The Mummy Returns

The Mummy Returns (2001)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, Arnold Vosloo, Odhed Fehr, The Rock
Extras: Commentary Track, Spotlight On Location, Outtakes, Special Effects Features, Theatrical Trailer, Music Video, Interviews, Cast & Crew

Over the years, movies have taught us that it’s hard to keep for an angry, vengeful spirit to remain at rest. We’ve always learned that you can’t keep a money-making character from returning to the screen. With those two theories in mind, we tackle "The Mummy Returns", the sequel to Universal’s 1999 runaway hit. Writer/director Stephen Sommers has pulled off a minor coup by reassembling the bulk of the main cast from the first film for this sequel, but would that be enough to replicate the success of "The Mummy"? Universal Home Video is now bringing "The Mummy Returns" to DVD with many extra goodies for us to unwrap.

"The Mummy Returns" opens with the recounting of the legend of The Scorpion King (played by The Rock), a warrior who traded his soul to the god Anubis in exchange for power and control of Anubis’ army. Their alliance led to the creation of the Oasis of Ahm Shere, which was soon lost to civilization. Once The Scorpion King had conquered the known world, he was forced to serve Anubis for all time.

The story then jumps ahead to 1933, eight years after the events, which took place in "The Mummy". We once again meet the (now married) O’Connell’s, Rick (Brendan Fraser) and Evelyn (Rachel Weisz), and are introduced to their eight-year old son Alex (Freddie Boath). As their story opens, Rick and Evelyn have discovered a tomb containing the bracelet of The Scorpion King. This discovery sets off a dastardly chain of events as a group of individuals led by The Curator (Alun Armstrong) and Meela (Patricia Velazquez) want to use the bracelet for evil. If they can get the bracelet, and resurrect Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo), the mummy from the first film, then they can gain access to the army of Anubis and rule the world. So, the villains go after the O’Connells. But, Rick isn’t going to let anyone endanger his family, and with the help of the mysterious Ardeth Bay (Odhed Fehr) and his bumbling brother-in-law Jonathan (John Hannah), Rick sets off on a race against time to stop Imhotep and his followers from carrying out their evil plan and to save his family.

As with "The Mummy", "The Mummy Returns" presents the audience with a mixed-bag, in terms of quality. On the positive side, the action here is top-notch. The film has actually been criticized for being too fast-paced, but I applaud writer/director Stephen Sommers for creating a film where there is always something happening. As someone who’s sat through many films where nothing happens, I welcome such a change of pace. Also, as with "The Mummy", the story takes places in several different locales, meaning that the scenery is constantly changing, adding to the sense of adventure. Whereas "The Mummy" had competent CGI effects, "The Mummy Returns" sadly falls short on many fronts. Consistently taking the "more is better" approach, the film is awash with digital matte paintings and 3D characters, but given the overwhelming quantities, obviously there wasn’t enough time to fully detail out every shot. The result is a mix of flat-looking computer art and unconvincing 3D models. I have to say, though, that the decomposed Imhotep looks more convincing this time around.
On the other side, "The Mummy Returns" suffers from "Deep Blue Sea Syndrome". This occurs when a film is exciting and fast-paced, but once it’s over, you begin to realize that nothing in the movie made any sense. There are tons of plot holes in this film and many seemingly important plot points are never explained. (We’ll get to the filmmakers’ view on this in a moment.) This leads to a noticeable lack of character development. While Rick O’Connell wasn’t exactly a chatterbox in "The Mummy", one can’t help but notice how Brendan Fraser doesn’t have that many lines in this film. It’s clear that Sommers has tried to load the film with plot (adding some things that don’t quite gel with the first film) and has succeeded in creating at least one very surprising plot twist, but this comes at the cost of the minor details. The other minus to "The Mummy Returns" is a special effect, which occurs during the finale. Now, I won’t spoil this for those who haven’t seen the film, but the effect is so laughably bad that it actually draws one out of the movie. This is quite a tragedy, because besides this bizarre special effect, the finale is quite exciting. On a personal note, I’m disappointed that Sommers chose to mimic the filming style used in "Gladiator" for the fight scenes in "The Mummy Returns". These flaws explain why some people dislike "The Mummy Returns", but I don’t understand why some hate it outright. It’s not all that different from the first film and plays quite well as an action-adventure.

Universal Home Video brings "The Mummy Returns" to DVD as part of their "Collector’s Edition" series, and as with the film, it presents us with a mixed bag of goodies. However, there’s no denying that the transfer is very good. The film has been <$PS,letterboxed> at 2.35:1 and is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TVs. The image here is very sharp and clear, showing no major defects. It is typically in brightly lit exterior shots that one notices grain in movies, and "The Mummy Returns" is full of scenes in the hot, scorching desert, but the grain is barely noticeable. The colors are impressive as well, with The Curator’s red cloak contrasting with the lush green of the Oasis of Ahm Shere. The blacks in the film are true and realistic, as are the fleshtones. The crispness of this image adds a great deal of depth to the many wide shots of the desert. The framing here appears to be accurate and there are no overt problems caused by compression or edge enhancement. Overall, this transfer is near reference quality, in my opinion.

"The Mummy Returns" is one of those films where there is a sound effect for everything (even headlights being turned off) and they all come through loud and clear on the <$DD,Dolby Digital> <$5.1,5.1 channel> soundtrack. This track offers clear and audible dialogue, with no overt hissing. There is constant surround sound action, whether it be from Alan Silvestri’s score, or from the aforementioned sound effects. The dynamic range is quite good here, creating an impressive soundfield. Also noticeable is the attention to detail in the onscreen action to speaker placement of the sounds. And let us not forget the subwoofer, who never feels left out in this sonic assault. (Someone in my household thought I was watching "Jurassic Park" because of all the pounding!). This is an excellent soundtrack to match the clear video transfer.

While the transfer is impressive, the mixed-bag portion begins to show up with the extras. The DVD features an <$commentary,audio commentary> with writer/director Stephen Sommers and editor/executive producer (that’s an odd combo) Bob Ducsay. This is a fun and entertaining commentary, as these two clearly have a good working relationship. This duo shares many anecdotes about the production of the film, but what’s even more interesting is how they point out the flaws in the film. Every gaff and plot hole is well documented by these two and they discuss how they chose pacing and action over attention to detail. This commentary is informative and never boring, but they don’t have much to say about that special effect in the finale. Also detailing the film’s production is the 20-minute "Spotlight on Location" featurette, which offers interviews with the cast and crew and gives a brief look at how some of the special effects were created.

We get a closer look at the special effects in the "Visual and Special Effects Formation" section. This feature looks at four different scenes (involving Imhotep, the Anubis warriors, and two others) in a step-by-step fashion to show how the effect was created. From the concept drawings to the finished product, this is a brief, but informative look at the CGI effects. Whereas the DVD of "The Mummy" included a section entitled "Egyptology 101", we now have "Egyptology 201" on "The Mummy Returns" DVD. This contains five all-text sections with detailed information on various aspects of ancient Egypt, including the myth of The Scorpion King.

The highlight of the more traditional extras is the outtake reel. The typically "by the book" Universal has chosen a very unique way to showcase this 6-minute gag-reel, so fear not if you feel as if you’ve chosen the wrong option, because the gaffs and blunders soon show up and many are very funny. We have a music video for the song "Forever May Not Be Long Enough" by the band Live. The theatrical trailer is also offered here as well as detailed production notes and cast & crew bios.

The more dubious extras show up in the promotion of the upcoming film "The Scorpion King", starring The Rock. (He’s only in "The Mummy Returns" for four-and-a-half minutes. How did he make such an impression on the studio?) A 2-minute trailer for "The Scorpion King" is offered here, in both the Bonus Materials section and at the front of "The Mummy Returns" (which means that you have to skip this every time you play the movie.) The photography in the trailer is dark… I’m talking "The Relic" dark here, and the scenes don’t look very good. We also get a 3 1/2 minute interview with The Rock where he discusses the making of The Scorpion King. In addition to these features, there is a DVD-ROM only option to "Unlock the Secrets of The Scorpion King". While some may find this interesting, I would have rather seen the disc space used for more extras from "The Mummy Returns". Several deleted scenes are discussed on the commentary, and I would’ve rather seen them than this promotional material.

Most viewers who enjoyed "The Mummy" should enjoy "The Mummy Returns". While the sequel suffers from some major story and technical problems, and isn’t quite as clever as the original, it is still a fun "no-brainer" action adventure. And nowhere does "The Mummy Returns" look better than on this DVD. The audio and video are both very good and really bring the theater experience to your living room… or tomb.