VOD film review: The Mummy (1999)
Ivan Radford | On 07, Jun 2017
Director: Stephen Sommers
Cast: Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz
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History has taught us many things. Human beings are essentially horrible. The past repeats itself. Skittles do not taste like rainbows. U2 were overrated. And there are three Indiana Jones films: Raiders of the Lost Ark. The Last Crusade. And 1999’s The Mummy. In 2017, as sure as history repeats itself, Universal is rebooting The Mummy into an action film starring Tom Cruise, but almost two decades on and the studio’s last revival of its classic monster has never looked better.
The Mummy has long spooked cinema audiences, ever since a bandaged Boris Karloff staggered onto the screen in 1932. It was only natural, then, that Universal should want to conjure up some of that iconic history. After many failed attempts, involving everyone from Joe Dante to George Romero, it turned to Stephen Sommers, fresh from making dire genre flick Deep Rising. What ensued, though, was no trashy B-movie, but an adventure masterpiece that managed that rare thing: to recapture the magic of an Indiana Jones film for modern audiences.
The film sticks to the bare essentials – that an ancient mummy named Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo – remember him?) is inadvertently brought back to life by a group of archeologists, only for him to attempt to reincarnate his long lost girlfriend, Anck Su Namun, using the Book of the Dead and a bunch of undead soldiers. As you do. While that could be the basis of a solid horror flick, Sommers’ screenplay comes up with the masterstroke of skewing much lighter than The Mummy’s legacy, turning a spooky supernatural affair into a rollicking romp of derring-do and other such words only spoken during the movie matinees of the 1940s.
It’s the kind of decision that could easily fall flat on its face, but The Mummy has a secret weapon in its treasure chest: Brendan Fraser. The woefully underrated actor, who has quietly dazzled in such films as The Quiet American and Gods and Monsters, delivers perhaps the best turn of his career here as military man Rick – and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. His natural comic timing, confident mugging for the camera, rough edges and pure distilled charisma make him the perfect man for this part: he doesn’t just throw out one-liners as well as he throws himself across the Egyptian sets, he makes it look utterly effortless. If Tom Cruise’s casting in the new reboot of The Mummy is testament to his ability to endure as an action movie star, Fraser hits Harrison Ford heights of roguish charm – albeit buried underneath Universal’s string of sequels, spin-offs and other monster movies, such as Van Helsing.
Sommers gives his gruff ex-soldier endless dialogue to relish – “You were at Hamunaptra?” “Yeah, I was there.” “You swear?” “Every damn day.” – but also someone worth relishing it with: Rachel Weisz, who almost waltzes off with the whole movie as Evie Carnahan. A smart scholar whose brains are always placed before her status as romantic interest – and inevitable target of Imhotep’s immortal affections – she’s the kind of heroine who puts men in their place, who helps translates the hieroglyphics needed to save her life while at sword point, and who has a sense of humour to rival Rick’s. “I may not be an explorer, or an adventurer, or a treasure-seeker, or a gunfighter, Mr. O’Connell,” she declares, while tipsy. “But I am proud of what I am… a librarian.”
John Hannah and Omid Djalili complete the main ensemble – with Kevin J. O’Connor great fun as slimy double-crosser Beni – making this far heavier on the laughs than the screams. But The Mummy manages just the right balance of family-friendly silliness and spooky corpses who once had their internal organs ripped out through their nostrils. Nifty CG (this is 1999, don’t forget) crafts spectacle such as walls of sand shaped like Imhotep’s face and a welcome horde of zombie warriors, while skin-crawling scarab beetles are genuinely frightening to behold.
Somewhere between Clash of the Titans and Monty Python, Sommers manages to have his cake and eat it, serving up constant chuckles while ramping up the sword-and-guns action to blockbuster levels across epic, physical sets with more hidden passages and stone doors than you can shake a flaming stick at – not since The Last Crusade has there been such a finely balanced adventure movie. Throw in a gloriously cheesy prologue (“Thebes. City of the living…”), mythology that includes Pharaoh’s bodyguards the Medjai (complete with pet falcon Horus), and some of the world’s most improbable catchphrases (“Take that, Bembridge Scholars!”), and you have a horror movie that plays like a fairytale, a reboot that dares to be old-fashioned, and a modern update that feels as timeless now as if it were made in 1930s. The past may repeat itself, but it’s hard to imagine anyone repeating the success of The Mummy.
The Mummy (1999) is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW, as part of an £11.99 NOW Cinema Membership subscription. For the latest Sky TV packages and prices, click the button below.