I recently re-watched The Mummy (1999) and felt it deserved a little Friday post. The Mummy was a reimagining of the classic 1932 film of the same name, starring Boris Karloff. Basically, it modernized the original story, adding cutting-edge computer graphics and a cast almost entirely of some of the most beautiful people ever to appear in the same film together.
The costumes were designed by John Bloomfield, who designed other iconic action-with-a-thin-layer-of-history films such as Conan the Barbarian (1982), Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1989), and the post-apocalyptic epic The Postman (1997). I was able to dig up only one interview with him on the topic of his designs for The Mummy, on a relic of a website called Film Scouts:
“[Director Stephen Sommers’] interest in the costumes was not so much from a character point of view or in terms of historical accuracy; he wanted the whole thing to look good and to look right. I’m not saying the costumes aren’t accurate, I’m just saying that what you look for is the thing that will best sell your point of view in the story.” — John Bloomfield
So let’s look at how well he was able to “sell the point of view in the story”!
Evelyn Carnahan – Plucky librarian
Played by Rachel Weisz, Evy gets the most extensive and varied costumes in the film. She starts off in this prim blouse-and-skirt ensemble and then rapidly becomes more and more dishabille as the plot sees her making harrowing escapes in her nightgown, then underwear, and finally a highly fantasized “Egyptian” outfit. Most of it is more or less appropriate for the 1920s, if you squint and don’t think too hard about it.
Rick O’Connell – American Adventurer
Played by Brendan Fraser, Rick was attached at some point to the French Foreign Legion, though it’s not exactly clear if he’s still affiliated with them by the time he meets up with the Carnahan siblings. He has two looks in the film, the first with his Foreign Legion jacket, which is quickly abandoned, and the second in the layers under the jacket consisting of a shirt, trousers, and double gun holster.
Imhotep – Bad Guy
Played by South African actor Arnold Vosloo, Imhotep is a powerful priest from 1290 B.C.E. who makes the mistake for falling for the King’s chief mistress. He spends most of his time on screen shirtless with a robe or just sans robe and shirtless, either way looking hot AF.
Anck Su Namun – The Mummy
Played by Venezuelan actress Patricia Velásquez, Anck Su Namun is Imhotep’s beloved. She betrayed the pharaoh and engaged in an illicit affair with Imhotep. She kills herself when they are discovered, believing that Imhotep had the power to bring her back to life. As you do. Her costume isn’t really a costume, but mostly some really amazing body paint, done by makeup artist Sarah Pickering.
Ardeth Bay – My Boyfriend
Played by Israeli actor, Oded Fehr, the original iteration of this character as played by Boris Karloff was Imhotep’s human form. In The Mummy (1999), Ardeth Bay is reimagined first as a threat to Rick and Evy, and then as their ally. He’s the leader of the Medjai, the Muslim descendants of the ancient Egyptian palace guards who continue to watch over and protect the ancient ruins of Hamunaptra. He’s basically draped in layers of black robes.
There are aspects to The Mummy which haven’t aged particularly well in the intervening years. The unexamined colonialism, the fact that two of the three main characters are interested in profiting off Egyptian artifacts, the way that the film treats most of the Muslim characters as buffoons or worse, and the white-washed casting of almost all of the main characters. Those are all things we hopefully know to do better nowadays, but like so many historical films, it was a product of its time, and we can only point to where we can do better going forward.
What did you think of The Mummy (1999)? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!