A Look Back at The Mummy (1999-2008) Franchise
In 1932, Universal distributed one of their biggest monster movie hits: The Mummy. Later during the 1980s, the idea to reinvent the classic movie monster was brought up, with it eventually being made into a kickass horror action film directed by Stephen Sommers and starring the one and only Brendan Fraser in the late 1990s.
In 1923, explorer/treasure hunter Rick O’Connell (played by Brendan Fraser) teams up with Egyptologist/librarian Evelyn Carnahan (played by Rachel Weisz) and her brother Jonathan (played by John Hannah) to search for Egypt’s City of the Dead, Hamunaptra. They are not the only ones looking as others race them through the deserts of Egypt to find it. Once found, Rick and Evelyn accidentally awaken an ancient evil in the form of Imhotep (played by Arnold Vosloo). With Imhotep awake, Rick and Evelyn, along with the help of the Medjai must destroy Imhotep once and for all before he unleashes the apocalypse upon the world.
Producers James Jack and Sean Daniels wanted to remake the Universal classic hit, with the studio greenlighting the idea, but wanting to keep the budget low, at around $10 million. During this time, numerous screenwriters were brought on to write a script, including the legendary George A. Romero being one of them. However, due to disagreements with the studio and a clash of creative differences, Romero eventually left the project. Universal wanted a mummy that acted as an unstoppable force, along the lines of The Terminator from the hit franchise, and brought on director and screenwriter Clive Barker to bring their vision to life. While Barker wrote a script that was considered “dark, mystical and sexual”, it wasn’t what the studio had in mind. Romero later returned to the project with a new direction, taking inspiration from Night of The Living Dead, but his idea was considered too violent. It wasn’t until 1997 when director Stephen Sommers pitched an idea to both Jacks and Daniel of a Mummy film inspired by Indiana Jones. They liked his pitch so much that Universal was convinced to give The Mummy the big budget Hollywood blockbuster treatment.
Originally, the role of Rick O’Connell was considered for bigger name action stars such as Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon among others. However, after Sommers saw Brendan Fraser in George of the Jungle, he immediately decided to cast Fraser. Sommers believed that Fraser was the perfect fit to Rick’s character, citing his belief that Fraser perfectly captured the swash-buckling nature of Rick. Meanwhile, Rachel Weisz, despite not being an avid horror fan, joined the cast after multiple auditions seeing the film as more of a comic book film than a horror one. Having previously worked with Sommers, Arnold Vosloo was brought on to the project and decided to play the role of Imhotep completely straight. While playing a character straight doesn’t always work out, it served as the perfect contrast to O’Connell’s campier nature.
The Mummy (1999) made a box office record of $416 million on a budget of $80 million, making it huge a box office success. This would lead to two more sequels being spawned in 2001 and 2008: The Mummy Returns and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, respectively. The Mummy Returns saw the return of Imhotep after the events of the first film and the latter sequel took place in China and centered on Han, The Dragon Emperor played by martial arts legend Jet Li. Although Fraser and John Hannah reprised their respective roles, Rachel Weisz did not return to the role of Evelyn, being replaced by Maria Bello. Although it had its moments, the third film ultimately deviated too far from the first two and was considered a failure. With this, the franchise would be rebooted in 2017 with the intention of kick starting a cinematic universe featuring all of the Universal movie monsters titled the “Dark Universe.” And we all know how that went.
Jerry Goldsmith composed the score for The Mummy (1999). Goldsmith was a veteran composer, who composed the soundtracks for numerous films including the original Planet of the Apes, Rambo: First Blood, The Omen and even Mulan. In fact, if you listen close enough during the scene where the Pharaoh’s bodyguards board O’Connell’s ship, you can hear a brief riff from Mulan when the Huns capture the Chinese Emperor. He conducted several themes, a heroic theme for Rick and a more somber and heartfelt theme for Imhotep to reflect his Romeo and Juliet tragedy with Anck-su-namun. Unlike Goldsmith’s other work, his score for The Mummy (1999) features a more liberal usage of percussions and brass instruments.
Despite some ups and downs of the franchise as a whole, it’s still enjoyable and fun to re-watch. Although I’ve criticized Stephen Sommers for his shoddy reimagining of popular movie monsters in the past, in The Mummy, it works to its advantage. 1999’s The Mummy is an action adventure film that knows what it is and just has fun with it. With Brendan Fraser’s recent success and comeback into the limelight with Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale, rumors of a fourth Mummy film are floating around. In a recent interview with GQ Magazine, Fraser himself stated that he would absolutely love to return to the franchise, provided there’s a script. Since 2022 is the year for comebacks and film fan service, there’s a chance that fans of Brendan Fraser Mummy franchise could see a fourth film. But even if there isn't a possibility, there’s no doubt that 1999’s The Mummy had a profound impact on many people’s childhoods. And hopefully we get that fourth installment!