The Mummy is a 1999 action-adventure film that is a bit unpredictable and boasts solid performances and technicality. It stands well on its own among the ranks of archaeological and treasure hunting films. The Mummy is a good choice for those looking for an adventure film steeped in historical fiction.
The film’s story centers on Evelyn Carnaham and her brother Jonathan. Evelyn and Jonathan live in Egypt where Evelyn is an Egyptologist and librarian. Jonathan is more of an explorer and gambler. The two are associated with an antiquities museum and, when they come upon a map of Hamunaptra, the ancient Egyptian city of the dead that is believed to be the site of ancient Egypt’s wealth, they enlist the help Rick O’Connell, a former member of the French Foreign Legion who has been to the city’s ruins. During the ancient Egyptian kingdom of Pharaoh Seti I, the Pharaoh was killed by his mistress and her lover and priest, Imhotep, in an act of treachery. The assassination resulted in a curse being put upon Imhotep. However, the modern-day adventurers realize that his curse may be a reality and not an archaic embellishment of lore.
The Mummy includes a prologue that succinctly provides viewers with the necessary exposition concerning the duplicity and context of Imhotep. This sets the stage for the introduction of the modern-day characters and their impending adventure.
At the macro-level, The Mummy’s structure is fairly typical of this type of film. Exposition is provided, a group of people begin searching for the treasure or site, which is protected by contemporary guardians, and conflict and chaos ensues. Regardless of this framework, The Mummy is not wholly predictable, which keeps the film entertaining and fresh. There is one scene in the third act when a character does not immediately do what he is supposed to do. Because of the circumstances, this came off as odd and jolting. It should have been reworked. It is clear what the filmmakers were going for with this, but it seemed stilted and flat. This portion notwithstanding, the pacing and story have great progression.
As is expected, the tonal themes in The Mummy consist of adventure, treasure hunting, archaeology, and historical fiction. In general, the film is decidedly more oriented toward treasure hunting than the academic or archaeological angle of other film in the genre, namely the Indiana Jones series. This helps The Mummy establish its own feel and prevents it from being derivative. Yes, Evelyn is an academic, but in general, the movie feels more like a treasure hunt.
Not surprisingly, there are some head-shaking moments when characters do stupid things. It would have been nice if The Mummy could have broken from this stereotypical behavior, as that would have set it apart even more, but that was not the case.
The performances from the leading and supporting characters are great. Rachel Weisz does an excellent job portraying the bookish and innocent Evelyn Carnaham. Evelyn is a very likable character, though she mentions the “Bembridge scholars” one too many times. This does play into her character, but one would not want this line to become hackneyed in a single film. This piece of dialogue could have been omitted once or twice to prevent oversaturation.
Brendan Fraser’s Rick O’Connell is initially abrasive and gruff, but he becomes more and more amiable as the story develops. Fraser has some pretty good reactions and lines regarding various occurrences throughout the expedition. Yet it was weird when O’Connell used a companion’s face to strike a match. Clearly, this was intended for comedic purposes, but the “joke” missed its mark and should have been left on the cutting room floor. Fortunately, Weisz and Fraser have great on-screen chemistry and the two were my favorite characters in the film.
The supporting cast is strong. John Hannah’s Jonathan Carnaham is well acted. Hannah convincingly depicts Jonathan’s naïveté and opportunism. He, along with the other American adventures portrayed by Stephen Dunham, Corey Johnson, and Tuc Watkins create a great balance.
In terms of the antagonist, Arnold Vosloo gives a good performance as Imhotep. Vosloo does an expert job at conveying Imhotep’s power and seeming invulnerability. It should be noted that there are a few characters that are a bit cookie cutter and too on the nose. Although this is worth mentioning, it is not a “movie breaking” critique.
The cinematography and production design are strengths of the film. The cinematography captures the characters’ reactions to their respective situations. This blends well with the production design and CGI. For the most part, the CGI holds up surprisingly well. There are some creative and interesting aspect regarding the Mummy itself and they are effectively depicted with the special effects. This speaks to the creative, albeit frightening, art direction and production design.
The iconic scarab sequence still looks great. Oddly enough, in another scene with a horde of scarabs, it is very weird that the insects seemed to only run forward, and not to the side to pursue their targets. If this was supposed to be intentional, it needed better explanation. If not, it was conspicuous enough that it took me out the film for a few moments.
Stephen Sommers does a good job in his direction of The Mummy. The manner in which Sommers blends the intriguing adventure with (for the most part) enjoyable characters, strong performances, impressive production design and CGI, and a fitting theme song is admirable. The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Sound, evidencing its technical aspects. Further, Sommers helps make The Mummy a unique film that can stand on its own in light of other films in the genre.
In the end, The Mummy is a great action-adventure film. It is definitely a movie to watch when you want to give your brain a rest and enjoy a good silver screen adventure. If you are in the mood for an adventure movie with historical fiction and treasure hunting, a popcorn flick, a movie set in Egypt, or simply an alternative to other historical adventure movies, then you will be entertained by The Mummy.
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Production: Universal Pictures; Alphaville Films
Director: Stephen Sommers
Producer: Sean Daniel; James Jacks
Screenwriter: Stephen Sommers (screen story and screenplay); Lloyd Fonvielle (screen story); Kevin Jarre (screen story); John L. Balderston (1932 screenplay); Nina Wilcox Putnam (story); Richard Schayer (story)
Director of Photography: Adrian Biddle
Editor: Bob Ducsay
Art Direction: Giles Masters; Tony Reading; Clifford Robinson; Peter Russell
Set Decoration: Peter Howitt
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Budget: ca. $80,000,000
Release Date: May 7, 1999 (USA)
Cinematographic Process: Panavision; VistaVision
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Copyright Holder: Universal Studios
Cast: Brendan Fraser; Rachel Weisz; John Hannah; Arnold Vosloo; Kivin J. O’Connor; Jonathan Hyde; Oded Fehr; Erick Avari; Stephen Dunham; Corey Johnson; Tuc Watkins; Omid Djalili; Aharon Ipalé; Bernard Fox; Patricia Velasquez
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Rating: PG-13; Descriptors: Pervasive adventure violence and some partial nudity.
Running Time: 2 hours and 5 minutes (125 mins.); 1 hour and 55 minutes (115 mins. (UK cut)