The Mummy, a whiz-bang update of the 1932 Boris Karloff classic (well, kind of) is a roller-coaster ride of a movie, a primo chunk of cheese for summertime multiplex crowds. It's aged well -- although some of its CGI sequences look awfully clunky -- and manages to spruce up a rather thin story with some inventive and squirmy action set-pieces. It's surprisingly faithful to the original in terms of plot points -- there's forbidden love, an unseemly burial, stubborn corpses and questing academics -- but of course, as with all modern adaptations, the volume is cranked way, way up.
Director Stephen Sommers is aided by the fact a whole host of exotic adventure films (not least the Indiana Jones series) were created between Karl Freund's early Thirties thriller and his eventual re-boot. But Sommers, working from a screenplay he wrote based upon a story devised by Lloyd Fonvielle, Kevin Jarre and himself, as well as Nina Wilcox Putnam, Richard Schayer and John L. Balderston's work from the Thirties, doesn't just ladle on doses of wise-cracking action, he also provides plenty of computer-assisted frights.
Brendan Fraser does the heavy lifting as Rick O'Connell, a smart-ass roustabout who finds himself fighting in the French Foreign Legion at Hamunaptra, the storied "city of the dead." He comes to find himself, after a few near-death experiences, allied with klutzy academic Evelyn Carnahan (Rachel Weisz), her bumbling brother Jonathan (John Hannah), and dogged by the weaselly Beni (Kevin J. O'Connor). Everyone converges on Hamunaptra, but not before Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo) is resurrected from the dead and sets his sights on reclaiming his lost love. Grappling with a curse, several plagues and nasty flesh-eating scarabs, the gang must keep their heads while fending off the newly undead.
There really isn't room for much else and to its credit, The Mummy doesn't really waste its time trying to add anything in between the numerous, pulse-quickening action sequences. Oh, there's the odd bit of pithy dialogue advancing the plot but mostly the modern Mummy is about white-knuckle fun. The cast acquits themselves well -- Fraser certainly looks like he's having a blast, while Weisz displays a feistiness often lacking in period female roles -- and as mentioned earlier, the effects do mostly hold up well. Don't know about that roaring wall of sand, though ... The Mummy sets out to entertain and that it does, with a minimum of fuss and a healthy dose of self-awareness. Would that all summer tentpoles be so breezy and engaging ...
This latest digital incarnation marks the third time The Mummy has been re-packaged (this latest spiff-up comes in advance of the third Mummy film, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor). It's a mostly thorough presentation, managing to retain a lot of the bonus features from previous releases, while (supposedly) sprucing up the image -- although it does lose a DTS track in the process. More details about the supplements below.
The packaging promises a "digitally optimized" 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and since I don't have either of the two previous Mummy discs for comparison, I can only speak to the quality of this particular image -- which is very clean, crisp and sharp. There's nary a fleck of print damage to be found and the colors are very saturated, the black levels are appropriately inky and there's no jaggedness or video noise to distract from the often-chaotic visuals.
Again, I don't have either of the two previous Mummy discs for comparison, but I do know that the "ultimate edition" sported a DTS track that is missing here. Instead, there are simply three flavors of Dolby Digital 5.1 -- English, French and Spanish -- to choose from. The English 5.1 track more than accomplishes its task, conveying the harried action sequences, shouted dialogue and frenzied score without muddying or muffling any of it. Optional English, French and Spanish subtitles are also included.
This two-disc set includes a few new supplements, but mostly ports over the bonus features from the 2001 "ultimate edition." The first disc, along with the film, contains a trio of commentaries: Sommers and editor Bob Ducsay (actually retained from the disc's initial release in 1999); Fraser and a track featuring Oded Fehr, Kevin J. O'Connor and Arnold Vosloo. Each commentary manages to touch on slightly different aspects of the film but, as expected with three tracks about one flick, there tends to be a bit of overlap. The only other extra is two minutes, 21 seconds of deleted scenes, presented in non-anamorphic widescreen.
The second disc houses a PC-compatible digital copy of the film (hey, Mac users - suck it!) as well as a three minute, one second "sneak peek" at The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, both of which are new to this "deluxe edition." (A voucher for one free admission to the new film is also tucked into the keepcase -- FYI: It's not redeemable until Aug. 1, 2008.) Other new extras include the four minute, three second featurette "An Army to Rule the World - Part 1" (presented in fullscreen), which goes behind the scenes of the first film, along with the eight minute, seven second featurette "Unraveling the Legacy of 'The Mummy'" (presented in fullscreen), which delves into the extensive history of this particular characters and Universal Studios and the seven-part "Storyboard to Final Film Comparison," playable separately or all together for an aggregate of six minutes, 22 seconds (presented in anamorphic widescreen). The comparison feature expands upon the one offered on the 2001 disc.
What remains was previously available on the other two editions -- the five-part featurette "Visual and Special Effects Formation" (presented in fullscreen) is playable separately or all together for an aggregate of nine minutes, 26 seconds and includes commentary from John Betton, visual effects supervisor for the film. The 49 minute, 52 second mini-doc "Building a Better Mummy" (presented in fullscreen) explores the history of The Mummy; a four minute, 19 second photo montage is presented in fullscreen and set to the film's score; several information screens about five different subjects (the gods, artifacts, a map, the immortals and plagues) are found under the heading "Egyptology 101" and a trio of information screens about the lineage of pharoahs is also included. The film's theatrical trailer, annoyingly presented in fullscreen, completes the disc. Optional English, French and Spanish subtitles are included.
What didn't make the leap? From my research, it appears that cast and crew bios, some DVD-ROM functionality, teaser trailers, a Mummy Returns featurette and some PC game demos have been lost to the sands of time. If you're a Mummy completist, you might want to hang onto one or both of the previous editions.
The Mummy, a whiz-bang update of the 1932 Boris Karloff classic (well, kind of) is a roller-coaster ride of a movie, a primo chunk of cheese for summertime multiplex crowds. It's aged well -- although some of its CGI sequences look awfully clunky -- and manages to spruce up a rather thin story with some inventive and squirmy action set-pieces. It's surprisingly faithful to the original in terms of plot points but of course, as with all modern adaptations, the volume is cranked way, way up. If you own one of the two previous DVD editions, this latest one might not warrant more than a rental; if you've held off purchasing this film, this set comes highly recommended.