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It's films like The Mummy that make me want to become a filmmaker

The Mummy
Starring: Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, Arnold Vosloo, John Hannah, Kevin J. O'Connor, Jonathan Hyde, Stephen Dunham, and Patricia Velasquez
Screenplay: Stephen Sommers
Producers: Sean Daniel and James Jacks
Director: Stephen Sommers
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for pervasive adventure violence and some partial nudity

Every once in a blue moon, Hollywood will produce a film that is so great, it inspires young children to become filmmakers themselves. It's not often it happens, but when it does, that certain film should be embraced by critics and audiences alike. The Mummy has the exact same effect on viewers: it makes you want to begin making films. Unfortunately, it is for a completely different reason. You see, The Mummy is God-awful. Let me rephrase that. It's about as bad a film as you will see this year. It's the reason Hollywood has such a negative image problem. Whenever someone says anything bad about Hollywood, you can rest assured that it is films like The Mummy that cause such stereotypes.

Then again, what did we expect from Stephen Sommers? Not only did he write this film, he directed it as well. This should be the first warning sign, considering Sommers directed 1998's hilariously bad B-horror film Deep Rising. Of course, I always believe in giving a director a second chance. After all, even Steven Spielberg has had his bad attempts. But when a director produces two consecutive films that challenge each other for which is worse, you have to realize that maybe directing is not that filmmaker's forte. Judging from both Deep Rising and The Mummy, perhaps Sommers should just stay away from the silver screen permanently. Hopefully, viewers will agree, and ensure a box office flop.

I fear the worst however. Judging from the reaction of the audience I attended the screening with, The Mummy should continue strong, even with the release of the hypefest Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. The audience laughed, cheered, and jumped at those schlocky "jump" moments that only seem appropriate in horror films (although, to be fair, The Mummy is about as horrific as they come). It's the kind of reaction that stirs a certain kind of dread within the critic. Realizing that The Mummy will probably do very well, I can only imagine how the state of film will continue to deteriorate. In fact, The Mummy is so bad that I'm actually having a hard time thinking of words to describe it. To narrow it down to one single word? Crap.

The Mummy is a remake of the 1932 motion picture of the same name. Admittedly, I have not seen the original film, and doubt I will be able to. I haven't been able to find a copy of it anywhere in my city. The only thing I can imagine is that the 1932 version is infinitely superior in every way, from acting right down to special effects. Yes, even the special effects. The film begins in 1719 B.C., when Egyptians ruled their land with the kind of authority Bill Clinton only wishes he could attain. Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo) is the High Priest of Osiris, and the righthand man of Pharaoh. Unfortunately, Imhotep is also in love with Pharaoh's mistress, the hauntingly beautiful Anck-su-namun (Patricia Velasquez). This forbidden love leads to Pharaoh's death, and the subsequent execution of Anck-su-namun. Imhotep is caught and becomes the first and only man to ever suffer what many archaeologists believe to be the worst curse ever performed. His body is wrapped in bandages, his tongue is cut off, and he is buried alive to be eaten by Scarab beetles. He is to remain there until someone reads from the Book of the Dead. And being a film about a mummy, we know someone will.

That someone is Evelyn Carnarvon (Rachel Weisz), a librarian hoping to one day become a full-fledged archaeologist. The year is 1923. Over three thousand years have passed since the mummification of Imhotep, and Evelyn has desperately been searching the whereabouts of the rumored Book of Amun Ra. She has yet to find it. One fateful day, her more successful (but obviously more demented) brother Jonathan (John Hannah) brings her an artifact he stole from a prisoner in an Egyptian jail. This artifact contains a map to the lost city Hamunaptra, which is rumored to contain all the riches and wealth of the Egyptians. She travels to visit this prisoner, who claims to have actually found Hamunaptra. His name is Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser), an archaeologist who lost his entire team after finding the mythical city. Eve begs for his release, and finally gets it when she offers the warden twenty-five percent of the findings.

It takes an amazing amount of time for these travellers to reach the city of Hamunaptra, all the while boring us with meandering character introductions. Not one character here is interesting enough for us to want to learn anything about, and spending thirty minutes listening to them talk is about as horrid as you can get. There are action moments that are littered about in these moments, but nothing that surprises us, or amazes us. It's hard to watch a film when the most interesting character is the mummy, and when he finally does appear, he's more a computerized effect than an actual being. This is one of those films that puts computer effects to shame. It reminds us of how great it is to actually have an actor interact with a physical presence. It reminds us of the perfection of the crude effects in such films as Raiders of the Lost Ark, which didn't have the technology to create artificial settings and creatures. This film needed to be done with as little digital effects as possible, and it is not.

Of course, that isn't its biggest problem. Directed by the hack Stephen Sommers, everything here feels completely artificial, from the towering pyramids to the scarab beetles. There is not one moment in this film that manages to attain a level of authenticity. The opening moments, in fact, use computer generated images to portray Egyptians hard at work. If you ask me, this one scene could have been torn right out of The Prince of Egypt, which is animated. The two look virtually identical--the only problem being that The Mummy is not animated. If that weren't enough, every scene in the film doesn't look right. Instead of "feeling" like Egypt, it feels more like a soundstage in the backlot of Hollywood. The Egyptian architecture looks more like little models that were added in after principle filming had been completed. The actors don't look hot, they look like they are running and fighting in an air-conditioned studio. It's this kind of falseness that rips viewers out of the experience. Instead of immersing us into a wonderful, visually incredible world, it feels like we are watching a poor recreation.

Since much of the previews deal with the film's special effects, something really has to be said about them. As said above, they are mostly digital, and the computer era really has brought films to a whole new level. Of course, that's only when the effects are good. Here, they are so obviously computerized that many moments had me laughing in my seat. The filmmakers decided to add little glimmers onto the golden treasures, and the result is laughably stupid. The scarab beetles are about as fake as you can get, looking exactly like what they really are: little bits of computer information. Occasionally, the effects do pass, such as a huge sandstorm enveloping an airplane. As for the mummy itself, for the most part, it is just one big special effect. Later on, it becomes actor Arnold Vosloo. Vosloo is good in the role, but he's not around long enough for us to care. How are you supposed to care about a special effect anyway?

Stephen Sommers not only directed this mess, he wrote it, which just adds another notch to his "hack" belt. He obviously does not understand how to develop characters, or how to create plausible situations, or even how to write dialogue. He's as bad a writer as any. I will go so far as to say that this screenplay surpasses the badness of any Joe Eszterhas screenplay. It's pure junk from start to finish. The plot establishes rules for itself and its audience--guidelines so that we may understand what is happening and why--and then it breaks all those rules. One character says the scarab beetles slowly eat their victims until they are finally dead. Ten minutes later, the scarab beetles attack someone and devour him in seconds. In the beginning, Imhotep tries to resurrect Anck-Su-Namun but fails. Towards the end, he tries again. This time, however, he needs a female sacrifice, something he apparently neglected the first time around. The dialogue does achieve moments of humor, such as a character's blatant disgust with the romantic relationship developing between Rick and Eve (which is only funny because it mimicked my own reaction). For the most part, the dialogue is just as bad as anything else. And believe me, it is very bad.

The cast of mostly unknown actors actually tries its hardest to make it work. Brendan Fraser (the only really recognizable face here) recycles his George of the Jungle routine and creates at once a wholly unlikable and stupid protagonist. We don't care whether he lives or not. We do care, however, whether Rachel Weisz lives. Weisz does her best and she succeeds at portraying a woman desperate for acknowledgement. Her whole performance seems to belong in a better film. And so does Vosloo's. Vosloo is really the one to watch here, taking the material and enhancing it to create a real character. We sympathize with him because he died in the name of love, and he is now doomed to wreak havoc on humanity (the only problem being that he seems to enjoy it a little more than he probably should). Kevin J. O'Connor appeared in Sommers' last film Deep Rising, and like in that film, he gives one of the funnier performances. He's a natural-born wiseass. His monkey-like appearance creates a nice touch that adds to the servant-master relationship between him and Vosloo. Even John Hannah does something with his performance. Patricia Velasquez, as Anck-su-namun, creates a strangely eye-appealing and yet vicious character in one glance. It's a shame we don't get to see more of her (performance-wise, anyway). But the film is held up by Fraser, and this just makes me wonder if he really has the stuff to be a leading man.

A lot has been said about this film prior to its release. Many major magazines are comparing it to Raiders of the Lost Ark and the rest of the Indiana Jones trilogy. I can see where The Mummy received a lot of its inspiration. Some of the action scenes seem taken directly out of those three films, particularly one involving the roof of a room slowly dropping, ready to crush the inhabitants. Yes, comparing this to Raiders of the Lost Ark does seem suitable, except for one minor, tiny, little aspect: the Indiana Jones films were actually good. My guess would be that the Indiana Jones films were created in a time when imagination was spent on the story as well as the visual presentation, not just the latter. Comparing the two does a great disservice to Spielberg's films.

The Mummy is rated PG-13 for pervasive adventure violence and some partial nudity. This really all boils down to one question: what went wrong? I'm pretty sure I can answer that with two simple words: Stephen Sommers. This is just one man who should not be working in Hollywood. He should not be working as a filmmaker, period. He's one of the worst directors I've ever come across in all my days of movie watching. He doesn't know how to pace a film, he doesn't know how to direct action sequences, he doesn't know how to create realism. He himself is a perfect definition of the term hack. I can't think of another film that has made me more aware of the pitiful direction being done in recent years. It's boring, it's pretentious, it's everything a Hollywood action film should not be. It had me looking at my watch, just wishing the two hours would go by faster. It may have been the longest two hour film I can remember. It's that bad.

1/2 star(s) out of ****

Reviews by Boyd Petrie
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