I haven’t seen The Mummy in years, but people I know swear up and down that it replicates that aesthetic. So I decided to watch it with that in mind and see what happens. Besides, if I wrote up The Mummy from 1933, logically it follows that I should tackle its most famous remake!
I have to confess that I really don‘t care for this poster. Just compare it to that Karloff/Johann-centered miracle of composition below! This just looks so inert by comparison! This one just has the sand-face from the first act, pyramids, and a poorly-mapped polygon serving as an ersatz eye-line. It only has one hue; it doesn’t have any contrast to speak of. Sure, I like the way the light bloom emanating from the large M forms the main lines of composition, but this entire poster still exists at a level of brand identification one step above store-brand food or Chinese bootleg toys.
|Robert Cop 2: Electric Shootaloo (via Brad McGinty).|
How it Handled Arabs
The Mummy clearly exists as an invocation of the pulp novels of yesteryear. As someone who owns a number of them, I can testify that those novels remain incredibly fun to read today. Unfortunately, they often contained provincial and backwards attitudes about race.i The Mummy clearly inherits a lot of the two-fisted fun of the pulps… but it has a lot of the bad stuff too. In fact, the film consistently portrays Arabs as filthy, toothless, fetid savages.
|The first Arab we see on screen. He shouts a guttural war cry as his dirt-crusted people advance in a haze of sand.|
|Filthy, rapacious, ululating Arab raiders blindly charge out from a cloud of sand.|
|The clean, well-manicured, more-teeth-having French Foreign Legion lead a relatively orderly, organized defense.|
|A “savage” Arab in this cover by Walter M. Baumhofer.ii|
|A more heroic-looking French Foreign Legion fighter in this cover by Charles de Feo.|
|The warden with a glint of sex in the eye.|
Even in relatively quotidian scenes, Arabs repeatedly appear behind a thin layer of dirt and dust, making them look like anonymous, dirty savages. They bicker in loud, shrill Arabic ululations and seem almost uniformly obsessed with money or blood.
|For all the screen time it got, I hope the thin layer of dust got paid more than scale.|
Later in the film, Imhotep, through little effort of his own, turns a horde of Arab extras into his mind-controlled slaves. These benighted Arab thralls, covered in boils and sores, look and act exactly like zombies. Nobody in the film questions the rectitude of killing them en masse until they can get to the antagonist. More to the point, Imhotep takes over the minds of every Arab he meets, but his mind control never works on the European characters. There seems to exist a subtle message in there about the perceived gullibility of Arabs.
|Fehr and Avari. If they don’t give you a nagging sensation of familiarity that vaguely scratches at your occipital lobe, then you haven’t watched enough movies.|
Compared to the Original
Arnold Vosloo inherits Boris Karloff’s role as the title mummy. Vosloo never quite matches Karloff’s gravitas. Somehow, Vosloo’s shiny bald head pales in comparison to the glowing eyes and wizened, malevolent, pensive face of Karloff’s Imhotep.
|“I lost my keys! Again! Anubis dammit!”|
|You’d never know it from the film, but Fraser actually stands an inch taller than Vosloo.|
|This film takes the pop-cultural image of mummies and mass-produces it.|
This split also has the added effect of cheapening both characters. Ankh-sun-Amun lacks the regal bearing of her 1932 counterpart, although Velásquez does give the character a bit of malevolence befitting her conspiratorial role.
|I don't know much about Egyptology, but this costume more-or-less matches my mental image of “ancient Egyptian hooker.”|
|This early shot tells us that she often lets her zeal cloud her common sense.|
|I’ll leave any other thoughts about this image to the reader.|
|One of the multitude of pulp covers featuring damsels in distress like Weisz above, this one by J.W. Scott.|
|Kevin J. O’Connor plays Beni, a Hungarian frenemy of the protagonists so cowardly that he wears symbols and memorizes prayers from every religion he’s ever heard of just to hedge his bets.|
|This beautifully-composed shot depicts Winston Havlock, a Winston Churchill-derived, hard-drinking old friend of O’Connell’s who has no ambition besides finding a suitable blaze of glory to go down in.|
I really like how this film depicted ancient Thebes. The film really sells a sense of scale, with the serried ancients flanked by monolithic likenesses of Anubis and vertiginous pyramids looming over them. (The CGI hasn’t aged terrifically, but, you know, 1999 and all.)
|Looking at Thebes makes me feel very, very small.|
|The contrast of Imhotep’s head with post-dusk Thebes hints at his interest lying at odds with the people’s.|
|A man walks in on his mistress cheating on him. Shit gets a little stabby.|
|A swashbuckling hero fights his way through a horde of monsters in an ancient ruin while his love interest lies chained behind him. Does any film image look more like the cover of a pulp novel than this one?|
|For comparison, a pulp cover with related content by Tom Lovell.|
|Another related cover. (I couldn’t identify the artist.)|
|Fraser demonstrates mastery of the “What did I just get myself into?” face.|
|The Rocketeer making the same face.|
Come to think of it, I probably could’ve picked a less… ambiguous image. Ah well.
|Cairo in The Mummy looks like a strange and beautiful land just waiting for amazing, exotic adventures!|
|Real-life Cairo? … Not so much.|
|The supernatural elements actually lose something without the Indiana Jones films’ tendency to bookend them with bromides about faith and penitence.|
|The use of dummies in place of actors here becomes incredibly obvious if you look closely.|
Anyway, in keeping with that pulp spirit, we get a some real stretching of realism. When the plane crashes, we see characters emerge with nary a scratch, even two who rode on the wings.
|Characters crawl out from the wreckage of a downed plane.|
Why do I suddenly feel like watching The A-Team?
i For a particularly unpleasant example, take a look at this L.L. Balcom cover that glorifies the Ku Klux Klan.
ii Baumhofer remains better known for bringing Doc Savage to life. His Doc Savage covers alongside Lester Dent’s self-indulgent purple prose made Doc Savage’s books among the best-selling in the world at one point.