Expecting a faithful remake of the 1932 Boris Karloff classic, The Mummy, is not the way to view Hollywood’s latest offering of the same name.
The Mummy (1999), written and directed by Stephen Sommers (The Jungle Book, Deep Rising), is an enjoyable, amusing and witty amalgam of horror, action, adventure and comedy. The film is very much in the tradition of the Indiana Jones movies, with plenty of adventure, and liberal doses of humour. Originality is not a strong point, but who cares, when the film is such good fun?
Taking its starting point 3,000 years ago in ancient Egypt, Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo), the high priest in the court of Seti I, is caught in a secret tryst with the Pharaoh’s personal concubine, Anck-su-namun. In desperation at being discovered, the two lovers murder Seti. With the Pharaoh’s bodyguard rushing to the scene, Anck-su-namun defiantly kills herself, as an act of diversion so that Imhotep can escape, and later resurrect her.
Imhotep returns, stealing his lover’s now mummified body and flees to Hamunaptra, City of the Dead, burial site of kings, and there attempts to revive her by using the forbidden lore of “The Book of the Dead”. But the ceremony is interrupted by the pursuing guard. Imhotep is seized, and in punishment, mummified and buried alive, his casket filled with flesh-eating scarab beetles. Over his burial is read the Hom Dai, a deadly curse that ensures Imhotep will remain “undead”. It is prophesied that should he ever arise, he will be a plague among men, with those responsible for resurrecting him to suffer a horrible death. So ends the Imhotep legend.
Flash forward to the 1920’s. Disaffected ex-Foreign Legionnaire and general man of action, our hero, Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser), pretty English librarian, our heroine, Evelyn (Rachel Weisz), and her lay-about brother Jonathan (John Hannah), the comic relief, have discovered a secret map detailing the location of the long lost city of Hamunaptra.
As they set off in search of the ancient city’s rumoured treasures, they are forced to race a rival expedition comprising O’Connell’s dirtbag former partner, Beni (Kevin J. O’Connor), a learned Egyptologist, and four gun-slinging, gung-ho American adventurers.
O’Connell’s party and their opponents arrive at ruined Hamunaptra, and after various disagreements at the site, each group stakes out its separate claims. O’Connell, Evelyn and Jonathan uncover a sarcophagus with an unusual body inside. The mummy is not wrapped in bandages, nor is it a skeleton, but in a very ripe state of decay (“Still juicy”, O’Connell comments) and appears to have been buried alive. Guess who?
Meanwhile, the opposing American group has uncovered a huge stone box with an inscription warning that whoever opens it shall incur the Hom Dai curse. Ignoring the caution, the box is opened to reveal sealed clay jars containing vital organs of a renegade priest, and a dusty old tome entitled, “Book of the Dead.”
That night, the curious Evelyn creeps into the Americans’ camp to prise the ancient book from the hands of the sleeping Egyptologist. His cry “Do not speak the words !” comes too late, as Evelyn voices Imhotep’s dreaded resurrection incantation.
Deep within the ancient burial chamber, Imhotep’s sarcophagus roars into life. Outside, the camp is suddenly inundated with a plague of swirling locusts and the Egyptologist laments: “What have we done?”
Alive and dangerous, Imhotep’s first priority is to find human flesh to clothe his decayed body. No prizes for guessing that the offending American camp will satisfy this need. While Imhotep regenerates, the region is subjected to all manner of catastrophe: rivers of blood, fiery stones falling from the heavens, and twisting sand storms that take on the form of Imhotep’s fierce visage.
Once restored, Imhotep seeks to revive his old love by sacrificing Evelyn. There ensues a race to save our heroine and put an end to the rampaging Imhotep and his army of resurrected mummies, before he takes over the world.
Amid the action and horror, The Mummy sustains a marvellous tongue-and-cheek tone. Whether desperately fighting off a band of marauding zombies or casting humorous verbal asides on the unfolding developments, the actors play superbly in the spirit of the film.
The director had a large budget at his command, and has skimped on nothing. Photograhy (by Adrian Biddle) is wonderful, using Moroccan desert locations to the full. Egyptian architecture and sculpture is rendered to stunning effect, and special effects spectacularly capture the majestic sunset vistas of ancient Egyptian Thebes, the epic onslaughts of Imhotep’s Ten Plagues, and the gory detail of the mummy himself. Jerry Goldsmith’s Arabic desert music score evokes dreams of far horizons and exotic adventure.
The Mummy is a thoroughly enjoyable romp, revelling in the romantic escapism of an almost mythical golden age of archaeological digs.