The Mummy appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The transfer seemed acceptable for its age but not any better than that.
For the most part, sharpness seemed fine. More than a few soft shots cropped up through the flick – usually in wider elements – but most of the film demonstrated adequate to good delineation. I noticed no issues with moiré effects or jagged edges, and I also failed to detect any edge haloes.
Black levels also looked fairly solid. Dark tones were usually deep and rich, although occasionally the picture seemed a bit too gray. Shadow detail was fairly nice, though vaguely murky at times. Still, blacks and contrast were a reasonably good part of the transfer.
The image's main weakness came from the very frequent intrusion of defects. The print seemed very grainy, and other flaws appeared on a nearly constant basis. I witnessed scratches, hairs, speckles, spots and other problems like running vertical lines. The movie occasionally “jumped” due to some missing frames. Given the flick’s vintage, this remained a watchable image, but it could use some serious clean-up work.
Also flawed but acceptable was The Mummy's monaural sound. As one would expect, it's a very modest affair, with the emphasis on dialogue. Unlike predecessors Dracula and Frankenstein, The Mummy featured a minor score. Nonetheless, speech dominated the soundtrack.
Dialogue was adequate for its age. The lines could be a bit dull and flat, but they were acceptably clear and remained intelligible. Effects sounded thin but decent, and the very occasional music also appeared adequate for its age. A frequent layer of background noise - mainly in the form of hiss and pops - marred the audio to a minor degree. This was an average track for its era.
How did the picture and audio of this 2008 “Special Edition” compare to those of the original 1999 DVD? Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to directly compare the two. I would guess that both offer similar – if not identical – transfers, but I can’t verify that via a screening. I do believe that the 2008 disc doesn’t outdo the old one by much, if at all.
In terms of extras, the 2008 disc contains most of the materials from its predecessor along with a few new components. I’ll mark elements exclusive to this set with an asterisk. If you fail to see a star, then that component already showed up on the old disc.
We open on DVD One with two separate audio commentaries. First we hear from film historian Paul M. Jensen, as he provides a running, screen-specific piece. Jensen tells us about the story’s historical background, the script and the flick’s development, cast and crew, cut scenes and changes from the original script, and a few general production topics.
Though Jensen throws out a smattering of good notes, too much of the track proceeds at a plodding pace. Too much of the time, Jensen simply narrates the movie; I occasionally wondered if I’d accidentally activated the “Descriptive Video” option. Things pick up a bit as the flick progresses, but this remains a generally dull commentary.
Next comes a commentary with *film historian/Dracula: Dead and Loving It screenwriter Steve Haberman, makeup artist Rick Baker, film historian Scott Essman, movie memorabilia collector Bob Burns and sculptor Brent Armstrong. Except for Baker, all of them sit together for a running, screen-specific chat; the piece edits in Baker’s remarks on occasion. The track looks at makeup and effects, cast and crew, the story’s path to the screen, and a few production notes.
For the most part, the commentary acts as an appreciation for the film. The participants tell us what they like about the flick and throw in some filmmaking insights along the way. That side of things keeps this from being simple happy talk, though we don’t get a ton of good notes. Baker’s occasional remarks provide interesting thoughts about Karloff’s makeup, and we do learn a reasonable amount of other details along the way. Nonetheless, the track tends to be enjoyable but not particularly substantial.
Film historian Rudy Behlmer hosts a documentary called Mummy Dearest: A Film Tradition Unearthed. This 30-minute and 10-second program follows the same tradition of the programs found on the other "Universal Monsters" DVDs. In addition to a bevy of production photos and movie clips, we find interview snippets. These come from Baker, Jensen, Boris Karloff’s daughter Sara, screenwriter’s son John Balderston, and film historians Gregory W. Mank and David Del Valle.
This feature does a fair job of discussing the history of the project, those involved, its inspirations and imitators, but it seems a bit drier than many of the other shows in the series. Oddly, it doesn't mention the 1999 movie. Since the original 1932 Mummy DVD hit the streets the same day as the modern Mummy disc, one would expect they had time to discuss the story's most recent generation.
The Posters and Stills section offers the usual conglomeration of film posters, lobby cards, and production photos but it does so in an unusual manner. Normally these would appear as still frames, but in this case, the entire program runs as a video, with pans in and out from different images, and all accompanied by music from the film.
I like this presentation; it may ultimately be a little more awkward than the usual frame-by-frame access, but it shouldn't be a problem since one can easily fast-forward through the show, and I think the addition of the audio makes it a more dynamic and involving process. The total running time goes for nine minutes, 44 seconds.
Five ads appear in the *Trailer Gallery. We locate a promo for a re-release of The Mummy as well as ads for The Mummy’s Hand, The Mummy’s Tomb, The Mummy’s Ghost and The Mummy’s Curse.
With that we head to DVD Two and its components. *He Who Made Monsters: The Life and Art of Jack Pierce runs 24 minutes, 59 seconds and provides notes from Baker, Essman, Haberman, Burns, special effects makeup artists Nick Dudman, Howard Berger, Greg Nicotero, Tom Savini, Thomas Burman, Bill Corso, Michele Burke and Kevin Haney, and authors Sir Christopher Frayling, Kim Newman and Stephen Jones. “Art” gives us a quick look at movie makeup in the 1920s and then delves into Pierce’s work at Universal. We learn about the man and the techniques he used to bring those classic monsters to life.
Pierce is one of those seminal artists whose name isn’t known outside of a certain circle. That’s a shame, and hopefully programs like “Art” will help alter that. The program offers a nice mix of appreciation for his work with info about how he did his job.
*Unraveling the Legacy of The Mummy lasts eight minutes, seven seconds and features Haberman, Frayling, Dudman, Jones, producers James Jacks and Sean Daniel, director Stephen Sommers, visual effects supervisor John Berton, and actors Brendan Fraser, John Hannah and Rachel Weisz. The show nods in the direction of the 1930s Mummy but really exists to promote the 1999 Mummy and 2001’s Mummy Returns. Why is this superficial piece on this disc? I have no idea, but I do know it’s a waste of time.
DVD Two finishes with a documentary entitled *Universal Horror. Narrated by Kenneth Branagh, this one-hour, 35-minute and 16-second program includes notes from author Ray Bradbury, Boris Karloff’s daughter Sara, collector/historian Forrest Ackerman, art director Ben Carre’s widow Anne, author/screenwriter Gavin Lambert, Dracula script girl’s son Nicholas Webster, biographer James Curtis, film historians David Skal and George Turner, director Curtis Harrington, screenwriter Curt Siodmak, and actors Nina Foch, Lupita Tovar, James Karen, Carla Laemmle, Gloria Stuart, Fay Wray, Gloria Jean, Turhan Bey, Rose Hobart, and Arianne Ulmer Cipes.
As implied by the title, “Horror” mostly concentrates on the flicks made by Universal in the 1920s and 1930s. In an odd choice, however, it occasionally discusses successful non-Universal films of the era like King Kong. Due to its scope, the discussion of the various movies remains superficial, but the show creates a generally satisfying view of the subject matter. It becomes an enjoyable overview of the “classic” era of horror movies.
Does this set lose anything from the prior Mummy release? Yes, though not much. It drops some cast and crew biographies as well as some production notes.
While not without its merits, I can’t say that 1932’s The Mummy does much for me. I like Boris Karloff’s chilling lead performance and a few other elements, but the movie progresses slowly and doesn’t add up to much. The DVD offers flawed but acceptable picture and audio along with a pretty nice set of extras. It’s not my favorite horror flick, but it’s a good DVD.