A loose-as-a-goose remake of the 1932 Universal classic starring Boris Karloff, "The Mummy" ups the ante with an expansion in scope, stakes and budget (reportedly $100 million). Because the original feature is decidedly quaint and antiquated by modern standards (there is barely a standard-issue, wrapped-bandaged mummy in sight), writer-director Stephen Sommers has wisely taken the material in a new direction. The result is a rollicking adventure yarn of thrills, humor and daring close calls, albeit one liberally borrowing its style and tone from the "Indiana Jones" series. Viewed eighteen years after its initial May 1999 theatrical release via a revelatory 4K UHD Blu-ray transfer, "The Mummy" holds up surprisingly well, an example of disposably fun popcorn cinema that many of today's similar yet decidedly more dour special-effects extravaganzas would be wise to model themselves after.
In Thebes, Egypt, 1290 B.C., high priest Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo) is caught having an affair with the Pharaoh's wife, Anck-su-Naman (Patricia Velasquez). Following the assassination of her husband, Anck-su-Naman kills herself. Imhotep vows to resurrect his forbidden love in Hamunaptra, the city of the dead, but before he is able to complete the ritual he is captured and mummified within a sarcophagus filled with flesh-eating scarab beetles. Jump ahead to 1926, plucky Cairo librarian Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) is presented a mysterious ancient box and sacred map by older brother Jonathan (John Hannah) that allegedly points the way to undiscovered treasures in the temples of Hamunaptra. The siblings reach the legendary city with the help of roguish American adventurer Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser), but the discovery of the Book of the Dead inadvertently revives the ghoulish corpse of Imhotep. As the ten deadly plagues are gradually unleashed across Egypt, Imhotep sets his sights on Evelyn as a conduit to raising his beloved mistress from the dead.
"The Mummy" is peppered with daring dos and a wicked sense of humor, uplifted further by an appealing ensemble of actors who look like they are having fun. The dialogue has its fair share of amusements and tricky wordplay (in one scene, a cheerily inebriated Evelyn declares, "I bet you're wondering why a place like me would want to go to a girl like this!"), while action sequences are frequent and skillful (an early escape from a fiery ship taken over by adversaries is fast-paced and exciting). Once resurrected, Imhotep is less what one would describe as a conventional mummy than merely a newly immortal rotting corpse. There is cursory disappointment in this creative decision, but the chase which ensues between he and Rick & Evelyn is so sprightly one hardly has time to dwell on the missed opportunity. Attacks from swarms of locusts and a colony of nasty scarab beetles keep the stakes raised and the flashy visual effects at attention. Some CG shots hold up better than others, but they look their best in Universal's remastered 2017 4K UHD transfer; with this version on the home-video market and making Adrian Biddle's golden-hued cinematography look better than ever, all previous editions of this film have been rendered obsolete.
There is a darker remake of "The Mummy" to be made, one focused on genuine horror and less a throwback of Golden Age matinee serials. Nevertheless, 1999's "The Mummy" matches its aspirations as a stunt- and effects-heavy adventure, one that gives the viewer little to think about but plenty to enjoy. Brendan Fraser is ideally cast if underwritten as the foolhardy Rick O'Connell, while Rachel Weisz is a standout as the likable, intelligent, oft-klutzy Evelyn. Weisz's comic timing is sharp and disarming, while her relationship with John Hannah, as brother Jonathan, feels appropriately lived-in. As far as supernatural villains go, Arnold Vosloo is a commanding and threatening foe. "The Mummy" won't be mistaken for anything deeper than it isat the time of its release, it was the first blockbuster out of the gate during a summer movie season that had only just begun to kick off the first weekend in Maybut it works on its own terms, and still manages to offer spectacle and charm nearly two decades later.