Home Video Hovel- Tale of the Mummy
We’ve all heard the terms “armchair science” or “armchair politics”, today I am coining a new phrase “armchair Egyptology”. What I mean by “armchair Egyptology” is similar to the way movies like The Core and Armageddon toss around scientific terms like “lithosphere” and “hard iron ferrite” mummy movie writers toss around terms like “reincarnation”, “all-seeing eye”, and “pharaohs curse”. Russell Mulcahy’s Tale of the Mummy is another example of this type of writing. Other examples of late 90’s “armchair Egyptology” films are Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy, The Fifth Element, and Stargate. These films, however, go out of their way to make the stories that go with the “armchair Egyptology” compelling or at least their characters interesting. I never thought I would say this but Mulcahy could take a lesson from Sommers’ The Mummy. Sommers opens his 1999 film with the actual story of Imhotep/the mummy and how the curse was placed on his tomb and remains. Russell Mulcahy’s Tale of the Mummy makes you wait until almost half way through the film to even find out why the mummy, Talos, is cursed. Having to wait this long severely diminishes the action that comes before the explanation. Also Sommers’ The Mummy has a sense of humor, it knows what it is and goes out of its way to make you laugh. Russell Mulcahy’s Tale of the Mummy takes itself too seriously despite its ludicrous plot, one-dimensional characters, and bad dialog.
The basic plot of the Tale of the Mummy is in 1948 Christopher Lee as Sir Richard Turkel leads an excavation team which discovers an unopened tomb in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. The tomb is cursed, of course, and in order to protect the world from the curse Turkel blows up the tomb with himself inside. Fast-forward 51 years and Turkel’s granddaughter played by Louise Lombard is joined by a team made up of Sean Pertwee, Gerard Butler, and Lysette Anthony as they follow Turkel’s journal and find the tomb. They reopen the tomb, and the curse is unleashed. Butler dies and we flash forward seven more months to London, where the findings from the dig are on display at the British Museum. We are told again and again that the man buried in the cursed tomb’s name is Talos and that there is a planetary alignment happening in three days time. There were drawings on the ceiling of the tomb of the same alignment 3,000 years ago… “armchair Egyptology”. People around London begin to die and pieces of their bodies are missing; eyes, lungs, jaw, etc. Enter our two detectives played by Jason Scott Lee and Jack Davenport. While investigating they connect with all the living members of the team that found Talos’ tomb. Pertwee is haunted by visions of Talos’ tomb and has shaved his head and tattooed the hieroglyphics of the alignment from the tomb on his head. With more attacks happening throughout the city the detectives suspect Pertwee, they catch him and he finally tells the story of Talos. Talos was an evil sorcerer who plotted against the Pharaoh and was sacrificed/mummified by his followers and the pharaoh’s daughter to rise again. With that information they use the remaining members of the archeology team to try to solve the murders. The plot goes off the rails with psychics, planetary alignments, and monsters at the end and a particularly confusing use of past-life logic to explain characters behavior… “armchair Egyptology”.
One thing the Tale of the Mummy does fairly well is mixing practical and CGI effects. In the late 90’s Mulcahy seemed to realize that CGI was not that believable yet and only used it when practical effects were impossible, such as the mummy’s wrappings flying around London searching for victims. Perhaps the best scene in the film is when an old woman is attacked in her apartment building. The mummy comes after her in a hallway and the practical effects are quite believable and scary. There is another scene at the end when CGI is used to give a character the appearance of having horse-legs with the backward knee joint. The top of the monster is all practical, it is a little cheesy but still more satisfying then an all CGI character would have been.
The Blu-Ray has no special features, only a full-screen version of the film’s trailer. Overall the Blu-Ray has good picture and sound. There were a few moments when the sound mixing was poor so subtitles would have been a nice feature but none were available.
I would give this entry into the mummy genre a miss and instead watch the first Christopher Lee mummy movie: the 1959 Hammer Horror The Mummy or even Boris Karloff’s The Mummy from 1932. Heck, for a laugh watch Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy and enjoy a laugh every time Brendan Fraser yells “Beni”.