This weekend sees the official reboot of Universal’s so called “Dark Universe”, bringing to the 21st century all of it’s classic film monsters that the studio built it’s foundations on, with The Mummy, starring Tom Cruise. It’s quite apparent that Universal have serious hopes for this fledgling franchise after having signed on the likes of the aforementioned Cruise, Russell Crowe, Javier Bardem and Johnny Depp(?) to reprise some of the studio’s classic characters and at the time of this piece, does seem to be missing the mark by a significant margin. The Mummy currently sits on a 25% score on Rotten Tomatoes, so evidently, things aren’t going the way Universal expected it to.
That’s not to say the film won’t make a shit ton of money. A combination of Tom Cruise and a smorgasbord of CGI effects will bring in a decent amount of cash at the weekend BO for a by-the-numbers summer blockbuster.
However, when this iteration of The Mummy was announced, there was genuine concern for the 1999 film of the same name being lost in cinema’s history pages. It’s been eighteen years since Stephen Sommers’ film first rolled into cinemas, a surprise smash-hit, raking in a whooping $416 million worldwide(which were insane numbers for a film released in 1999). Personally, it’s the closest we ever got to an Indiana Jones sequel (and this was a whole nine years before the fuck-all Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), boasting an extremely likeable cast, a deliciously campy villain and some impressive CG that still holds up to this day. It isn’t Raiders of the Lost Ark good, but it’s far far better than Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and almost as good as Temple of Doom. The film’s success spawned one successful sequel, one so-bad-it’s-good spinoff and a terrible third instalment before Universal decided to wrap up and seal the series away for good.
See what I did there? No? Oh, okay.
For those unacquainted with the film, the story follows Rick O’ Connell who travels tothe ancient city of the dead, Hamunaptra, with an archaelogist and her bumbling buffoon of a brother. There they accidentally awaken Imhotep, a high priest from the reign of the pharaoh Seti I, who has been cursed for eternity setting into motion a chain of unprecedented events.
I was eight when The Mummy hit screens and just like any eight year old at the time, I stayed well clear of the film in theaters. That’s not to say, I wasn’t aware of the film’s success especially here in Bangalore. The film was running to packed houses all across the city, especially the now long-gone Plaza Theater on MG Road and had many a school going child enacting out sequences from the film. If you grew up in the nineties and didn’t really do your own version of being chased by a sandstorm with a face on the playground, well what did you do exactly?
I managed to catch the film a year later, two years before I discovered Indiana Jones via Temple of Doom, and was thoroughly invested throughout it’s running time. Everything about the film was likeable, even Benny whose sole purpose in the film, is to annoy the living shit out of you. Brendan Fraser was excellent and so was Rachel Weisz, and the two really looked good together on screen. John Hannah, who wasn’t known for his comedic chops at the time was fantastic as Jonathan and Arnold Vosloo, who played Imhotep, was great too. What The Mummy did so well, was that it never took itself seriously and never let you think for more than a moment or two. It was built to be one roller coaster ride from start to finish and it delivered on that promise to a tee, leaving you wanting more by the time the credits began to roll.
Last year, I caught the film once more and still managed to have a great time with it, though it’s flaws seemed more pronounced this time around. The CG isn’t the best, neither is some of the dialogue, but those are minor faults in a very fun film. Exploring the film in details also threw up some great trivia; The film boasted around 164 vfx shots, unprecedented for it’s time. Brendan Fraser almost died during the hanging scene and Sommers had to fight for seven months to include the scene where Imhotep eats the scabbard. It’s these little things that make you love the film so much more.
The cast of the film have since had very different journeys. Brendan Fraser who disappeared into oblivion recently showed up almost un-recognizable in The Affair. Rachel Weisz is still around, doing the odd film every year or so and John Hannah who turned out a brilliant performance as the crooked Batiatus in the Spartacus series, has now found himself a home on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. All plans for a 20 year reunion have been very clearly dashed by Universal, which in a way is great because the first film will remain timeless in it’s own way.
Raiders of the Lost Ark is still my favorite adventure film of all time, but The Mummy did a pretty good job filling in for those pre- Indiana Jones years. It’s by no means a perfect film, but will remain a classic in it’s own way. Tom Cruise’s version of the film may rake in the moolah for Universal, but going by what’s been written so far, it thankfully isn’t a patch on the ’99 version. Viva la Brendan Fraser. The legacy remains.