The Mummy (1999)

The Mummy (1999) (1999)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, Arnold Vosloo, Oded Fehr, Kevin O’Connor
Extras: Documentaries, Commentary Track, Egyptology 101, Deleted scenes, Trailers and more

Since Indiana Jones made his last appearance on the silver screen in 1989 no film had seriously attempted to follow in the footsteps of this highly successful trilogy. I am sure in part this had to do with the fear of being compared to the big Spielberg/Lucas collaboration, but also because this kind of film requires a delicately balanced script and fine actors to keep it entertaining and funny, yet serious enough to establish a real drama and create tension. Exactly ten years after Dr. Jones, "The Mummy" hit theaters nationwide, following the tradition of action-adventure comedies and within minutes into the movie it is clear that it does not have to shy away from comparisons. The film was

Universal’s super blockbuster of the summer and for its home video release on DVD it has been accordingly treated, giving customers the chance to choose from two different versions of the film. One in <$PS,widescreen> and one in <$PS,fullscreen>, but both packed with extras as part of Universal’s Collector’s Edition line.

When Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser), a member of the Foreign Legion, is facing overwhelming odds in a battle in the lost city of Hamunaptra in the Egyptian desert, his fate seems sealed. But a powerful and clearly evil force from within the ruins of the city scares the opponents away, giving O’Connell a second shot at life. Some time later, the young archeologist Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) learns that that O’Connell had actually been in the mythical city of Hamunaptra, she hires him to lead her there. Incredible treasures are supposedly hidden within these ruins of ancient time and she wants to uncover them. At the same time, another group of adventurers is on its way to the lost city, lead by Beni (Kevin J. O’Connor) another legionnaire who had almost caused O’Connell’s death for his own survival. Both parties race to the city to be the first to secure the riches but what they don’t know is that it is haunted by Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo), the ghost of an age-old Egyptian highpriest who had fallen from grace. By accident they find his mummy and without knowing it they bring his body back to life. Now, Imhotep, more powerful than ever has the seven plagues raging over the country, trying to find the reincarnation of his previous love Anck-Su-Namum.

Loosely based on Karl Freund’s 1932 classic film "The Mummy" with Boris Karloff, director Stephen Sommers took a very different approach to the subject matter and made a racy action adventure out of the horror material. Mingled with poignant dialogues and funny characters the whole film has a very attractive and refreshing charm. Unlike Karloff’s lumberingly threatening Mummy, we now see a powerful creature that is magical and threatening at the same time. Heavy computer generated effects were employed to bring this fantastic tale to life, from rather simple environmental effects that allowed the filmmakers to give a face to a sandstorm, and an initially almost skeletal Mummy that restores as it drains the life out of other people, all the way to an army of skeletal priests that fight their way to Kingdom Come during the film’s furious finale.

Although very heavy on the visual effects, the film lives and breathes with its characters. Brendan Fraser has been a perfect cast to play Rick O’Connell with his boyish goofy charm. With every film I see him in, I am more impressed by Frasers ability to play a wide variety of characters.

Arnold Vosloo is making his mark as the Mummy, embodying a creature that is very different from all the previous mummies that graced the screen. He is powerful, mystical, beautiful and dangerous. Vosloo is walking a thin line between becoming a comic-book character and a horror creature and he pulls it off with ease.

"The Mummy" is very epic at times and although I have only seen the film’s <$PS,widescreen> version, I doubt a <$PS,pan & scan> transfer can do the movie any justice. Even in <$PS,widescreen> the film loses quite a bit of impact on a small screen. It is clearly a film that needs to be seen on a big screen in order to appreciate all of its glory. The <$PS,widescreen> version on this DVD from Universal restores the film’s original theatrical 2.35:1 aspect ratio in a transfer that has been <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TV sets. The image is very sharp and highly detailed, but never appears over-enhanced at all, and doesn’t show signs of <$aliasing,aliasing distortion>. The print used to take the transfer from was in pristine quality, delivering a perfectly clean and undistorted image. The shadow definition is stunning, allowing you to see every little detail under all circumstances. Just as well preserved are the movie’s warm and rich colors. They have been nicely reproduced on this DVD without over-saturating, bleeding or washing out. They are powerful yet always well-defined and as smooth as the sand of the desert. The overall image quality of this disc is excellent and really has to be seen.

A dynamic sound mix rounds out the movie on this release with a good overall reproduction, aggressive use of the split surrounds and a good bass extension. The soundtrack comes across remarkably and balanced clear throughout, always leaving enough space in the spectrum for the dialogues to come through without problems. Jerry Goldsmith contributed the score to "The Mummy" and it once again proves his abilities to capture the flair and atmosphere of any given film. Highly orchestral in nature, the score features dramatic arrangements and Egyptian sounding motives while always staying with a defined, heroic theme for the overall film. Apart from the film’s English soundtrack presented in <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital>, the disc also contains a French <$DS,Dolby Surround> track and English <$CC,closed captions>.

As a Collector’s Edition, "The Mummy" of course contains a number of bonus materials, starting with an interesting <$commentary,commentary track> by director Stephen Sommers and editor Bob Ducsay. It is both informative and enlightening cover a wealth of details about he movie and its creation. It also contains a documentary called "Building a better Mummy" that gives viewers a look behind the scenes of the film. In quite some depth it unearth some of the secret about how the film’s many special effects shots came together and how ILM used computer generated images to enhance the film in general and of course to bring Imhotep to life. Deleted scenes, trailers and more information on selective special effect shots give the viewer a lot to go through when exploring this disc. If that’s not enough for you, take a look at the interactive game or the screensavers also found on the disc as part of the DVD-ROM content.

When I first saw "The Mummy" in theaters I was mesmerized by its beauty and its good-humored nature while creating plenty of tension and drama. It was a fun film to watch, a very entertaining and enjoyable ride, topped with some spectacular special effects icing, and I am very happy to see the film restored on this DVD so meticulously by Universal. If you are looking for a reference disc to show off to your friends, look no further. "The Mummy" is easily one of the best looking and sounding discs in the market and once again proves how well Universal mastering this format.