The Cultural Gutter

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"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." -- Oscar Wilde

I Want My Mummy

Chris Szego
Posted April 23, 2009

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This month we’re mixing it up at the Gutter, with the editors writing about something outside their usual domain. This week Chris Szego writes about movies. Well, mostly movies.

I’m a total chicken. This means I don’t watch anything that smacks of horror.  In fact, I tend to close my eyes when the music gets even a little bit ominous. It’s not the gore I mind so much (though really, intestines belong on the inside), but the terror. The supposed cathartic release of the horror movie escapes me: I scare really easily, and unfortunately, I stay scared long after the movies ends. Which means I’ve missed any number of important genre movies:The Thing, The Exorcist, most of Alien. So imagine my joy when awkward first date manners had me agreeing to watch The Mummy

Yeah. The date went about as well as you’d expect, but it did leave me with one consolation. Much to my surprise, I loved the movie. Some of that might have been relief: here was a remade horror movie that wasn’t horror at all. Instead, it was action and comedy. But later, I realized that much of what I liked about The Mummy was in fact what I like about romance novels. I’m not alone in this, romance writers and readers tend to adore the movie. Here are a few reasons why, beyond the inevitable pairing of Rick and Evie.

1. It has a happy ending. And not a horror-movie happy ending, where a single character survives the devastation. In this case, Rick, Evie and Jonathan don’t just survive, they emerge triumphant: alive, having soundly defeated the bad guys, and heading off to Cairo with saddlebags full of treasure. Even Ardeth, the Magi, survives. Apparently he wasn’t originally supposed to, but the director liked the actor so much he rewrote the part. On behalf of myself and the rest of the film’s fans, I can only say: thank goodness.

2. Happy endings require sacrifice. In the final action sequence, everyone has to sacrifice something he or she holds dear. Evie sacrifices knowledge and education when she abandons the golden book that has been her life’s pursuit. Jonathan sacrifices his longed-for material wealth when he passes up on his chance to loot the treasure chamber. Rick… well, Rick has to give up the notion that he can save everyone. In order to save those who are most important, he has to stop trying to save Beni. And Beni, who is both bad guy minion and comic relief, gets the dire comeuppance that Evie foretold.

mummy_returns_1.jpg3. It’s replete with male heroic archetypes. First there’s Rick. Played by Brendan Fraser, he’s amusing, brawny, loyal and capable. The classic Adventurer Hero: not overly complicated, perhaps, but when the situation calls for dynamite, simple is usually the best choice. Then there’s Ardeth Bay, played by Oded Fehr. He’s a great example of the Mystical Hero: he shows up unexpectedly, he gives cryptic warnings, and has dark connections to an ancient magic. And of course, there’s Imhotep himself. Arnold Vosloo plays the titular character as a Tortured Hero: desperate to amend a past mistake. He’s also the villian, which makes things interesting, but more about that in a moment.

4. It features a functioning family. Okay, it consists of only a brother and sister, but from the moment the inimitable John Hannah pops out of a sarcophagus to startle Rachel Weisz, they seem like real siblings. When in consequence she smacks his face as she helps climb out, I thought, ‘Wow, whoever wrote this must have a brother’. Jonathan may disappoint Evie with his drinking and his gambling, but she listens to what he has to say. Evie may irritate Jonathan with her primness and erudition, but he feels for her when her scholarship application is rejected again. They bicker constantly, and they enjoy needling one another, but they always, always have each other’s backs.

5. The driving force of the plot is a love story. And no, that doesn’t mean Evie and Rick. In this case, the primary love story is Imhotep’s own. Think about it. The movie opens with the doomed and desperate romance between Imhotep and Anck-Su-Namun. She’s willing to give everything for the chance that they can be together: she even takes her own life. And despite being tortured and cursed – and then dead for almost three thousand years – Imhotep struggles to be worthy of her belief in him. Everything that follows happens because he’s desperate to revive her. He doesn’t take over the world for his own sake, but for hers. All of his horrific actions: the murders, the plagues, the mind-enslavement; these are mere by-products of his ultimate goal, which is to bring his dead girlfriend back to life. Now that’s romantic dedication. Sick and twisted and wrong? Definitely. But it gives emotional oomph to a popcorn spectacular.

~~~

Chris Szego didn’t watch the bug scene in King Kong. And she’s happy with that decision.

Comments

8 Responses to “I Want My Mummy”

  1. John Crye
    April 23rd, 2009 @ 5:14 pm

    I am happy to hear that somebody liked THE MUMMY. Not because I liked it myself and want company, but rather because I could not for the life of me figure out what audience Universal had targeted with that one. The original Universal Mummy film was an honest-to-Ra horror film, but when the remake was being devised, the studio turned to Steven Sommers, a man who declared in his first interview on the film, “I hate scary movies”. While I find that about as sensible as hiring a non-English speaker to edit the New York Times, at least it worked out okay for you. I was disappointed to see one of cinema’s most iconic monsters reduced to an obligatory baddie in a RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK rip-off, but that’s just me.

  2. Chris Szego
    April 23rd, 2009 @ 5:41 pm

    I can see how fans of the original might be annoyed by the remake. For me (and the other scaredy cats like me) the surgical removal of the fear factor was a feature, not a bug.

  3. Carol Borden
    April 24th, 2009 @ 12:46 pm

    i actually like both movies and see continuity between them. imhotep has the same motivation– getting anck-es-en-amun back. it being a raiders rip-off doesn’t bother me much. raiders is already a reworking of 1930s adventure films.
    still, sommers emphasized elements from the original common to classic horror, which is often both romantic and (classically) tragic. there are a lot of sympathetic villains making the wrong choices around the loss of their beloved from imhotep all the way to dr. phibes. and classic horror films often have a young couple whose love is threatened and must be defended by older men, usually professors or scientists or both. i expect partly they wanted to appeal to everyone and partly they saw anyone under 35 as a well-meaning kid.
    so for me, the mummy‘s not like roland emmerich and godzilla.

  4. weed
    April 24th, 2009 @ 1:35 pm

    It’s itchy and it smells like onions, but it’s the love I have to give!

  5. Nefarious Dr O
    April 27th, 2009 @ 7:48 pm

    Heck, I just have to root for anybody who wants to see the world go up in flames, for whatever reason they’ve chosen to do it. Burn baby burn!

  6. Carol Borden
    April 29th, 2009 @ 8:52 pm

    you’re just an old softy, Nefarious Dr O.

  7. Mr.Dave
    May 22nd, 2010 @ 3:51 pm

    I also enjoyed the Mummy movies (and even The Scorpion King spinoff) but more as cheezy action/adventure movies rather than horror movies. Once I got past the idea that it was a remake of a “classic monster movie” (compare “The Wolf Man” which actually remains quite true to it’s source material, up until the end) I could enjoy them for their own sake.
    But thinkng about how the mummy guardians chase after the heroes just like aliens or fast-moving zombies/vampires, I can see some continuity between this and other monster-type movies. Sure, it’s a different take on mummies, but then there are lots of different takes on vampires, zombies, and even werewolves.

  8. Chris Szego
    May 23rd, 2010 @ 12:15 pm

    That’s a truly hilarious letter.

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