Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Mummy (1999, Movie Review) (90’s Horror Marathon: Part 9 of 9)

     Okay, here we go, the final film in my 90’s horror review marathon, and I’ve saved a special one for last, in fact, you could say this film is my personal favorite product from this era. At this time, original concepts have started to run on fumes, and remakes of classic Horror movies started to take shape. The first big one to note was the 1992 film “Bram Stoker's Dracula”, which was successful with critics, but a forgettable experience for the common audience. There was also “Mary Shelley's Frankenstein” in 1994, and that one did even less for both mainstream viewers and critics alike. Then in 1999 came the big one, the rare horror remake that made big bucks at the box-office, and broke out from under its predecessor’s shadow. I’m naturally referring to “The Mummy”, and boy howdy ... I love this film. When this movie first came out, I was about eight years old, and had zero experience with anything horror related. Back then, I was a wimp, and I ran out of more theater screenings then I can recap. Keep in mind, I’m refereeing to movies that weren’t even horror related. I couldn’t even look at scary movie posters without getting nightmares. Now days I watch a variety of scary films ranging from the really famous movies like “The Exorcist”, to personal favorites like “Poltergeist”, and I firmly believe it all started in 1999, when I watched “The Mummy”, and concurred my fear of scary films. I distinctly remember being scared while watching this movie, but I was also having fun, and didn’t run away like I usually did. So, not only is “The Mummy” a favorite of mine, it’s also an important benchmark in my own small history of movie going experiences.

    Much like how “The Silence of the Lambs” was a horror that dived into the crime thriller genera, “The Mummy” is a horror that dives into the Action adventure category, which I’m a huge fan of. Director Stephen Sommers intended to make an exciting period adventure in the style of the “Indiana Jones” series. The big inspiration being “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”, as “The Mummy” equally blends high stake adventure with supernatural scares. The movie begins in ancient Egypt, where the powerful high priest Imhotep is cursed and mummified alive after an affair with the Pharaoh’s mistress. It’s a cryptic opening that scared the hell out of me as a child, and it gets things started on a strong note. Fast forward to 1923, where we meet an Egyptian Librarian named Evelyn, who’s inspired to find a famous golden book that she believes is hidden in a mysterious lost city. She teams up with an American adventurer named Rick O’Connell who can lead her and the group, as he in fact escaped the dreaded city of the dead years earlier. Upon arriving, they accidently resurrect the evil priest Imhotep from his resting place. Full of power and hatred, he seeks to revive his long lost love by using Evie as a human sacrifice. Now it’s a race against time for our hero’s to find a way to slay this immortal monster, and save the land of Egypt before a new dark age takes shape.

    Naturally it’s the villain that always steals the show in horror films, and Arnold Vosloo is great as the mummy Imhotep. Something about his face and presence fits the role perfectly. While obviously not as iconic as Boris Karloff from the 1932 original, this new portrayal of the character has its own original merits, and is a very memorable movie villain from the new millennium. Personally, I like this portrayal of the mummy far more than any of the previous films, not because of the performance, but because of the concept. One of the film’s most intelligent ideas was taking this mummy out of its bandages and through some innovative CGI, present Imhotep as a decomposing skeleton. The brilliance of this concept is that he has to kill people in order to regain his human form, and over the progress of the film, we’re treated to the evolution of him going from corps to flesh. It’s a great concept because his appearance changes with every encounter, and it gives us a cool variety of designs. It’s also a nice twist that he becomes less grotesque over time, unlike “The Fly” or other horror films in which the monster gets uglier. Keep in mind, motion capture performance were still new for the time, and this portrayal of the mummy was a big influence on motion captured creatures to come like Gollum from “The Lord of the Rings” films, or Davy Jones from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series.

    Another ace up this movies sleeve is actually the cast, who are admittedly stock, but unavoidably likable, and even memorable in their own way. Brendan Fraser is one of those actors who usually gets a bad rap, but I like him in this film as our lead hero Rick O’Connell. He’s got plenty of charm, and can be genuinely cool during the action. Even the comedic side character named Jonathan can be charismatic at times. There’s also a nasty little bad guy named Beni, who is to the mummy what Renfield was to Dracula. There’s a secret society called the Medjai who protect the mummy’s resting place, who definitely bring to mind the protectors of the Holy Grail from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”, but in a good way. The leader of the Madjai is called Ardeth Bay, and he’s awesome, arguably one of my favorite characters from the series. Interesting to note that back in the 1932 version of “The Mummy”, our villain used the name Ardeth Bay as an alias.

    But my favorite character by far is the beautiful and intelligent Egyptologist named Evie, played by Rachel Weisz. This is the role that’s most associated Rachel Weisz, despite winning academy awards for performances in other films like “The Constant Gardener”. Regardless, Rachel Weisz is just so naturally lovable in this role, and I enjoy every second she’s on screen. The character Evie is like a little child that gets excited on Christmas, but she’s also adventurous and very useful with her knowledge of Egypt and its history. Also, I love that she’s more than just an attractive damsel stereotype. Even when she does get captured it’s a pivotal part of the story, because the villain needs to use her body to bring his love back from the dead. Of course Evie made it at #1 on my top 10 Damsels list, but I’d honestly go further and say she’s one of my personal favorite leading female characters of all time. With her cute smile, helpful knowledge, charming, lovable and spunky personality, Evie raises the bar for clichéd damsel’s and is a great addition to the film. 

      Another talent that needs to be acknowledged is the late Jerry Goldsmith, who composed the music for this film. He is personally my favorite movie music composer who ever lived and his track for “The Mummy” is another one of his best accomplishments. Now Jerry Goldsmith is no stranger to composing music for horror films, he scored the music for my personal favorite horror movie “Poltergeist”, and won an academy award for the score he composed in the 1976 classic “The Oman”. With “The Mummy” he hits all the right notes again with the eerie music, which creates a lot of atmosphere and a foreboding mood. But he’s also given more variety with this film, as he also hits it out of the park with the adventure track, the romantic track, and especially his track for the action scenes which get me hyped every time. There’s also an instrumental baled that plays during the end credits, and it’s absolutely breathtaking to listen to.

     Like the soundtrack, this film combines so many things that I love into one movie experience. It’s a film that combines horror, action, Sci-Fi, adventure and comedy into one perfect package, and the tone of the film is consistent all around giving each genera trope a chance to shine. The comedy for the most part works great, even with something as over the top as the library book shelves falling over domino style. The subtle self-referential hummer also works great, and leads to some quotable lines. The Egypt setting is also a very intriguing one, with a lot of back story and mythos to explore. I love all the little details, the objects, the hieroglyphics, and it just creates a unique world that’s fun to explore. There’s also a sub-plot in which the Mummy unleashes the ten plagues of Egypt, which leads to some awesome spectacles. There’s the river of blood, the sun eclipse, fire falling from the heavens, a swarm of locusts and an army of lepers that become the mummy’s mindless servants. This was also the first time I’d ever seen the concept of a cursed book utilized on film, even though it has been done to death with past movies like “The Evil Dead”. Another great addition to the film are the Scarab Beetle’s, really nasty insects that come in swarms. The best parts are when the Scarab’s come to life one at a time, and actually inter a person’s body. The effect of the insects crawling under the skin is admittedly dated, but it’s still a nasty concept.

      Now for all the fun and adventure aspects of the film, it’s still not without some genuinely scary material. There's lots of little scenes which always gave me chills, like this one single shot of the mummy’s motionless corpse in its coffin before he even comes to life. There’s another scene in the opening in which our hero see’s a statue of an Egyptian God, and while he looks at the thing we hear this quiet yet ominous voice whispering things, and it’s a subtly effective touch. It actually reminds me of the opening from “The Exorcist” in which the priest is on an archaeological dig and discovers the cryptic statue of Pazuzu. There’s also a lot of silly jump scares, some of which are actually effective and startling. The scariest moment of all which gave me nightmares as a child is this one scene in which one of the explorers in the pyramid loses his glasses, and stagers around a dark corridor, unaware that the mummy is closing in for a kill. This scene was shot and executed beautifully, with lots of atmosphere, built up tension, and creepy sound effects. We don’t even see the creature in full detail, just the outline of his shadow, and that’s all we need to make this a relatively frightening scene.

      Now admittedly the films eerie tone and scary moments are dropped once we get to the third act of the film. This is when it becomes a strait up summer action flick with lots of special effects and thrilling action scenes. Now special effects were all very new for me at the time, so seeing the Mummy create a giant sand storm monster in his own image was both original, and a big eye-popping treat. The climacteric rescue of Evie from Imhotep is outstanding, and gives our hero’s a great variety of new obstacles to battle without going to over board. This climax actually gives us the best of both worlds, as we see both old school and new material at once. First we have a hero’s battling classic mummy’s all raped in bandages, staggering around and with traditional monster make-up. Then they battle the skeleton warriors, which are more agile, great feats of computer graphics, and the whole scene is a nice homage to Ray Harryhausen’s skeleton soldiers from “Jason and the Argonauts”.

      Just like “Jurassic Park” and “Back to the Future”, “The Mummy” has become a staple for Universal Studios, and one of its most marketed products. I’ll never forget going to Universals theme park in Florida and ridding the indoor Mummy rollercoaster called “The Mummy’s Revenge”, which is personally one of my favorite theme park rides of all time, and arguably the best to ever be adapted from a film. It should be noted that “The Mummy” even received an Academy Award nomination for best Sound Design, which is no small accomplishment for a film of this sort. This is also a rare case in which the remake is slightly better known than the original. If you were to ask common movie goers today what they think of “The Mummy”, they’d probably think of the 1999 version first, and may not even realize that it was a remake. That situation would never happen to DraculaFrankenstein or the Wolf Man, even though they’ve had several remakes over the years. That’s not to say that the original 1932 classic is forgotten, or inferior, it’s just less popular by comparison. The remake also launched a successful blockbuster series beginning with a direct sequel titled “The Mummy Returns”, which was a half way decent sequel, not as tightly constructed as the first, but still entertaining. Then there was “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor”, which sunk to new lows and killed the series for good. There was also a spin off movie titled “The Scorpion King”, which also had a string of direct to video sequels. There was even an animated Mummy TV series based on the film, which aired on Kids WB.

      I think most critics would say that “The Mummy” is by no means some kind of meaningful cinematic achievement, but they’d also say it was undeniably an entertaining experience. It has a tight, well balanced screenplay, memorable characters, some decent scary material, and no shortage of fun. Plus, I feel that this film paved the way for modern adventure films. Just like how the 90’s was a transition period, I always look at “The Mummy” as the big film that ended the 90’s and began the 2000’s. Personally, I think this film as aged beautifully, dated in parts to be sure, but it still holds up as one of my all around favorite entertainment movies. It’s slick and modern, but also has this enchanting old-fashioned innocence that makes it perfect Saturday afternoon fodder. Now for my overall rating, I know this is a silly B monster movie, so I’m only judging it by that scale and not in comparison to any real film epics. With that said ...

                              I give the 1999 movie “The Mummy” a perfect 5 stars out of 5. 

                                                                   Happy Halloween!

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