraser and The Rock.

The thing that overrides it all is that The Mummy works. It’s not Alfred Hitchcock or Steven Spielberg, but then again it’s not Ed Wood or M. Night Shymalan, either. It’s just good entertainment, and viewers must have agreed or else Universal wouldn’t have bothered with three sequels, two prequels, an animated series, or an amusement park ride.

The first two (which are the only ones worth watching) are set around the 1920s, as newfound artifacts bring hopeful treasure hunters and history lovers to the prophesized city of Hamunaptra. These are a clumsy bookworm named Evie (Weisz), her greedy comic relief brother Jonathan (John Hannah), and “the muscle” Rick O’Connell (Fraser). But, as we should well know after seeing Indiana Jones’s adventures, they aren’t the only ones after the treasure. And, together, the hunters resurrect the mummy Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo), who unleashes the 10 plagues as a countdown to his rule over humanity.

So like any good and mindless action mummymovie, the heroes’ premise is simple: save the damsel, kill the bad guy, save the world, and get the treasure/fame. And also like any good and mindless action movie, the action comes in the form of gunfights, fist fights, car chases, run-ins (with scary monsters), and creep-outs (involving bugs/snakes). The Mummy’s filmmakers know this formula and replicate it well, even going ahead and infusing some laughs every so often, just to balance out the scares. The effects are a big part of the movies’ appeal, as we see enemies like the titular mummy transform from decayed sarcophagus to human flesh to sand tornado and back again.

According to rumor, the very day after The Mummy hit the box office and exploded, Universal called up Stephen Sommers and said, “We need another one.” The execution of said “another one” was just as rushed and half-realized as the studio head’s demand, though in his defense the movie does seem the sort that could just as well be a Saturday morning serial.

The Mummy Returns relies on the exact same plot and laughs as its predecessor, and merely adds characters that will provide more action, more conflict (fights), and more effects – the most corny of whom is Dwayne Johnson, who moviegoers at the time knew only as his wrestling persona “The Rock.” The inane concept this time is that two (that’s right, TWO) mummies arise: Imhotep and The Scorpion King (The Rock), both of which made vows to return and to conquer the world. Fraser and Weisz are back, with the bumbling brother and mysterious Magi (Oded Fehr), but now they’ve got rich stories of reincarnation and a curious little son (Freddie Boath) in tow, as well.

There are even more monsters (an army of dog demons and pygmy monkeys), even more comic relief (Izzy, the hot air balloon guy, and the bumbling “zis is cursed” treasure hunters), and way more effects that include the aforementioned Scorpion King, who is distractingly awful and acts as a visual segue into the terrible third installment and even worse Scorpion King prequels. The only welcomed addition is that of the child, who adds even more appeal for young viewers to empathize with (at about 10, he’s probably the film’s perfect demographic). And he acts surprisingly as I expect a child his age would.

So there’s no question that this is as mindless as they come. But the fights and visual effects are frequent and top-notch, plus you get a little history (some of which is actually accurate), a handful of scares, and Brendan Fraser. What’s wrong with that? (Other than Brendan Fraser, I mean.)

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