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Non-Review Review: The Mummy

Maybe there’s a reason I’ve got ghosts and ghouls on my mind despite the fact that Halloween is approaching and the first Nightmare on Elm Street trailer was just released. I happened to catch The Mummy playing on Sky movies on Sunday night and it was one of those rare films that the family just dropped everything and started watching, despite the fact we’ve seen it before. Ignoring the law of diminishing returns that affected the sequels, The Mummy is solid action-adventure-horror romp that stands equally well as a companion to Raiders of the Lost Ark as it does as a subconscious herald of the coming wave of remade creature features.

Oh, mummy!

Oh, mummy!

It isn’t that scary, but the classic Boris Karloff film wasn’t too scary either. That said, for a summer blockbuster it does have its wriggle-in-your-seat moments (a nice dose of eye scream and killer bugs to help haunt the dreams of more impressionable viewers). The bizarre cross-polination of the gothic horror of the Universal outings (old tombs, the undead, corpses writhing in bandages) and the adventure of the Republic film serials (a gung-ho American antagonist, wanton distruction, gunfights, horseback scenes) seems almost an almost logical cocktail by the end of the film.

It helps that Fraiser has a tonne of leading man charisma – the one asset that would not abandon the series as it became a franchise. Here, unlike in so many other roles, he is given the freedom to let that charm run wild. His O’Connell is a jackass, but he’s the jackass you wouldn’t mind sharing a pint with. His tendency to bemoan his current predicament is reigned in to Indiana-Jones-style levels here, and it helps give us the impression of a rough-and-ready matinee idol. In the sequels he is prone to seem a little whiny.

The film also benefits from a slightly skewed darkly comedic tone that helps make some of the lighter attempts of humour bareable. People light on fire, get stabbed with candles, casually thrown this way and that way and to their depth, but it the film keeps a dark grin on its face, as if to say “what did you expect from a gothic horror or period adventure?” There’s a nice light spirit that carries the movie through, as if it is aware of its absurdities – but it’s never afraid to go for a shock or a scare if it’s needed.

Sommers knows his material well, better than most would give him credit for. It’s unfair to compare him to Speilberg – it’s unfair to compare anyone to Speilberg – but he manages to recreate the feel of watcing a 1930s action serial with better production values. Subtle things like fading scene transitions or the choice of background noise all hammer home the film as a period piece of itself. It isn’t depicting the 1930s, it is depicting the world as seen through the lens of the 1930s.

Still, for all it’s charm and success, the film’s once legendary CGI has aged horribly. Not so much the creature itself – which still holds up relatively well – but the tangental effects like the souls in a tar pit (don’t ask) or some killer ancient bugs (again, don’t ask). But that’s a small complaint – the movie won’t ever have quite the timeless appeal of the Indiana Jones films, as it will age.

As family entertainment goes, you’re on to a winner. It’s a stylish piece which doesn’t take itself too seriously and doesn’t try too hard, falling comfortably into the patterns of similar genre films. If the promised new wave of monster movies can give us anything half as interesting or as energetic as this, I’m already sold.

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The Mummy is directed by Stephen Sommers (The Mummy Returns, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra) and stars Brendan Fraiser (Looney Toons: Back in Action, Monkeybone), Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener, The Mummy Returns), Arnold Visloo (24, Blood Diamond), John Hanna (Sliding Doors, Four Weddings and a Funeral), Kevin J. O’Connor (Seraphim Falls, There Will Be Blood), Erik Avari (Stargate, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) and Corey Johnson (Doctor Who, Spooks, United 93). It was released in the USA on 7th May 1999, with the UK and Ireland getting it over a month later on 25th June 1999.

One Response

  1. This movie introduced me to Ms. Weisz…so I’m grateful.

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