THE MUMMY - Kill the Bad Guy... Save the World
“The Mummy” doesn’t take itself seriously and plays as a fine summer popcorn movie
Realease Date: May 4th, 1999
Date of My First Viewing: June 3rd, 2019
It has been 20 years, and the summer of 1999 is still atoning for its sins. The season gave the world such misfires as “Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace” and “Wild Wild West”. Those two films alone do enough to tank the season in the minds of views, regardless the quality that might have been released at the same time. One of those films that got in the mix before those two bombs were detonated was “The Mummy”, the Stephen Sommers directed remake of Universal’s 1932 film of the same name. What makes “The Mummy” stand out from the wreckage of 1999’s summer is that the movie does not take itself seriously and knows exactly what it wants to be. “The Mummy” knows it is a summer popcorn movie and doesn’t try to be anything else. That was quite refreshing for this first time viewer.
Let’s jump into the plot to get this out of the way quickly. The film opens with a full on exposition bonanza as a narrator, later to be revealed Dr. Terrance Bay (Erick Avari) tells us the story of Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo). Imhotep was a high priest for Pharaoh Seti I. It turns out Imhotep had a thing going on with Seti’s main mistress, Anck-Su-Namun (Patrica Velasquez), and the two murder Seti to continue their affair. Seti’s bodyguards and security find out so Anck-Su-Namun commits suicide with the intention of getting Imhotep to bring her back to life.
Well… the plan goes haywire as Imhotep is found at Hamunaptra, the City of the Dead, and is subjected to the worse punishment imaginable. He has his tongue removed and is mummified alive within a sarcophagus of scarab beetles. Imhotep doesn’t go quietly as he curses the land around him and becomes an evil spirit over the sands.
This brings us to modern times as Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser), an American serving with the French Legion, stumbles upon Imhotep’s resting place during a battle. The movie then flashes forward three years to introduce the character of Evelyn Carnahan (Rachel Weisz), an Egyptologist, and her brother Rick. The duo finds a map to Hamunraptra in a box stolen from Rick, and the two manage to get Rick out of jail and an execution to lead them on an expedition to the City of the Dead. While joined by a rival expedition, Imhotep and the Book of the Dead are discovered. You can guess the rest from here. Imhotep arises, Egypt gets reminded of its plagued filled past, and the hero must save the day.
I know I am leaving some stuff out of the plot, but this is “The Mummy” we’re talking about. The plot really isn’t that complicated. Rick even spells it out for all of us when he says, “Save the damsel in distress, kill the bad guy, save the world”. That is the beauty of Rick’s character and the movie in general. “The Mummy” is not trying to change the world, introduce some new crazy idea, or even be a stroke of artistic flair from the director. It simply just wants to be a straightforward and old fashioned action movie with some screwball comedy and horror elements thrown in for good measure. In a summer where bloat and egos ran wild, “The Mummy” had to have been a fresh air.
I said “had to have been” because, as you can tell by this review, I did not choose to see in 1999 when the movie hit theaters. The impending “Phantom Menace” wave had already hit me, and I really wasn’t digging the thought of seeing this movie. The trailers probably didn’t impress me, and I thought it wasn’t going to be “good enough”. You must remember that in 1999 I was in full blown, “I’m going to be a film student” mode. This was right as my junior year in high school was coming to a close, and I wasn’t going to waste my time with “low quality” movies. You must also remember that in 1999 I was also checking out of school early to buy tickets to see “The Phantom Menace” so I could see it twice on opening weekend. What I’m trying to say is that 1999 David really was kind of a moron. I did avoid “Wild Wild West” like the plague so I do still have that going for me.
I’m glad Junk Food Cinema’s “Class of 1999” series and Brian Raftery’s “Best. Movie. Year. Ever.: How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen” have caused me to revisit things I missed in 1999 because it was such a formative year in my film-viewing life. In retrospect, I probably should have seen “The Mummy” in theaters and probably would have had fun. Fraser plays his character quite well, and I really dug his interactions with Weisz. It should come as no surprise that Weisz is quite wonderful as Evelyn and elevates the character beyond what it could have been in lesser hands. The CGI, while dated now, works in the context of 1999. One of my favorite shots is Imhotep’s face coming out of the sands towards the end of the film. It was one of the money shots for the film in its advertising, and the image still works in 2019.
While not perfect, “The Mummy” is a fine and fun summer movie that has enough elements to keep the audience engaged for its 125 minute runtime. Even though it was quite the hit in 1999, I feel the movie tends to be forgotten, especially since Universal remade it in 2017 and failed. I mean this is the franchise that gave us Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in his first film role (2001’s “The Mummy Returns, which resulted in 2002’s “The Scorpion King). That’s got to be worth some level of recognition.