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!
Social issues duly noted, I thought it was great fun. Rachel Weisz was gorgeous, Brendan Fraser was intrepid, and John Hannah should have been arrested for scene-stealing. And the sequels were just as good. These days, you can find them all running on one cable channel or another. My only real pick with any was the fight between the two principal women with Japanese sai rather than one of the many Egyptian weapons they might have used.
I have a love/hate relationship with this movie. I also think it’s great fun. However, I’m something of an Egyptomaniac, and the errors in this film really grate on me. For example, they talk about Thebes, and show the Pyramids and the Sphinx which are in Giza. Later, they have 5 canopic jars instead of 4. I could go on, but you get the idea. :)
I could go on and on too. But frankly I took one look at the Gizamids looming over Ancient Thebes, realized Egyptological fact would have no part in this film, and went with it 😄
Maybe I should do that! I tried watching it again the other night, got through about 20 minutes, and noped out. The irony is that I saw it when it first came out and loved it. Oh well. :)
And those are not difficult to get right! Neither is the name Ankhesenamun–a very common name pattern in the New Kingdom. “Anck Su Namen”–give me a break; there are plenty of sixth graders who know better than that. And plenty of authors and screenwriters, apparently, who are too stupid or lazy to do a little fact checking.
Oded Fehr is so fantastic that I once dated the wrong man for a long time partially because he looked like him. It was irresistible. Same with Dating due to Cary Elwes. The Princess Bride hit this girl hard. Note: got over both.
Yosa, I can relate!!! So many times I look at movies from my adolescence and see something in the handsome actors…my future boyfriends. And then I roll my eyes and think, “Uh…was my relationship with so-and-so a holdover from my youthful attraction to this guy?!?!” Answer: Yes!
lol! Oh you have picked a favorite this Friday! And when I read “My Boyfriend” I just fell over! Oded is a beauty to be sure. This movie is a joy and I have not watched it in too long- tonight will have to fix that! Keep writing, you’re such a pleasure!
I think everyone fell in love with Oded Fehr because of this movie.
Oh I understand. He’s still hot on Star Trek: Discovery. I wish more Jewish boys looked like Oded Fehr…Hell, I wish this Jewish girl looked more like Rachel Weisz.
Holy moly. I just now realized that’s him. All silver foxy. Yowza.
I sure did! We went to see the Mummy in theatre and I was absolutely stunned by Oded Fehr :) my type of male beauty, enhanced even more by epic costumes. He reminds me a lot of George Harrison.
Enjoyed it immensely but the inaccuracies drove me batty. 5 canopic jars? Couldn’t they look at the pics of Tut’s tomb. And aren’t there Islamic actresses that could have played Ankhsunamen? But it is still tons of fun
Snarked about the Egyptian particulars they missed, indulged my longstanding Brendan Fraser crush, loved that Rachel Weisz was smart, was intrigued by the small bits of spoken Egyptian, confused Imhotep with Billy Zane, and overall just had fun watching it.
Definitely rewatched it several times. I’m not dismissing the aspects that’ve aged badly. I was 15 when it came out so there’s some nostalgia.
I saw this at Doc Films, with half of the Egyptology Department,at the University of Chicago. Yes, there was heckling. (the mis-numbered canopic jars came up, with accusation of putting a Care Bear on top of the extra one). Also helpful translations of hieroglyphics from the audience.
That sounds absolutely smashing!
That wasn’t even the worst of it. Harumrapta?? The Book of the Dead bound as a codex??? Carnivorous scarab beetles????
Hilarious interview with Colleen Darnell going through this movie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjFFrYEZsAQ
Ah, you beat me to it!
If they had examined some of the points you raise, then the film would not have been accurate for the historical time period. I am a nerd about that as much as I am about the costumes. I can really dislike it when historical films are given a modern sensibility. but then I am a historian and live in the past (in my head) most of the time.
Straight female, but I had such a crush on Rachel Weiss in this film. She’s still one of my favorite actresses (her best role, for me, is Hypatia in the criminally underrated Agora). I was fascinated by ancient Egypt as a kid and totally obsessed with Indiana Jones, so I loved this movie. It’s just so much fun, although the racism grated on me even then. The sequels were tripe.
Personally I’m rather fond of Mummy II.
Veils are quite seductive aren’t they? The way they emphasize the eyes and give an air of mystery.
my favorite thing is that it’s a pure romance film masquerading as an action flick. Literally Imhotep just wants to be with his love even after 2000 years he’s still in love with the same woman. My heart totally broke for him at the end of the second movie because she didn’t love him as much as he loved her.
You’re idealizing Imhotep a bit. Yes he still loves Anck-Su-Namun and wants her back. But he wants power just as much. She pleads with him not to risk facing the Scorpion king but he ignores her fears. He failed her first IMO.
Don’t forget she died for him back in Ancient Thebes. But Meela Nais wasn’t that woman. She remembered being that woman and loving Imhotep but she’d had a whole different life since. She didn’t have time to fall in love as Meela and the remembered love ultimately wasn’t enough.
I unabashedly loved this movie in 1999 and I still love it 2021! I LOVE this kind of movie–a movie’s movie–an old-fashioned, fun, swashbuckling adventure movie. These kinds of movies are always needed, show off “the movies”, and are often antidotes to the world at large. Beyond that “type” of movie, The Mummy was excellent in its own right, number of canopic jars notwithstanding.
Still one of my favorite movies of all time, although I do acknowledge the problems. On my last watch the treatment of the Egyptians was particularly bothersome. I wish they had not made the Warden so unpleasantly buffoonish and I especially wish they had not referred to him as “smelly”. Like, they were in the middle of the desert. I’m sure none of them had bathed in awhile. It just comes across as particularly racist now.
Still, if you can wince your way through that kind of thing, the movie is just pure dumb fun. Beautiful cast, gorgeous sets, lots of jokes, and plenty of swashbuckling type action. I remember seeing it ion the theater as a teenager and not expecting very much, but being enthralled and entertained the entire time.
I have a thing for Dark, sultry men so of course I LOVE this movie! Not that Brendan Fraser isn’t cute but Oded Frehr!!
I absolutely love this movie. It is SO FUNNY. I wish more costume dramas were just riotously hilariously fun.
Such a fun romp with: yes, a genetically blessed cast. I’m glad it’s still getting love after all these years.
Patricia Velasquez deserved to be a bigger star because if this movie. She’s just so beautiful. And my god, such a body.
She really is just insanely beautiful. In the sequel, The Mummy Returns, she plays a reincarnated version of her character in The Mummy, plus the same character when she’s brought back to life. She’s basically on screen for a huge chunk of time, being the rival in some form or another to Evy.
And beautifully dressed too!
We have a DVD of The Mummy at home, it has the director’s commentary on it. Director said that Ardeth was supposed to die at the end of the movie but the test audiences were so enraged by it (mostly ladies) that they decided to shoot the last scene showing Ardeth alive and well.
Kill off the gorgeous desert warrior? I think not!
For some reason I always thought the mummy was played by Billy Zane. Mind blown.