Wrapped Up in The Mummy
An Aisle Seat Entry
By Andy Dursin
The summer box-office season unofficially got under way on Friday when
Universal's much-discussed remake of THE MUMMY roared into theaters everywhere,
earning a spectacular $44.6 million (a non-holiday May record). Knowing
that this film fits securely with the company of '90s monster hits (like
THE RELIC, SPECIES, MIMIC, CONGO and ANACONDA) should tell you how much
you're going to appreciate this picture--my review follows below.
In other happenings, the first PHANTOM MENACE screenings were held last
week, and I don't know about you, but I quickly tired of reading reactions
from hardcore fans who were almost certainly expecting the Greatest Film
Ever Made and other early blurbs from critics (namely Rolling Stone's Peter
Travers) who tend to snicker at effects-heavy sci-fi fantasy pictures in
the first place. That said, the comments coming from other critics who
attended the press screenings last week seem to indicate that this movie
is indeed good, solid entertainment--and while perhaps not being as fresh
and invigorating as STAR WARS was on first viewing (what would be?), is
not at all out of place in its company. If that turns out to be the case,
I think most audiences will be thrilled, and THE PHANTOM MENACE will turn
out just fine.
Soundtrack fans everywhere, meanwhile, flocked to grab the first copies
of THE PHANTOM MENACE album last week, and reaction predictably was mixed.
As I wrote last week, the album could easily be a context-heavy work that
requires a viewing of the film to fully appreciate--as it turns out, this
CD is one of those instances.
However, I found several aspects of this latest John Williams work to
be particularly striking. First, the tone of the music, the depth and complexity
of the various cues and the arrangements contained therein, indeed surpasses
the dimension of the original STAR WARS soundtrack in terms of sheer dramatic
scope. The use of chorus and the various orchestral timbres Williams utilizes
throughout this work are thrilling to hear, even without the benefit of
seeing the almost-assuredly spectacular images they accompany on- screen.
The use of the original STAR WARS motifs at various, key points is also
effective and intriguing, and the principal new themes Williams composed
here ("Duel of the Fates" and "Annakin's Theme") are
both gems, no doubt about it. How "Annakin's Theme" incorporates
just a few notes--albeit crucial ones-- from the "Imperial March"
is just one of the delicious surprises to be found in Williams's score.
That said, a lot of the music is programmatic and seems to be context-heavy.
Several folks have pointed out that this album isn't as accessible on first
listen as, say, the RETURN OF THE JEDI soundtrack, but remember that when
you first heard that JEDI soundtrack, it was a 45 minute album with numerous
concert arrangements substituting in place of genuine film cues. That doesn't
make THE PHANTOM MENACE any less of a great film score, and we'll need
to see the movie to be able to fully appreciate Williams's work on this
latest George Lucas adventure.
In the meantime, THE MUMMY is a splendid appetizer for the big May 19th
opening (and should receive plenty of carry-over business from all the
PHANTOM MENACE screenings that will be sold out for the first few weeks),
and counter-programming will also be available for those seeking a romantic
diversion such as A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM (opening Friday) and the Julia
Roberts-Hugh Grant teaming NOTTING HILL, opening on May 28th.
In the meantime, send your comments and reactions along to me at email@example.com
and we'll be ready for one last Preview come next week. May 19th... .almost
THE MUMMY (***): It occurred to me about halfway through this latest
incarnation of THE MUMMY that I'm just a pushover for this kind of film.
The sort that you could routinely find on the outer ends of the UHF dial
when I was a kid, where monsters lurked around every turn and dialogue
was silly and often obvious ("you'll have to run for it!")--but
that, always, was part of the fun.
Stephen Sommers's new revamp for one of the staple characters in the
Universal Monsters roster is a good, old-fashioned formula entertainment
that provides plenty of action, great special effects, and engaging performances.
It's a movie that acknowledges its origins, spoofs them to a mild degree,
but more often than not revels in the kind of monster mayhem and "safe
scares" that made the old Universal movies so appealing while adding,
of course, that degree of high-tech effects work that its predecessors
completely lacked. It's not RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, but then again, few
films are, and for kids who have never heard of Boris Karloff or even the
"Creature Double Feature" from my time, this MUMMY ought to fulfill
the quotient of a fun-fright movie for a whole new generation.
Brendan Fraser, as an American adventurer, and Rachel Weisz, as a bumbling
librarian, are quite likeable as the protagonists who unwillingly resurrect
and then try to stop the villainous Imhotep, a mummified Egyptian (Arnold
Vosloo, who once filled Liam Neeson's shoes in the DARKMAN direct-to-video
sequels) wrecking havoc on 1920s Cairo by invoking the plagues of his native
country. Thus, there are scampering beetle attacks, fireballs falling from
the sky, blood pouring forth from water fountains, resurrected armies of
the undead and, best of all, a living Mummy wanting to be reunited with
his beloved, who killed herself centuries before when the Paraoah discovered
her liaison with Imhotep. Following through on the original storyline,
and before you can say sarcophagus, Imhotep realizes that he needs Weisz,
to fulfill a ritual sacrifice in order to resurrect his lost love, which
leads Fraser and her brother (John Hannah) on a rescue mission before the
slowly-regenerating villain brings back his lady-corpse-love and takes
over the world.
Writer-director Sommers uses the original MUMMY films as a springboard
for his movie, one that's pointedly tongue-in-cheek from start to finish.
Sommers may not be Steven Spielberg or even John Milius, but at least he
understands the spirit of this kind of popcorn-munching entertainment and
has made a sensational looking adventure that should appeal to the young
and those of us who have yet to outgrow this kind of picture. His script
has its fair share of big laughs (surprisingly so, in fact) and the use
of ILM effects in the movie--from the opening shots of ancient Egypt to
the Undead Soldiers Imhotep resurrects--is consistently impressive in scope.
More over, Fraser, Weisz and Hannah--along with Vosloo--do a good job keeping
the movie from becoming overly melodramatic or campy, enabling THE MUMMY
to exist right in the middle of both extremes. It's comic book but engaging,
and Weisz and Fraser build up some credible chemistry along the way.
If you have never been captivated by monster movies, Saturday matinee-styled
adventures, or the sight of creepy creatures from the classic days of Universal
horror, this picture will feel as lifeless as a mummified corpse in the
bottom of King Tut's tomb. For those who are, and have an affinity for
this kind of B-movie spectacle (done up in A-grade trimmings), THE MUMMY
provides a rousing good time, fully deserving of its big opening weekend
box-office take. (PG-13, **1/2 by Jerry Goldsmith on Decca--definitely
not one of his "worst" scores as Variety wrote last week, although
not the classic it perhaps could have been, either)
ELECTION (***1/2): Don't be put off by the MTV Films banner
that headlines the advertising of ELECTION, since this is easily the year's
funniest and most insightful high school comedy--a keen and savvy film
about the consequences that result from tampering with the natural order
In ELECTION, that means the downward spiral experienced by Nebraska
high school teacher Matthew Broderick when he decides to derail the chirpy
and cheerful Tracy Flick's candidacy for School President by hiring a noble
but knuckle-headed football player to run against her. The eager Flick,
splendidly portrayed by Reese Witherspoon with a manic energy that veers
the character away from complete and unbelievable dementia, wants to prove
herself to the world; Broderick, meanwhile, secretly hates her for having
the courage to overachieve (a theme that runs throughout the movie).
That sets in motion a series of events that are sometimes subtle and
often quietly humorous, as director/co- screenwriter Alexander Payne comments
on the immorality and dubious intentions of the various characters while
never judging them outright or bathing ELECTION in a completely pessimistic
or bitingly sarcastic tone. The movie feels real because the filmmaking
enables the performances to bring out a variety of colorful shades in the
characters; subsequently, there are no evil or completely hateful people
in the film, since the audience can identify with a predicament or feeling
that each one of the principal characters feels at a particular point in
ELECTION isn't as static and inaccessible as RUSHMORE, and has the smarts
that its spring high school cinematic brethren have completely lacked (namely,
SHE'S ALL THAT and NEVER BEEN KISSED). The kind of movie that never settles
into a predictable formula, ELECTION may go over the heads of its intended
target audience--who undoubtedly are more into the brainless hodgepodge
that was VARSITY BLUES than a comedy with actual issues on its mind--but
the movie should still go down as one of the best films of its kind. If
you've been avoiding the explosion in the teen movie genre over the last
year or so, ELECTION should give you proper reason to go out and see a
high school movie again. (R, *** quirky soundtrack features an eclectic
and effective score by Rolfe Kent)
Aisle Seat Reader Bag
I received a handful of terrific emails following last week's PHANTOM
MENACE-related soundtrack column. Here are a few of them for your enjoyment,
and be sure to send in your thoughts on hearing THE PHANTOM MENACE for
the first time, Goldsmith's THE MUMMY score, or anything else of note to
me at firstname.lastname@example.org in time for next week's column!
From Daniel Montoya Jr. <email@example.com>
I just bought THE PHANTOM MENACE score at 12:00 on Monday and listened
to it immediately. I feel this is a very wonderful score and in my opinion,
I like it better than the original three. Being a music education/composition
major, I feel this shows off more variety of musical forms. From the 12-tone
row in Anakins theme, to the percussive strings throughout. It is a wonderful
score. The only qualms I have about it though is the "Phantom Menace
Theme." If you listen to it carefully, it is very familiar. Listen
to The Hunchback of Notre Dame, track 11. When the choir comes in full
force with the timpani 2:20 into the track, it sounds like TPM theme. Maybe
I'm hearing something that isn't there. But it is still a wonderful score.
Hmm... anyone have any thoughts on this?
From Howard Liverance (HLIVERANCE@tpa.HealthPlan.com>
Re your comment: "The Phantom Menace album may only run 75
minutes and still contain the most significant passages in the film Williams
only wants it that way, I would expect "
The moment I read this sentence, my immediate reaction was "Oh
yeah, then why am I still waiting for that cue in Empire Of The Sun!",
only to see Empire mentioned a few paragraphs down. I too have also felt
this film never got the due it deserved. How ironic that Spielberg was
taken to task for trying to tackle a serious subject like life in a WW2
Japanese prisoner camp, only to be applauded years later for "finally
growing up" with Schindler's List.
Anyway, the cue in Empire that didn't make the album underscores
Jim's frantic effort to revive his Japanese friend. It would probably be
entitled "I Can Bring Them All Back". The wordless choral arrangement
builds ever slowly to a stunning conclusion. What a terrible omission.
Oh, is this frustrating.
From Eric McClellan (Andante7@aol.com):
I agree with you that Far and Away is among Williams' very best.
"The Land Race" is an orchestral tour de force that is tremendously
exhilarating. Enjoy your column keep up the good work!
NEXT WEEK... Your PHANTOM MENACE soundtrack reactions (send them
in, please!) plus whatever business we need to take care of before the
movie opens. See you then, and voice all opinions to firstname.lastname@example.org!