Background: Having watched a lot of sequels in my time, Starship Troopers 3 being the most recent fiasco coming to mind, I can honestly state that most of them are lame or watered down versions of what sparked my interest in the original release of a given franchise. There are notable exceptions but generally they are greed driven attempts to cash in on a franchise unworthy of much serious thought. One sequel that I wasn't totally impressed by but liked all the same was for The Mummy Returns, the original 1999 movie The Mummy being a favored action flick nearly a decade ago. The original starred Brendan Fraser as Rick O'Connell as an American adventurer commissioned by a wealthy couple of Brits (Evelyn and Jonathan Carnahan) to seek out a famed lost city rumored to have wealth beyond imagination and contain the secrets of life itself. Needless to say, the grave robbing expedition runs afoul of an ancient curse, endangering the entire world with a powerful being unleashed thanks to their meddling. The sequel was more of the same in every sense too, building on what went forth before but keeping the characters in line with who they were in the first flick.
Movie: The Mummy Returns revisits Rick and Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) ten years in the future, happily married with an adventurous eight year old son Alex (Freddie Boath) in tow as they continue to seek knowledge and wealth in the 1930's Middle East. Rachel is having dreams of a mystic nature this time, showing her as Nefertiti, the daughter of the Pharoah killed at the open of the original movie. So vivid are the dreams that she follows where they lead her, the trio uncovering another sacred tomb but this time of an even older being called Mathayus, the Scorpion King. This is in conjunction with Imhotep's remains once again being unearthed at the lost coty of the first movie, his remains shipped to London for exhibition by a remarkably hot likeness of his former lover, again played by Patricia Velasquez, Arnold Vosloo reprising his role as the Mummy too. Evelyn's dreams are such that they portend another version of what happened to start the series on a roll too, artfully allowing the director to revisit the past and expand the legend. This time though, Alex gets mixed up in the deal and after he places a magic bracelet on his arm, he is given seven days to reach a temple and save his life.
The O'Connell clan is not alone in wanting to bring Alex to the location though, the revived Imhotep needing the bracelet and temple to assume command of the Scorpion King's undead legions. See, despite the fact that the King worked out a deal with god Anubis to serve him forever, even after his armies perished when the god reclaimed his vassal, they are ready pickings for the first conqueror to follow a prescribed pathway and that makes them all the more dangerous. Ardeth (Oded Fehr) is therefore back with his twelve tribes to keep Imhotep at bay, their newfound goal of preventing him from achieving his goal crucial to the survival of the human race (or at least freedom). Fans of the character will be glad to know that he was given a lot more to do here, but all of the returning characters could claim that, including the leads (though I wished a way was found to restore Beni for the comic relief he brought the first show). The O'Connell's were joined by Jonathan and a new assistant, dirigible riding Lock Nah (Adelwale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), with the special effects the biggest star of all given the devotion director Sommers places on their importance over the writing or others here.
Suffice it to say that The Rock was spun off into an admittedly weak spin off movie that gave him more to do than this release, but the roller coaster ride of action was bigger and bolder than before, my only real complaint being the comic book look of the matted backgrounds in so many cases and the CGI looking far more dated than the original flick. Perhaps retooling some of the effects (the Anubis scenes were almost painfully weak, ad were the Scorpion King at the end in the fight finale) would help but the show was still a lot of fun if you are willing to overlook the limitations of any movie so wrapped up with special effects as to render character development a moot point, and the shark jumping nature of Alex's scenes, my sympathies going with the henchman charged with killing the boy as they neared the temple. The pygmy scene was a favorite though and the howls of it being compared to the devil doll scene from Trilogy of Terror aside, it was hilarious as often as not, much like the fighting scenes by Fraser et al, throughout the movie. Filmed across the globe and with the post production work amounting to probably 60% of the movie, the Blu-Ray release was still worth a rating of Recommended for me as it gave so much to the tongue in cheek nature of the action genre without taking itself nearly as seriously as weaker efforts in the more recent past have done.
Picture: The Mummy Returns 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, though less so than the previous volume in the series I reviewed yesterday. The CGI portions also looked weakened by the improved resolution, especially the matt shots that stood out as problematic. Most noticeable were the matted backgrounds that transformed the movie largely into a comic book in some ways, the need for remastering those elements important if any future upgraded versions are released. 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 this movie too, 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: There was only one audio commentary this time, the one with Director Stephen Sommers and Bob Ducsay, as the two returned to provide some interest points to the show. I'd have liked to hear Fraser or Weisz get in on the show too but they tried to offer up a lot of the events making the movie special to them, resulting in the attention to the greatly increased special effects budget several times. The nod they gave Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson for his role was a bit like a diplomatic mission to hostile territory though, his contribution to the movie being so limited (his CGI animal version getting better screen time). There was a longer outtake/deleted scenes reel this time, some trailers, a music video by Live (kind of interesting but dated all the same), more of the interesting looks at how the scenes evolved with the effects added in (a "Visual and Special Effects Formulation" tour of four different scenes at five 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. 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 2, 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. For wrestling fans, there was a short interview with The Rock, and the lengthy Spotlight on Location served nicely as a balanced look at the behind the scene elements making up the movie.
Final Thoughts: The Mummy Returns had several standout moments for me, from the ancient catfight between the two female leads (Weisz and Velasquez) looking hot to Fraser fighting the assorted mummies to the pygmy scene to the ending fight. The reliance on special effects was a bit over the top and a mistake but I can't deny the appeal of the movie as a pop corn flick. The multiple layers of the show allow for repeat views that have driven my own multiple dips into improved versions of the release over the years, the technical enhancements not working as well this time as they seemed to push the CGI and matted backgrounds further than they were ready for without additional processing. Still, you can hardly go wrong with the title on Blu-Ray since it was a fast paced and fun flick, well worth your time and money as a sequel that does a moderate attempt of living up to the previous version (not falling flat like most of them do but hardly working as well either).