East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Sunday Night in Hamunaptra

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Last night I went and re-watched Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy, from 1999. I first saw it in the theatre, in ’99, with my brother. At the time we were used to go at the matinee show, taking advantage of the discount, and enjoying shows in which we were often the only viewers. For The Mummy, there was about a dozen people in the theatre, mostly pensioners. We smuggled in two packs of crisps and two bottles of Sprite, and had a great time.

Possibly even more than the first Indiana Jones movie, The Mummy is my perfect go-to movie if I need to explain to some mundane friend what pulp is all about.
It often goes like this…

Me: I read and often write, you know, pulp fiction…
The other guy: Ah, Tarantino… lots of swearwords, chicks doing coke…
Me: No, rather like The Mummy.
The other guy: (Weird stare) Uh?!

Stephen Sommers’ movie is supposedly a remake of the classic 1932 Boris Karloff vehicle of the same title, but it’s more correct to call it a reinvention, or a rebooth, or something.
The 1999 movie name-checks the original but then veers into pulp adventure territory as plucky Anglo-Egyptian librarian Evelyn hires Yankee adventurer Rick O’Connel to take her to the (not so) lost ruins of Hamunaptra in search of the Book of Ra. They end up waking up an old cursed priest. Much shenanigans – including the Seven Plagues of Egypt – ensue.

The movie has it all, from the last stand of the French Foreign Legion to the fight against the mysterious masked men from the desert … in the night… on a boat… on fire… to the moonlit ruins in the desert.
As it suits this sort of entertainment, the screenplay plays fast and loose with the details – and even a smattering of Egyptology is a enough to cause much hilarity in the viewers.

And this is OK.
I still remember the night at the movies spent with a friend bitching about the mistakes in Egyptological detail in the movie we were watching… that happened to be Stargate.

The Mummy features five canopic jars, not-exactly-the-Biblical-plagues, and has archaeologists drawing their guns as they enter the freshly discovered underground chamber. Plus the ever useful ploy of

they translated the hieroglyphs wrong!

It’s OK.
It is perfectly OK.
We’re not here for a course in Egyptian archaeology, and this is not an historical movie – it’s fantasy, historical fantasy certainly, but much more fantasy than historical. Because that’s the way to do it.
And the end result is a movie with a strong and charismatic cast, a great bad guy, excellent effects and a variety of action set pieces that make the plot advance at a furious clip. It’s over two hours, and goes in a blink, leaving the viewer with a big smile.

Two movies were made after the first The Mummy – three if you consider the prequel featuring Dwayne Johnson, The Scorpion King. And really, the Dwayne Johnson vehicle is probably the best of the sequels/spin offs. The second and third Mummy movies were trying too hard – the second, The Mummy Returns, to me, features only one great action scene (the run through the cannibal zombie pygmies grove), and is mired in silliness, and I must admit I fell asleep during the third. Yes, in the movie theatre – The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor had too much stuff (two teams of heroes, two teams of bad guys), and yet manages to be by-the-numbers in execution. It killed the franchise by overdoing it.
At least The Scorpion King is a straightforward sword & sandal.

But the first movie in the franchise is an absolute gem, and it was a very nice way to spend two hours on a cold Sunday night.

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.

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