The Mummy (1999 film)
The Mummy is a 1999 American action horror film written and directed by Stephen Sommers. It is a remake loosely based on the 1932 film of the same title and stars Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, and Kevin J. O'Connor, with Arnold Vosloo in the titular role as the reanimated mummy. The film follows adventurer Rick O'Connell as he travels to Hamunaptra, the city of the dead, with a librarian and her brother, where they accidentally awaken Imhotep, a cursed high priest from the reign of the pharaoh Seti I.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Stephen Sommers|
|Produced by||James Jacks|
|Screenplay by||Stephen Sommers|
|Story by||Stephen Sommers|
|Music by||Jerry Goldsmith|
|Edited by||Bob Ducsay|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Box office||$415.9 million|
Filming began in Marrakech, Morocco, on May 4, 1998, and lasted seventeen weeks. The crew endured dehydration, sandstorms, and snakes during work in the Sahara desert. The film was the first to use the natural crater formation Gara Medouar, which was later used in the Bond movie Spectre (2015) and others. Industrial Light & Magic provided visual effects and blended film and computer-generated imagery to create the mummy. Jerry Goldsmith provided the orchestral score.
The Mummy opened on May 7, 1999, and grossed $43 million in 3,210 theaters during its opening weekend in the United States. The film went on to gross $416 million worldwide. The great success at the box office led to two sequels—The Mummy Returns (2001) and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008)—as well as an animated series and the prequel/spin-off film The Scorpion King (2002).
In Thebes, Egypt, 1290 BC, high priest Imhotep has a love affair with Anck-su-namun, the mistress of Pharaoh Seti I. Imhotep and Anck-su-namun kill Pharaoh after he discovers their affair. Imhotep flees, while Anck-su-namun kills herself, believing that Imhotep would be able to resurrect her. Imhotep and his priests steal her corpse and travel to Hamunaptra, the city of the dead, but the resurrection ritual is stopped by Seti's bodyguards, the Medjai. Imhotep's priests are all mummified alive, while Imhotep is sentenced to suffer the Hom Dai, the worst of Egyptian curses: his tongue is cut out, and he is buried alive with flesh-eating scarab beetles. He is sealed away in a sarcophagus at the feet of a statue of the Egyptian god Anubis and kept under strict surveillance by the Medjai to prevent Imhotep's return.
In 1926, Jonathan Carnahan presents his sister Evelyn—a librarian and aspiring Egyptologist—with an intricate box and map that lead to Hamunaptra. Jonathan reveals he stole the box from an American adventurer, Rick O'Connell, who discovered the city three years earlier while in the French Foreign Legion. Evelyn and Jonathan find Rick and make a deal with him to lead them to the city.
Rick guides Evelyn and her party to the city, where the group encounters a band of American treasure hunters led by Rick's cowardly acquaintance Beni Gabor. The expeditions are confronted several times by the Medjai, lead by the warrior Ardeth Bay. Despite being warned to leave, the two expeditions continue to excavate. Evelyn searches for the famous Book of the Living, a book made of pure gold. However, instead of finding the book, she stumbles upon Imhotep's remains. The team of Americans, meanwhile, discover the black Book of the Dead, accompanied by canopic jars carrying Anck-su-namun's preserved organs.
At night, Evelyn takes the Book of the Dead and reads a page aloud, accidentally awakening Imhotep. The expeditions return to Cairo, and Imhotep follows them with the help of Beni, who has agreed to serve him. Imhotep returns to full strength by killing the members of the American expedition and brings the ten plagues back to Egypt.
Seeking a way to stop Imhotep, Rick, Evelyn, and Jonathan meet Ardeth at a museum. Ardeth hypothesizes that Imhotep wants to resurrect Anck-su-namun by sacrificing Evelyn. Evelyn believes that if the Book of the Dead brought Imhotep back to life, the Book of the Living can kill him again, and deduces the book's whereabouts in Hamunaptra. Imhotep corners the group with an army of slaves. Evelyn agrees to accompany Imhotep if he spares the rest of the group. Although Imhotep goes back on his word, Rick and the others fight their way to safety.
Imhotep, Evelyn, and Beni return to Hamunaptra, pursued by Rick, Jonathan, and Ardeth, who are able to locate the Book of the Living. Imhotep prepares to sacrifice Evelyn, but she is rescued after an intense battle with Imhotep's mummified priests. Evelyn reads from the Book of the Living, making Imhotep mortal, and he is fatally wounded by Rick.
While looting treasure, Beni accidentally sets off a booby trap and is trapped by a swarm of flesh-eating scarabs as Hamunaptra collapses into the sand. Ardeth bids Rick, Evelyn, and Jonathan goodbye, and the trio rides off into the sunset on a pair of camels laden with Beni's treasure.
Brendan Fraser plays Rick O'Connell, an American adventurer who served in the French Foreign Legion. Producer James Jacks offered the role of Rick O'Connell to Tom Cruise (who was later cast in the reboot film), Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, but the actors were not interested or could not fit the role into their respective schedules. Jacks and director Stephen Sommers were impressed with the money that George of the Jungle was making at the box office and cast Brendan Fraser as a result; Sommers also commented that he felt Fraser fit the Errol Flynn swashbuckling character he had envisioned perfectly. The actor understood that his character "doesn't take himself too seriously, otherwise the audience can't go on that journey with him".
Rachel Weisz portrays Evelyn Carnahan, a clumsy but brilliant Egyptologist. Evelyn undertakes the expedition to Hamunaptra to discover an ancient book, proving herself to her peers. The character was named in tribute to Lady Evelyn Carnarvon, the daughter of amateur Egyptologist Lord Carnarvon, both present at the opening of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922. Rachel Weisz was not a big fan of horror films but did not see this film as such. As she said in an interview, "It's hokum, a comic book world."
Arnold Vosloo plays Imhotep. Vosloo understood the approach that Sommers was going for in his screenplay, but only agreed to take on the role of Imhotep "if I could do it absolutely straight. From Imhotep's point of view, this is a skewed version of 'Romeo and Juliet'."
Other major roles include John Hannah as Jonathan Carnahan, Evelyn's bumbling older brother; Kevin J. O'Connor as Rick's cowardly former compatriot in the French Foreign Legion, Beni Gabor. Oded Fehr plays the Medjai Ardeth Bay, Erick Avari museum curator Dr. Terence Bey, and Patricia Velásquez Imhotep's lover Anck-su-namun. Minor roles include Bernard Fox as Captain Winston Havelock, a pilot and friend of Rick's, Omid Djalili as an Egyptian prison warden, and Jonathan Hyde, Stephen Dunham, Corey Johnson, and Tuc Watkins as members of the American expedition to Hamunaptra.
In 1992, producers James Jacks and Sean Daniel decided to update the original 1932 Mummy film for the 1990s. Universal Studios gave them the go-ahead, but only if they kept the budget around $10 million. Jacks remembers that the studio "essentially wanted a low-budget horror franchise"; in response, Jacks and Daniel recruited horror filmmaker/writer Clive Barker on board to direct. Barker's vision for the film was violent, with the story revolving around the head of a contemporary art museum who turns out to be a cultist trying to reanimate mummies. Jacks recalls that Barker's take was "dark, sexual and filled with mysticism", and that, "it would have been a great low-budget movie". After several meetings, Barker and Universal lost interest and parted company.
Director Joe Dante was the next choice, increasing the budget for his idea of Daniel Day-Lewis as a brooding Mummy. This version's draft was written by Alan Ormsby, and was later re-written by John Sayles. It was set in contemporary times and focused on reincarnation with elements of a love story. It came close to being made with some elements, like the flesh-eating scarabs, making it to the final product. However, at that point, the studio wanted a film with a budget of $15 million and rejected Dante's version.
Filmmaker George A. Romero was brought in with a vision of a zombie-style horror film similar to Night of the Living Dead, but which also relied heavily upon elements of tragic romance and ambivalence of identity. Romero completed a draft in October 1994, co-written with Ormsby and Sayles, that revolved around female archaeologist Helen Grover and her discovery of the tomb of Imhotep, an Egyptian general who lived in the time of Ramesses II. Unfolding in a nameless American city in modern times, events are set into motion when Imhotep inadvertently awakens as a result of his preserved cadaver having been exposed to rays from an MRI scan in a high-tech forensic archaeology lab. The script progresses to a fish-out-of-water story when Imhotep, having regained his youthful appearance, recognizes the need to adapt to a contemporary society that is three thousand years removed from the one he came from. Assuming at first that he is a representative from the Bureau of Antiquities, Helen finds herself drawn into a tentative relationship with Imhotep while also experiencing clairvoyant flashbacks to a previous life in the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt as a priestess of Isis. Summoning mystical powers through incantation, Imhotep later resurrects the mummy of Karis, a loyal slave whose body had been resting alongside his master's in the same tomb but is now held in the local museum. After escaping into the city sewer system, Karis embarks on a vengeful rampage against the various criminal fences and high society antiquarians who had acquired stolen relics from his tomb. Romero's script was considered too dark and violent by Jacks and the studio, who wanted a more accessible picture. Romero was unable to extricate himself from another contract he had in negotiation with MGM, and so his involvement with the film was severed and the development of an entirely new script was commissioned.
Mick Garris was attached to direct but eventually left the project, and Wes Craven was offered the film but turned it down. Stephen Sommers called Jacks and Daniel in 1997 with his vision of The Mummy "as a kind of Indiana Jones or Jason and the Argonauts with the mummy as the creature giving the hero a hard time". Sommers had seen the original film when he was eight, and wanted to recreate the things he liked about it on a bigger scale. He had wanted to make a Mummy film since 1993, but other writers or directors were always attached. Finally, Sommers received his window of opportunity and pitched his idea to Universal with an 18-page treatment. At the time, Universal's management had changed in response to the box office failure of Babe: Pig in the City, and the loss led the studio to want to revisit its successful franchises from the 1930s. Universal liked this idea so much that they approved the concept and increased the budget from $15 million to $80 million. In 2019, Sommers claimed the film cost $62 million.
Filming began in Marrakech, Morocco on May 4, 1998, and lasted 17 weeks. Photography moved to the Sahara desert outside the small town of Erfoud, and to the United Kingdom before completion of shooting on August 29, 1998. At the geological formation Gara Medouar, a concrete ramp was built to allow access into the horseshoe-shaped formation, where the city of Hamunaptra was constructed. The crew could not shoot in Egypt because of unstable political conditions. To avoid dehydration in the scorching heat of the Sahara, the production's medical team created a drink that the cast and crew had to consume every two hours. Sandstorms were daily inconveniences. Snakes, spiders and scorpions were a major problem, with many crew members having to be airlifted out after being bitten.
Brendan Fraser nearly died during a scene where his character is hanged. Weisz remembered, "He [Fraser] stopped breathing and had to be resuscitated." The production had the official support of the Royal Moroccan Army, and the cast members had kidnapping insurance taken out on them, a fact Sommers disclosed to the cast only after shooting had finished.
Production designer Allan Cameron found a dormant volcano near Erfoud where the entire set for Hamunaptra could be constructed. Sommers liked the location because, "A city hidden in the crater of an extinct volcano made perfect sense. Out in the middle of the desert you would never see it. You would never think of entering the crater unless you knew what was inside that volcano." A survey of the volcano was conducted so that an accurate model and scale models of the columns and statues could be replicated back at Shepperton Studios, where all of the scenes involving the underground passageways of the City of the Dead were shot. These sets took 16 weeks to build, and included fiberglass columns rigged with special effects for the movie's final scenes. Another large set was constructed in the United Kingdom on the dockyard at Chatham which doubled for the Giza Port on the river Nile. This set was 600 feet (183 m) in length and featured "a steam train, an Ajax traction engine, three cranes, an open two-horse carriage, four horse-drawn carts, five dressing horses and grooms, nine pack donkeys and mules, as well as market stalls, Arab-clad vendors and room for 300 costumed extras".
The filmmakers reportedly spent $15 million of the $80 million budget on special effects, provided by Industrial Light & Magic; the producers wanted a new look for the Mummy so that they would avoid comparisons to past movies. John Andrew Berton, Jr., Industrial Light & Magic's Visual Effects Supervisor on The Mummy, started developing the look three months before filming started. He said that he wanted the Mummy "to be mean, tough, nasty, something that had never been seen by audiences before". Berton used motion capture in order to achieve "a menacing and very realistic Mummy". Specific photography was conducted on actor Arnold Vosloo so that the special effects crew could see exactly how he moved and replicate it.
To create the Mummy, Berton used a combination of live action and computer graphics. He matched the digital prosthetic make-up pieces on Vosloo's face during filming. Berton said, "When you see his film image, that's him. When he turns his head and half of his face is missing and you can see right through on to his teeth, that's really his face. And that's why it was so hard to do." Vosloo described the filming as a "whole new thing" for him; "They had to put these little red tracking lights all over my face so they could map in the special effects. A lot of the time I was walking around the set looking like a Christmas tree." Make-Up Effects Supervisor Nick Dudman produced the physical creature effects in the film, including three-dimensional make-up and prosthetics. He also designed all of the animatronic effects. While the film made extensive use of computer-generated imagery, many scenes, including ones where Rachel Weisz's character is covered with rats and locusts, were real, using live animals.
The score for The Mummy was composed and conducted by Jerry Goldsmith, with orchestrations provided by Alexander Courage. The soundtrack was released by Decca Records on May 4, 1999. Like many Goldsmith scores, the main theme uses extensive brass and percussion elements; Goldsmith also used sparing amounts of vocals, highly unusual for most of his work.
Overall, Goldsmith's score was well received. AllMusic described it as a "grand, melodramatic score" which delivered the expected highlights. Other reviews positively noted the dark, percussive sound meshed well with the plot, as well as the raw power of the music. The limited but masterful use of the chorus was also lauded, and most critics found the final track on the CD to be the best overall. On the other hand, some critics found the score lacked cohesion, and that the constant heavy action lent itself to annoying repetition. Roderick Scott off CineMusic.net summed up the score as "representative of both Goldsmith's absolute best and his most mediocre. Thankfully […] his favourable work on this release wins out."
The Mummy opened on May 7, 1999, and grossed $43 million in 3,210 theaters in the United States on its opening weekend. The film went on to gross $415 million worldwide (domestic: $155 million; foreign: $260 million).
The Mummy received mixed reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes the film holds an approval rating of 59% based on 90 reviews, with an average rating of 5.75/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "It's difficult to make a persuasive argument for The Mummy as any kind of meaningful cinematic achievement, but it's undeniably fun to watch." On Metacritic the film has a score of 48 out of 100, based on 34 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.
Roger Ebert, of the Chicago Sun-Times, gave the film 3 out of 4 stars, writing "There is hardly a thing I can say in its favor, except that I was cheered by nearly every minute of it. I cannot argue for the script, the direction, the acting or even the mummy, but I can say that I was not bored and sometimes I was unreasonably pleased." Likewise, Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a "B−" grade and said, "The Mummy would like to make you shudder, but it tries to do so without ever letting go of its jocular inconsequentiality." Bob Graham of the San Francisco Chronicle gave the film high marks for the acting as well as the special effects.
Stephen Holden from The New York Times wrote, "This version of The Mummy has no pretenses to be anything other than a gaudy comic video game splashed onto the screen. Think Raiders of the Lost Ark with cartoon characters, no coherent story line and lavish but cheesy special effects. Think Night of the Living Dead stripped of genuine horror and restaged as an Egyptian-theme Halloween pageant. Think Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy grafted onto a Bing Crosby-Bob Hope road picture (The Road to Hamunaptra?) and pumped up into an epic-size genre spoof." Publications like The Austin Chronicle and Dallas Observer came to the conclusion that despite good acting and special effects, the movie lacked cohesion; talking about the special effects, the Observer lamented "If only generating a soul for the film itself were so easy." Other publications such as Jump Cut felt that Industrial Light and Magic's lock on special effects proved detrimental to The Mummy; "The mummy", Ernest Larson wrote for the Jump Cut, "is standard-issue I.L.&M." Kim Newman of the British Film Institute (BFI) judged the picture inferior to the original, as all the time was spent on special effects, instead of creating the atmosphere which made the original film such a classic. USA Today gave the film two out of four stars and felt that it was "not free of stereotypes", a sentiment with which the BFI concurred. "If someone complains of a foul odor, you can be sure an Arab stooge is about to enter a scene. Fraser, equally quick with weapon, fist or quip, may save the day, but even he can't save the picture", USA Today wrote.
To commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the film's release, several media outlets published articles praising the film and its impact. Reviewers in Thrillist and Den of Geek called it a "perfect movie." The editors of Rotten Tomatoes referred to The Mummy as the "Indiana Jones for a new generation." Junkee declared it the "pivotal blockbuster of the nineties." Commentators from Collider and Syfy Wire praised Brendan Fraser specifically for setting the mold that other action hero characters have followed in the decades since. A contributor for Looper noted that The Mummy had "proven to be a truly timeless classic that can be watched over and over again" and that it "helped to change the game for many action movies that would come after" the film's release.
The Mummy's box office performance led to numerous sequels and spinoffs.
- Films and television
The film sequel The Mummy Returns (2001) features most of the surviving principal characters. As a married couple, Rick and Evelyn confront Imhotep and the Scorpion King. The film also introduces the heroes' son, Alex.
The two films inspired both an animated TV series titled The Mummy, which lasted two seasons, and a spin-off prequel, The Scorpion King (2002), which tells the story of the Akkadian warrior as he was crowned king. It also includes three sequels and one prequel.
Developer Konami Nagoya published two video game adaptations of The Mummy under license from Universal Interactive Studios, in 2000: an action-adventure game for the PlayStation and PC developed by Rebellion Developments, as well as a Game Boy Color puzzle game.
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