I always wondered over the years if The Mummy was considered a pure horror film. The 1932 classic starring Boris Karloff was considered horror. Even my local library identifies the 1999 blockbuster horror as well. I was torn for years. While this film has plenty of death and horror-adjacent scenes, 1999’s The Mummy feels more like a romantic action-adventure. The breathtaking cinematography, while well crafted, suggests less of a horror aesthetic, though there are few moments set in the dark of night. The Mummy‘s action-adventure feel makes it bigger in scale than its source material, delivering an effective remake that builds on the original and has something new to say.
The film’s opening gives an intimate exploration of Imhotep’s illicit affair with Anck-Su-namun, a relationship that served as the backstory of the 1932 classic. High Priest Imhotep, a man from Thebes, Egypt, falls in love with Anck-Su-namun, the mistress of Pharaoh Seti, and things don’t go as planned. Their love affair is exposed, and the pair kill Seti to save face. Imhotep flees while Anck-Su-namun kills herself, confident that Imhotep can revive her. Unfortunately, Seti’s bodyguards interrupt Imhotep’s resurrection ritual, and the High Priest is buried alive with flesh-eating scarab beetles.
That would have made a great story for Dateline.
Fast forward to the mid-1920s, and we meet Rick O Connell, a soldier in the French Foreign Legion. His comrades aren’t victorious in a battle as Rick is captured and neatly hanged. He narrowly escapes death thanks to a librarian and Egypt enthusiast, Evelyn Carnahan, who is looking for the lost city of Hamunaptra. It turns out Rick caught a glimpse of something staring back at him in the sand during the battle earlier. Rick ends up being a guide to Evelyn and her bumbling and comical brother Jonathan. They run into some trigger-happy Americans who are also looking for the lost city.
They find more than they bargained for after encountering the scarab beetles. These beetles burrow into your skin, making their way to your brain, devouring it out till there is nothing left. It is terrifying to watch. Later, one of the crew finds the book of the Dead and reads from it. Because…why not? What a great idea.
His actions awaken Imhotep, who must kill to regain his human form so he can finally finish his mission of resurrecting his lost lover. His sandlike disfigured form is chilling to behold, along with his guttural growl of a voice that sends chills down the spine. His ability to over-extend his jaw makes my heart stop. Imhotep is ruthless as in one scene, he takes someone’s eyes and tongue to see and speak again. He can also summon the ten plagues of Egypt and morph into a monstrous wave of sand.
Rick, Evelyn, Jonathan, and Ardeth Bay must race against time to stop Imhotep once and for all. It is a thrilling adventure full of action, scares, and dangerous situations culminating in a jaw-dropping array of 90’s special effects at its best. I have to credit Industrial Lights and Magic for conjuring up the special effects for the film. This same company was responsible for making movie magic behind the Star Wars Saga and many other blockbusters. I love the work that went into blending live-action and computer imagery with Imhotep as he begins to look partly human but part mummy. The effect is seamless even when he eats a beetle with his mummified mouth.
I must commend this amazing cast. Brendan Fraser is a national treasure. The heroic smolder in every frame is pure magic as he takes on the moniker of a quasi-Indiana Jones leading man. Now that I think about it, Indy’s adventures take place in the 1930s. The idea that those two MAYBE COULD HAVE crossed paths is epic and exciting.
Rachel Weisz is stunning as the persistent lady of literature as she vows to uncover history. John Hannah hits it out of the park with his comedic chops. You might recognize Jonathan Hyde from Anaconda and Jumanji as the arrogant Egyptologist. The late Stephen Dunham plays the coolest American in the film, and he amazingly looks like Jared Padalecki from Supernatural. For any Desperate Housewives fans out there, Tuc Watkins makes an appearance. Kevin O Connor is just brilliant as the cowardly yet cunning and funny Beni. He should have stayed on the right side of the river.
Erick Avari is the type of actor who has been in almost anything. He is just that good. Oded Fehr’s Ardeth Bay was probably the most badass person when I was a kid. The way he played a black-clad warrior bent on justice was perfection all around. All praise to Arnold Vosloo. He will always be one of the most iconic villains in the 90s in my book.
Director Stephen Sommers took a big leap with this project, and it landed perfectly. He created an entertaining and crowd-pleasing extravaganza that takes something as iconic as The Mummy and authentically reinvents it while paying homage to the original. He also helped shed light on what computer-generated effects can be in cinema. Luckily Jurassic Park fared well with audiences, and Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and The Matrix cemented that idea.
Then again, thanks to such advancements, I have had several sleepless nights now that CGI can conjure up things practical effects can’t achieve 100%.
How’s that for goosebumps.