When doing reviews of certain movies that are remakes, I like to do Old vs. New. A true compare and contrast with points for each as to why one is better than the other. I blame Nostalgia Critic for setting me on that kind of track and he should relish the blame. This time, however, I felt that I should do each review separately so I could give proper credit and praise to the founding material which is over 80 years old and be able to highlight all the nods, homages, and little tells I noticed in the remake that show a certain respect or love for the original. In this case The Mummy, that was released in 1999, really feels like a spiritual successor to the original with quite a few callbacks to the source. I praised the original yesterday and in it’s own context and against films of its time it is a fantastic film. The media and medium has evolved over the years that we feel that we need more to our films, better and worse, and that brings us to this remake of The Mummy.
Director Stephen Sommers has an interesting track record when it comes to his films. If I tell you he did the live action Jungle Book with Jason Scott Lee, you might barely remember that. If I tell you he directed and wrote Catch Me If You Can, you will probably think of the Leonardo DiCaprio movie – and sadly be wrong. If I mention Deep Rising (a review coming later this month) you start to get an idea. If I say Van Helsing, your eyes might start rolling. If I say GI Joe: Rise of Cobra – you will start screaming something about the physics of ice in water. The man has a very specific tongue in cheek style when it comes to his films. He doesn’t seem to take anything too seriously, which can be to his detriment, but also seems to have a very specific love for the films he makes even if it appears careless. He is driven by the imagination of a fourteen year old boy and has budgets in the tens of millions of dollars to play with it. Where Zack Snyder has similar issues in addition to a healthy dose of misogyny, Sommers steers clear of it and just keeps the movies fun and the women in them strong and true to their nature. I can tell that Sommers not just liked, but loved the Universal Monsters as a kid. I really imagine him as the leader of the Monster Squad in his neighborhood.
This love probably explains his writing credit as both Screen Story & Screenplay. The other two writing credits, not including the original 1932 credits that are referenced, go to Lloyd Fonvielle ( Cherry 2000) and Kevin Jarre (Tombstone, Glory, Rambo: First Blood Part II). When you look at the film it’s hard to tell where the person who gave us Tombstone (the Kurt Russell version) had a hand in it much less Fonvielle with his limited work. Their powers combined, however, not only captured the essence of the original; but added a world level threat to the epic feel of the movie. Also where the 1932 film focused on the Imhotep/Anck Su Namun (different spelling this time) love story, this one also brings back the sense of adventure that captured the world in the modern age of exploration. ADVENTURE really should be capitalized as that is the spirit of the film as much as anything else. Your child brain imagines going on these expeditions, discovering lost tombs, buried treasures, and uncovering mysteries of the past in a true swashbuckling manner.
The movie significantly expands the cast of characters as its net of horror and story grew wider as well. We have Brendan Fraser as our Adventurer and treasure seeker Rick O’Connell. Rachel Weisz is our heroine but far from a damsel in distress, as Evie Carnahan. John Hannah (Spartacus) is our Shaggy and Scooby Doo in this mystery as Evie’s brother Jonathan. I’d be willing to bet their last name is a play on Lord Carnarvon, the man who backed Howard Carters expedition in 1922. This time the creature, still named Imhotep, is played by Arnold Vosloo – with only a bit more historical accuracy as to whom Imhotep was. Rather than cast Anck Su Namun as the same actress for both the past life and current, the role went to the Venezuelan beauty Patricia Velasquez. A new character is introduced to the story and an old name changed dramatically in Oded Fehrs Ardeth Bay, who played a guardian of the tomb. The villains lackey, Beni, was played by frequent Summers character actor Kevin J. O’Connor.
From a technical standpoint the movie is very much a product of its times. The CG isn’t all that hot, but they do some creative things we had not seen before with it. Sadly we’ve seen it too much since then. The film also wisely used a lot of practical effects to help the story along. When it went practical the notes were hit near perfectly for whatever tone they wanted and the effects looked good. The CG for quite a few effects mostly came off comical, and while I hope that was the intent if it wasn’t there’s a huge disconnect. Sadly this level of computer work seems to not evolve through any of Summers later works; which becomes especially problematic when you look at GI Joe ten years after this one.
This movie is not scary. It is fun. It is just plain, ol fashioned, adventuring fun. It has problems true, but also has a lot of heart and humor to it along with some honest tension and a reasonably well crafted story. Brendan Fraser’s natural charisma is probably the biggest key to this, but everyone does their part.
I really do recommend this one if you need a beer and pretzels night with a bunch of friends.
If you really want to treat yourself though? Watch the original and then this one and look for how many lines of dialogue, set pieces, character names, and story elements are kept from one to another. It’s more than you’d guess.