The Mummy (1999)

THE MUMMY (1999)

Notes: Universal Pictures. 124 minutes.
Rick O’Connell: Brendan Fraser
Evelyn: Rachel Weisz
Jonathan: John Hannah
Imhotep: Arnold Vosloo
With Kevin J. O’Connor, Oded Fehr, Erick Avari, Stephen Dunham, Omid Djalili

Executive Producer: Kevin Jarre
Produced: James Jacks, Sean Daniel
Directed: Stephen Sommers
Screenplay: Stephen Sommers
Story: Stephen Sommers, Lloyd Fonvielle, Kevin Jarre
Music: Jerry Goldsmith

Summary: InThebes, 1290 BC, Imhotep is carrying on an affair with PharaohSeti I’s mistress, Anck-su-namen. When the Pharaoh suspects her,due to smudged arm paint, she and Imhotep murder him. As the Pharaoh’sbodyguards burst in, she tells Imhotep to escape: “Only youcan resurrect me.” She stabs herself.

Imhotep “dared the gods’ anger” byattempting a resurrection ceremony, but is interrupted by thebodyguards. His priests are mummified alive. Imhotep’s tongueis cut out and he is entombed with hundreds of scarabs. The tombis locked lest he emerge as “a walking disease.”

The passage of time is marked by wars. RickO’Connell is saved from bullets in the nick of time by supernaturalevents at the site overseen by the Medai, descendants of the bodyguards,keeping watch. He wanders into the desert.

In Cairo, librarian Evelyn, an expert in ancientEgyptian, accidentally destroys the library and is startled byfeckless brother Jonathan who flings a mummy about callously.He has obtained an octagonal box from the time of Seti I whichcontains a map to the city of the dead. The map goes up in flameswhen shown to the Minister of Antiquities, so Evie and Jonathanvisit his source, O’Connell in prison. Although O’Connell is hanged,Evie bargains with the fat Egyptian authority for a stake in theirdig, and O’Connell is cut down. Aboard ship, a band of Americansare also seeking the city of the dead, helped by Beni, a weasellyacquaintance of O’Connell. The Medai attack and lots of gunfireand real fire send everyone into the water.

All end up at the lost city, the Americanslooking for treasure and Evelyn and company in search of The Bookof Amun-Ra. They see a “preparation room” (for mummification).The Egyptian picks scarab gems off a wall, but one has a livingbug in it which digs into his shoe and flesh and crawls up tohis face, sending him into a suicidal frenzy. Meanwhile, the Americans’servants break into a tomb and are melted with pressurized saltacid from a booby trap. Jonathan accidentally discovers the sarcophagusof “He that shall not be named.” That night, the Medaiattack and warn all to leave. Evelyn gets drunk and explains that”Egypt is in my blood.” Her father loved Egypt so muchhe married her mother, an Egyptian woman. She triumphantly announces,”I am a librarian,” and passes out before kissing Rick.

The Americans find a potential treasure: “Deathwill come with swift wings to whoever opens this chest.”Despite warnings of plagues and “one — the undead”who “will kill all who open this chest,” they find abook and jars of entrails. The others find a mummy who, says Evelyn,is “still … still…” “Juicy,” say Rickand Jonathan. He is still decomposing, and had scraped the insideof his tomb with his fingernails, also drawing on his hidden talonsto write, “Death is only the beginning.”

He has obtained an octaEvelyn steals and reads from The Book of theDead. The mummy is animated and roars. Locusts overrun the campand one of the expedition cries, “What have we done?”One American named Burns loses his glasses and is attacked bythe mummy, who takes his eyes and tongue. Rick thinks his shootingthe monster has finished him off, but the chief Medai says, “Thiscreature is the bringer of death. He will never eat; he will neversleep; he will never stop.” Beni encounters the mummy andtries praying on his crucifix, then the symbols of other religions.The mummy recognizes the Star of David as “the language ofthe slaves,” and decides to use Beni in this capacity totrack down the jars with the appropriate fluids for his rejuvenation.

Beni introduces Prince Imhotep in disguiseto the mutilated Mr. Burns. The mummy finishes him off now, suckinghim dry. A plague of blood and of flaming hail signals to theothers, “He’s here.” He has some flesh now, seems tobe attracted to Evie, and disappears in a sandstorm when a catappears.

During a plague of darkness, Rick and Jonathantry to rescue the Egyptian from the dig, but the mummy has alreadysucked him dry and unleashes a plague of flies from his mouth.He then kills one of the Americans at the hotel and retrievesanother jar. He enters Evie’s room as sand through a keyhole andkisses her with his still somewhat rotten face. Rick bursts inwith a cat and the mummy disappears in a sandstorm again. We decidethat the black book brought him to life, perhaps a gold book cankill.

The masses, afflicted with boils and soresand having become zombies, chant “Imhotep” mindlessly.The last American is killed, and Imhotep is fully regenerated.He tells Evelyn, “Take my hand and I will spare your friends,”but when she goes he tells the zombies, “Kill them all.”They get the last Egyptian, but the others escape down the sewer.

They enlist the help of former R.A.F. pilotWinston Havelock to fly them to the city of the dead to rescueEvie. A giant sand mouth of the mummy swallows the plane, whichcrashes, killing Winston and sinking into quicksand. Jonathanhas a scarab encounter but is saved by Rick. Imhotep’s servantsare animated from stone carvings and his priests explode out ofthe ground. Evie is tied down and realizes another corpse is lyingbeside her: the mummy of Anck-su-namen. While the good guys blowup mummy warriors, the chief Medai sacrifices himself to savethe others, and Beni loads a camel with stolen treasures, Imhotepbegins the ritual of reanimation again. A doppelganger screamingshows Anck-su-namen beginning to come to life.

Rick battles more mummies and Evie tries toavoid getting butchered while Jonathan attempts to read the inscriptionon the gold book. Imhotep begins to strangle Rick, but when Eviereads the magic words, ghostly horsemen race down the staircaseand carry off the supernatural image of Imhotep. He is still therein bodily form, and comes after Rick, but has lost his immortality.Stabbing works, and Imhotep sinks, rotting, into a pool of corpses.”Death is only the beginning.”

Beni triggers a booby trap which sends theceilings slowly downwards. The others escape, but he is trappedinside the treasure room. Thousands of scarabs attack him. Outside,the entire city explodes too.

The chief Medai is alive still after all. Rickand Evelyn kiss, and Jonathan rolls his eyes. They take off oncamels, thinking they are empty-handed and not realizing thatBeni had loaded one of the camels with treasures.

Commentary:I’m willing to acknowledge that this is the best mummy movie todate. It selects the best bits from all previous movies (suchas the victimization of a guy lost without his glasses, as inthe Hammer film The Mummy’s Shroud; the corpses emergingfrom the ground and the not entirely regenerated female mummyas in Universal’s own The Mummy’s Curse; even the use ofthe traditional key names such as Imhotep, since Universal alwaysowned the rights). The grandiosity — sets, noise, special effects,frantic pacing — also work in its favor. Characterization isalso charming here. Most of these components are even well integratedtoo.

But the film does not tap into any mythologicallevel. The reconstitution of Imhotep is the reverse of the horrorof degeneration. And the mummy once again must become vampiricto be monstrous, vs. operating somehow as a monster in its ownright. On a minor note, the mummification (or wrapping) of Imhoteptakes place with his head pointing to the right of the screen,and this does seem wrong both in terms of the 1932 film and themise en scene.

It sometimes sounds as if they are pronouncing”Anck-su-namen” with an extra syllable: An-anck-su-namen– if so, a nice blend of the earlier female names in the Universalmummy movies, Anck-es-en-amen and Ananka. Her scream at the earlystage of each attempted reanimation is successfully creepy.

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