When Universal announced it was working on The Mummy, a re-make of the classic film featuring none other than Encino Man’s Brendan Fraser, a little skepticism was understandable. A genre film, with an actor who wasn’t exactly Boris Karloff, and a story about an undead mummy looking for his long-lost love? Sounded like a recipe for disaster. When it hit theaters in 1999, of course, the film blew everyone’s expectations, with impressive special effects and a certain action/comedy charm not unlike the Indiana Jones trilogy.
With The Mummy 3 in theaters this summer, Universal has released The Mummy (and The Mummy Returns) in Deluxe Versions on Blu-ray Disc. Packed with bonus features, The Mummy on Blu-ray represents the best version of the film yet to hit your home theater. The movie itself hasn’t changed, so while Brendan Fraser tries to save his love interest from the undead priest’s approaches, the action and comedy are still a bit unbalanced. The entire cast’s performance, though, fits the genre and tone of the film perfectly, providing an easy reminder about why The Mummy captivated moviegoers nearly 10 years ago.
For its high-definition debut, The Mummy has an A/V quality that, to be honest, is incredibly surprising. Studio archives have been successfully raided before, most notably with The Predator, but the nine-year-old The Mummy is downright gorgeous. The VC-1 encoded 1080p video transfer is absolutely impeccable, with a grain-free picture quality that frankly looks better than most modern-day theatrical Blu-ray releases. The CG at times looks dated, as do some of the mattes and blue screens, but that’s more a matter of the CG itself being dated, not the video quality faltering. It’s not just the video quality, though, but the pixel-perfect color balancing. From top to bottom, the picture quality is just fantastic.
The film’s DTS-HD Master Audio also shows impressive detail, with bullet ricochets, sand grain, arrows…everything, really, absolutely milking all 5.1 channels. Unfortunately, the audio is undone by a feature that plagues many action films: the volume levels are incredibly imbalanced between dialogue and action scenes, or even scenes that have anything other than straight-up dialogue. Consequently, you’ll find yourself spending just as much time adjusting decibel levels as you will watching the movie, which is not only annoying, but a true shame considering the otherwise great fidelity of the audio track.
Considering The Mummy is one of Universal’s first Blu-ray titles since moving to Blu-ray, the studio has put its best foot forward in terms of bonus features. It also doesn’t hurt that The Mummy 3 is headed to theaters soon, which means Universal wants to eek out as much enthusiasm as possible for the franchise via this disc and these features.
By and large, the bonus features have been ported from the film’s DVD release, complete with a meager 480p display. However, the U-Control feature is a Blu-ray exclusive, albeit the only one. This in-movie feature is essentially like the popup video-like tracks that have taken off recently on Blu-ray movies (Batman: The Movie being one of the most recent). When the U-Control is activated, icons appear on the screen that indicate whether additional Picture-in-Picture content for that scene is available (PiP behind-the-scenes footage is included for all but two scenes). The content automatically closes when it’s finished, or you can deactivate it manually mid-feature. The PiP videos range from video commentary tracks and behind-the-scenes clips to visual effects features about creating the scene at hand.
When these scenes are active, the movie audio is completely muted. Unfortunately, the volume of the PiP features is so quiet compared to the main feature that watching them should not be attempted without a controller nearby. The information is great, and it serves as a surprisingly good substitute for “proper” high-definition making-of features, but they take up so much screen real estate and are so diverse that they can occasionally feel a bit jarring.
The DVD carryover bonus features start with the Deleted Scenes (2:21) feature, which encompasses three scenes: one on the steamship to Egypt, one in the chamber while they fight off “zombie” mummies, and one with the entire group on camels counting dead bodies. To say these scenes are unsweetened would be too kind, and because there are only three of them, they really don’t add much to the experience.
The film also includes three feature commentaries, one with director Stephen Sommers and Editor Bob Ducsay, one with Brendan Fraser, and one with actors Oded Fehr, Kevin J. O’Connor and Arnold Vosloo. The crew commentaries include the traditional insight and information, making Brendan Fraser’s the rare gem of the bunch. Not surprisingly, Fraser’s comments are pretty funny, and his casual tone and delivery makes it feel like he’s talking to you in his home theater. He laughs at his own performance, he pokes fun at his costars’ performance, he makes corny jokes to fill the silence, and he gives almost no real insight into the production. Then again, you really wouldn’t expect much production insight from him, so there’s really no harm in that.
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor Sneak Peek (3:01) is mostly snippets of behind-the-scenes and making-of footage, but it really seems more like a sneak peek of the film’s eventual bonus features than the film itself. There’s definitely some footage here you haven’t seen in trailers, and the brief interviews with Jet Li, Michelle Yeow and Brendan Fraser do nothing if they don’t get you pumped for Mummy 3. But again, that’s what this feature feels like it was supposed to do.
The Visual and Special Effects Formation is a series of five mini-featurettes that discuss the visual effects work that went into creating six scenes: The City of Thebes (the opening scene), the Scarab Burial, “Serious Trouble,” the scene where Imhotep eats a scarab, and the scene in which Rick rescues Evelyn. Each scene is then broken down into footage of its scale models, renderings of its concept art, fly-bys of its composite shots and the final sequence as it was shown in the film. These are nice, short features, but because they’re so short and flip between 480p footage and 1080p menus, it would’ve made more sense to include them as one comprehensive VFX feature with five chapters rather than five separate features.
An Army to Rule the World, Part 1 (4:02) addresses how the producers mixed up CG Imhotep and solider footage with the old-school, wrapped priest mummies that are a throwback to the 1930s films. There’s nothing too breathtaking here in terms of footage or insight, making it your run-of-the-mill CG feature, but its focus on the mummies is at least unique.
Next up is Unraveling the Legacy of The Mummy (8:07). In spite of its title, which makes it sound like a self-referential piece about this film, this bonus feature is actually a pseudo documentary about Universal Pictures’ history creating monster films such as Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy. It also briefly covers how Universal’s work on the original The Mummy inspired many members of the 1999 film’s crew, including a brief segment on why they were so stoked to work on the sequel.
Ironically, one of the last bonus features on the disc is also its lengthiest and most detailed: Building a Better Mummy (49:55). This is the real making-of feature for the film — and it just so happens to be older than mummy dirt. As you’d expect, this feature includes cast and crew interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and snippets of the finished film to illustrate how Universal went about re-creating the original The Mummy and the lengths the crew went to in order to be uphold the original film’s tenets rather than those from the subsequent films. Seems like the main entree for the appetizers of the Unraveling and Army features, because it covers much of the same information, but in more detail.
Storyboard to Final Film Comparison covers seven scenes: Anubis Chamber, Desert Sandstorm, The Sahara, Final Fight, Hangman’s Noose, Scarab Run and Trouble in Cairo. This feature is actually pretty neat, as you can see the comic-like sketches used in the original storyboards, then watch how the production team actually interpreted that original vision onto the final celluloid. It’s quite remarkable, really, to see how someone can go from pencil sketch to finished CG scene, so this collection of features ironically seems just as compelling as the VFX features.
Rounding things out is a Photograph Montage (4:18), a slideshow of various production photos set to the musical score of the film. Like most photographic features, this is geared squarely at hardcore fans of The Mummy. Then again, that’s probably the type of person who’s going to buy this Blu-ray anyway.
The Mummy surprised audiences when it released in 1999, and its 2008 Blu-ray appearance is equally surprising. From a fantastic video presentation to a good-but-inconsistent audio presentation, the A/V aspects of The Mummy leave only a little bit to be desired. The sheer number of bonus features is also impressive, but because they’re predominantly ports of old DVD features, the U-Control is really the only one to really get excited about. Regardless, “excitement” is the name of the game with this release, as it marks Universal’s splash onto Blu-ray and is a good primer for The Mummy 3. If you’ve got fond memories of The Mummy from 1999, the film’s Blu-ray debut is definitely worth your while.
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- Score: 8.1
- The Mummy on Blu-ray looks and sounds anything but ancient, but the CG does at times, and the bonus features are greater in number than quality.
— Jonas Allen