The Mummy Returns [DVD]
Screenplay : Stephen Sommers
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2001
Stars : Brendan Fraser (Rick O'Connell), Rachel Weisz (Evelyn Carnahan O'Connell), John Hannah (Jonathan Carnahan), Freddie Boath (Alex O'Connell), Oded Fehr (Ardeth Bay), Arnold Vosloo (Imhotep), Patricia Velazquez (Anck-Su-Namun), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Lock Nah), The Rock (The Scorpion King)
Virtually everyone associated with 1999's The Mummy has returned for the sequel, The Mummy Returns, which isn't surprising when you consider that, in most respects, it is the same movie all over again. Sequels rarely strike out into original territory, and The Mummy Returns is no different in the way it sticks closely to the formula that made the original an early-summer surprise smash two years ago.
Returning writer/director Stephen Sommers adds a few new characters and expands some of the relationships, but otherwise he is more than content to spin his tale on well-trodden ground, sometimes reusing entire sequences from the original. Thus, instead of an advancing wall of sand with the Mummy's visage in it threatening to swallow our heroes in a plane, Sommers exchanges the sand for a wall of water and the plane for a dirigible--but it's still the same scene. In another sequence, he replaces a 360-degree shot of bookcases toppling over in a domino effect with a 360-degree shot of giant pillars doing the same thing. The goal here seems to be to race through the plot-as-endless-series-of-climaxes with enough speed and energy that you almost forget you've seen it all before.
Brendan Fraser returns as the self-deprecating, reluctant hero/adventurer Rick O'Connell, who is now married to his love interest, Evelyn (Rachel Weisz). Evelyn has come a long way since her days as a timid librarian--she is now an active and buff archaeologist who drags Rick around the globe looking for new artifacts. Returning as well are Evelyn's foppish brother, Jonathan (John Hannah), and Ardeth Bay (Oded Fehr), the leader of the ancient Magi sect that is responsible for making sure that everything that happened in the first movie doesn't happen again.
Evelyn and Rick become involved once again with ancient Egyptian powers and evil spirits brought back to life after 5,000 years, with the slight twist that sudden memories of past lives implicate them even deeper. In this case, their 8-year-old son, a precocious kid named Alex (Freddie Boath) who has his father's adventurism and his mother's brains, starts a chain of events when he unwittingly attaches an ancient golden bracelet to his arm that makes him a target for the bad guys who want to use it to take over the world.
The backstory this time around involves a warrior named the Scorpion King (played by wrestling superstar the Rock in a five-minute cameo). In 3057 B.C, the Scorpion King made a pact with the evil god Anubis that pledged his eternal soul in exchange for military victory. Long story short, in 1933, a group of bad guys bring our old friend Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo), the Mummy of the title, back to life in order to kill the Scorpion King, who will rise again after 5,000 years. Whoever kills the Scorpion King will be able to control the armies of Anubis, which are powerful enough to take over the world.
Sommers' script is unsurprisingly dense and fast, leaping from one action sequence to another. The movie is so quick and impatient that it doesn't even have time to throw the movie's title on the screen at the beginning (I guess Universal should be happy Sommers could wait the 20 seconds it requires to put their logo on-screen). Sometimes it can be mind-numbing, but Fraser is always on-hand to throw out a sarcastic or ironic comment to remind us that Sommers thinks it's all just as ridiculous as we do.
Of course, that doesn't mean it can't be fun, and The Mummy Returns is absolutely frantic in its attempt to be fun on a grand stage. Sommers aims for immense spectacle from beginning to end, and he bookends the movie with two massive battle sequence involving thousands of actors and even more computer-generated warriors. In-between we get cobweb-covered tombs that are suddenly flooded by the Nile, a wild car-chase through the heart of London on a double-decker bus, a battle in a thick jungle with pygmy mummies, and a nonstop action climax that involves cross-cutting between three different narratives. It doesn't always make sense, but it's not necessarily supposed to. Sommers is banking on the idea that you will be so enthralled with (or numbed by) his hyperkinetic action sequences that you won't stop to wonder how or why this or that happened.
Much of this action is heavily reliant on scores of computer-generated effects, some of which are more effective than others. Obviously trying to push the envelop, the effects wizards gives us a return of the Scorpion King at the end that turns out to be somewhat laughable because, despite recent advances, photo-realistic computer-generated humans still look cartoonish in close-up. Thus, we get an extreme close-up of a computer-generated version of the Rock that looks exactly like something that was cooked up in a high-price video game. It's an effects gamble that doesn't pay off.
Like the original, The Mummy Returns is quite intense at times, and although there is little on-screen gore, many of its ideas are squirm-inducing (the flesh-eating scarabs make a brief return appearance, but the movie focuses more on scorpions and snakes this time around). There is less reliance on horror this time, although Sommers keeps a few "boo" moments on hand to jostle any potential tranquility the movie might have to offer. There isn't more than about two minutes of peace at any given time before Sommers leaps into another action set-piece, which are essentially variations of action sequences from other movies (the Indiana Jones analogies are especially prevalent, although a large log spanning an impossibly deep gorge reminded me of King Kong).
The Mummy Returns won't be mistaken for a good movie, but it certainly has its enjoyable moments. Considering the way Sommers used creative borrowing to fuel the original, it was perhaps unavoidable that he couldn't reach for more this time around. The Mummy worked largely on the good humor of the characters, which is somewhat lacking here. Brendan Fraser does a good job playing the down-to-earth hero, and John Hannah gives the movie a few silly, slapstick moments. But somehow it just isn't as funny or as light on its feet as the original. Perhaps all those CGI effects become too overwhelming for their own good, or maybe Sommers is just starting to run out of jokes
|The Mummy Returns: Collector's Edition DVD|
|Audio||Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround|
|Supplements|| Audio commentary by writer/director Stephen Sommers and editor/executive producer Bob Ducsay|
Spotlight on Location: "The Making of The Mummy Returns
Visual and special effects formation
Live's "Forever May Not Be Long Enough" music video
Original theatrical trailer
"The Mummy Returns: Chamber of Doom"
Interview with The Rock
Theatrical trailer for The Scorpion King Production notes
Cast and Crew filmographies
|Release Date||October 2, 2001|
|Not surprisingly, the anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) image on this disc is excellent, with strong color saturation, excellent detail, and solid black levels. The wild visual quality of the movie is well-rendered in all its meticulous detail, and I found that it actually played better on the small screen than it did in theaters because the intensely sharp quality of the DVD image tends to give the entire movie an unfilmic, hyperrealistic look that blurs the boundaries between the conventional action and the often cartoonish-looking visual effects. While many of the CGI effects obviously stood out in the movie theater as effects, they are more seamlessly blended on the televisual image, although this comes at the price of the entire movie looking somewhat hard-edged.|
|The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack is excellent throughout, making full use of the multiple channels to submerge the viewer in an intense aural environment. The nonstop action sequences are exquisitely well-rendered with creative directionality and imaging, bringing out all the details and nuances of the multi-layered soundtrack. Bass levels are particularly good, with the low-frequency effects channel working overtime to give the soundtrack a deep, thundering quality, especially during the large-scale battle sequences.|
| The Mummy Returns has been released under Universal's "Collector's Series" banner (who wants to take bets on how much time passes before the "Ultimate Edition" is released?). And, while it has a fair number of supplements, too many of them are promotional advertising for spin-off projects masquerading as extras. |
In fact, much of the disc plays as a promotion for the upcoming Mummy spin-off movie The Scorpion King. "An Exclusive Conversation With The Rock" is a lackluster less-than-four-minute interview with The Rock done during the production of The Scorpion King, in which he waxes poetic about the rigors of acting and how making a movie differs from performing in the WWF. Further promotion for The Scorpion King includes a theatrical trailer of almost embarrassingly poor quality (presented in nonanamorphic widescreen, it looks to have been transferred from a videotape, rather than from film) and "Unlock the Secrets Of The Scorpion King," a DVD-ROM link that takes you to a web site of the movie's production.
More promotional material includes "The Mummy Returns: Chamber of Doom," which is a four-minute demonstration of the new Mummy-themed ride at Universal Studios. Actually, it's not really a ride, but a maze-like crypt that you walk through while costumed actors and animatonics jump out at you. It's probably a lot of fun in person, although it looks rather lame when viewed through someone's shaky videocamera.
After all that, there are some supplemental materials relating to The Mummy Returns. The most informative is the screen-specific audio commentary by writer/director Stephen Sommers and editor/executive producer Bob Ducsay, who collaborated on the first movie, as well. Their commentary is casual and often fun to listen to, although it tends to be spotty at times. They have some fun anecdotes to tell and their unpretentious and jovial tone suggests that they really love what they do.
Also worth checking out is the section on "Visual and Special Effects Formation." In this section, visual effects supervisor John Berton (who also worked on the first movie) takes us step-by-step through the development of four major computer-generated special-effects sequences: "Imhotep Returns," "Pygmy Mummies Attack," "Anubis Warriors Rising," and "Scorpion King Revealed." Each sequence is divided into five stages: (1) the Conceptual Stage, which includes concept art, sketches, and sculptures; (2) Animation Tests, which are rough versions of the finished effect; (3) Plate Photography, which is the film without any of the effects layered in; (4) Visual FX Elements, which are the CGI effects themselves; and (5) Final Feature Sequence, which is what we see in the movie. Unlike the banal promotional quality of many of the supplements on this disc, the special-effects section is a good example of the kind of fascinating, in-depth look at the movie's production that DVDs are capable of.
The 20-minute "Spotlight on Location" making-of featurette is what we've come to expect: some behind-the-scenes photography interspersed with upbeat interviews with cast and crew members in which they all slap each other on the back and talk about how great it was to work with everyone else. Not much of great interest here, although it always fun to watch the manic Stephen Sommers on-set directing a scene.
For those interested in background history and lore, this disc offers Egyptology 201, which continues the lessons offered on The Mummy DVD's Egyptology 101. This time around, we get more text-based information on five new subjects: "An In-Depth Look at Mummification," "The Most Famous Mummy: King Tut," "Animals of Ancient Egypt," "Myths & Magic of Ancient Egypt," and "The Scorpion King: Myth or Reality?"
Other extras include Live's "Forever May Not Be Long Enough" music video, production notes, and cast and crew filmographies. In addition to The Scorpion King web site link mentioned earlier, DVD-ROM content includes the original theatrical website, exclusive behind-the-scenes footage, and screensavers.
Copyright © 2001 James Kendrick