Film: Raiders of the lost art

The Big Picture




The first movie mummy I ever recall seeing twitch into life was not, alas, the vintage Boris Karloff or Christopher Lee, but Queen Rubbertiti in Carry On Screaming, and the chief purpose of her re-awakening was to pursue Kenneth Williams ("Frying tonight!") into a vat of molten gunk. So a movie called The Mummy has quite a lot to live up to: would it moan horribly and totter about like Frankenstein in dirty bandages? I certainly hoped so.

Living in the age of spiffy computer effects, of course, means that this latest incarnation will be unlike any we've seen before - imagine a half- decomposed skeleton, which keeps borrowing other men's vital organs to clip on his frame. This mummy has had a make-over. The reason for its new look is explained in a prologue: in ancient Thebes an evil high priest named Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo) was caught diddling the Pharaoh's mistress and sentenced to "a fate worse than death".

Whereas nowadays that would mean being strapped down and forced to watch Saturday night television, in 1719 BC the deal was you got buried alive with a swarm of flesh-eating bugs for company: the curse of the undead, you see. Once he is roused from this tomb, however, "the sands will rise, the heavens will part" - and we get a ringside seat to the Apocalypse. Cool.

Cut to Egypt in 1923, where dashing adventurer Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser) has run into a spot of local difficulty while seconded to the Foreign Legion. With a noose around his neck, he is saved from the drop by plucky English scholar Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) and her oafish brother, Jonathan (John Hannah), who need him as guide to the fabled city of Hamunaptra.

The trio saddle up and head out of Cairo, swiftly followed by a ragtag band of American scavengers who've got buried treasure in mind. As the race to the sarcophagus steps up you realise what the director, Stephen Sommers, has planned. Mythic destination, interwar setting, rival archaeologists, a hideous power waiting to be unleashed: he's simply keeping up with the Indiana Joneses.

Brendan Fraser offers a strapping Boy's Own athleticism in contrast to Harrison Ford's stubbled integrity, and he's not at all bad. It's turning out a pretty interesting year for Fraser so far. His lumbering gardener in Gods and Monsters was a terrific foil to Ian McKellen's sly old queen, while his turn as a throwback gallant sparked up the time-lapse comedy, Blast From the Past. Here he's given much less to do, but his charm and energy are still present and correct. What few scraps of comedy come his way, he nails very smartly: when yet another mysterious gust of wind segues into an unearthly moan, Fraser briefly furrows his brow and deadpans: "That happens a lot round here".

The film-makers want him to be a romantic hero too, of course, but he and Rachel Weisz have been afforded precious little scope to get frisky with each other - this despite her wearing no more than a nightie in the final frantic half-hour.

While there's a Spielbergian sense of scale in The Mummy, it lacks the dash and brio of a Raiders of the Lost Ark. It also runs into trouble in its choice of enemy. Where Raiders had fun frying the Nazis, here there's a crude mockery of Arabs. An example: a British toff is complaining about the camels - "Filthy buggers, they smell, they spit" - on which syllable the camera swings back to catch the Arab riding behind him hawk noisily. A variation on the gag is later repeated.

At the risk of sounding like Tom Paulin, is this not a disgrace? Perhaps it's just a period dab of colonial racism, but you do wonder. Stephen Sommers' screenplay isn't generally alive to the nuances of the British tongue - witness the moment that John Hannah cries: "I say, bloody good show, chaps!" - and the way most of the Arabs are characterised as grasping and perfidious should be enough to suggest an American-inspired bigotry.

What the film bludgeons us with, inevitably, are massed ranks of special effects. Some work better than others, like the swarming black carpet of scarabs that appear whenever there's a minor cast member due for a horrible death. And I admired the way the mummy's face coalesces out of a sandstorm, like a liquefied Mount Rushmore.

For the most part, however, it's simply a case of the undead stalking hapless humankind; whereas Dracula just needed a blood transfusion, the mummy's after a whole body transplant, and the various stages of its corporeal reconstitution are a prompt to sniggers, rather than scares.

The film ticks busily on, hardly daring to pause lest the shoddy plastering over of logic and sense should crumble to reveal the emptiness beneath.

Turning into the plot's home stretch, our hero is asked what he's going to do next - to which he replies: "Rescue a damsel in distress, kill the bad guys, save the world". The line will get a big laugh, but you may baulk at the knowingness of it: couldn't the film-makers, just for a moment, try to involve us, instead of treading that old postmodern route?

People will enjoy the silliness of The Mummy, but silliness isn't much to take away from a hugely expensive rehash of an honourable horror tradition.

This thing isn't undead - it's just not-alive.

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own