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The Mummy: Ultimate Edition

Universal Home Video

Starring Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah
Arnold Vosloo, Kevin J. O'Connor, and Jonathan Hyde

Written by Nina Wilcox Putnam (story) and Richard Schayer
Directed by Stephen Sommers

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Review by Alexandra DuPont                    

Now that Steven Spielberg pours his greatest efforts into movies that function more as civics lesson than photoplay (see Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, et. al.), a pressing question rises from the collective lips of popcorn-munching film geeks: Who's gonna make more "Indiana Jones" movies?

All critical conceits aside, most people go to movies for plebeian thrills, and Raiders of the Lost Ark (or Indiana Jones and Marion and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, or whatever they're calling it these days) is damn near perfect in that regard: a rousing quest adventure featuring colorful supporting characters and grand vistas and gripping action and supernatural thrills. Along with Star Wars and Jaws, Raiders forever changed the landscape of action filmmaking — yet its light mix of adventure, humor, violence and romance has seldom been duplicated, not even by its flawed sequels.

The Mummy, however, comes as close as anything over the past several years. The best way to describe this goofy popcorn ensemble adventure is that it's what would happen if you crossed Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom with a zombie horror film by way of a Ray Harryhausen fighting-skeleton epic — then made it sillier. If The Mummy had a hero with a bit more gravity at its center (i.e., if it starred Harrison Ford and not affable, edge-free Brendan Fraser), it'd be far superior to the two sequels to Raiders. As it stands, it's well worth a spin on your DVD deck.

The plot is straight out of an old Hollywood serial: A ragtag bunch of adventurers in 1930s Egypt accidentally unleash an undead, nigh-invulnerable, utterly evil Egyptian priest. Then they spend the rest of the movie trying to kill him.

Also in keeping with old serials, the characters are broadly sketched and numerous — maybe too numerous, though this does provide the villain with an enjoyably large buffet of supporting players on which to snack. The underrated Fraser brings a light touch and genuine comic timing to his Indiana Jones-ish lead role, although while watching it I frequently wished Mssr. Ford or perhaps geek-horror icon Bruce Campbell was standing in his boots. Rachel Weisz makes a charming heroine/love interest, blending Marion's spunk from Raiders with a dash of book smarts. Some will find Kevin J. O'Connor's stereotypically treacherous and greedy Arab, Beni, a bit hard to take — but he's probably no more offensive a cliché than the lazy Limey playboy, the effete professor, the dumb-ass cowboys, or the drunk flying ace that pop up throughout the story.

But, truth be told, we spin The Mummy for its well-spaced action and effects, which, particularly toward the end, are great fun. There's one bit where Fraser's character takes on a tiny army of undead warriors that's just terrific — a sequence one suspects Harryhausen would have filmed if he'd had access to computer animation. There's wit in the choreography, a sense of danger, and a non-invasive touch from director Stephen Sommers that was probably harder to pull off than it looks, given the film's technical demands.

The only possibly valid criticism of The Mummy's special effects, which are excellent, is that there are too many of them too soon. One of the brilliant things about Raiders is the slow revelation of its supernatural elements: When you finally see faces melting and spirits scampering about killing Nazis, you're primed for it, and the effect is thrilling. But in this movie, you get the F/X porn right away, and I must say the effect is a bit like eating an entire meal of desserts: Your palate can no longer distinguish the good from the very good, and you end up a little numb.

And the case could be made that the film will let down both hard-core geeks and gore-phobic parents. There's just enough zombie-movie creepiness (in particular the thousands of flesh-eating scarab beetles) to disqualify this as an all-ages adventure. That said, a lot of people who are expecting a total creep-out will also be disappointed; there's some pretty broad comedy here — like you'd find in Evil Dead 2 or Dead Alive — that might disappoint hard-core horror buffs. The trick, in my opinion, is to remember the following: It's not a horror movie, it's a monster movie. Big difference.

*          *          *

Universal's The Mummy: Ultimate Edition improves upon their previous "Collector's Edition" discs by including both anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) and pan-and-scan (1.33:1) transfers on separate discs. Audio is available DTS 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 on the widescreen version (English only); on the full-frame transfer are Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in English and French, and an additional Dolby 2.0 Surround track in Spanish.

Supplements on Disc One include a commentary with director Stephen Sommers and editor Bob Ducsay (from the previous disc), a new commentary by Brendan Fraser, and another new track with actors Oded Fehr, Kevin J. O'Connor, and Arnold Vosloo. Also on Disc One are retreads from the previous disc, including the 50-minute Building a Better Mummy documentary, offering a behind-the-scenes look at the movie, as well as a discussion on its place in Hollywood mummy lore; Egyptology 101, a text-based overview of Egyptian culture, with extensive sections on The Gods, The Immortals, The Ten Plagues, Artifacts, and a map with important locations (get through all of these screens and you should be able to bluff your way through your next cocktail party as a nascent archeologist); and both Production Notes and Cast and Filmmakers textual supplements.

The extras on Disc Two include a new 11-minute "The Mummy Returns" featurette with a look at the May 2001 sequel, as well as a new Storyboard to Film comparison with three scenes ("Hangman's Noose," "Scarab Run," "Trouble in Cairo.") Also new is a four-minute Photograph Montage with movie stills and some behind-the-scenes shots (as usual on Universal discs, the score plays in the background), a textual Pharaoh Lineage supplement, and there are a few additional Weblinks as well. Returning from the previous Mummy disc is a feature on the Visual and Special Effects, dissecting five passages of the film through the progression of plate photography, visual effects elements, composited shots, and the final feature sequence, all with running commentary by visual effects supervisor John Berton (and required viewing for all film students who plan to work with digital elements). Three Deleted Scenes return, as well as a Theatrical Trailers for The Mummy and The Mummy Returns.

(Missing from the original "Collector's Edition"? The "Universal Showcase," with trailers for End of Days and For Love of the Game. Not a big deal, really, but there are two trailers for The Mummy as well — only one of them is on this new release).

— Alexandra DuPont

Disc One

Disc Two

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