Mummy Musings

I haven’t seen the latest Tom Cruise iteration of The Mummy. And with its crushing reviews I doubt that I’ll even invest in the inevitable UHD Blu-ray version that, judging from the current domestic box office returns for the film, should show up on Amazon in about two weeks.

The subject isn’t exactly a treasure trove of classic tropes, but has its fans. The original was, of course, the 1932 Boris Karloff classic (in Hollywood, anything that old is deemed a classic). Three other entries turned up in the ‘40s, followed by 1955’s Abbot and Costello Meet the Mummy (the latter is definitely on my Bucket List). There was also a quadrilogy (did I just coin a word?) of Mummy movies in the ‘50s from Britain’s Hammer Films, and several animated versions.

But the versions that most folks associate with the Mummy story are the three released from 1999-2008 starring Brendan Fraser. I pulled out my Blu-ray of the first of them, simply titled The Mummy, as fodder for a recent TV review and was reminded of how much fun it was. Most of today’s action movies take themselves far too seriously, not to mention sacrificing story on the altar of CGI. Their characters seem to be there to connect together the effects rather than the other way around.

The Mummy from 1999 is undeniably campy, particularly in a final sequence that can best be described as Dancing with the Mummies. Overall, the film is just serious enough to do justice to the franchise, and just funny enough to keep it from being creepy. In PG-13 you know it’s not going to be an Alien clone, though it is just a bit too icky in places for a five- year old. Eight year olds, on the other hand, will eat it up.

It’s also beautifully shot, and the disc transfer is a reminder of just how good Blu-rays have looked from their beginnings. The film is full of sun-drenched deserts, gold-filled chambers, and dark underground tunnels leading to who what or where. The DTS-HD Master Audio has always been a little bright, but clean, and Jerry Goldsmith’s main theme is one of his most memorable. Goldsmith had a knack for producing scores that were far better than the films they supported, but here the quality of the film and score are in reasonable balance.

The two remaining films in this trilogy were inferior to the first, but still fun. I recall having the last of them, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor in my collection, but it might have been tossed in an attempt to reduce my disc numbers to less than ridiculous levels prior to a cross-country move (around 1500 total Blu-rays and DVDs, after the culling).

Now there’s a new release of the three films on Ultra HD Blu-ray in high dynamic range and DTS:X sound. Many movies shot on film are tailor-made for the HDR treatment, provided the cameras and film used in the production were up to it and the original negatives are intact. Negatives in general have far higher dynamic range than prints. The production of prints resulted in considerable compression of the negative’s dynamic range, which at the time was needed anyway because the playback devices (theater projectors) would not have been able to make use of the dynamic range present in the negatives.

But The Mummy Ultimate Trilogy is available in UHD/HDR only as a packaged set at $40 (it’s available on standard Blu-ray for a bit more than half that price). You buy all three together or none at all. That’s tempting, since roughly $14 each is a bargain price for UHD Blu-rays. Though the third movie was trashed by critics, it did better at the box office (adjusted for inflation) than the Tom Cruise version is doing in theaters today. And, as I recall, it at least offered eye- and ear-candy. Maybe when I pay down my credit-card balance…

If you scout around there are good deals to be had on other Ultra HD Blu-rays as well. I picked up a package set of the two recent Planet of the Apes films for $30 plus tax at Walmart. On another rack I saw a couple of dozen older titles, some of them priced well under $20.

My local Walmart (there are four of them within a 30-mile radius, but only one Best Buy!) might not have as many UHD-buying customers as you’ll find in a large city. But what I see is encouraging. When I walk in a day or two after a new release comes out, the UHD version is often either sold out or depleted. If the sales of such titles are doing reasonably well in a semi-rural area with a total county population of little more than 100,000, the signs for the success of this (last?) packaged video format are encouraging. Of course I may be wrong, since this area, with a tech-heavy Air Force base nearby, might have more tech-saavy consumers than most other counties with a similar population.

Scottyb09's picture

I love adventure movies and was a big fan of the Brendan Fraser movies (well, the first two anyway). The new movie with Tom Cruise was absolutely awful, and I mean AWFUL! It's almost as if they had a contest about how they could make it as horrible as possible...