The Mummy

Nashville Scene

DIRECTED BY: Stephen Sommers

REVIEWED: 05-17-99

The days of rousing, serial-movie adventure are stored in a computer somewhere, and from the looks of Universal's The Mummy, it doesn't look like they'll be back anytime soon. Instead of thrilling escapes and supernatural chills, filmmakers are giving us digital beetle swarms and a high-tech soundtrack of Dolby-enhanced clicks, scrapes, and roars. It's nifty in a geeky kind of way, if you like thinking about all the processing power that a computer-generated sandstorm must have required. But unlike an old-fashioned adventure movie, The Mummy leaves the audience comfortably cradled in its seats.

At least writer-director Stephen Sommers (who previously helmed the underrated live-action Jungle Book) has star Brendan Fraser in his corner. As the intrepid thrill-seeker Rick O'Connell, Fraser, with his expressive face and solid physical presence, is more exciting than 90 percent of The Mummy's special effects. His O'Connell stumbles on the lost Egyptian city of the dead while fighting in World War I, and he's rescued from the gallows to lead an expedition to the treasure trove. Joining him are Evelyn (Rachel Weisz), a perky British librarian in search of legendary artifacts, her layabout brother Jonathan (John Hannah), and a secret society led by Ardeth Bey (Oded Fehr). At the lost city, however, ancient curses are surprisingly thick on the ground, and it isn't long until some ill-advised incantations awaken Imhotep, a high priest who was tortured and mummified thousands of years ago.

As in the 1932 Boris Karloff version, Imhotep is trying to reanimate his long-lost love, and he seizes on Evelyn as a human sacrifice. But his bandages and other traditional mummy trappings are long gone. He's a bunch of bones in search of some skin, stomping around like a desiccated Lara Croft, frightening no one but his animators. Only when Imhotep returns to his former shape, played by the exotically creepy Arnold Vosloo, does the movie shake off its pixillated malaise and have some scary fun.

By then, we've been desensitized to real excitement by the hundreds of computer-generated images that pass for threats, villains, and biblical plagues. Sommers obviously wants to retool the horror classics of the past for a modern audience, but he chooses the wrong elements to update. He sets his graphics team to work on state-of-the-art skeleton warriors, but he leaves intact the appalling racism of the colonial era, in which the white hero can't stand tall except by contrast with craven, filthy natives.

The attendance figures and staggering $44 million box-office take for The Mummy's opening weekend prove that audiences crave old-fashioned adventure, and that they're gearing up for what they hope will be the mother lode in Episode I: The Phantom Menace. It's a pity all they got this time was flying bits and bytes.

--Donna Bowman

Full Length Reviews
The Mummy

Capsule Reviews
The Mummy
The Mummy

Other Films by Stephen Sommers
Deep Rising
The Jungle Book

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