Well, I've just acquired my tickets to see this movie next Tuesday, so I'll be giving you a look at it from my eyes then, but for now.... It's Moriarty's eyes you'll have to gaze with... Don't worry if everything seems a bit atmospheric, if the world seems a bit darker... It's just the vision of an evil genius... go with it.... flow with it... Succumb to the Professor's will....
Hey, Head Geek...
Summer is finally here again, and I don't just mean for the first time since last year.
When I was young, summer movies were something special. Or at least they seemed it. I was spoiled, though. I was seven when the first STAR WARS was released. I had SUPERMAN after that, then EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, TIME BANDITS, SUPERMAN II, FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, EXCALIBUR -- all of these priming me for what I consider the last great summer movie summer, 1982.
America was in love with E.T. that summer, but I preferred POLTERGEIST. More importantly, the two films I loved most that summer bombed. THE THING and BLADE RUNNER were critical disasters and financial failures, and I was dumbfounded. America didn't get Steve Martin's brilliant DEAD MEN DON'T WEAR PLAID, but they sure did like FIREFOX with Clint Eastwood. I felt lost. It was the first time the movies I loved hadn't ruled the box office. My tastes took a radical step away from the mainstream. At the same time, Hollywood lost me on the "obvious" hits. There have been plenty of great summer movies since -- don't get me wrong. ALIENS, THE FIFTH ELEMENT, JURASSIC PARK, THE FLY, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, BATMAN RETURNS, THE ABYSS, T2, and plenty of others. There just hasn't been a summer that seemed to come together for everyone, where everytime you went to the movies, it seemed to work.
Well, for the first time since '82, I'm getting the feeling that summer is really here. I mean, MATRIX is by any rational definition a "summer movie," even if it was a March release. I've seen and thoroughly enjoyed AUSTIN POWERS 2, BIG DADDY, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, IRON GIANT, and AMERICAN PIE among others, and I've still got EYES WIDE SHUT, THE HAUNTING, RUN LOLA RUN (which I will be reviewing very soon), LIMBO, SUMMER OF SAM, PRINCESS MONONOKE, MYSTERY MEN, and THE FIGHT CLUB to look forward to. Based on what I've seen so far, we are finishing up the decade on a high note in every way. Even the weaker pictures like TARZAN are better than average. With a strong lineup like this in the wings, summer has to get off to a strong start. Yes, THE PHANTOM MENACE is just around the corner, but I ain't waiting. I want my summer NOW!
Thank God for THE MUMMY.
I have recently begun a mass brainwashing campaign. I sent harmless looking flyers out to producers all over town, each of them actually an elaborate hypothermal hypnosis card that bends the mind of the recipient to my will. Thanks to this approach, my phone rang last week, and I heard the voice of Sean Daniel, producer of THE MUMMY. Mumbling, "Im-ho-tep... Im-ho-tep..." between words, he managed to say something about a screening of his film... first showing of the locked print... Wednesday night... and then a theater name. Not wanting to push him too hard on his first call in, I used the sleep word on Daniel. My line went dead, and I started making arrangements.
One week later, my henchmen and I slipped into the theater with no problems, settling in for what I hoped was going to be an entertaining Saturday afternoon matinee type film, the kind I loved so much at the age of 12. From the moment the Universal logo gave way to the blinding sun, pulling back to reveal an Egypt as elaborate as anything PRINCE OF EGYPT showed us, as perfect as any shots of Naboo I've seen so far, I was hooked. I not only got exactly what I wanted, I was genuinely surprised by my reaction.
As the movie's rousing psuedo-LAWRENCE OF ARABIA setup plays out, I felt the years melt away, and I was 12 again, looking up at the big screen, not thinking about all the rumors about the film or the script drafts I read or the FX tests I saw or the stories Harry told me about the set or all the recent shuffle at Universal or any of the rest of the crap, the baggage that any of us who deal in this stuff every day carry into a screening. It was summer. The movie in front of me was a real, old-fashioned summer movie, making no apologies for entertaining me. Writer/director Stephen Sommers aims for the back wall of the stadium with this one, and I'd say he finally puts it all together in a way that guarantees him a step up to the A-list.
This film has such an infectious, willing sense of fun that only the most hardened, jaded gorehound, grousing about the PG-13 is going to leave unsatisfied on some level.
Brendan Fraser is having a very good run of films right now. This is his first major picture since GODS & MONSTERS (I wouldn't count BLAST FROM THE PAST as major), and he plays the dashing adventurer with an easy, lived-in charm. He doesn't oversell it at any point, and the movie is so much better for it. Some actors would have hammed this up and tried to play it as a comedy. Fraser stays perfectly grounded from moment to moment, and he sets a tone that the rest of the cast match note for note. Rachel Weisz is the kind of actress who I've seen and known of for a while, but who's never really made an impression on me... well... certain scenes in STEALING BEAUTY notwithstanding. Here, she's a worthy successor to the mold that Karen Allen set in RAIDERS, which no one else was able to play again. She's adorable, but she can handle herself and is no screamer. Weisz never once plays this in helpless mode, and it makes her immensely likable. It also helps that Sommers doesn't make her the bumbling bookworm her first scene implies. Her brother, played by FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL's John Hannah, is the film's most consistently rewarding comic presence. He's the slightly drunken, slightly shady brother who sets the whole thing in motion, but Hannah's no klutz, either. When it's time for THE MUMMY to be serious, it's serious. When it's time for the characters to try and be smart, they do. You actually want these characters to live not because they are the "good guys," but because you like them. They win your rooting interest over the course of the film.
Conversely, the film's villains are played ably by Arnold Vosloo, Kevin J. O'Connor, and a shitload of groovy ILM special effects. Nick Dudman did a fair amount of live-action mummy work that really sells the illusion of the title creatures, but make no mistake -- ILM's work here is as subtly groundbreaking as the big guns they're rolling out later this month. CGI makeup may not be perfect yet, but it's pretty damn cool, and there are some really inventive moments involving it in the film (watch for Vosloo's scarab snack -- tasty) that add a visual snap to the picture that pushes it into geek heaven. Yes, you've seen some great stuff in the trailers. There's plenty more of it in the film. Vosloo provides an interesting human center to the fireworks, with his almost-chubby frame and his Billy Zane eyes. I liked his presence in the picture, and the fact that he doesn't speak English (subtitles, folks) is very, very cool. Thank you for not having a 4,000 year old creature of evil take an afternoon to watch TV or listen to a radio and somehow "absorb" our language. Thank you for just having the common sense to treat your own concept with enough respect to ground it in reality whenever possible. I liked the moment where the sniveling Benny (imagine if Sapito from RAIDERS had survived for the whole movie, always trying to screw Indy in any way possible) accidentally stumbles across a way of talking to the resurrected Imhotep. O'Connor is turning into Sommers' mascot after doing this and DEEP RISING back to back, and I liked him here more than I have before in anything. He's like a live action Ren, complete with the fez.
The story is simple, well-told, and never works too hard to overwhelm. The scares are serious, but not too severe for younger genre fans, who are going to go absolutely nuts for this movie. I would imagine that any of us who love the old Harryhausen films are going to be enjoying this film long after this summer. There's a great last sequence involving some reanimated Egyptian soldiers that is just stunning. Fraser's interaction with them is seamless, and the actual creature animation is handled with real wit and style. It's nice that ILM didn't just farm this film out to trainees while the "real" guys worked on STAR WARS. Adrian Biddle's photography is as lush as his work for Ridley Scott, and Jerry Goldsmith's score is appropriately exciting, even if I can't hum a note of it right now due to the fact that "Duel of the Fates" is stuck in my head. DAMN YOU, JOHN WILLIAMS, FOR BEING SO TALENTED!
What can I say to sum up? Guys, sit back and enjoy it all. There's so much money to go around this summer, and the studios are working hard. Yes... there's going to be a few WILD WILD WESTs and DEEP BLUE SEAs we don't want to step in, but for the most part it looks like one of those magical harmonious times when all is right, and we benefit. To my mind, that's a good thing. Maybe that's what we need right now. Stephen Sommers tapped into that pure joy that came from seeing a movie when you were young, when it was all so big, so easy, so much fun. Tap into a bit of it yourself next weekend. Hell, if you want to splurge, try ELECTION as a perfect counterpoint, a small film that's nothing but character, executed as perfectly in its own way as THE MUMMY is.
Right now, I have to go figure out how I'm going to get into a press screening of STAR WARS. Until then...