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MAKING: THE MUMMY

THE POWER WILL BE UNLEASHED
In between blowing up barges and watching an ancient city sink back into the sand, writer/director STEPHEN SOMMERS explains why he had always wanted to make a modern version of Universal’s classic horror movie, The Mummy.

Shepperton Studios, just outside London. Heat from the giant fireball can be felt from the far side of the upper deck as the passenger barge erupts into a mass of burning wood. Amid the screams, O'Connell and Evelyn struggle up from the cabin area and race out onto the deck near where the horses are kept.

"Trust me - the occasion calls for it." Brendan Fraser as O'Connell

A chunk of wall is blown off next to Evelyn's head. O'Connell pivots, firing behind him at the last of the black-clad Mumia warriors who is on the other side of the horses. The warrior and O'Connell exchange shots, as another lantern bursts into flames. The horses are in a frenzy. O'Connell shoots off the paddock lock and fires over the horses’ heads: they charge forward and crash through the door. The Mumia warrior screams as the horses stampede over him.

Meanwhile, flames start to sweep up the walls and across the roof. The barge cannot stay afloat much longer. O'Connell turns to Evelyn. "Can you swim?" he asks. "Of course I can swim," she replies. "If the occasion calls for it." "Trust me," says O'Connell, picking her up and throwing her over the side. "The occasion calls for it."

"Cut!" shouts director Stephen Sommers, and the firemen rush in to douse the flames. The crew gathers round the video-assist monitor to watch the playback while the film's stars, Brendan Fraser (who plays O’Connell) and Rachel Weisz (Evelyn), brush themselves down and wait to see if another take is going to be needed.

This new version of Universal’s classic 1932 motion picture, The Mummy, is a rousing and romantic action/adventure about an expedition of explorers seeking treasure in the Sahara in 1925. Fraser’s O'Connell is a swashbuckling officer in the French Foreign Legion, whom we first meet in pitched battle with 3,000 Tuareg warriors who, for some reason, object to his efforts to explore - and probably plunder - Hamunaptra, the legendary City of the Dead. Rachel Weisz’s Evelyn is the spirited antiquarian who subsequently hires O'Connell to find this same city, but with more noble archaeological aims in mind. Also in the cast are John Hannah as Evelyn's ne'er-do-well brother, Jonathan, and Kevin J. O’Connor as Beni, a Hungarian hanger-on whom Sommers describes as "a complete sleazebag: a lying, cheating, thieving back-stabber".

"I guess that’s why he’s undead." Brendan Fraser

Of course, when this motley crew finally reach Hamunaptra, they find a lot more than archaeological remains. Stumbling upon an ancient tomb, they unwittingly unleash a 3,000-year-old legacy of terror, embodied in the vengeful regeneration of Imhotep (fans of the original Boris Karloff movie will be pleased to know the new version uses many of the same character names), an Egyptian priest who had been sentenced to an eternity as one of the living dead.

"He’s unstoppable," says Fraser, noting that the millennial Mummy is a lot fiercer that the early thirties version. "He just gets angrier the more I try to stop him with my shotgun. I guess that’s why he’s undead."

But, while the names remain the same, a lot else in Sommers’ script is quite different. "I loved the original Mummy," he says. "It was the one horror movie as a kid that scared the hell out of me. But why try to re-make it? I’m not really interested in Gothic horror movies: they’ve sort of been done to death. You have to make it more exciting, more adventurous and, I think, more romantic."

Bringing the awe-inspiring world of The Mummy back to life on the screen has been the responsibility of Industrial Light and Magic, the Academy Award-winning creators of the visual effects for Men in Black, The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Twister. "Their creativity and knowledge are just spectacular," says Sommers. "I’ve had some bad experiences with special effects in the past. I’m used to asking people, ‘Can you give me this and this and that?’ and them saying, ‘Well, how about just this?’ But with ILM I say, ‘Can you give me this, this and that?’ and they say ‘OK, and how about this as well?’ It’s just above and beyond anything I expected."

"We want it to be an adventure with a lot of humour" producer Jim Jacks

Sommers was not alone in wanting to bring Imhotep back from the (un)dead: producers Jim Jacks and Sean Daniel had likewise been interested in doing a new version of The Mummy for some time. So, when Sommers hooked up with them, things really began to move.

"We thought Steve had an interesting take on the subject," recalls Jacks. "It was more of a hell-bent-for-leather, action-adventure movie with horror in it, but also very much a swashbuckler like the old Errol Flynn films. "Our version of The Mummy is very romantic," he adds. "We want it to be an adventure with a lot of humour. But," he adds, "definitely not a comedy."

Although The Mummy is very much set in the land of the Pharaohs, the political climate in modern-day Egypt made it impossible to shoot a major movie there, so the decision was taken to film the complicated location sequences in Morocco. Marrakech thus provides the casbah and bazaars of 1925 Cairo, while the ruins of the lost city of Hamunaptra were constructed inside the crater of an extinct volcano near the small Saharan town of Erfoud, situated in the south-east of Morocco, near the border with Algeria.

"the temperature was up to 130 degrees by 10 o’clock in the morning"

Filming in the desert was never easy: the temperature was up to 130 degrees by 10 o’clock in the morning and rose to 145 degrees by early afternoon. But the footage obtained made it all worthwhile, reckon Sommers and the producers, particularly the opening battle against the Tuareg and the scenes of Fraser and Weisz racing across the desert on camels.

The director insists that he didn’t make any adjustments to the script to fit the requirements of the studio’s merchandising department. But, now that the movie is complete, he switches back to being the movie fan he was when he first saw Karloff rampaging across the black-and-white screen on Saturday-morning television. And he will, he says, be first in line to buy whatever tie-ins there are.

"I mean, I want my Mummy pillowcase and I’ll buy a Mummy pinball machine, and I know exactly what the CD-ROM game should be all about," he jokes. "And then there is something I mentioned a few months ago and they got very excited about. I said, ‘You know, the Universal Studios Tour doesn’t have a haunted house: what better than an ancient Egyptian necropolis run by the Mummy and his pals?’ I can’t wait for that ride. I’ll be there!"

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Bring Out Your Undead: Famous Mummies at the Movies
1932 The Mummy (dir, Karl Freund; Mummy, Boris Karloff)

1940 The Mummy's Hand (dir, Christy Cabanne; Mummy, Tom Tyler)

1942 The Mummy's Tomb (dir, Harold Young; Mummy, Lon Chaney Jnr)

1944 The Mummy's Curse (dir, Leslie Goodwins; Mummy, Lon Chaney Jnr)

1944 The Mummy's Ghost (dir, Reginald LeBorg; Mummy Lon Chaney Jnr)

1955 Abbott & Costello Meet the Mummy (dir, Charles Lamont; Mummy Eddie Parker)

1959 The Mummy (dir Terence Fisher; Mummy, Christopher Lee)

1964 The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb (dir Michael Carreras; Mummy, Dickie Owen)

1967 The Mummy's Shroud (dir, John Gilling; Mummy, Eddie Powell)

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