Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: The Mummy: Collector's Edition (1999)
Studio Line: Universal Studios - The sands will rise. The heavens will part. The power will be unleashed.

Deep in the Egyptian desert, a handful of people searching for a long-lost treasure have just unearthed a 3,000 year old legacy of terror. Combining the thrills of a rousing adventure with the suspense of Universal's legendary 1932 horror classic The Mummy, starring Brendan Fraser, is a true nonstop action epic, filled with dazzling visual effects, top-notch talent and superb storytelling.

Director: Stephen Sommers
Cast: Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, Jonathan Hyde, and Kevin J. O'Connor
Academy Awards: Nominated for Best Sound, 2000.
DVD: Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9; audio English DD 5.1, French Stereo Surround; subtitles none; closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 18 chapters; rated PG-13; 125 min.; $29.98; street date 9/28/99.
Supplements: "Building a Better Mummy": Original 50-minute Documentary; Audio Commentary from director/writer Stephen Sommers and editor Bob Ducsay; Three Deleted Scenes; Theatrical Trailers; "Egyptology 101" - a collection of facts about ancient Egypt and Egyptian mythology; Cast and Filmmaker Biographies; Visual and Special Effects Information; Production Notes; Universal Showcase; DVD-ROM Interactive Mummy Game, Screensavers, Electronic Postcards.
Purchase: DVD | Novel - Max Allan Collins | Score soundtrack - Jerry Goldsmith

Picture/Sound/Extras: A/A-/A-

You wanna know how you can tell that a movie studio is mounting a huge DVD publicity campaign? When the likes of Universal bother with the likes of small-timers like me! I don't know how things work at the bigger websites, but we little folk here at the DVD Movie Guide don't get a lot of free rides. Of the 100+ reviews I've written, only one of those DVDs was not purchased or rented by Van or myself (the abysmal Progeny); everything else came to us through our own finances.

I suppose that's good for our journalistic credibility - no worries of payola here! - but I certainly don't mind if the studios comp me a title here or there. (Anyone who believes that studios can buy positive reviews from me hasn't read my article about Progeny.) As such, I was astonished and delighted to find a very early advance copy of the spiffy Collector's Edition of Universal's recent hit, The Mummy.

Finally, an honest-to-God perk for this little hobby of mine! Although I didn't care for the movie, I was happy to receive Progeny; it was free, and I'll give anything a try. But The Mummy was in a different class altogether. Freebie or not, that DVD was going into my collection. I saw the film theatrically and really liked it; although I'm a sucker for nice special editions, chances were excellent that I would have bought it even if it were a movie-only DVD.

That's not the case here, as The Mummy offers a plethora of extras. I must admit, however, that I was a little nervous as I started to watch the DVD. As I mentioned, I enjoyed the film when I saw it in theaters, but I went into that experience with pretty low expectation; it was one of those movies I saw mainly because I felt like seeing something, and I hadn't expected it to be terribly enthralling.

Obviously, I found it surprisingly entertaining, which is a good thing, but it created a completely different set of expectations for my second viewing of The Mummy. Now I expected to like it; that meant there was a much better chance I wouldn't think as highly of it at this time. There was extra danger involved here because the movie's so new. It hasn't even been three and a half months since I first saw it, so the experience remains fresh in mind; familiarity might well have bred contempt.

Happily, none of these fears came to fruition and I once again had a great time as I watched the film. The Mummy remains a lively, exciting little romp that gleefully echoes the classic "cliffhangers" circa the 1940s and 1950s.

Actually, that last statement may not truly be the case. Raiders of the Ark took its inspiration directly from those kinds of pictures, since the filmmakers behind it grew up on them. That wouldn't seem to be the case with The Mummy. The creative forces behind it were too young to have experienced those serials, so my guess is that they're echoing the cliffhangers as channeled through the Indiana Jones films. It's kind of a secondhand inspiration.

No matter - as long as the final result is as fun and vibrant as The Mummy, they can take their inspiration from a box of corn flakes. Many critics attacked the film for being dumb or inane, but I think they missed the point. Not every movie can be a classic, and many - such as The Mummy - harbor no greater goal than to offer the audience an energetic, fun escape for a couple of hours. By no stretch of the imagination is The Mummy the most exciting or most inventive or most creative or wittiest or scariest movie you'll ever see; in fact, it's probably not very high on that list. However, it does what it needs to do, and it does it more than satisfactorily.

Key to the achievement of this goal is the fact that it doesn't appear that director Stephen Sommers or any of the cast took themselves too seriously. They knew they were making a frothy popcorn flick and threw themselves into that task without abandon. Lots of folks like to intensely inspect every frame of a film like this and find whatever flaws in logic or reality that they can. To me, this is absolutely absurd. It's a movie about a mummy who comes back to life, for God's sake! Obviously you have to suspend your disbelief or else why even bother?

Without question, The Mummy wouldn't stand up too well to close inspection, but as long as you let yourself take the ride, it's quite enjoyable. Sommers offers enough plot and history to ground the viewer but he definitely doesn't bog anyone down with too much expository information. He keeps the picture moving at a very crisp pace and seems to usually be able to conjure a nice surprise or two around most corners.

The Mummy also succeeds because of its leading man. Make no mistake about it: this film is decidedly low on star power. Brendan Fraser's the biggest name here, and he's not exactly threatening Pitt or Cruise for the title of box office champion. I'm not really clear why Fraser remains such a medium-level star. He clearly has the looks and charisma to get there, and he also possesses a good amount of talent. Still, even after a nice-sized hit like The Mummy, he doesn't seem able to climb that ladder.

Well, I, for one, really like the guy. He displays a nicely unassuming charm that helps the audience buy his characters, and he makes our hero Rick O'Connell sweetly human. He's not as endearing as Harrison Ford in the Indy films, but he shows a lot of the same characteristics as he gladly lets us see his character's foibles and flaws. With a more bombastic leading man at the helm, The Mummy wouldn't have succeeded as well as it does, but Fraser helps maintain a nice balance for his character.

The remainder of the cast are unspectacular but good. Rachel Weisz provides a spunky turn as Evelyn, the brains of the treasure-seekers outfit and Fraser's inevitable romantic partner. Weisz neatly channels leading ladies of the past as she makes Evelyn the kind of prim, proper girl one expects to encounter in films of the 1940s; she'd fit in well as a participant in movies of that era. John Hannah and Kevin J. O'Connor round out the main cast with their primarily comic turns as Evelyn's ne'er-do-well brother Jonathan and sleazy local Beni, respectively; both are fairly flat characters, but they're compelling all the same. Hannah actually has one scene that provides the biggest laugh of the film; I leave it up to you to figure out which one I mean.

One other cast note: as I mentioned at the start of this review, the only other promotional DVD a studio has sent to me was Progeny. Who starred in that film? One Arnold Vosloo. Who plays the mummy in this one? The same Arnold Vosloo! Apparently I only receive titles in which he appears. Here's hoping his acting career prospers - I want me some more free stuff!

As an additional aside, I found it fairly refreshing that The Mummy really keeps the sex, violence and language largely on a par with the films it aspires to emulate. It's rated PG-13, but I'm not terribly sure why. Sex is absolutely nil - Rick and Evelyn kiss two and a half times - and if the film offers much profanity, I certainly don't remember it. I suppose violence is the biggest issue here, but it's never at a level much above that of a cartoon; I actually noted while watching the film just how many scenes that could have been gruesome were staged off-screen, so there's not much gore here. Well, whatever the reason for the PG-13, parents probably don't have much to worry about if they want to let kids younger than 13 watch The Mummy; I feel it's got a general appeal and a light enough tone that it should be enjoyable for littler ones.

The DVD:

Whatever the age of the viewer, Universal's Collector's Edition DVD of The Mummy has a lot going for it! The film itself is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and it runs straight through on this 16X9 enhanced dual-layered disc. (According to publicity materials, a fullscreen DVD of the film will also be available. Unlike the recent DVD of Patch Adams, which offered a fullscreen movie-only edition and a widescreen Collector's Edition, both versions of The Mummy will contain the same supplementary materials.)

I certainly expect a big-budget, three-and-a-half month old film to look great, and The Mummy did not disappoint me. From start to finish, the image looked terrific. It maintained a high level of sharpness and accuracy. Most of the film is cast in a golden yellow tone - what with all the sand and Egyptian trappings - and the DVD reproduces these colors beautifully and vibrantly. The sand and the intricacy of many of the set designs also created a much greater than usual possibility that moire effects would mar the image, especially when one considers that my Panasonic A110 occasionally has problems handling anamorphic downconversion.

Happily, those issues seem largely confined to DVDs from Warner Bros., and I noted no shimmering problems during The Mummy; it maintained rock-solid focus during even the most precarious of moments. Finally, the print used looked crystal-clear and showed no signs of grain, marks, or other flaws. I also noted no indications of digital artifacts. All in all, it looks terrific, and I imagine it'd appear doubly so on a 16X9 TV!

I wasn't quite as excited about the film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, but it came across fairly well. Actually, most of the audio sounds terrific. It boasts some of the clearest and most natural sounding dialogue and effects I've yet heard, and Jerry Goldsmith's terrific and involving score gets blasted effectively and accurately from all five channels; The Mummy surrounds the viewer with its score much better than most films do. The front soundstage also is quite active and actions pan nicely across it.

My only quibble with the soundtrack connects to those last statements. Overall the audio sounds terrific, but the rear channels did not appear to involve effects as actively as I believe they should have done. In this regard, the track is erratic. Some scenes - primarily those that take place in the various tombs - really sound fantastic and they nicely envelope the viewer. However, others - mainly the occasional gun battles - stick much too strongly to the front channels. The music pumps from the rears at all times, but the sound designers should have been a little looser with the effects. Still, although I found this factor to be a disappointment, it doesn't hurt the film, and the soundtrack remains very good.

Supplemental materials junkies like myself will also find much to love about the wealth of extras included on the DVD of The Mummy. First off, we hear a running audio commentary from director/writer Sommers and editor Bob Ducsay. It's quite entertaining and informative. Usually in a situation such as this, the director would dominate the track, but these two appear to be old friends so the commentary is much better balanced than I would have expected. Both men tend to focus on the technical aspects of making the movie, but they also toss in a good number of funny anecdotes from the set. It's a nicely casual track and the two commentators are witty and engaging.

Next up is a 50-minute documentary about the film called "Building a Better Mummy". It really spends most of its time detailing the technical side of the filmmaking process. At the start of the program, Sommers spends a little time discussing his inspirations for the film, but after that, it's almost entirely a review of the special effects machinery. That's okay, but I would have preferred a program that also got into the "whats" and "whys" as opposed to just the "hows". All in all, this documentary and the commentary do a great job of detailing that latter issue, but the other two aspects get left out to a large degree. Nonetheless, while the documentary is a little dry and not quite up to the high standards established by many other Universal "Collector's Edition" programs, it's still pretty good and worth a look.

But that's not all! We also get many other supplements. One disappointment was the collection of deleted scenes. There are three of them, and they only run about two minutes total. The first two are essentially character exposition, while the last one was a fight scene from the climactic section of the film. None are missed in the final product. Sommers and Ducsay discuss why these scenes were omitted during their commentary. From what they say, it sounds like a number of other pieces were cut from the film, so it's a disappointment that we receive so little deleted material.

One very nice extra is the Egyptology 101 section. This part provides a bunch of text pieces - 43 in all - that discuss various aspects of Egyptian history that relate to the film. The topics fall under these headings: "Artifacts", "Map", "Immortals", "Gods", and "Plagues". Each individual text article runs from 1/4th to 1 1/2 screens long, and they all help provide a nice historical background for the viewer. I found this section to be very informative and interesting.

Pretty good though awkward is the bit called Visual and Special Effects Formation. Essentially, this piece features five different effects scenes from the movie and shows how they were created, a little bit at a time. The effects themselves are presented visually while effects supervisor John Berton narrates them. I liked this section and thought it offered some good information. However, it's presented in a very user-unfriendly manner. Each scene is broken down into four or five "passes;" in this way, we see how the effects evolved until they reach their final form. Each pass has to be accessed separately, and there's no way to run them straight through in succession. Since some of the clips only last a few seconds, that gets very old very fast. All in all, this section fills up about 13 minutes of videotime, but it'll take you much longer than that to actually watch it. (Okay, maybe not much longer, but longer than it should take.) It's a nicely done piece, but you may give up on it out of irritation.

Universal also provide a section of biographies for six cast members and for Sommers. As is typical of their work, these pieces are well done and offer more information than do most DVD biographies. They've also endowed this DVD with a plethora of trailers. In addition to the two ads for The Mummy itself, we get promos for Gods and Monsters and Darkman 2; these can be found in the "Cast and Filmmakers Biographies" sections under the entries for Fraser and Vosloo, respectively. Finally - and most interestingly - Universal have included trailers for two as-yet-unreleased films: End of Days and For Love of the Game. These are found in the "Universal Showcase" section. Some may criticize the inclusion of these as a crassly commercial move, but I thought it was really cool! I found it very exciting to have some current trailers on the DVD. I hope that other studios will start doing this as well.

The Mummy offers some well-executed text production notes. Actually, it includes two different sets of notes: one part can be found on the DVD itself, while the other appears in the disc's booklet. Both are fairly brief but informative.

Finally, this DVD apparently includes these DVD-ROM features: an interactive "Mummy" game; two screensavers; and electronic postcards. I have to say "apparently" because I don't own a DVD-ROM drive so I can't confirm their existence myself. (In other words, if they're not there, don't blame me!)

All in all, I'm exceedingly pleased with the DVD of The Mummy. Despite some faults, it's a very fun and thrilling film that seems to hold up well over repeated viewings. Universal have produced a terrific DVD as part of their "Collector's Edition" series; The Mummy boasts excellent picture and sound and a fine variety of supplemental features. I think The Mummy should make a very nice addition to your DVD collection.

Equipment: Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
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