Universal's subtle black-and-white 1932 horror movie is here re-imagined as a swashbuckling action picture with some horror elements. That might be considered as a comment on the late 90's in general, but for once the result is enjoyable.
Competing teams of archeologists succeed in finding Hamunaptra, the legendary Egyptian City of the Dead. One explorer- the one only in it for knowledge, not treasure, played by Rachel Weisz - reads the wrong page from the Book of the Dead (when will they ever learn?) And resurrects Imhotep, a sorcerer mummified alive for various crimes against the state. Now awesomely powerful, the mummy stalks the archeologists, stealing their life essences and body parts to reconstitute his own body, and reclaiming their stolen treasures, which will make him invincible. It is up to Weisz, soldier of fortune Brendan Fraser, and John Hannah as the worst Egyptologist alive to stop Imohotep before he kills them... or worse.
Director Stephen Sommers offers up a hugely entertaining movie, with enough comedy and action to keep things moving between horrific moments. Though Arnold Vosloo initially seems an odd choice for Imhotep, his presence and size is a good match for Brendan Fraser, who makes a cracking good action hero; Weisz is an alluring, not totally helpless damsel in distress, and Kevin J. O'Connor a suitably weaselly monster lackey. The CGI effects by ILM, on the other hand, range from the extraordinary to the simply bad.
I will admit, I have only seen The Mummy in widescreen, first in the theater, then VHS, and now on DVD, and cannot imagine seeing it in the truncated form of a pan-and-scan transfer. The DVD is predictably superior to the VHS, with truer blacks and enough detail to actually appreciate the abundant design work on display. The layer switch is a tad obvious, but over so quickly, it's hard to niggle. Once more, a music 'sting' during the switchovers on the interactive menus is recorded so loudly, late-night viewing while the kiddies are asleep is not recommended.
This disc is a CGI fan's dream: a long featurette (over 45 minutes!), 'Making A Better Mummy', follows the various design teams working on the almost-totally CGI title character, describing their works and achievement in Geek Overkill terms. A second FX section takes five major effect sequences through their four basic stages, from Plate Photography through Finished Film. Audio commentary by director Sommers and his film editor is by turns entertaining and informative - Sommers is particularly fond of pointing out continuity errors and shadows of film crew members. In addition, there is a glossary of Egyptian terms and customs to provide background, five deleted scenes (and good riddance), filmographies (with trailers for Gods and Monsters and Darkman II hidden in Fraser's and Vosloo's entries), the mandatory theatrical trailers and features for owners of DVD-ROMs.
Perhaps the only false note struck in this package is the 'Universal Showcase', which contains trailers for End of Days and For Love of the Game, neither of which - to be kind - managed to duplicate The Mummy's box office draw.