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Harry's Adventures on THE MUMMY set!!! Tons of Info and Storyboards!!!

Originally I was going to be incorporating this report and the one from yesterday about the Episode One script, into my London Adventures which I have been writing since I got back. But I figured to break it up. I’ll put the completed text of the London journey up in Harry’s World when it’s done, and I’ll point you in it’s direction when it’s finished.

I went to London as part of a gigantic press contingent to check out this small little bitty film (sarcasm) called THE MUMMY. Reporters from MTV, The New York Times, Premiere, Starlog, Fangoria, Toy Book, Details, Ad Age, People, Entertainment Weekly, etc... This is the first time I have been invited into this sort of company. The whole time I was definately the odd man out.

On the bus trip to Shepperton, where THE MUMMY is shooting, I discovered just how odd it was. It seemed everyone knew everyone. They would all laugh and chat like old high school chums on they’re 20th reunion. Me, well I felt like my wife was sick at the hotel and sent me to find out how the old gang was, but of course noone paid me any mind. The sound emanating inside of the press bus, was literally like that sound that Robert Redford heard in SNEAKERS... a cocktail party I believed he called it.

Me, I was lost in thought, staring out the window as London passed me by. Baden Powell House, the home of the founder of the Boy Scouts. I wish I had time to visit there. Then my thoughts turned to Shepperton. The place would surely carry the memories of films past in it’s walls. Aliens, The Third Man, 101 Dalmations. A great many films found there babysteps there. If the walls spoke, the stories would surely make me shake with their coolness.

As we approached Shepperton, I realized that my legs were extremely cramped up. The previous day was exhausting, stomping miles all over London with Vivian Leigh, Rash, Chief Jawa, Marian Ravenwood among others. I think it was the combination of the exercise, something that being stuck at a keyboard doesn’t allow much of, and the drinking of alcoholic British brew left me very dehydrated. So as I stepped out of the bus I walked a bit like Karloff, dragging myself along, painful step after agonizing step.

The bus pulled up to Stage I, and this is where we first stepped onto the ground that carried so much history. Outside of the Stage were these raised brazier type things with fire burning up to the sky. There were Hollywood versions of Egyptian gods/pharoahs. I say Hollywood versions, because the previous day I had visited the British Museum and saw the real artifacts. Upon close examination there were textural differences, there were of course material differences, but then you can’t expect a film to construct real marble statues that are giant, and on film you can’t tell the difference.

This stage was set up to greet the press, to serve as the hosting area. Round tables with glasses of water and wine. As I enter the stage I recognize Sean Daniel, Producer on THE MUMMY, instantly. You see, about 3 or so years ago I met Sean Daniel at City Wide Garage Sale in Austin. Well before I ever had this web site. On this one Sunday in particular he purchased a group of Hopalong Cassidy posters with a couple of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry posters. At that time his next project was a remake of DAY OF THE JACKAL, boy that turned out to be a real BAD flick. But this fella had his hands all over ANIMAL HOUSE, FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH, BRAZIL, FIELD OF DREAMS and DO THE RIGHT THING. He comes up to me laughing. We instantly acknowledge where we last met, and he’s quite surprised at how I’ve gone from selling movie posters to whatever my current status is.

He introduces me to the other main producer on the film, a Jim Jacks. This fella has been Sam Raimi, Richard Linklater and the Coen Brothers’ producer in the past. In fact his most recent film, A SIMPLE PLAN, which I had seen just before arriving in the U.K. is one of my top three films of the year (with GODS & MONSTERS and THE MIGHTY as the other two). This fella seems to be quite fond of the coverage and the reviews of A SIMPLE PLAN that Hallenbeck and crew gave it. Wow, a producer that likes Hallenbeck... shocking.

Jim Jacks and I begin talking about THE MUMMY and he draws comparisons to GUNGA DIN, CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE and the INDIANA JONES movies. Well given I had read the script twice. Once long ago, and then once again on the plane trip over, I knew it had the potential for that, but I thought there was a strange sprinkling of humor that I didn’t quite jive with... I didn’t know what the tone of the film was. Will it make light of the Mummy, or will it take itself seriously. I really feel the horror genre needs some straight genre interpretations instead of all this cross-pollination we’ve been getting as of late. This won’t be that though, because the script has far more action in it than the traditional Mummy story.

The Production Designer ALLAN CAMERON (Willow, 1984, Highlander, Starship Troopers, Tomorrow Never Dies) served as the tour guide for the press contingent. There were publicity types, usually closest to the bigger press people. When they tried courting me, I just started talking about the script, and they went away.. I take it has to do with knowing they can’t convince me of anything, they can’t paint the film in any better light than what I know. I’m here to see how the production design, look of the cast, and hopefully to see some finished footage so I can get a grasp for what type of Mummy flick this will be. The script is unlike any other Mummy film made thus far. Doesn’t mean it’ll be great, it’s just different.

The first stop is the Art Department. Here they have all sorts of sketches, minatures, etc. They have the sets for the City of the Dead, built inside the mouth of a dormant volcano which I believe was outside of Marrakech in Morrocco. The set is really quite impressive looking. We’re told they actually built it out there in the desert, and it’s all gone now. They show as the Book of the Dead and the Book Of Life. It’s quite cool. They also show us this winged scarab beetle which is the symbol of IMHOTEP, the mummy in the film. We see storyboards for Anubus coming out of the sky with a chariot of dead horses. We see storyboards of massive sandstorms, of fire falling from the sky, plagues of frogs, locusts, etc. Armies of the undead. This is pretty damn cool stuff. At least at the art on paper stage. Another thing they seem to be doing, is not hiding the big deals. Why? I think it has to do with a little independent film called STAR WARS EPISODE ONE. You see, THE MUMMY, comes out two weeks before, and it is Universal’s big summer film. I think they figure that gives them 14 days of no Star Wars, then once Star Wars comes out, I think they figure there will be a significant spill over audience. That there will be a lot of people wanting a good FX flick, and since Star Wars will be sold out all summer, that’ll leave them in a pretty second place spot. Will it work? I don’t know.

Next up they took us to the great big paddle boat, where the characters that Brendan Fraser (Rick O’Connell), Rachel Weisz (Evelyn), John Hannah (Jonathan) fight the Mumia, the sacred cult out to protect the secret of the Mummy. It’s a big, Indy like, battle aboard this ship. I walk around the set instead of going aboard like the press, I don’t need to, I know what happens aboard. Instead I begin talking to the construction workers that are putting the finishing touches onto the big boat. One fella talks to me about why he does this, instead of normal carpentry. He doesn’t talk of being a writer or of being a director. This fella dreams of one day being a master carpenter. He loves building sets, because he gets to build Egyptian statues, big paddle boats, Muslim archetecture with some British renovations. And this is just on this film, he’s worked on everything from Bond sets, he helped build the volcano headquarters in You Only Live Twice, and he helped build the sets in Episode One as well as the original trilogy. Look for parts of vacuum cleaners in the walls during the final battle in Episode One. This guy has helped to build some of the most fantastic sets to come out of England... and he never even gave me his name. He does damn good work though... and I hope he does become a master carpenter some day.

Next we went to the backlot of Shepperton where the British barracks, where the main characters stay in Cairo. It’s huge, and it’s rigged all around by hail machines that will spit out gasoline hail balls that will burn and slam into stunt men setting them ablaze. Too cool, eh?

Next we hiked back onto the lot to goto the quarters of these characters. The interior sets of the British barracks are gorgeous. Instantly you forget where and when you are. Once again I separated from the group, staring at the book shelves, the mosaic pattern upon the wall, the chandeliers, the carpet, the old papers, and the mummified corpse of one of those that dared to open IMHOTEP’s sarcophagus. A very very cool dead body, I presume it was created by Nick Dudman’s team, they’re doing the practical effects. Next we went to the catacombs of the CITY OF THE DEAD. These creepy corridors were raised up on platforms about 10 feet up, you see the sets are built to sink on command, with sand pouring in. I was fairly amazed at how open they were being. Of course I bet most of the reporters won’t be covering this till a few weeks before the film, when the studio will release pics, which we were not allowed to take. I have ways around that though. Heh heh heh.

Next we went to the treasure chamber where the principal photography was commencing. As we enter the room, Stephen Sommers comes up all excited with me. I believe he was happy with my DEEP RISING review from last year. He apoligizes for singling me out of the group, but seemed excited to meet me, something I’ll never understand.

As I round the corner I see the whole set. Sweet Jesus, this set is cool. You know the “well of the souls” set? Imagine that done bigger, with more treasure. This is the first time a set made my mouth hang open. I can’t adequately put into words what it was like to be on a set this big, this detailed, this beautifully lit. I was just stunned, but hey, I’m a bit of a greenhorn when it comes to sets like this, so maybe I’m easily awed, but this would be the coolest play room ever. I mean, the mounds of gold... I felt like I was in a Carl Barks designed Uncle Scrooge story, but mixed with some of that old Karloff MUMMY atmosphere. Here... I can do better than that..

First thing you notice are the ILM people. They’re taking laser measurements, holding grey balls for thermal and color tests (I think that’s what they are for), you notice them because they are constantly moving and they have laser sites. Then your eyes pan across the room. Statues that seem to go 25 feet or higher caked in gold, piles of gold jewelry, gold glyphs. This is a treasure chamber. The lighting was understated as if coming from a torch, a single burning torch. The shimmering blaze of light catching on the shiny surface of the gold inside. A glow of golden embers surrounding Kevin J O’Commor (Beni). In this scene he fights off an attack of killer scarab beetles, and that’s why ILM is so busy with the measurements. Instead of following the press crew to an overlooking position, I part from them again to hang with the regular folks shooting the film. Getting behind the camera, watching the video playback, you can’t see anything from their vantage point... nothing that ends up on film anyway.

Watching John Berton advising was so cool it hurt. I mean here’s one of the main men responsible for how cool effects are today. He worked on T2, Jurassic Park, SWSE, etc.. His long red hair and his moustache make him seem soooo Austin like I have to suppress a giggle.

Soon we are ushered out of the treasure room, when all of a sudden Rachel Weisz shows up. She does a little socializing, mainly answering questions from THE NEW YORK TIMES fella. However, she introduces us to Arnold Vosloo (Imhotep the mummy). Instantly I recognize him from HARD TARGET and from DARKMAN II and III. Though at first one could mistake him for Billy Zane, there’s a striking resemblence. Then Brendan Fraser shows up. This seems to peak everyone’s interest. Nothing like throwing meat to a pack of wolves. I decide to just sit back and watch how this plays out. Instead Brendan picks me out of the crowd, while this is cool, it kind of is distracting. He wants to shake my hand, take a picture with me, and talk with me about my review of GODS AND MONSTERS and my championing of the film. Sheesh, are these people prepped or is it genuine. It seemed genuine, but I seemed to be blushing. By the way Brendan is a gigantic human. At least 10 feet tall. He was dressed in these cool as hell boots, they reminded me of the type of boots that Buster Crabbe wore in the old serials, and the pants are all flared out like that too. He’s got that... adventurer for hire look down. I just hope is performance is closer to GODS AND MONSTERS than GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE.

Next we head back to STAGE I for lunch and the video presentation of footage, along with film people demonstrating how everything was/is being done. Really good Egyptian cuisine.

Because they are actively filming, they had to start the presentation as soon as Stephen Sommers got off set. The video clip was being shown on a huge screen, though the clarity and color quality was far better on the widescreen televisions, so that’s what I watched.

The first thing I can say is the cinematography is gorgeous, Adrian Biddle (ALIENS, WILLOW, THE PRINCESS BRIDE, THELMA & LOUISE, etc) has certainly not lost his touch. Think in terms of STARGATE, but prettier. The aspect ratio is, I believe, 2.35 to 1. As Stephen Sommers said, when you’re shooting where they did, you don’t shot flat. Overall it reminded me very much of the look and tone of an Indiana Jones film. That same mixture of humor with deadly seriousness. And just like in the Indy films, the magic aspect is never jokey, it’s dead serious (pun intended). Imhotep’s babe is knock yourself over the head drop dead gorgeous. The shots of back in the past were very nice looking, well technically that describes the entire film given this is a period piece.

There are scenes of big cavalry charges where people are being shot off the backs of their steeds en masse. This is what Jim Jacks was talking about when he mentioned GUNGA DIN or CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE, except back then Yakima Canut was working and he didn’t have the looking after animal foundations to deal with. The chemistry seemed to be working pretty good. None of the effects work was inserted yet, as ILM is just getting started with their end of the job.

Next up was the John Berton presentation. He showed us some amazing work. They are doing some amazing motion capture work, and creating a digital cadaverous mummy that if you think in terms of a fleshy decaying terminator endo-skeleton you’ll get the idea. This stuff looked so good. Then he said there was another thing they were doing to poor ol Arnold (the mummy) that Dudman would talk about. In addition to all the Mummies ILM is animating. They will be creating the plagues of ancient Egypt, the killer scarab beetles etc... They designed the mummies and the types of mummies from the ground up. And they look cool.

Next up was Nick Dudman, (RETURN OF THE JEDI, the Joker from BATMAN, THE FIFTH ELEMENT and STAR WARS EPISODE ONE) who is one of, if not the main man in terms of cool creature effects. He, in conjunction with ILM, has created a new type of make up appliance that fits onto the actor. Instead of trying to create the prosthetic illusion of missing flesh, bone, muscle, etc. In the middle of the prosthetic is an electrical measuring device with red LEDs, that tracks the movement and gathers information so ILM can go in and take out bits of the actor, allowing half his head to be gone, with Scarab beetles crawling out of it, etc. You can watch his larynx move from the outside, his heart pumping... it’s majorly cool yet gross. This is a major advancement in terms of make-up and digital effects.

Then Dudman brought out some Mummy heads. The priest mummies look a bit like the classic Jack Pierce mummy designs, but the soldier mummies look like those Ploog designs of the B-52 animated corpses from HEAVY METAL. These babies are real friggin cool looking.

After the presentation it was time to leave, but me and the New York Times guy didn’t leave with the rest. We continued digging, albeit separately. I found someone that would show me the stuff UNIVERSAL cut out of the program. Also I conned one person into letting me freely look at dailies. In all the film seems to be pretty good. Also, I managed to get some storyboards to share with yall. So enjoy these. down below.

Will this film kick ass? It could. We’ll have to see. It all depends on how the chemistry of the characters comes across. The effects work, design and look of the film is all top notch. They got Jerry Goldsmith doing music, and well. This could be the beginning of a new series of UNIVERSAL horror films. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, and trusting in the hands of Nick Dudman and John Berton. Those guys are amazing. Here’s some storyboards... hope you enjoy...







Any posting in TALK BACK labeled as Harry Knowles is not me. I will no longer be posting to Talk Back till the registration software is installed. So if you see someone acting like me, they are full of baloney. Have fun posting. Harry

Readers Talkback
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  • Sept. 1, 1998, 4:04 a.m. CST

    Stephen Somers

    by Fergus

    I thought "Deep Rising" was hilarious fun, and while I agree with Harry that we need more straight horror, you know, a few horror movies that are actually *scary,* I wouldn't mind another high-class camp-fest from Somers in the meantime. Cast looks fun, too.

  • Sept. 1, 1998, 5:41 a.m. CST

    Lord of the Rings

    by john

    LOTR announcement made it in the Houston Chronicle yesterday. I'm currently re-reading LOTR with my son who's hearing it for the first time. We're in book two where Sam fights Shelob. It's quite a dramatic highlight with "movie" scene written all over it. Any word on if this will make it in one of the movies?

  • Sept. 1, 1998, 6:39 a.m. CST


    by trex

    A guy where I work is a HUGE collector of old movie posters and autographs (sigs as he calls 'em). Man, harry, if you could see this guy's house, you'd totally freak out! It's the coolest thing I've ever seen (in a house at least). His favorite movie of all time is the original MUMMY, and I can tell you, he's NOT looking forward to the remake. I think it sounds professional. I was anticipating DEEP RISING since I first read about it 3.5 years ago when Disney paid Sommers $1 million to write and direct it (as TENTACLE). I had written my own sea monster movie, so I was eager to see what they had done. I enjoyed it a lot! As for the Nick Dudman/ILM half-rotting corpses, remember in DEEP RISING when the guy fell out of the tentacle and was walking around with his flesh melting off? That seemed to be a precursor to what ILM and Dudman are doing. trex p.s.-I liked what Dudman did with JUDGE DREDD!

  • Sept. 1, 1998, 6:50 a.m. CST

    So what rating are they going for?

    by Justin

    Sounds like that could be some R-stuff, but will probably end up PG-13, right? Especially in the summer of Ep.1. I just saw the Mummy with Karloff, acutally was really disappointed. It's a little creepy but the characters stink and it has a terrible ending. A remake could be could.

  • Sept. 1, 1998, 6:55 a.m. CST

    Harry, no!!!

    by Sith Witch

    Please say it ain't so! WHAT is UNIVERSAL thinking??? We NEED more good rides with horror films, not another undershadow situation. Why does Universal not get some sense and either release it a month earlier or two months later???? This same occurence happened with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, being run over by the blasted worthless movie Stargate, taking all money away from the good ol' monster flick. We do not need this to happen again. People need to go see the Mummy and say, "That was such a great monster film, I am never going to be cynical about horror movies ever again!" HARRY, do you know what other monster remakes Universal is planning that you alluded to?? Could Dracula be in the works again?? (I can never get enough of Vlad and co.) Hey! Why the heck did some guy post about Lord of the Rings on here??!! Get off and over to the right section, buddy! While L.O.T. is good, we are here to discuss, THE MUMMY!!!!!!

  • Sept. 1, 1998, 8:15 a.m. CST

    Wrong Post

    by john

    Yo Stanley, Excuuuuussseeee me. Sorry, about the wrong post. I'm new to AICN. It won't happen again. So what's your excuse? Anyway, there were MUMMIES in the Barrowweight that Tom Bombadill had to rescue the Hobbits from AND Shelob had Frodo wrapped up like a mummy. So there! On second thought, my post was appropriate. :>#

  • Sept. 1, 1998, 8:56 a.m. CST

    John, shutup.

    by Dante

    Hey John, screw off. Your post was inappropriate and Stanely needs no excuse b/c his post was on topic. Hmmm... Maybe I'd like to talk about Anne Rice's The Mummy here. Sure would like to see it be made into a movie.. more so than LOTR. Ha, what a joke. I can't believe how serious some people take those books. It's like they're written by god or something. Get over them, and yerselves folks. You know the movies will dissapoint, so don't get yer hopes up.

  • Sept. 1, 1998, 9:31 a.m. CST

    Interesting Mummy facts

    by john

    BURRRRR Man, you guys are cold. I said I was new to AICN and made a mistake. Give me a break. Now I know to post comments under the proper movie review. Everyone happy now? If not I can take my analagy futher. For example, mummies and pyramids were first introducted by the Numenorians who eventhough they had an incredible life span were not immortal like the elves or Vardans. Therefore they started embalming their kings in a last ditch grasp at immortality. This practice continued after the fall of Numenor and their relocation to Middle Earth where we find burial pyramids and mummies in Minas Tirith. This was eventually passed on to the Egyptians. Ok. I'm through venting and if everyone else is I'll really, really, really try to do better in the future. This is a "cool" site and I'm glad I found it - rude welcome and all.

  • Sept. 1, 1998, 10:45 a.m. CST


    by bean

    Hey Dante, you know I was looking for an Anne Rice reference all through these postings thinking "Am I the only one??" Yeah, that'd make some awesome movie....a little horror...a little romance....oooh baby *that* mummy ain't nuthin to be afraid of! We can only hope someone out there finds it worthy!

  • Sept. 1, 1998, 1:19 p.m. CST

    Dante's post about Anne's Mummy

    by Scorpius

    For such a cool name, your post was disappointing. You dishonor the man. Anne Rice's Mummy is a wonderful book. Hopefully when James Cameron gets done with it, you will enjoy wiping the egg off your face. Not that I think the story will go well from book to screen - most do not do the story justice. Oh! Didn't you know that Mr. Cameron is doing the film for Anne's book?! I'm sorry... didn't mean to steal your gusto. People are not freaKs because the fall in love with a story, or characters in a book. This is what really gets me about you using the name Dante and saying what you did in your post. If you have never read a story that you were sad to put down, or had the urge to open the back cover to see if any new pages had grown there - extending you time with the "people" you've come to admire... then you need to read more, and choose your material better. This Mummy film is going to RaWk. So is the other one. Don't rag on Lord of the Rings, either. I didn't much care for the cartoon version, and anxiously await the new one being made. I have never read the books - the opportunity hasn't come up for me. Crawl back under your rock. Leave well enuff alone. *stepping off the soapbox* thanx for letting me vent:) have a nice day.

  • Sept. 1, 1998, 11:10 p.m. CST

    Talos: The Mummy

    by gojira

    Hey Harry! What has become of the other mummy flick, the one with Jason Scott Lee and Christopher Lee? I believe the full title was Talos: The Mummy. Any word as to a release date, reviews etc? Is Hollywood going to inundate us with gauze wrapped shambling undead pharoah flicks? The Universal film is the third one I've read about. Oh well, I think its high time for a mummy movie revival anyway.

  • Sept. 2, 1998, 12:30 a.m. CST

    Stephen (The Hack) Sommers

    by CortezImages

    I'll give him the benfit of the doubt when "The Mummy" comes out next summer. Still angry over his "version" or "versions" of "Adventures Of Huck Fine and "The Jungle (Jumbled) Book. Let's hope he dosen't botch this one and tries to make on frightning, fast and fastastic film in the style of the old Hammer Films with Christopher Lee. Good Luck.

  • Sept. 2, 1998, 12:31 a.m. CST

    Stephen (The Hack) Sommers

    by CortezImages

    I'll give him the benfit of the doubt when "The Mummy" comes out next summer. Still angry over his "version" or "versions" of "Adventures Of Huck Fine and "The Jungle (Jumbled) Book. Let's hope he dosen't botch this one and tries to make on frightning, fast and fastastic film in the style of the old Hammer Films with Christopher Lee. Good Luck.

  • Sept. 2, 1998, 9:43 a.m. CST


    by Q

    Hey Harry you sell-out, go eat some more pizzas...

  • Sept. 3, 1998, 7:16 a.m. CST

    great report!

    by Ath Kyrus

    Just a word of gratitude from a filmaholic.A great insightful report on the Mummy,storyboards look promising and if it even remotely taps into the chemistry of one of the Indiana jones films,we may have a hit on our hands.I personally don't like to see any film fail,I am an optimist of even the most critically raped films during post-production,may all films strike a chord of appraisal in a perfect world maybe?

  • Sept. 8, 1998, 7:57 p.m. CST


    by Harry Knowles


  • Sept. 17, 1998, 12:37 a.m. CST

    Clive Barker ... Anne Rice?

    by Fonk Romp

    Clive Barker was orignally approached by Universal to direct the Mummy, he mentioned it several times a few years ago. Not much point exchanging opinions but I have to say that Anne Rice's the Mummy is a pretty god-awful book which I hope Cameron doesn't waste his time with...