Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Mummy


I had an additional consultation with Joseph, my manager, today in order to find a new project worthy of my talents. Goodfollies , the story of the lady mobsters which would have me, June Allyson and Debbie Reynolds as stars, is to be underwritten by the makers of Depends and I'm not sure that I want to appear on screen in adult sanitary garments, no matter how many attractive rhinestone appliqués are involved. Another project that has come to Joseph's attention is a new version of O'Neill's Mourning Becomes Electra in which I would co-star with the Bill Baird marionettes but Leslie Caron already did the puppet thing in Lili and I wouldn't want to invite comparisons.

I shall simply have to do what all Divas do when between projects; I am pleased to announce that I will shortly be embarking on a pops concert tour with superior symphony orchestras. Vicki Lester will soon be appearing in a city near you in Sink For Your Supper , a song and dance tribute to the great maritime disasters. Some of the fabulous numbers I’m readying include The Morning After My Heart Will Go On and The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald . I already have a booking for the Schenectady Pops in the Park series for next week. Joseph predicts sell-out crowds and Madame Rose, my publicist, is practically guaranteeing the cover of Vanity Fair .

Having solved the problem of how to expend my energies, I decided to celebrate by going off to the local K-mart and buying a new DVD for the home theater. Their special this week was The Mummy , Stephen Sommers' 1999 update of the 1932 Universal classic. I originally saw this film during its theatrical run and enjoyed it, as it did not tax the brain too heavily, and I was quite interested in what they would put in a double disc ultimate DVD set.

The Mummy is a swashbuckling adventure story reminiscent of Saturday matinee serials and the Warner Brothers' films of Michael Curtiz ( The Adventures of Robin Hood Captain Blood etc.) In fact, it's quite easy to imagine this film from Warner Brothers' circa 1940 with Errol Flynn, Olivia deHavilland, Basil Rathbone and the rest of the gang. It makes no pretense to historical accuracy from the opening shot of the Great Pyramid with the voice over grandly intoning "Thebes" (Thebes was hundreds of miles away from Giza) or to narrative consistency. What matters for this genre of film is that the story be propelled forward like a jet engine and this movie does that in spades.

The movie starts with a visually stunning prologue set in Ancient Egypt, which explains how the high priest Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo) was condemned to eternal damnation and to become the walking undead. We then fast forward 3,500 years to the 1920s where a garrison of the French Foreign Legion including the dashing Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser) and his weasel of a pal Beni (Kevin J. O'Connor employing an outlandish and unidentifiable accent) are being massacred by the Tauregs in the ruins of the fabled Hamanaptura, city of the dead and resting place of Imhotep. Then we skip a few years later to Cairo where we meet Evie Carnahan (Rachel Weisz), an antiquarian and librarian and her wastrel brother Jonathan (John Hannah) who come upon Rick's Hamanaptura souvenir and recognize it as the possible key to the untold riches buried in the desert. They rescue poor Rick from death by hanging at the local jail (why he should need to be hanged is not explained any more than where he got the puzzle box key or how Jonathan got it from him - as I said, the movie just has to move fast enough and logic be damned) and soon the three of them are off to Hamanaptura via Nile steamer, racing a group of Americans with similar ideas led by the slimy Beni. Soon, Evie accidentally awakens Imhotep's cursed mummy and they're all busy battling the biblical plagues of Egypt, racing away from hordes of zombies, battling mummified armies and teaming up with a mystical secret society of Hamanaptura protectors led by the valiant Ardeth Bey (Oded Fehr), an Arab with tattoos on his face and a dress that would do an Armenian widow proud.

Sommers, the writer/director, uses every gag in the book to keep the pace from flagging and moves quickly from one set piece to another. He also allows a few quiet moments for some character development and humor and to allow the audience to catch its collective breath. These types of movies occasionally make the mistake of never slowing down and it does a great disservice to the viewer for, if we don't know or care about the humans involved, all the CGI effects in the world will not keep our attention. He does make a few mistakes. The character of the Cairo jailer who tags along on the journey is an offensive Arab stereotype and should have been rethought. Rick's motives throughout the film are opaque at best as we know nothing about him as a man. Sommers also tends to get carried away in the finale with his mummy effects. He hasn't necessarily learned that less is sometimes more.

The actors are game and obviously having a good time with the material. Rachel Weisz and John Hannah, in particular, give their comic moments gusto and Arnold Vosloo, when he is human, is appropriately menacing. Kevin J. O'Connor has most of the comic relief bits and is quite funny (although its a little unclear what his character is doing in the film other than to include a Peter Lorre role). Brendan Fraser is at his best playing comic book heroes and here he assays another one. He'll never win an acting award for a role like this but he has the physical size and look to have actually been a Saturday matinee serial icon in an earlier age.

The DVD contains a couple of minor cut scenes (which do nothing to clarify plot holes), an hour long 'look behind the scenes' special which shows how many of the visual effects were done. More interesting are a series of looks at specific shots showing the original plate photography and how the folks at Industrial Light and Magic worked their sorcery on it to make the finished product. There are three audio commentary tracks. One with the writer/director and editor (interesting in terms of some of the storytelling and backstage gossip), one with Arnold Vosloo, Kevin J. O'Connor and Oded Fehr (kind of hip and freewheeling as the three of them play off each other) and one with Brendan Fraser (sort of like having your kid brother's frat buddy, who's had one beer too many, sit on the couch next to you - skip it).

Pharohcide. Flesh eating scarabs. Burning Nile Steamers. Juicy mummies. Desiccated mummies. Gratuitous drunk librarian. Camel riding. Hidden treasure chambers. Gratuitous Bernard Fox. Wall of sand. Accidental blood drinking. Manhole leaps.

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