Sunday, October 23, 2011

Unimpressed With The Start Of The Franchise, Too, I Judge The Mummy Remarkably Average.

The Good: Some decent one-liners, Moments of performance, Decent DVD bonus features
The Bad: Overbearing soundtrack, Rather light on character issues, Special effect, Some acting
The Basics: Mostly comedic, The Mummy adds up poorly when it switches to a highly telegraphed action-adventure midway through the film.

[Note: This review was originally written a few years back; the friend I reference, Pete, died just over a year ago. I present this review unedited to commemorate my lost friend! Enjoy!]

I have, believe it or not, a friend. One of the assistant librarians at my local library is a decent guy named Pete and we talk movies a lot and he often acts as Roper to my Ebert and we get along quite well. Recently, we went to take in the new Brendan Fraser movie Inkheart and because of my neurotic insistence at getting to screenings ridiculously early, we had plenty of time before the movie started and on the drive to and from the theater, to talk movies.

In the course of our discussion, The Mummy came up. I had seen and reviewed The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor as part of last year's summer blockbuster season and had found myself largely unimpressed. But Pete convinced me to give the franchise a chance and as a result, I sat down to the first of the new films in The Mummy franchise and all I could think of as I watched it was the advertising campaign for the film Arachnaphobia. When that movie was released, they kept billing it as a "Thrill-omedy!" (the combination of "thriller" and "comedy"), one suspects because it fit neither category precisely enough. The Mummy is similar; when the movie is not hampered by a soundtrack that telegraphs the excitement, it is packed with one liners that are funny little catchphrases. But, alas, that is not enough to truly make a film on.

Rick O'Connell, while working with the French Foreign Legion, unearths the ruins of the ancient city of Hamunaptra. Unfortunately, his entire squadron - save the cowardly Beni - is slaughtered and only Rick survives. Eve and Jonathan Carnahan spring Rick from prison during his execution when they come upon a map and evidence that they think will help them find Hamunaptra. Impressed into service, as Eve has bought his life, Rick guides Eve toward Hamunaptra.

In a race against a rival team - of Americans - led by Beni, Rick leads Eve and Jonathan to the ruins. Once there, the Americans steal several artifacts and in the meddling, the body of the mummy of Imhotep is disturbed. Awakened from his long slumber, he begins to hunt Eve, thinking she is the love of his immortal life, Anck Su Namun. And Rick, seeing Imhotep slaughtering the Americans to get more of a corporeal form, works to save Eve from death . . . or worse!

The Mummy is fairly solidly entertaining. While it is often compared to Raiders Of The Lost Ark (reviewed here!) the enduring themes of greed vs. culture are entirely lacking from The Mummy. It does not seem to strive to be anything more than what it is. As a result, it is fun, mildly funny, but not much more than that. In other words, the one-liners do not so much add up to characters as simply fill in the gaps between action sequences and expositional dialogue. In fact, the film often feels like it has a multiple personality disorder: it oscillates pretty radically between campy, comedy and over-telegraphed action adventure.

The first sequences in the movie involve the backstory of Imhotep and Anck Su Namun and with the voice-overs narrating the events that are already pretty obvious, the sequence is pretty campy. While it provides the requisite backstory, the voice-over is somewhat insulting to the viewer, who sees the affair and the implication of it and does not need the additional reinforcement of being told it as well.

After the campy opening which provides the history of Imhotep and his lover and how he was mummified, the film turns into a comedy with Rick and Beni fighting in Africa. Beni's comical running in the face of danger is genuinely worthy of laughter, but some of the early catch phrases and Rick's next appearance in the prison are hardly funny. The Mummy degenerates into something of a farce as it becomes a race movie between Rick's team and the Americans. The movie wastes some time trying to be funny aboard the boat to the desert near Hamunaptra and it is because of the amount of time the film devotes to slapstick farcical comedy in this section that the movie fails to come back from it. It is pretty basic moviemaking; if you set the film up with forty-five minutes of laughter, it is hard to expect something different in the last hour.

And by the time the film decides that it wants to be an action-adventure film, it goes over-the-top in that regard, too. Jerry Goldsmith's fanfares are ridiculous and intrusive, playing along each and every movement in the film in a way - like the voice-overs at the beginning - that telegraphs the emotion the viewer is supposed to be feeling. It is like the soundtrack is an obnoxious kid sitting next to one at the movie, tugging on one's sleeve piping up with, "Hey! Isn't this exciting! I'm excited! I'm so excited! You should be excited too!" over and over again. We get it by the running, the stabbing, the jumping, and the sudden reversals where the mummy armies are in front of Rick instead of behind him. We get it, it's exciting. Sit down and let us be excited about it, as opposed to reminding us to stay excited! This is not one of Goldsmith's better soundtracks.

But to be fair to Jerry Goldsmith, it is not like he had a wealth of truly great material to work with. The Mummy is an attempt at a big-budget special effects comedy or action adventure and that is what it is trading on. As a result, it is not like there are a lot of tender character moments or compelling dialogue to hold the movie when the characters aren't cracking wise or running from CG monsters.

This is especially problematic in that Rick O'Connell is not exactly a great character. Rick stumbles upon clues and the solutions to problems and is not even the driving cognitive force of the movie. For that, one needs to look at Eve. Eve is smart, educated and clumsy. Those three traits are at least one more trait than springs to mind about Rick. Even Beni has his cowardice and the cowardice as a character aspect works to serve the plot; Beni's freak-out as the Mummy moves in to kill him leads him to go through an encyclopedia of protective prayers, one of which allows him to survive as the mummy's slave.

But even Eve's surplus of character is soon sacrificed to service the plot. Strong and intellectual, Even soon is relegated to the role of damsel in distress when the reanimated mummy begins his reign of terror. It is Rick and force that are used to hold off the mummy long enough for Eve to come through (with the assist by her brother). But the amount of time Eve spends as the damsel is distressing given how strong her character begins the film as.

That said, the acting in The Mummy has its moments. They are not the traditionally great moments of acting that one would expect. But, for example, Kevin J. O'Connor is great in The Mummy. How can I say that? He performed as an awkward doctor who practiced hard science in a television series called Gideon's Crossing. He plays Beni in this so radically different, yet with equal conviction, that it affirms the quality of his performance abilities.

Also entirely convincing is Rachel Weisz as Evelyn Carnahan. Weisz is articulate around every bit of the technobabble and she does an amazing job with the physical comedy when she is compelled to play the role of Eve as clumsy. She speaks her most difficult lines with articulation and there is not a moment while she is on screen that the viewer suspects she is anyone other than Evelyn Carnahan.

Brendan Fraser's acting gift in this outing is somewhat more limited. Instead of appearing particularly impressive or action hero-like, Fraser's best work seems to be in establishing the credibility of the world that he is a part of. As a result, his eye lines are always perfect for the digital creatures and he reacts well to the threats that were clearly not real as if they were.

Unfortunately, the idea that many of the threats were clearly not real is an unfortunate but true one. The Mummy employs computer-generated special effects that unfortunately flop when looked at objectively. Perhaps one of the best examples is how Eve is cornered by the mummy after being separated from the others. The Mummy approaches her and menaces her and while its whole body is visible there is an utter lack of attention to light detail. As a result, the mummy approaches, lit as if by a giant light shining all over its body equally; it is not real or right.

On DVD, The Mummy appears as a two-disc "Ultimate" Edition that includes commentary tracks, and an entire bonus disc filled with behind-the-scenes featurettes. These featurettes are largely concerned with special effects, locations and the cast and they are a real treat for those who enjoyed the film.

Sadly, that was not me. It is a good film, but nothing to go out of one's way to see.

For other works featuring Rachel Weisz, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Definitely, Maybe
The Mummy Trilogy


For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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