Bear with me for a moment as I make an odd analogy. The Jungle Cruise in Disneyland and Walt Disney World is cheesy, but it’s short and docile enough that it still manages to be fun. Now, if you were to throw three times its normal budget for “improvements,” would it actually get better? Plenty of people would argue the opposite, that throwing money at the Jungle Cruise would just make the ride’s cheesy lines louder and the obviously artificial animals more numerous.
In many respects, The Mummy Returns is like a polished-up Jungle Cruise, complete with a lush jungle and pygmy mummified monkeys. Following the success of The Mummy and the subsequent approval of this big-budget big brother, the “improvements” don’t actually make The Mummy Returns any better than the first. In fact, in many respects, The Mummy Returns actually feels a bit worse.
In The Mummy Returns, Brendan Fraser and Co. return to find not only the mummy still pining for his lost love, but the reincarnation of that lover trying to kill everyone in sight. The heroes also endure a few cameo appearances by Duane “The Rock” Johnson as The Scorpion King, whose character acts more like fantastical CG book-ends for the film than he does a substantial character (hence the spin-off movie).
With the original Mummy having proved itself financially, The Mummy Returns had a bit more leeway to explore plot themes and character depth. For instance, Fraser now has a son, wife and the opportunity to explore several emotional scenes amid his one-liners and battles with the undead. However, rather than deepen the experience too much, The Mummy Returns gives viewers “more of what they liked in the first place,” unintentionally delivering a bit too much action in the process. If The Mummy could be characterized as an adventure film, The Mummy Returns is definitely an action film
Outside of the scenes and plotlines themselves, nowhere is the new focus on action more apparent than when reviewing the video quality, which isn’t clear as the first film’s Blu-ray debut. The film has more action than the original The Mummy, which ironically leads to some rather noticeable bitrate drops (17-20 Mbps for the first half, but closer to 28 Mbps in the second hour). Comparing the first and second films, it is clear that the CG looks much better from the first to second film, but that’s probably a matter of the technology itself improving. The matte and blue screen work also still seem just as dated as the first film’s, a fact that’s blatantly obvious with the grain-free but somewhat-soft VC-1 1080p encoding.
The audio also seems — on the surface — to dip in quality compared to the first film, especially where details are concerned. However, this is also a matter of the increase in action scenes. With more enemies, more bullets and more fast-paced scenes, The Mummy Returns simply has more explosions and gunfire, which removes almost all the fine audio nuances that stood out in The Mummy and replaces them with big-budget booms. Sure, they’re loud and visceral, but they aren’t nearly as detailed.
So how about those bonus features, then? Well, they’re a bit underwhelming too, but only because The Mummy Returns doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Several of the bonus features are identical to the first The Mummy on Blu-ray, and when they’re not outright identical, their formats definitely are. For instance, the only BD-exclusive feature on The Mummy Returns is U-Control, much like it was in The Mummy. This in-movie feature, available in all but four scenes, is like a popup video track in which Picture-in-Picture movies explain various aspects of production. When these scenes are active, the movie audio is muted, but the volume of the PiP features is so quiet that you’ll find yourself adjusting volume levels a lot more than desired when the PiP features end and the movie audio track kicks back in.
The Outtakes (6:06) are the normal fare — props breaking, people forgetting lines, people falling down, people laughing — and they’re generally forgettable. The bonus features pick back up, though, with the Feature Commentary with Director/Writer Stephen Sommers and Executive Producer/Editor Bob Ducsay. This duo provides good insight about production aspects, casting, music and cinematography, and all in all has a diverse lineup of talking points, all things considered.
An Army to Rule the World, Part 2 (5:09) is a continuation of the feature begun on the Blu-ray version of The Mummy, this one exploring the various enemy groups (Anubis warriors and others) that are featured in the second film. This is a logical feature and is a suitable “creature feature,” but its literal continuation of a bonus feature from the first film is rather odd, because while this feature completes a bonus-feature package, two other features on this disc are exact duplicates from the first film: Unraveling the Legacy of The Mummy and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor Sneak Peek.
Visual and Special Effects Formation also feels like a duplicate bonus feature, but this series of mini-featurettes discusses the visual effects work that went into creating four scenes in The Mummy Returns specifically: Imhotep Returns, Pygmy Mummies Attack, Anudbi Warriors Rising and Scorpion King Revealed. Each scene is broken down into renderings of its concept art, animation tests, footage of its scale models, visual effects/CG work and the final sequence. These are nice, short features, but because they’re so short and require switching between 480p footage and the 1080p menu, it would’ve made more sense to include them as one comprehensive VFX feature with four chapters.
An Exclusive Conversation with The Rock (3:42) is a total promo piece, and it actually feels like an uncut interview from Entertainment Tonight. The interview spends most of its brief time talking with Duane “The Rock” Johnson about what it was like to do his own stunts in a movie compared to doing his own stunts “in the WWF — a clear indicator of just how old this interview is, since the WWF is now referred to as the WWE).
Spotlight on Location: The Making of The Mummy Returns (20:03) is ironically even more like a promo piece, complete with a narrator — almost like something you’d see running in the background on a TV at The Mummy ride at Universal Studios. The feature includes cast and crew interviews about how nice it was to have a common vision and to work with the same cast two films in a row. The best parts of the feature include information about the new characters and how the existing characters evolved from the first film to the sequel.
The Storyboard to Final Film Comparison segment includes footage from three scenes: the blimp being chased by the wall of water, the pygmy mummies chasing people around the jungle, and the final battle with the Scorpion King. This bonus feature is neat because you can see the real sketches used in the storyboards at the bottom of the screen, topped by video from the final cut of the film. It’s amazing to see how a production team can go from a rough pencil sketch to a completed CG scene.
Last on the bonus feature roster is Live: “Forever May Not Be Long Enough” Music Video (4:33, 480p). The music video includes girls in bikinis. Yeah, never seen that in a music vide before. At least these are wearing period-appropriate Egyptian garb and are dancing on the set. To be fair, most of the video is comprised of scenes of the movie mixed with shots of the three-man band rocking on an on-set stage. The song itself is quite good, and considering it’s just a two-channel feature, it’s got some impressive audio.
But while the bonus features seem a bit more diverse than the first film’s, and the plot and action have increased in scope, the movie and Blu-ray production values just don’t seem up to snuff with the original The Mummy. The Mummy Returns feels like a sequel in every sense of the word: not as original, not as magical, and not as breathtaking. Unfortunately, the same can be said for its Blu-ray counterpart.
- Score: 7.2
- Like the original film, this sequel’s Blu-ray Disc isn’t quite up to par with the first one’s but the BD-exclusive PiP still makes it a must-have for Mummy fans.
— Jonas Allen