A Tribute to the Mummy (Produced in 1999), Part I (Analyzing the Opening Scenes)

A Tribute to the Mummy (Produced in 1999), Part I (Analyzing the Opening Scenes)

It’s just astounding how this film still stands out clearly in my mind. Despite the fact that I have seen many adventure movies released by Hollywood and motion picture producers in the US and UK, this movie is just the best I have ever seen in my entire life. Frankly speaking up till its’ release date and even afterwards it still stands as the best adventure thriller within the genre and for a number of reasons. The next best thing to it is its’ sequel The Mummy Returns as it continues with the same breathtaking spirit from beginning till end.

The Mummy is about a very sinister yet captivating tale involving ancient Egypt…an all-time fiction-adventure inspirer for film makers and scenario writers in Hollywood. Briefly speaking The Mummy is about an Ancient Egyptian priest called Imhotep who falls in love with Anck-su-Namun, pharaoh Seti the first’s (1290 BC) mistress. Their betrayal is very soon discovered by Pharaoh when he suddenly walks in to his chambers in his palace upon a secret romantic meeting between them. Anck-su-Namun’s arms are full of Tattoos that apparently smear at a single touch. Pharaoh sees the smudge marks on her arms and asks her about them. The sudden circumstances compel Imhotep and Anck-su-Namun to assassinate him with daggers. Pharaoh screams in pain from the agonizing stabs for a seconds’ time then dies in cold bold. Imhotep flees with his priests, while promising to resurrect his love with his powers as high priest of Egypt and keeper of the dead. We shortly see the Medjais, whom are Pharaoh’s elite soldiers, storming into the palace but only to find their leader dead. Anck-su-Namun stabs herself to death immediately afterwards most probably in fear of the consequences awaiting her crime. We then see Imhotep stealing her remains and taking them to the holy city of Hamunaptra to perform the necessary rituals to resurrect her from the dead.

However the rituals were interrupted by Pharaoh’s body guards before they were completed. Imhotep’s priests were sentenced to be mummified alive while Imhotep suffered the worst of the penalties. He was sentenced to the Hom Dai. His tongue was cut off while he was buried alive in a sarcophagus with Scarabs, which were flesh eating insects. He was cursed to be eaten alive by the insects inside his sarcophagus till eternity. At all if he should ever arise from his eternal sleep he would be an undead flesh eater with invincible powers and cause suffering to mankind.

Imhotep slept for thousands of years guarded from generation till generation by the Medjais. Their chore was to keep any curious treasure seekers and tomb raiders away from Hamunaptra lest they disrupt the sleep of the menacing mummy. Technically speaking their powerful traditional role was beautifully presented during the early scenes of the Mummy when Rick (Brendan Frasier) was with the Italian legion in the ruined city. Nevertheless taking an analytical look into the first introductory scenes to the tale, I can only say that they were exquisitely presented placing us beautifully in the midst of a captivating era of ancient Egypt. The city of Thebes with its vibrant squares besides the sphinx, the statues and the elaborate drawings on the walls of the city square, the entry of Pharaoh on his royal chariot and how he was greeted by his guards with deep reverence, the scene with Imhotep facing the Egyptian soldiers while on duty in the palace square, and last but not least the elegant palace with its breath taking walls that were finely decorated with hieroglyphics; all gave the introductory scenes of the film a very fine and powerful oriental touch. What these scenes unfolded with their very detailed yet enchanting backgrounds just made me want to watch what was yet to come. It was a very well made background complementing a very devilish scenario and crime that carried us on to the next set of preliminary scenes that happened well into the 20th century.

Action packed opening scenes in adventure movies and thrillers are a very powerful way to begin movies. Technically speaking they are originally meant as early hooks or appetizers to keep the viewers on the edge of their seat watching from the beginning till the plot of the movie and eventually till the ending scenes. It is definitely a very successful tool if used by a well experienced director handling a well-developed scenario. It furthermore helps in introducing the director’s tone of voice in directing his film and helps foretell what to expect in the movie. To give a couple of examples just off the top of my head; Tomb Raider produced in 2001 starring the ever gorgeous Angeline Jolie started off with awesome action scenes between Laura and a programed robot in fake ancient Egyptian ruins in a set in her mansion. It gave us a feel of Laura’s tough character early in the film and her very distinguished hobbies in the adventure world. I personally saw in it a very illustrious way in introducing the heroine of the film. What would the world’s best tomb raider and treasure seeker be doing in her free time except practicing her sharp combat skills in the most unorthodox way to keep ready for a new adventure? Playing the tomb raider series on the famous Sony Play Station and knowing her character in the game, it just sounded right to introduce her the way Simon West did back in 2001 in this huge block buster.

The ever most creative Steven Speilberg in Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark, chose to open his film in a very action packed unique way. The opening scenes held our breath while Indiana made his way cautiously inside the ruins in Peru in search of a golden relic. Despite his careful approach in what he feared was a booby trapped area of a very ancient premises he soon found out that replacing a golden bust triggered very deadly weapens and traps that were designed to kill any intruder. Upon his escape all hell broke lose as the traps moved into action challenging his dash back to safety. Rock slides, arrow attacks, a sudden gap in the ground designed to kill, and a very huge boulder that rolled wildly behind him at his escape made life misreable for a couple of minutes before he reached safer grounds. Indiana’s quest was met with a surprise when his companion betrayed him and attempted to run away with the golden relic but only to meet his demise by the raging booby traps. Very soon he was met outside the ruins in Peru with an enemy who with the help of a primitive tribe stole the golden relic that almost cost him his life. If at all Steven Speilberg sought to give us a feel of what lied ahead in this powerful adventure he totally succeeded in this aprx 6 minute wild intro. It just did a fine job at foretelling the dramatic atmosphere of the film and in enriching the drama texture of the film. In terms of critique I would have loved to have seen a more serious director’s approach when dealing with the scenes involving Indiana breaking away from the primitive tribe and running towards the plane. I felt that their was a comical approach more than a serious runaway scenario during those brief moments. Nevertheless the intro scenes stand out as really among the best directed in Hollywood.

The intro scenes in The Mummy, Tomb Raider, and Raiders of the Lost Ark were brilliantly used up to their maximum potential and served their purposes correctly. Thus I felt the need to shed some light on this issue to clarify how much The Mummy competes with the best films in its’ genre.
Looking into some additional opening scenes, we see how much Hamunaptra has been guarded by the Medjais ever since its’ ancient Egyptian days. Its’ history and archaeological significance turned it into a golden legend to twentieth century man tempting the appetite of treasure hunters and tomb raiders to seek its’ whereabouts. The Medjais objective was to keep away any curious visitors to the city. No human being was to be allowed in the city that was buried during our modern era underneath thick layers of earth and sand. Thus the mummy was successfully kept undisturbed throughout the long centuries ensuing Hamunaptra’s downfall until a legion of Italian soldiers with Rick O’Connell arrived to the city’s boundaries. There they fought viciously with the Medjais who outnumbered them drastically.

I have to again commemorate Sommers here for well-built war scenes. The film after the introductory scenes of Pharaoh’s brutal assassination raged with wild warfare between the legion and the city’s nomadic guardians. Sommers successfully gave us a true feel of what a battleground looks like. Close up scenes of Medjai warriors raging with the spirit of battle on their horses placed us in the mood of the powerful battle will of the large Medjai army. The Wide shots taken were very much noteworthy to give us an overview of the massive Medjai build up against the limited number of the soldiers in the legion. Suddenly after a brisk dialogue between Benny and Rick the guns are charged and war breaks out between the two armies. The wide shots that were taken during the shooting of the battle I felt were used to their maximum potential efficiently and helped in climaxing the clash of the armies, in showing casualties that were falling from both sides, and helped us keep up with the quick pace of the battle. I enjoyed the roughness of the battle and felt its fury throughout the scenes; even the close ups that where showing man to man combat were just brilliantly taken. When Rick was surrounded by the nomadic horseback fighters and was resisting them again it made watching the fighting one excellent thrill. Sommers truly gave us a real battle in a couple of minutes that involved exquisite fighting skills, guns and rifles, and that even ended with the most sinister unexpected way…a semi sand tumbler that got brewed up by the wrath of the cursed mummy underneath the sands..,(to be continued)

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