Prince Imhotep thanks you
for your hospitality…
Having been a fan of the classic Universal's horror movies all my life, my curiosity was naturally piqued when the 1999 version of THE MUMMY ($30) was billed as a reimagining of the 1932 Boris Karloff classic. Sure, I was expecting to be let down because Karloff's version of THE MUMMY is amongst my all time favorite Universal horror movies. However, this new incarnation of THE MUMMY went beyond my expectations and delivered thoroughly enjoyable escapist entertainment. Actually, I had the opportunity to see THE MUMMY at a first rate theater, with excellent projection and sound. This, of course, made THE MUMMY one of the theatrical highlights of the summer of 1999.
With the 1999 version of THE MUMMY, writer/director Stephen Sommers took elements of the original movie, fused them with an old style adventure serial, and then dressed up the whole package with astounding special effects, thus creating something familiar- yet completely new. THE MUMMY opens with a spectacular recreation of ancient Egypt, which depicts an affair between the High Priest Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo) and the Pharaoh's mistress Anck-Su-Namum (Patricia Velazquez). Of course, the lovers are caught, which leads to the death of both the Pharaoh (Aharon Ipalé) and Anck-Su-Namum. Unwilling to let his love go, Imhotep dares the wrath of the gods by stealing Anck-Su-Namum's lifeless body and trying to resurrect her with incantations from the Book Of The Dead. However, before Imhotep can complete the resurrection ceremony, Pharaoh's bodyguards arrive and stop him.
For his blasphemy, Imhotep is condemned to endure the Hom-Dai, the worst of all ancient curses. In fact, the Hom-Dai is so horrible that it has never before been bestowed. As a victim of the curse, Imhotep is turned into one of the undead and sealed inside a sarcophagus, where he is left to suffer for all eternity. Unfortunately, the curse has one rather nasty side effect. Should Imhotep ever be released from his sarcophagus, he would arise as a walking disease that would exist to plague all mankind.
From the point of Imhotep's burial, THE MUMMY then leaps forward about three thousand years, into the 1920s, where we encounter Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) and Jonathan (John Hannah), a brother and sister who have stumbled onto a map that could lead them to ancient Egyptian city of Hamunaptra. In addition to being the City of the Dead, Hamunaptra is also believed to be the repository for the all the untold wealth of the ancient Pharaohs. Unfortunately, the map to Hamunaptra is incomplete, forcing the duo to seek out Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser), an American adventurer that discovered the location of Hamunaptra during his days in the Foreign Legion.
The road to Hamunaptra turns out to be well traveled, with an American expedition also vying for the treasures hidden beneath the City of the Dead. However, as it turns out, treasure isn't the only thing that lies waiting beneath the sands of Hamunaptra. Hamunaptra is also the resting-place of Imhotep's sarcophagus. With both expeditions arriving at their singular destination, it takes little time for them to unearth the Book of the Dead, as well as the mummy of Imhotep. As quick as you can say you must not read from the book, Imhotep is reanimated and begins to reconstitute himself from the bodies of those who removed the Book of the Dead form its hiding place. Even after three thousand year of imprisonment, Imhotep's love for Anck-Su-Namum still burns as bright, so the mummy sets forth to bring his love back from the land of the dead. Unfortunately, Imhotep also plans to sacrifice Evelyn as part of a ritual that will resurrect Anck-Su-Namum.
Filmmaker Stephen Sommers knows how to push all the right buttons, which is why the 1999 version of THE MUMMY proved to be one of the summer's box office successes. Sure, the film received a PG-13 rating for its intense (and sometimes gruesome) special effects, but at heart the movie is an old time Hollywood adventure serial- you know, just like an Indiana Jones movie. THE MUMMY provides its audience with plenty of action and romance, plus the movie is genuinely funny- and a whole lot of fun. Sommers recognized the strengths of the original film and used them to their best advantage for his 1999 update. As in the original, the elements of horror are played down in favor of the romantic aspects of the story. Imhotep, in both versions of THE MUMMY, proves to be something of a romantic figure, or a very least, a man who allows the intoxicating power of love to drive him to ruin and beyond. This makes the character of Imhotep tragic and somewhat sympathetic, even though he is a monster.
Another reason THE MUMMY is a total crowd pleaser is the film's state-of-the-art special effects. Industrial Light and Magic truly push the envelope with the film's very realistic CGI characters. Thanks to ILM, three thousand-year-old mummies are brought to life as realistic desiccated corpses, instead of just actors wrapped in bandages. Additionally, the ability to see through the skeletal remains is so effective, that the notion of walking corpses never shatters one's suspension of disbelief. One last note on the effects, fans of Ray Harryhausen will get a kick out of the film's climatic mummy battle sequence that was obviously inspired by JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS.
Also contributing to the film's success is the exceedingly likable cast. Brendan Fraser is perfectly dashing as the film's hero. Rachel Weisz is extremely beautiful and highly effective as the headstrong modern woman who finds herself turned into a damsel in distress. Arnold Vosloo is an absolutely commanding presence as Imhotep. Kevin J. O'Connor utilizes his deft comic skills to get a good number of laughs, as well as making the weasely character of Beni almost likable. The cast of THE MUMMY also features some fine work from Oded Fehr, Jonathan Hyde, Stephen Dunham, Erick Avari, Corey Johnson, Tuc Watkins, Omid Djalili and Bernard Fox.
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has made THE MUMMY available on Blu-ray Disc in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio presentation that has been encoded onto the disc with the VC-1 codec. Right out of the gate. Universal is producing 1080p presentations for Blu-ray that rate as an absolute WOW! THE MUMMY looks every bit as good as it did in 1999, if not better. The image is just amazing; wonderfully sharp, highly dimensional and maintains a very film-like appearance. Textures of fabrics, bandages and other objects, individual hairs, freckles on the actors skin are all clearly discernible. Sure, in high definition, some of the rough edges on the nearly ten-year-old CGI work is a little more evident, but for the most part it comes across very well. Colors are warmly rendered, vibrant and well saturated throughout, with the flesh tones coming across in a very appealing manner. Blacks are deep, whites are crisp and clean, plus the picture produces smooth contrast and a healthy dose of shadow detail. The elements from which THE MUMMY has been mastered demonstrate virtually no imperfections. There is a relatively mild veneer of grain throughout the course of the presentation, which helps maintain the film-like quality I mentioned earlier.
THE MUMMY is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 5.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. Sonically, THE MUMMY continues to be an impressive experience on Blu-ray. The sound design is totally killer; sound effects are aggressively deployed throughout the entire soundstage, with all of the outlying channels springing to life with as much force as Imhotep himself. Even the smaller moments provide a nice amount of envelopment. Fidelity is marvelous for both sound effects and the music. Speaking of the music, Jerry Goldsmith’s stunning score has never sounded better than it does here. The bottom end of the track is highly potent and delivers a great deal of rumble. Voices have a warm, natural quality, plus the film’s dialogue is generally very understandable. French and Spanish DTS 5.1 channel tracks are also encoded onto the disc, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the disc's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as some nice supplements. Starting things off are three running Audio Commentaries; the first features writer/director Stephen Sommers and editor Bob Ducsay, the second is with actor Brendan Fraser, while the third includes actors Oded Fehr, Kevin J. O'Connor and Arnold Vosloo. Universal's U-Control interface is utilized for an interactive version of the movie that provides in context picture-in-picture, pop-up supplements in relation to individual moments or sequences in the film (requires a Profile 1.1 player).
Moving on, we go to the supplemental programs. The 49 minute documentary Building a Better Mummy offers a great deal of behind-the-scenes information on the making THE MUMMY, including a look at the astounding special effects work. For those truly interested in the special effects, the Visual And Special Effects Formation section is an absolute must see. This section takes five separate sequences in the film through all of the various stages of special effects production- from initial photography to completion. Storyboard-To-Screen Comparisons is in a similar vein and offers concept vs. completed film. An Army To Rule The World, Part 1 is a four-minute look at effects employed to resurrect an army of the undead. Unraveling The Legacy Of The Mummy is an eight-minute program that looks at the classic Universal horror movies and the1932 version of THE MUMMY in particular. Deleted Scenes, a Photograph Montage and the promotional program The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor Sneak Preview close out the supplements.
THE MUMMY is wonderful escapist entertainment that holds up exceedingly well on repeated viewings. Universal’s Blu-ray Disc release looks and sounds spectacular. Absolutely recommended.
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