Nobody can argue with the brute fact that The Mummy Returns grossed $68.1 trillion dollars in its first three minutes of release. Every single newspaper, magazine and website in America has assured us that this amount is a record haul for a non-holiday regular weekend opening of a remake-sequel between Christmas and Memorial Day, excluding President’s Day. So with this in mind, everything that follows may be irrelevant.
Obviously, it’s no longer about whether this type of highlight-reel blockbuster is good or bad, good for you or bad for you. But if you’re laughing at it rather than with it, are you not still laughing? Are you not entertained? Is there anything left to say in trying to analyze these, uh…events?
It is no revelation to point out that 1999’s The Mummy, which was directed by Stephen Sommers, owed a sizable debt to the Indiana Jones trilogy directed by Steven Spielberg.
“Raiders of the Lost Ark,” the first in that series, is now exactly twenty years old. The Mummy Returns, with its pornographic fixation on keeping the action set-pieces…coming, raises a question. Namely, how would “Raiders” fare in the summer of 2001? Would an amped Friday night mallplex crowd find Spielberg’s beloved adventure – which in 1981 seemed like a headlong rush of balls-out, kick-ass action sequences – somehow quaint? Would today’s pubescent Playstation 2 freaks and WWF junkies laugh old Raiders off the screen, from hipness or restlessness or dissatisfaction with its handmade special effects? (Forget about the original ’32 “Mummy,” with Boris Karloff shuffling around in black-and-white and mono sound: that thing might as well be hieroglyphics.)
Maybe I’m wrong here. Maybe “Raiders” would still play every inch the classic, even with the kiddies. But such a scenario pains me to contemplate — it makes me feel old.
Here’s an even more unsettling question: twenty years from now, will adrenalized action-porn like The Mummy Returns seem slow-paced? Is it inevitable that The Mummy Returns, or other recent technoid freakouts like Armageddon and The Phantom Menace, will one day seem creaky and draggy and… slow? ^ * * * *
So what is the story of The Mummy Returns? Well, that would be some monstrous load of nonsense involving scepters, bracelets, golden pyramid holograms and chests that shouldn’t be opened or the Apocalypse will be unleashed.
But clearly what’s remarkable about the film is not its story. The amazing thing is how a summer spectacle of this sort no longer even seems like a movie, not in any classical way. It’s as if the narrative language of the Action-Packed Thrill Ride is mutating, accelerating to an insane, near-incomprehensible degree. The Mummy Returns is a perfect exemplar of the latest Xtreme æsthetic, a crazed amalgam of live-action and animation in which nearly every shot – not one of which lasts longer than 3.5 seconds – is computer-sweetened in some fashion. Is this a movie, a cartoon, a videogame, a WWF Smackdown match? Does it matter anymore?
A new storytelling shorthand seems to be emerging before our eyes. Plots and scenes no longer have to flow or relate or make logical sense – they just need to move. Bigger, faster and louder is the only rule; Stephen Sommers’ adherence to it is absolute. (In two weeks, when Michæl Bay and the Pearl Harbor profiteers charge at us with all the firepower money can buy, we’ll see if the traditional romantic/historic epic can withstand this comic book-in-a-Cuisinart treatment.)
Every single element in The Mummy Returns, from CGI-enhanced desert vistas to the kooky komedy faces pulled by Brendan Fraser and John Hannah, is designed for instant, maximum visual impact. (Maybe all directors attempt this in their screen storytelling, but rarely at a pace this frenzied.) Broad-brush cartoonists like Sommers and Bay love their pyrotechnics, yet seem totally adrift if a scene requires something as dead simple as two people in conversation. Any moment that doesn’t necessitate the camera and everything in front of it – human, mechanical and/or CGI – whipping through the air at top-speed is dropped in our laps like a rancid flounder.
Get the whole story and read PART TWO of DIG THAT CRAZY MUMMY>>>
Posted on May 21, 2001 in Features by Tim Merrill
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