Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Adventure Horror Watch: The Mummy (1999)

Watched:  06/12/2024
Format:  Peacock
Viewing:  third?
Director:  Stephen Sommers

Okay.  I am aware that this movie is a favorite of many-a-folk.  I think it played really well with people of a certain age as a cable-rewatch or DVD favorite.  I was 24 when this came out, just out of film school, and spent 1997 learning about the Universal Monster films, so I came in with *opinions*.   I saw this once in the theater, saw the sequel somewhere along the line, and skipped all the subsequent Stephen Sommers output until Van HelsingAnd Simon and I discussed that movie at length.    

If you want to go on with your life not listening to someone who is going to not spend a review effusing about this movie, I get it.  Do what you have to do.

What people remembers about The Mummy (1999) is that the characters are *fun* and the movie is *fun*.  And I'll argue the first is definitely true and the second is, eh, 60% true.  I think a lot of us were onboard with Brendan Fraser in full action-hero mode, being quippy and shooting rifles into faceless hordes of villains while performing acts of derring-do.  Many-a-person saw Rachel Weisz for the first time and found her charming as hell, because she is.  John Hannah, for a character with no arc and with at least one duplicate in the film, manages to pull off the ne'er-do-well sibling with aplomb.  Oded Fehr is really good as totally-not-the-guy-from-Last Crusade (just realized he's the silver-fox Admiral on Star Trek: Discovery).  

But, man, this movie has never heard of the term "narrative economy" and it's furious at the idea of not having some wacky business in every possible moment no matter how dire the moment or threat.   The movie is so consistently inconsistent in what it's doing, there's no valleys and troughs to the narrative.  It's just a sort of stochastic blast of "things happening" down the timeline that it's almost flat as a Coke you left out for two days with the lid off.  

Sommers also can't stop adding shit to his story whether it helps anything or not.  He's just adding little bits that feel like they're lifted from other things, like our librarian/ Egyptologist (she says she's a librarian, but she's also clearly an Egyptologist) has to knock over every bookcase.  Our brother character has to be a wacky gambler/ drunk/ and is basically queer-coded for 1999, or else he'd also be a letch.  And all of that takes up oxygen.

I'll say it this way - this movie has a two hour run time, and the first time I felt engaged this time was at the one hour mark when things started happening in the tomb - ie: when the story they've been dicking about getting to finally kicks in.  For an hour, we have to get Rick out of prison, we have to have a boat fire, we have to do so many things except for do the thing the movie is about.  It's so long, and so unnecessary.  And so much less interesting than the prologue sequence, so we're just killing time in a lot of ways.  

We're still a few years off from the end of feeling like genre movies marketed to mass audiences had to wink to the audience for the run time to let you know no one is taking this too seriously, but it just undercuts whatever the scenes are trying to accomplish.  You just can't ever take the danger too seriously when the characters themselves are yukking it up even during our climax.  If the mid-00's did anything, it was show you could be sincere with your genre stuff even if you weren't named Lucas or Spielberg.

Sommers also seems to have wanted to ape the best, and I don't blame him.  He's borrowed the secret protectors of the Holy Grail from The Last Crusade, but made them into his protectors of the City of the Dead, and they're TERRIBLE at their job.  If they've known for 3000 years where Imhotep is, why not go burn his body?  Why was there a curse that gave Imhotep godlike powers that would destroy the planet if he got out?  Why apply it at all?  Why did they attack loudly, get half their team shot and then warn the treasure-seekers "y'all better leave soonish!"?  Why not just murder them in their sleep?  

Why did the Egyptians build this temple that would somehow explode? (Honestly, we all have this same question about the lever in Bride of Frankenstein, too.)

It's possible this story is terrible, fam.

What I won't go into is any complaint that this Mummy bears no real resemblance to the 1932 movie The Mummy, and that's okay.  That movie is slow and more of a vibe than anything.  I am also going to just acknowledge this movie is very 1990's-style racist, and let y'all sort out the how's and why's.  It's also just bordering on letting the girl do something - like, you can feel that they know they should, but then who would be the damsel in distress?

I was surprised the very 1999 CGI held up as well as it did.  A lot of love went into that, and I can tell you that what they did for 1999 was very hard, indeed.  

Anyway - I don't hate this movie, but it's trying really hard to be a horror/comedy/adventure, and that's a tall order.  Without the benefit of Space Jam Fallacy, what I mostly rely on is the strength of our leads and some nice set pieces.  

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