A loose remake of the 1932 Universal horror film starring Boris Karloff it led to three films, three spin-off films featuring the character of the Scorpion King, a short lived cartoon, and novelisations and is now due for another reboot. Although the planned reboot might be more closely linked to the 1939 film as its all part of Universal's attempt to bring back the old monsters, which started with Dracula Untold.
The 1932 features priest Imhotep being found by an expedition, mummified alive for the crime of trying to resurrect his lover the princess Ankh-es-en-amon. When the scroll of Thoth is accidentally read aloud Imhotep arises, takes the scroll and goes on a hunt for Ankhesenamon.
10 years later Imhotep is now masquerading as a human, Ardath Bey, who has found Ankhesenamon's tomb and guides some archaelogists to it. He also finds Helen Grosvenor who looks like Ankhesnamon and has a plan to kill her and resurrect her as his princess. Helen, remembering her past life, is saved by a prayer to Isis who destroys the scroll of Thoth, which renders Imhotep into dust.
The Mummy came along just 10 years after Howard Carter's infamous discovery of Tutankhamun in November 1922. Supposedly there was a curse on the tomb (not true) and indeed several members of the team involved in the discovery of the tomb suffered death shortly after. Howard himself was not a victim, dying in 1939 a full seventeen years after the discovery of Hodgkin's disease, of course some will still attribute this to the curse. The most infamous of the deaths was Lord Carnarvon, a funder of the expedition who was present at its opening he died in April 1923, the cause was a mosquito bite he nicked whilst shaving causing it to become infected.
Linking to Howard Carter, the film's hero, Rick O'Connell enters in 1923 just one year after Carter's discovery. He is in the fabled City of the Dead Hamunaptra with the French Foreign National Legion fighting Tuareg nomads. O'Connell's army is whittled down to two, himself and Hungarian thief Beni, who abandons O'Connell. He faces certain doom when the desert seems to whip up around him and the Taregs flee. Watched on by the Medjai, they decide to let the desert kill O'Connell and he departs.
Three years later we meet siblings Jonathan and Evelyn Carnahan. Evelyn is a librarian and Egyptologist working in the Museum of Antiquities who can't get taken seriously as a scholar due to her lack of field work. Jonathan presents her with a box he claims to have found in Thebes, which Evelyn discovers contains a map to the supposedly mythical city Hamunaptra. When the museum curator "accidentally" burns the map Jonathan reveals he actually stole it from an American who is now in prison. After making a deal with the jail warden, which involves allowing him a share of treasure from Hamunaptra the adventure begins.
Jonathan and Evelyn's surname Carnahan isn't a coincidence as initially they were going to be the children of the cursed Lord Carnarvon, an interesting idea that was sadly dropped.
This is why I love The Mummy it is chiefly an adventure story full of action with limited horror and whilst not scary, especially by today's standards, it's still an engaging story. I initially saw The Mummy Returns first and for a while I preferred it but after rewatching the two the first film is definitely my favourite. The film, whilst highly inaccurate, offers a film of mystery, horror, action, adventure and romance with the beauty of Egypt ever present. It is one of the few more recent films set in Egypt and offering up a healthy slice of Ancient Egypt it also falls into my favourite subgenre of Action/Adventure- tomb raiding. Its up there with Indian Jones and Tomb Raider and made all the better for having an empowered female lead who doesn't need weapons to be tough and of course, mummies and curses!
It's an easy formula, two groups racing to be the first to discover wealth and fame in the mysteries of the Egyptian desert only to fall victim to an ancient curse, which they accidentally bring upon themselves, somewhat emphasising an idea of karma or justice- punishment for grave robbing and the theft and desecration of one culture by foreigners.
It's hard to decide who the real villains are in this story, Imhoptep and Anck-su-Namun are an easy choice, they committed regicide but they did it out of love and whilst this certainly doesn't justify it and ultimately it was a foolish decision as it did not lead to them being together. The fact is, Anck-su-Namun considered herself Pharaoh's property and desperate to escape him and, in a way, punish him for owning her and preventing her from being with Imhoptep she murders him and then commits suicide, pleading with Imhoptep to flee because only he can resurrect her. Considering the punishment Imhoptep then suffered, live mummification with flesh eating scarabs, one could say he was duly punished.
The Americans and their Egypytologist suffer because they opened the box that contained the book, ignoring the warning and took the funerary jars that contained Anck-su-Namun's organs. Imhoptep hunted them down one by one and drained them dry, thus restoring himself. Did they deserve this? Not really, yes they ignored the warning and robbed the place anyway but it was Evelyn who actually read from the book and activated the curse yet as the heroine she gets to live, albeit it was a close call.
It's another reason to love this film, it offers more depth than one initially notices and its characters come in shades of grey- Jonathan and Rick are both thieves and even Evelyn becomes one, stealing the book from Dr. Chamberlain. Pride, ignorance, a desire for recognition, egos, and greed seems to be the downfall of the Americans and Dr. Chamberlain and yet, despite displaying these vices our heroes survive the adventure. That's not to say our heroes are suddenly unlikeable, rather by not being perfect they are even more likeable, Rick is handsome, humorous, tough and smart not with his knowledge of Egyptology but rather his good sense that what they are doing is dangerous, Jonathan is the comical relief and doesn't try to hide what he is, even telling his sister she should expect him to lie to her because he is her brother, and Evelyn herself is cute, intelligent, funny and quite capable of standing up to the men besting them with her wits and intelligence rather than strength.