Friday, April 2, 2010

THE MUMMY: Blu-Ray (Universal 1999) Universal Home Entertainment

Owing more to Indiana Jones than the classic Universal monster of its title, Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy (1999) is an spine-tingling adventure, careening with hairpin plot twists and more than a light smattering of slapstick comedy. Many today may forget that not even the original Mummy (1933) starring Boris Karloff was a horror flick cut from the same cloth as say, Dracula or Frankenstein (1932). Originally intended to be a low budget horror movie, on this outing the more horrific aspects of the tale have been utterly trivialized and replaced by an effects-laden extravaganza. That said, this Mummy is a lot of fun to watch.

The plot first unravels in ancient Egypt, circa 1290 B.C. where Pharaoh Seti's (Aharon Ipale) high priest Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo) is discovered in a forbidden affair with Seti's mistress, Anck Su Namun (Patricia Velasquez). Murdering the monarch, Anck Su Namun commits suicide, but not before Imhotep promises to bring her back from the dead.

Temporarily escaping execution, Imhotep steals Anack Su Namun's body and takes it to Hamunaptra, the city of the Dead where he attempts to resurrect her spirit so that they can live together for all eternity. Unfortunately, Pharaoh's guard arrive there first and put Imhotep to death by cutting out his tongue, then placing him alive inside a sarcophagus filled with flesh eating scarabs.

Fast track to 1926, where a war has broken out between the French foreign legionnaires fronted by adventurer Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser) and Arab revolutionaries. Escaping certain death on the battlefield, O'Connell is nevertheless imprisoned and slated for execution after having himself 'a good time' in Cairo.

Meanwhile, klutzy Egyptologist Evelyn Carnahan (Rachel Weisz) has learned from her treasure-hungry brother, Jonathan (John Hannah) that O'Connell claims to have been to the ruins of Hamunaptra. Bribing the prison warden to release O'Connell, Evelyn next forces O'Connell to take them to Hamunapatra.

Unfortunately, O'Connell's fair weather friend, Benie Gabor (Kevin J. O'Connor) also knows the whereabouts of the ancient city and has agreed to take a contingent of American fortune hunters there to loot for hidden treasure. The Americans discover Hamunaptra's ancient book of the dead, but Evelyn has its key. After the Americans group leader, Dr. Allen Chamberlain (Jonathan Hyde) has gone to bed, Evelyn steals the book from his midst and begins to read from it aloud.

Unhappy chance that the book's incantation resurrects Imhotep's mummy who, from this point on will stop at nothing to consume the fortune hunters in order to make himself whole again; a curse foretold and forewarned by Ardeth Bay (Oded Fehr) - the leader of the Madji.

One by one, the American contingent has the life sucked from their bodies by the mummy. With Benie's help, Imhotep kidnaps Evelyn to use as his human sacrifice that will bring Anack Su Namun back from the dead. At Hamunaptra, Imhotep begins the ancient ceremony, but O'Connell and Jonathan arrive and together with Evelyn's help and the Book of Amun-Ra they make the mummy mortal once again. O'Connell then plunges his sword into Imhotep who dies a second time.

The Mummy is far from perfect entertainment, though it does have its moments. Taking a cue in set design from the original 1932 film, the ancient temples on this outing are just a tad too clean, too stylish to be believed in all their supposed eternity. Still, set design is one of the most engaging elements of this production. So too is the genuine chemistry between Fraser and Weisz a winner; the two romantically sparring as the unlikeliest of combatants who eventually find love amongst the ruins.

John Hannah makes for an adequate comedic fop, full of himself while chicken-hearted to the very end. However, the outstanding acting accolade in the film must go to Arnold Vosloo. In a role of very few words and even fewer scenes that have not been altered in some way with digital effects trickery, Vosloo manages to convey a very genuine sense of foreboding.

Universal Home Video's Blu-Ray offering easily bests its standard Collector's Edition DVD, though the image herein tends to suffer marginally from a color scheme that is too bold in its saturation levels. Flesh tones are thickly orange, as example. In fact, terracotta orange seems to be the predominant color palette throughout most of this film. In theatres and on the standard DVD, the orange palette seemed sustainable and subtly nuanced. On the Blu-Ray it is eye-poppingly garish.

Otherwise, the image will satisfy. Fine detail and the depth of black levels take a quantum leap forward on the Blu-Ray. The audio is DTS lossless and aggressively robust. Extras are all direct imports from the standard DVD, including 'Building A Better Mummy' in which Sommor and his crew wax about their superior digital effects. Recommended.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4

VIDEO/AUDIO
4

EXTRAS
2.5

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