Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Curse of the Mummy

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I do not usually do negative reviews – because I think it’s much better to just talk about the good things.
Good things are what we want to suggest to our friends – not bore them with how much we hated the last movie we saw, right?

Well, let’s try and be positive.

I’ll start by showing my age and say that my first mummy was the one in the Jonny Quest episode The Curse of Anubis.

MummyPan03

Which probably explains why my all-time favorite mummy movie is the 1959 Hammer horror The Mummy, featuring (who else?) Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.
There’s a bad guy in a fez – just likein the Jonny Quest cartoon… and the added bonus of there not being an insufferable dog as comedy relief.

The Karloff classic from 1932 comes a close second – I saw the Hammer movie when I was about ten, and the Karloff one when I was maybe twelve.

Now, today, on a purely rational basis, I recognize the superiority of the 1932 movie, both from an aesthetic point of view (but why is it so hard to get a clean, crisp copy?) and from a straightforward narrative point of view. There is much more story in the original mummy.
But first loves and all that – the Lee/Cushing movie scared me witless, and made my first visit to the Egyptian Museum in Turin so much more thrilling.

mummy carloff

Now, both movies are horror, and share the same basic plot:
. Egyptian priest falls in love with Egyptian Princess
. he breaks his vows for her love
. gets caught and punished and cursed
. flash forward to the present day (more or less) and the mummy awakens to punish trespassers
. then he meets the reincarnation of his beloved
. things get complicated

Karloff and Lee have a different, and yet always extremely physical approach to the character – and Karloff has the advantage of getting also a speaking part, while Lee is trapped in the bandages for most of the movie.

The-Mummy-1959-Kharis-12

The plot’s simple, and it’s a good, solid story, with ideas and a sort of tragic element to it.
Imhotep/Kharis is not really a bad guy, more sort of a negative hero, a good guy fighting on the wrong side. A victim of madness and love and ambition, but we can relate to that.
We empathize with him, and this makes his punishment and entombment much more terrible and scary.
And the whole curse thing, while preposterous, still has a sort of authenticity – the whole fallen priest/curse/mummification sounds like something you could read in a footnote to E. A. Wallis Budge’s book on mummies, The Mummy Handbook.

The 1999 remake featuring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz still clings to that basic plot – and it just adds lots of effects and a lot of Indiana Jones-style action.
And who am I to diss that?

Here the horror is gone or, better, is no longer the driving motive of the action.
The 1932 and the 1959 mummy movies are small-scale and personal – the mummy has a precise, simple agenda (kill the archaeologists, get the girl). Imhotep’s not doing wholesale carnage – he is coming for some specific characters… some of them we don’t care about, some we do, and that’s where we get drawn into the movie.

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The 1999 Imhotep still retains his romantic, even tragic element, and Arnold Vosloo does an excellent job, and is on a par with both Karloff and Lee.
The reincarnation motif is also maintained.
And the mummy is still is going to kill those that desecrated his tomb, still going to try and get the girl, but his plans go further – stuff like raining fire over Cairo, and then take it from there…

 

The 1999 movie works on a different level, true, but still you can call it a remake, because the basic plot is still in place.
It’s an action/adventure with some comic elements, and a scary bad guy that’s somewhat tragic. It works.

 

The-Mummy-LB-1

Which brings us to the movie that hit the local movie theater two days ago. And that basically jettisons the original plot and goes for something that… my goodness, what a mess.

And no, I’m not placing the trailer here, because
you’ve seen it already, dozens of times.

Clive Barker, George Romero and Sam Raimi turned down the direction of this new mummy – or where asked to leave the director’s chair when their ideas turned out not to be PG-13.
Six writers (including the director) had their hand at the script – a script that’s been described as “loose pages stapled together” by one critic.
Imhotep’s gone, and so is Kharis.
Anck Su Namun’s gone.
We are treated to a sexy/creepy, vaguely fetishistic Amunet1, whose agenda is nothing less than world domination and bringing back a dead god.
Which silly, and less believable than the Egyptian bits in Emmerich’s Stargate2
And the undead beauty falls in love with Ethan Hunt. Or maybe he’s Jack Reacher.
Anyway… she falls for the character Tom Cruise’s been playing these last thirty years.
And we get an organization that fights monsters – sort of like a very uncool version of Hellboy’s BPRD, a sad clone of the Sanctuary Foundation in the eponymous series3, but with Doctor Jekyll in command. Because, sequel.

Basically, this is yet another superhero movie.
With big explosions. And the freshest-looking mummy since… forever.

the-mummy-759

Everything that made the old plot a winner – the horrific, necrophiliac Romeo & Juliet vibe, the small-scale, personal menace, the sense of something happening just out of sight, like a secret history, the Egyptian illusion of authenticity – everything’s is gone.
As gone are the two-fisted action and tongue-in-cheek style of the 1999 remake, the fun, competent female lead, the sense of impending doom.
All that’s left is a messy X-Men movie without the X-Men, filled with people about whom we couldn’t care less.
There is no connection, no viewer involvement, no moment of true ambiguity, of moral dilemma. No story.
No band of roleplayers will cheer when the gun-roll is laid out on the table by Brendan Fraser – been there, done that, we too! No kid will get a shiver when visiting an Egyptian Museum after watching this. They’ll probably ask not to be taken to the museum at all.

So no, I did not like it – 107 minutes nobody will ever give me back, and that felt like uncounted millennia entombed with flesh-eating scarabs, but with none of the fun.
The only thing I can believe is this is the start of a Dark Universe.
Dark, boring and sad, given the premises.

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  1. yes, I tend to feel somewhat proprietorial about characters with that name. 
  2. much as I loved the SG1 series, the movie was unbearable. 
  3. now that was fun, despite the shoestring budget. 
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Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

6 thoughts on “Curse of the Mummy

  1. For me the 1999 version was the best mix of all the available elements without losing the proper pulp adventure flavor. There was just that little bit of sexist silliness in it, where the girl just has to open the Forbidden BookTM, but for me, I could also look at it as the movie being faithful to its pulp roots. The scaling of the mummy’s evil plot and his effect on the living world was nicely done and scary, and the SFX helped the story along instead of trying to upstage it. And then there was Patricia Velasquez — this year’s remake stands no chance at all!

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  2. I would love it if some other company went ahead and did a lower budget version of the “Dark Universe”, one that focused more on the monsters and the horror rather than big budget action and apocalypse. The only part of the “Universal Monsters” that Universal actually owns is a few costume designs – the Frankenstein Monster, the Bride and the Creature. Everything else is public domain.

    (It could be argued that Penny Dreadful already did this.)

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    • I think there is a Mummy mockbuster out there already – and indeed, a lower budget and a smaller scale would help make the movie more close to the original and who knows, maybe even more inventive.

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  3. Just seen it and agree wholeheartedly with this. The Brendan Fraser film had its issues (the five canonic jars irks me irrationally to this day) but at least it was fun and colourful and had a plot. Cruise was woefully miscast in the new movie and the rest of the cast were phoning it in. Interesting that the Malle mummies in the past films were made sympathetic while the female mummy was an out and out monster. It always amazes me that so much money is thrown at a film but almost none of it seems to be directed to writing a good story. Or are they so focused on building their universes they chuck everything they have at the screen in the hope something will stick.

    And there were at least two action sequences that were lifted from Uncharted 3! I know it’s a remake but it would have been nice to have something original!

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    • The fact that it is a remake (in name only, IMHO) does not mean they can throw the plot away and fill the movie with videogame action.
      But hey, some people seem to like it.

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