Background: Remakes are a way of life these days, Hollywood getting the idea that there might be a built in audience to see a juiced up newer version of an old classic along with the regular crowd of theater goers willing to check out their favorite genre niche releases but little did people realize back in 1999 that a true classic in the creepy horror flick genre would be remade into a delightful little roller coaster of an action flick thanks in large part a solid cast as much as the heavy use of computer generated image (CGI) special effects. The movie, of course, is The Mummy and with this all new Blu-Ray version, fans are going to appreciate the high definition format all the more as Universal Pictures poured some life into their studio for a change.
Movie: The Mummy is 9 years old and as an action adventure "pop corn" flick, it stands the test of time nicely, looking better than a great many newer releases and serving to remind us all of what was so likeable about the movie nearly a decade ago. Starring Brendan Fraser as American adventurer Rick O'Connell, the movie made a killing at the box office and served as the Hollywood template for double, triple, and quadruple dipping; each version offering something new to the loyal fanbase out there. The plot was simple, the movie starts out in ancient Egypt with Pharaoh Seti I (Aharon Ipale) uncovering his wife (Patricia Velasquez as Anuck Su Namun) cheating on him with his powerful first priet, Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo). The scheming pair are shown as hot for one another (true love or merely lust; it's up to you to decide) and Seti walks in on them, killed for his efforts by the duo who are then attacked by the Pharaoh's guards. Anuck is killed on the spot and Imhotep flees as the only one that can resurrect her from the dead, eventually making it to a temple with his group of priests to conjure the babe back into fleshy status. The guards having different ideas, capture him and curse him with a deadly ritual that not only entombs him alive, but ensures his eternal suffering in a manner that is probably the sole connection with the original Boris Karloff flick from 1932. The movie then advances 3,000 years to find Rick with a small contingent of French Foreign Legionnaires defending a make shift base surrounding some ruins from a band of blood thirsty savages attacking them on horseback. While I'd have though camels might serve as more logical mounts for such attackers, there was no set up to explain it all and the natives prove to be an irresistible force as they slaughter the legionnaires. Rick survives along with his shiftless loser of a companion Beni (Kevin O'Connor), the savages knowing the curse of the ruins and leaving Rick to the fates. As he leaves the location (unaware that Beni has also survived), a nomadic tribe of warriors watches from afar, observing that the secret of the tomb has not been discovered (not knowing what Rick saw in that regard) and leaving him for the desert to finish off.
Flashing forward a few years, the movie shows cute librarian Evelyn Carnahan (Rachel Weisz) as a knowledgeable but clumsy young lady, finding out her brother Jonathan (John Hannah), has finally stumbled onto a worthy artifact in his treasure seeking ways. He had stolen it from Rick in the local jail, with Rick about to be hanged for an assortment of crimes he may well have committed, his scoundrel side shown when the couple come to find out more of where the artifact came from. His disheveled look aside, he steals a kiss from Evelyn and that sets in motion an expedition to find the treasures of the lost city, her involvement more for a book of great knowledge and Rick happy to be alive. The romance angle started off early between Rick and Evelyn, serving as a major portion of the plot, as the group finds Beni leading an American expedition hoping to plunder the riches of the forbidden city as well. Needless to say, there are those that do not want the curse unearthed and both expeditions find themselves attacked along the way, a makeshift alliance barely holding until the usual happens; the curse freeing Imhotep to walk the Earth once more.
Imhotep is not a happy fellow either, the generations of torture he endured not helping his disposition much, his sole goal being to restore his body to reincarnate his lost love. He brings death and destruction with him, the warriors pointing out the foolishness of awakening him to the two expeditions, serving as the moral of the story that the young, bold tribes of the moment (this being the 1920's, Britain was well in decline and the USA not yet at its peak) have much to learn. Imhotep sees Rachel as the best way to resurrect his love and Rick is determined to stop him, John assisting him along the way. What results is why the movie worked so well in the past and continues to this day to appeal; the wonderful special effects weaved in so dramatically with the cast, each of them played just tongue in cheek enough to work (Rick not quite pushed to the level of Bruce Campbell but closing in on him).
In terms of pure escapist fun, The Mummy was a huge success, and it holds up well thanks to Director Stephen Sommers balancing the elements involved so well. There were a few creepy moments too but unlike the original version of the movie, they were not the mainstay so much as Rick and Rachel trying to defeat Imhotep; the mummy so aptly played by Vosloo and the special effects team to make him a truly menacing foe. Granted, you'll have to put your brain on neutral for the outing but it was so much fun that only the really lame would attack the movie for being something other than what it was (and wanted to be). The Blu-Ray version holds up well under the spotlight of the higher definition too, unlike the sequel that looked more like a comic book than a real movie due to the flatness of the CGI in that one, Sommers was practically restrained in this version. In all then, it warranted a rating of Highly Recommended from me as one of the best high definition releases of recent months, burying newer movies all over the place in terms of the action it offered up.
Picture: The Mummy was presented in a lush, expansive 2.35:1 widescreen color as originally shot by Director Stephen Sommers in an 1080p, VC-1 codec master. The video bitrate varied substantially but during the action sequences, it was not uncommon for it to reach well into the 30+ Mbps range, more typically hovering around the upper 28 area for those keeping track. There was some grain but this was true of the theatrical version as well, providing some texture to the movie that helped it look better. The CGI portions also looked enhanced by the improved resolution, only weakened during a few of the matt shots that stood out as problematic (much more in the sequel, review forthcoming). The darker sections did not have any distracting macroblocks and I did not see any moiré, looking slightly better than the HD-DVD version I was able to compare it too (for the record, I have several versions of the movie, this looking and sounding better on all accounts, the audio upgrade from the HD version being the best reason to show it off to friends). The extras were in SD though so as much as I hoped they'd be cleaned up, the trade off in this "Deluxe Edition" being a better movie (though a second disc might have been cooler, the wealth of features would then be unavailable for the PIP extra).
Sound: The primary audio track was the 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio track, the usual sampling rate of 48 kHz expected but the audio bitrate typically hovering in the 4 Mbps or higher level. The vocals were crisp and clear, the score properly balanced, and the aural effects weaved in very nicely too. The surrounds and bass were more aggressive than usual, impressing a friend of mine watching the show with me to the point where she was surprised the movie was as old as it was. If you close your eyes during any of the major action sequences, you will also find that the headspace it provided was extremely directional, a fine example of what a movie should sound like, though turning it up to the right levels might have the neighbors complaining. I thought this was the best sounding version to date, surpassing the theatrical experience I enjoyed long ago. The spot checked Spanish and French tracks were also in 5.1 DTS with a 768 Kbps bitrate but I'm not fluent enough to suggest they whether they were accurate or not (the optional subtitles in English, Spanish, and French seeming to fit the dialogue very closely).
Extras: As with some of the previous double dip versions of the movie, there were some fine extras filling out the show, including three audio commentaries. I started off listening to the one with Brendan Fraser alone but he seemed to be more intent on watching the movie than providing a lot of commentary, he might have been best served with the director or someone else to bounce ideas off of. The best commentary by far was the Director commentary with Stephen Sommers joined by his editor, Bob Ducsay(?), and the two spend a lot of time balancing the homages to past flicks with their approach as established well before the movie was shot (admitting to winging it at times but trying to cover all the bases in planning so as to keep the post production efforts focused on the CGI). A third commentary was offered as well, this time with secondary (but important), actors Kevin O'Connor (Beni), Oded Fehr (Ardeth), joining lead bad guy Vosloo (Imhotep). I was surprised at how much they could add to the showing of the movie, providing some anecdotes worthy of movie fans but rounding out the events surrounding the movie's production well too. Then came the few minutes of deleted scenes (you won't miss much), some trailers, a photograph montage, and some interesting looks at how the scenes evolved with the effects added in ( a "Visual and Special Effects Formulation" tour of five different scenes at four stages of evolution, and a Storyboard to Screen comparison where the show was looked at with the nod to how it ended up from the planned version. The old favorite extra was included here too, Building A Better Mummy, lasting about 48 minutes, but the lack of an upgrade from the previous MPEG-2 look of the show weakened it after I had seen the glorious looking movie in high definition. There was also a nice short about the upcoming new franchise release, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, the first part of a series on the newly re-released titles called An Army to Rule the World, Part 1, and a legacy short called Unraveling the Legacy of the Mummy that gave a nice history of the Universal classic as well as bringing it up to date. Fans might appreciate the Picture in Picture experience even more (allowing a small box of interviews, comments, and featurettes to be viewed in conjunction with the movie), serving as a video commentary to an extent but more than that in how it gave some BTS material too.
Final Thoughts: The Mummy was the best version of the 1999 movie to date, the audio and video looking mighty good and the extras serving to placate fans in this advertised Deluxe Edition. The movie is a lot of fun, more fun on average than any of the sequels released to date, and it shows that Universal is capable of surpassing many of their peers in terms of offering high definition titles fans will definitely want to pick up. The comparison to earlier versions for me was such that I wanted to analyze the frames as stills in some cases, even my upconverting Oppo showing the limitations of the older versions far too clearly for me to ever look back. The spirit of the movie was well served by this Blu-Ray release and action fans should appreciate this more than most titles released on the format to date.