The Mummy (1999)

“Death is only the beginning.”

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Directed by Stephen Sommers
Starring Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah and Arnold Vosloo
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Special Effects by Industrial Light & Magic (Lucasfilm, now Disney)

The editing is inconsistent, the stereotypes uncomfortable, and the special effects leave a lot to be desired but this film, somehow, creates such unbelievable delight. Watching this film now in 2020 creates a 90s nostalgia for Spielberg adventure films such as the Indiana Jones series, which, if I am honest, are a much better choice. However, I won’t lie to you, I am going to finish this quickly so I can watch it again. If ever there was a film to define as a guilty pleasure this is the one.

The Mummy follows Evelyn Carnahan (Rachel Weisz) and her brother, Johnathan (John Hannah), as they hunt for the lost city of the dead, Hamunaptra, where early pharaohs were rumoured to have hidden the wealth of Egypt in a treasure chamber. They recruit the help of Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser), an ex-French Foreign Legion solider who has fought for Hamunaptra before, by saving him from death row. They find Hamunaptra, only to release an ancient curse placed upon the Pharaoh Seti’s priest, Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo). Imhotep is resurrected as an undead monster who brings with him the ten plagues of Egypt.

The cinematography is stunning, with an amazing yellow hue covering the film. The amazing images of Gara Medouar, the endless dunes of the desert, the inside of the Humunaptra and even shots of the prison show rich yellows and oranges. It makes the film warm and inviting, reducing the impact of the characters that die horrible, painful deaths.

The special effects were impressive for the late 90s. Industrial Light and Magic, as part of Lucasfilm, created different stages of decomposition of the mummy, Imhotep, and in doing so create some stunning images. Unfortunately, that is the only wow moment as the special effects for the plagues of Egypt and the appearance of the City of the Dead have not held up. They have definitely become cringe-worthy. The boils and sores plaque definitely could have been more ghastly, however this may have detracted from the light-hearted adventure film by dipping into a thriller.

Jerry Goldsmith’s soundtrack for the film reflects the adventure music of the 90s. The full symphony creating a deep, rich sound that is full of suspense really raises the film and reminds of the Spielberg-esque adventure films that have come before.

Brendan Fraser does an amazing job as Rick O’Connell; he plays the over confident adventurer perfectly. Even though Rick is a very qualified solider, and is therefore brave, a great marksman and a competent fighter, he does not take himself too seriously. Because of this he invites the audience to take the film in the same vein, granting them permission to laugh at it, whether they are laughing at the intended jokes or the ridiculousness of the film itself.

The cliches throughout the film add to this ridiculousness. The biggest cliche is definitely ending with our heroes riding off into the sunset. Another is when Mr. Burns, a part of the American treasure hunters, falls and loses his glasses. Of course they are broken when someone steps on them while he scrambles searching. Although this is a commonly used trope, it successfully creates suspense as the character cannot see the monster that is chasing them. The audience is then shown the scene from Mr. Burns’ point of view and therefore cannot see the monster approaching either.

The Mummy pushes back against the female trope of the damsel in distress. It does not even come close to passing the Bechdel test, however it does portray Evelyn Carnahan as a very competent academic, even though the men around her underestimate her. This is seen when her boss asks her why he puts up with her and she defiantly responds;

I can read and write Ancient Egyptian, and I can…I can decipher hieroglyphics and hieratic, and well, I am the only person within 1,000 miles who knows how to properly code and catalogue this library, that’s why.

This is shown again when another group is worried about digging in the wrong spot;

“They are led by a woman. What does a woman know?”
“That’s the statue of Anubis. Its legs go deep underground. According to Bembridge scholars, that’s where we’ll find a secret compartment containing the golden Book of Amun-Ra.”

She even corrects others translations of ancient Egyptian;

“Keetah mi pharos aja nilo, isirian.”
[translating] “Come with me, my princess. It is time to make you mine, forever.”
“For all eternity, idiot.”

It is worth noting this character is used to further the plot of the film. She explains the intricacies of the Hom-Dai curse, and her translation skills allow our heroes to find and translate the book needed to destroy the monster. However, her academic outlook, where she only believes in what she can understand is the reason the curse happens in the first place. Therefore, somewhat discrediting her expertise;

“You don’t believe in curses, huh?”
“No, I don’t.”
“I believe if I can see it and I can touch it, then it’s real.”

The damsel in distress trope, unfortunately, isn’t lost completely. Rick at one point literally picks her up and locks her away in her room to keep her from danger while he plans to save the day.

Unfortunately, this is not the only stereotype used throughout The Mummy. The film’s humour relies on portraying the Arab characters as less than our American and British characters. Firstly, the Arab characters are portrayed as unintelligent and easily tricked;

“Any last requests, pig?”
“Yeah. Loosen the knot and let me go.”
[Asks in Arabic if they should let him go]
“Yahemar! Of course we do not let him go!”

Warden Gad Hassen (Omid Djalili) is also outsmarted bargaining with Evelyn, over the price of letting Rick go;

“If you cut him down we will give you… ten percent”
“Fifty percent!”
“Ah! Deal”

The Arab characters are also portrayed as animals, when they are riding to Hamunaptra;

“Never did like camels. Filthy buggers. They smell, they bite, they spit.”
[Gad Hassen spits]

This is seen again when they are entering the City of the Dead;

“What is that god-awful stench?”
[Gad Hassen comes down the rope]

Johnathan even whips Gad Hassen at one point as he sleeps while they ride to Hamunaptra. Gad Hassen then dies by running into rock after being tormented by a scarab beetle running around under his skin. His death could almost be missed, as the story continues on without real acknowledgement. He is even robbed after his death.

Ardeth Bay (Oded Fehr) is a member of the Magi, an ancient society who prevent the curse from being released. He sacrifices himself to protect Rick and Johnathan, sending them on to save the day. He even somehow survives this certain death, however this does not save the Arab stereotype that the film is pushing unfortunately.

The editing of the The Mummy is confusing to say the least. The fight scene between the French Foreign Legion and invading army is stitched together so poorly that it feels as if the time of day changes, as the amount of dust in the air is not consistent between each shot. We see this happening again during the race to Hamunaptra when the sky immediately becomes blue at sunrise and then the dust disconcertingly changes between shots of the race. When Rick and Jonathan are flying towards Hamunaptra we see them flying over flat ground and then in the next shot they are flying over a dune which was nowhere in sight before. These breaks in continuity detract from the finished product, destroying the illusion of the film.

The Mummy, regardless of its negatives, is a joyous romp that will enhance your Friday night. Think of the film like a Christmas cracker joke – it is so bad that it brings the the family together to laugh at it.

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