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...