Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: The Mummy: Ultimate 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.
Box Office: Budget: $76 million. Opening Weekend: $43.369 million (3209 screens). Gross: $155.247 million.
DVD: Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9, Standard 1.33:1; audio English Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1 (Widescreen Only), French Dolby Digital 5.1 (Standard Only), Spanish Dolby Surround (Standard Only); subtitles English, French (Widescreen Only), Spanish (Widescreen Only); closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 18 chapters; rated PG-13; 125 min.; $29.98; street date 4/24/01.
Supplements: "Building a Better Mummy": Original 50-minute Documentary; Audio Commentary from director/writer Stephen Sommers and editor Bob Ducsay; Audio Commentary from actor Brendan Fraser; Audio Commentary from actors Oded Fehr, Arnold Vosloo, and Kevin J. O’Connor; Three Deleted Scenes; Theatrical Trailers; "Egyptology 101" - a collection of facts about ancient Egypt and Egyptian mythology; Cast and Filmmakers; Visual and Special Effects Information; Storyboard to Final Film Comparison; Photograph Montage; Pharaoh Lineage; “Highlights On The Mummy Returns”; Production Notes; DVD-ROM Materials.
Purchase: DVD | Novel - Max Allan Collins | Score soundtrack - Jerry Goldsmith

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

Back in 1999, the original special edition DVD release of The Mummy marked a special occasion in the history of the DVD Movie Guide. It was the very first pre-release screener I received, and to say that this excited me would be a severe understatement. It arrived in August 1999, at which time I’d spent about eight months on the site. Although I was happy with the way things were going, we’d gotten virtually no recognition from studios, so to receive this very hot title was absolutely thrilling.

Of course, more than a year and a half later, all of Hollywood falls at my feet, and my bitter and jaded self no longer gets worked up for DVD screeners; what once was a special high has now become daily life. It’s a tough life to get pretty much any DVD you want for free - and usually before the general public - and it’s made me weary and morose. (Before you write that nasty e-mail, let me stress this: yes, my tone is self-mocking.)

Although screeners really are pretty much a daily part of my life, I must admit that I still smile when I think of that first big release. I picked up the package at the post office and had no idea what was inside of it. When I opened it and found The Mummy - at least six weeks prior to street date - I nearly keeled over from the excitement.

Such palpitations didn’t accompany my receipt of the new DVD release of the film - now referred to as The Mummy - the Ultimate Edition - my history with the movie made me quite happy to get it. After all, this was a flick that I always liked, and I don’t think I’d given it a look since the summer of 1999. With a sequel on the way in another month, this was a good time to get reacquainted with the movie.

The Mummy offers a lively, exciting little romp that gleefully echoes the classic "cliffhangers" circa the 1940s and 1950s, as funneled through later flicks. Raiders of the Ark and the other Indiana Jones movies took their 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 firsthand, so my guess is that they're reinterpreting 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 and/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 so 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 with 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, that’s 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 down anyone with too much exposition. 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.

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 also quite solid. Rachel Weisz provides a spunky turn as Evelyn, the brains of the treasure-seekers outfit and Fraser's inevitable romantic partner. Weisz neatly reminds us of leading ladies from 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 fortune-hunter Beni, respectively; both are fairly one-dimensional characters, but the actors make them compelling all the same. Hannah actually gets the film’s biggest laugh; I leave it up to you to figure out which scene I mean.

I thought it was 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; actually, I was almost shocked when a character used the word “shit” because the rest of the language was so clean.

I suppose violence is the biggest issue here, but it's never at a level much above that of a cartoon. While I watched the film, I noticed that many scenes that could have been gruesome were staged off-screen. As such, there's not much gore here. 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 possesses a general appeal and a light enough tone that it should be enjoyable for littler ones.

When it comes to my complaints about The Mummy, I found the rather weak effects to be its greatest flaw. The computer graphics seemed especially poor, and the film has not aged well in that regard. Considering that it’s only two years old, this means that the effects likely weren’t too hot from the beginning, but I didn’t recall finding them to look quite this phony and cartoony in the past. The goofy CGI didn’t ruin the experience, but it did take me out of the story to a slight degree.

Nonetheless, I continue to really enjoy The Mummy. It’s a derivative story that presents absolutely nothing new, but it comes across in such a chipper and bright manner that it ultimately seemed quite engaging. The Mummy doesn’t try to be anything more than a fun popcorn flick, and it achieves its goals nicely.

The DVD:

In the prior releases of The Mummy, you could find two separate editions. One offered the film in its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, while the other provided a fullscreen transfer. Both included the same soundtracks and extras, however; only the aspect ratios differed.

With the appearance of the Ultimate Edition, those two older discs have now been discontinued. From now on, if you want to see The Mummy, the UE is your only option. For the most part, that’s fine. As I’ll detail later, the new DVD includes almost all of the same extras and it adds some new ones. It also provides both widescreen and fullscreen versions of the movie in this two-DVD package. However, when it comes to the different soundtracks, matters become somewhat confusing. I’ll discuss that more fully when I cover my audio grades. For now, I’ll concentrate exclusively on the widescreen image, which is the only one I reviewed. The Mummy appeared in its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This picture duplicated the one found on the original 1999 release, and that was fine with me, since the first disc looked terrific.

Sharpness appeared virtually immaculate. No matter how wide a shot might become, the focus stayed crisp and well-defined, and I could detect no signs of softness. It was a rock-solid picture that consistently came across as detailed and distinct. All of this came with no price in regard to moiré effects or jagged edges, which seemed to be absent. That was especially good to note since the desert setting and the intricacy of so many of the sets offered many opportunities for shimmering. Print flaws appeared similarly non-existent. I noted a speckle or two, but that was it; otherwise the movie seemed clean and fresh.

In regard to the film’s color scheme, golden tones dominated the proceedings, and the DVD reproduced these in a brilliant and vibrant manner. All of the hues looked vivid and accurate, and they showed no signs of noise or other concerns. Black levels seemed deep and rich, and shadow detail was appropriately heavy but never excessively thick, even during the dreaded “day for night” shots. Since so much of the movie took place in underground locations, the quality of the low-light shots became especially important, which makes the clarity of this image all the more pleasing. Put simply, The Mummy offered a terrific visual experience.

Now we come to the DVD’s soundtracks, which was a somewhat complicated matter. While the Ultimate Edition offers both the widescreen and fullscreen images, the two versions don’t provide the same audio. The letterboxed cut was on DVD one, and it featured English Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 mixes plus three audio commentaries, all of which will be discussed when I get to the supplements. For the fullscreen film that appeared on DVD two, however, we got the same DD 5.1 track but the audio commentaries and the DTS mix failed to appear. Instead, this platter offered French DD 5.1 audio plus a Spanish Dolby Surround 2.0 track.

Confusing? Yeah, but since I’ll never watch the fullscreen version, I don’t really care what audio options it includes; they could substitute the dialogue with farting noises and I’d still be happy. (Actually, that’d be pretty interesting - such a track might make me watch the fullscreen rendition!) For the purposes of this review, the only mixes that I examined were the DD 5.1 and DTS 5.1 tracks found alongside the widescreen version of the film.

Many people eagerly anticipated the DTS mix of The Mummy, but I didn’t think it was anything revelatory. Was it superior to the DD track? Probably, but by an exceedingly slight margin. I felt that the DTS mix provided moderately richer bass and created a somewhat smoother environment, but truth be told, the differences between the two tracks was quite minor. As such, I thought that the two were essentially identical.

The film’s soundfield seemed nicely encompassing. The forward channels displayed solid breadth and created a convincing and believable spectrum. Sounds appeared properly located within the environment, and they panned neatly between the channels. Jerry Goldsmith’s terrific score pumped brightly from all five speakers throughout the movie, and the surrounds also provided some good effects usage much of the time. I felt that the latter aspects were a little inconsistent, as some scenes - mainly gun battles - appeared to be a little too heavily anchored in the front, and they failed to spread to the rears as well as I’d like. However, many other segments - particularly the creepy ones in the tombs - were very compellingly rendered, as they used the surrounds to terrific advantage. Ultimately, the soundfield usually seemed visceral and involving, despite a few mildly lackluster segments.

Audio quality appeared to be very strong. Although much of the dialogue clearly needed to be looped, the speech always seemed warm and natural, and it integrated into the events well. I noticed no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Music came across as nicely dynamic and bright, as the score manifested itself with great force. Most of the track’s low end stemmed from the music, which seemed deep and rich. At times effects provided a nice burst of bass, but I thought they could have been more intense. Nonetheless, the effects were clean and realistic, and they fit the action well. In the end, The Mummy sounded quite good, whether you choose the Dolby Digital or DTS soundtracks.

The Mummy seems like an odd choice for a new DVD release because the older package was already stuffed full of extras. Most of those show up on the Ultimate Edition; supplements that are new to this two-disc release will be noted with an asterisk.

On the first disc, we find a slew of extras, starting with three running audio commentaries. The first of these is the only retread from the original DVD and it comes from director/writer Stephen 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 expect. 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 participants are witty and engaging.

The *second audio commentary comes solely from actor Brendan Fraser. I don’t think Fraser has taken part in any other tracks of this sort, and since I like his work, I looked forward to the piece. Unfortunately, it was a crashing bore. While Fraser occasionally drops in an interesting little tidbit - such as an extra who constantly stared at the camera, or his own near-hanging on the set - for the most part the actor simply giggles as he watches the flick. He interjects vapid statements like “that’s gotta hurt” and “ooh!” from time to time, and he attempts to crack wise throughout the track. It’s all a disaster. I’ve checked out other reviews of this commentary who seemed to find it enjoyable, but I can’t imagine how that could be. I thought Fraser’s track was one of the least compelling I’ve ever heard, and it was a total disappointment.

Better is the *third and final audio commentary. This one involves actors Arnold Vosloo, Kevin J. O’Connor, and Oded Fehr. All three were recorded together for this running, screen-specific track. Although they suffer from a little too much “happy talk” at times - during which they tell us how great everything was - the guys nonetheless impart a solid amount of information. Unlike Fraser, they relate lots of good details about working on the film, and despite the generally positive tone, they’re not shy about complaining from time to time. For instance, Vosloo relates his dislike of some processes, and a few shots are criticized. Overall, the track seemed nicely breezy and engaging; it isn’t a great commentary but I thought it was largely fun and entertaining.

Next up on Disc One is a 49-minute and 45-second documentary 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, briefly discusses 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.

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.

Universal also provide a section of biographies for six cast members and for Sommers. As is typical of their work, these pieces are fairly well done and offer more information than do most DVD biographies. Oddly, although the original DVD provided trailers for Gods and Monsters and Darkman 2 within the entries for Fraser and Vosloo, respectively, those have been removed for the Ultimate Edition. Note that the biographies have not been updated to reflect the activities of the past two years. (For the record: I’m no longer engaged as of April 2001, so discard any remarks along those lines found in older articles. In that vein: helloooo, ladies!)

Rounding out the first DVD are 10 screens of good text Production Notes. Although these replicate materials found on the old release of The Mummy, the notes found within the package’s booklet differ. The original DVD featured some additional production details, whereas the new one simply gives us an introduction from director Sommers. Since all he does is tell us what supplements the DVD includes, I thought these were a waste of time and missed the old notes.

That concludes the first disc, so we now move on to the extras found on DVD Two. One disappointment was the collection of deleted scenes. There are three of them, and they only last for a total of two minutes and 15 seconds. 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 discussed why these scenes were omitted during their running commentary on DVD One. From what they said, it sounded like a number of other pieces were cut from the film, so it's a disappointment that we receive so little excised material.

Pretty interesting - though awkwardly executed - is the section called Visual and Special Effects Formation. Essentially, this piece features five different effects scenes from the movie and shows how they were created; each segment progresses a little bit at a time. The effects themselves are presented visually while effects supervisor John Berton discusses 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 video-time, but it'll take you much longer than that to actually watch it. Okay, maybe not much longer, but definitely more time than it should take. It's a nicely done piece, but you may give up on it out of irritation with the process.

DVD Two includes a few trailers. We find a clip for the original Mummy plus an ad for The Mummy Returns and a promo for a game version of The Mummy. Missing from the original DVD is a second trailer for the first film.

The rest of DVD Two provides materials not found on the original disc. We get a *Storyboard to Final Film Comparison for three scenes (“Hangman’s Noose”, “Scarab Run”, “Trouble In Cairo”). Each of these shows the boards at the top of the screen and the finished movie in the bottom half. They run between 50 seconds and 105 seconds for a total of three minutes and 40 seconds of footage. They’re a minor addition to the DVD and don’t merit much attention.

*Photograph Montage follows the same format found on Universal’s Classic Monster DVDs. It offers a slew of production and promotional shots, all of which have been filmed and backed by the movie’s score. This piece runs for four minutes and 15 seconds and makes for a modest but somewhat interesting program.

*Pharaoh Lineage offers 10 screens of text that discusses exactly what the title states: the history of the pharaohs. Finally, we get *Highlights On The Mummy Returns. This 10-minute and 50-second featurette does its best to promote the sequel. We find a mix of film clips, interview snippets with actors and crew, and some behind the scenes shots from the set. The latter are mildly interesting, and I didn’t mind this piece, but make no mistake: it exists to tout the new movie, and it doesn’t include a great deal of information.

In addition to all of these “regular” features, The Mummy - Ultimate Edition also provides some DVD-ROM materials; the same programs can be found on both disc one and disc two. In “The Archive”, a few subsections appear. “The Story” simply offers a brief synopsis of the plot, while “Cast and Characters” is a bit more interesting. There we find the usual brief biographies for 12 performers, and we also discover short histories for five of the characters (Imhotep, O’Connell, Evelyn, Jonathan, and Beni). I liked the latter aspect; though the listings didn’t tell us much we didn’t already know, I still thought they were a fun addition. In the same vein, “Filmmakers” shows some facts about 15 crew members.

Still within “The Archive”, “Behind the Scenes” includes five different screens worth of generally good production notes, while “The Game” is almost totally worthless. Here you either jump or duck beetles that scroll across the screen at you. How lame is that? Even the contest found on Rugrats In Paris was superior - at least that one required you to move laterally as well. However, the reward for a successful game is a digitized image of sexy Patricia Velasquez, so I won’t complain too much. Lastly, “The Archive” includes some “Screen Savers”. There are two such programs found here, plus the area also has Mummy icons for Windows and five “wallpaper” photos. (More Velasquez - yay!)

*“Features” just links to the materials that appear on the non-DVD-ROM sections of the disc - which will be unique based on whether you use DVD one or DVD two - but “Script to Film Comparison” is unique to this section. As the title implies, here you can watch the movie in a little box on the left side of the screen while the movie’s script appears on the right. I liked this feature and thought it was a valuable addition.

*“The Mummy Game” is not the same lousy contest found in “The Archives”. Instead, this is a demo for a real PC game, albeit one that doesn’t seem very good. I played a little of it and thought it was nothing more than a clumsy Tomb Raider wannabe. Control seemed weak, and it quickly gave me a headache.

Finally, the DVD-ROM area ends with some links. You can sign up for Universal’s DVD Newsletter, or you can head to the following Universal sites: Home Video, Theme Parks, Studios, and Pictures. Additional links connect you to the home for The Mummy Returns plus a “special events” site that relates to the new film. I didn’t see anything noteworthy there right now, but since it touts the movie’s premiere, I’d guess that it’ll become more active once that opening actually occurs.

The original DVD offered almost all of the DVD-ROM extras found in the “Archive”. Oddly, the new disc drops the nine “Postcards” that could be sent over the Internet.

That’s not all that’s missing from the original Mummy DVD. I’ve noted most of the omissions, but I’ll sum them up here and add others that I didn’t include:

  • DVD-ROM Postcards;
  • One Theatrical Trailer;
  • Trailers for Gods and Monsters and Darkman 2
  • “Universal Showcase” Trailers for End of Days and For Love of the Game;
  • Text Production Notes in Booklet;
  • Isolated Score (hidden feature).

Of all the deletions, clearly the one that will bother the most people is the last one. Granted, many people never knew it existed, since it’s not listed on the packaging and can be hard to find. On the original disc, if you went to the “Languages” menu and let it run without interference, you’d hear Goldsmith’s score. That no longer occurs on the new DVD; perform the same activity and you’ll be greeted by silence.

Offering recommendations becomes complicated when a DVD is a reissue, and that’s further mucked up by the high quality of the original version of The Mummy. After all, I gave very high marks to the old disc, so the sensibility of a repurchase may seem slim.

Frankly, I can’t strongly endorse a new purchase for owners of the old DVD, though some additional factors complicate that decision. Mainly that’s because the Ultimate Edition of The Mummy includes one “movie cash” ticket for you to see The Mummy Returns when it opens. That’s worth up to $9.50, and if we figure that most retailers will sell the UE for between $20 and $25, that lowers the actual cost of the new package to about $11 to $20.

That last figure assumes that you want to see the new flick, of course, and it’ll mean nothing to anyone who buys the UE after May 27 2001, which is when the coupon expires. Still, it’s a modest incentive for early re-buyers.

Otherwise, I find it hard to endorse a second purchases of The Mummy on DVD. Make no mistake - this is a terrific set that definitely outdoes the original. Some of the new materials aren’t terribly worthwhile - Brendan Fraser’s audio commentary was absolutely horrible - but there’s enough here to make it a superior package. It loses a couple of nice features, but unless you’re a fan of movie scores, the plusses should definitely outweigh the minuses.

If you own no DVD of The Mummy, I wholeheartedly recommend the Ultimate Edition. It’s an excellent package that will provide hours of entertainment. For current owners of the original DVD, however, it’s a more questionable purchase. I wouldn’t rule it out completely, but you should consider how much you feel you’ll gain from the smattering of added features.

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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