Release Date(s)2017 (September 12, 2017)
Studio(s)Dark Universe/Perfect World (Universal)
- Film/Program Grade: C-
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B+
U.S. Army Sergeant Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and Corporal Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) are… well, they’re supposed to be conducting a military recon mission but they seem more like treasure hunters. Anyway, they’ve apparently found a map that’s led them to a small village in northern Iraq, where they believe there could be ancient Egyptian artifacts. Unfortunately, it’s also an insurgent (read: ISIS) stronghold. So when they get in trouble trying to infiltrate the site, Nick and Chris call down a Predator drone strike. This not only chases away the bad guys, it conveniently excavates the entrance to the Egyptian tomb they’ve been seeking. A pissed off woman (Annabelle Wallis) arrives then, just in time to reveal that Nick slept with her in order to steal the map. No matter – they all investigate the tomb anyway and find a buried mummy. But not any mummy… The Mummy, which turns out to be the ancient Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), who made a pact with evil and was thus buried alive by her people thousands of years ago. Now that evil infects both Nick and Chris, during an unfortunate military transport plane ride back to London with the sarcophagus, and Ahmanet finds her opportunity to return to the living. Oh, and Russell Crowe is here too, playing another infamous Universal Monsters character whose purpose and connection to the events above will be revealed in due time.
However many writers worked on this film, it was too many by far. The shame is, there are some genuinely interesting ideas here. But this script is just not good, a classic case of writing by committee. The Mummy isn’t sure if it wants to be a dark comedy, a monster film, or a glossy A-list star vehicle. The film takes no time to set up its characters and their relationships; the script never earns its moments. Some of the dialogue is just terrible. And Tom Cruise is a very odd fit here. He has far more chemistry with Boutella than he does with Annabelle Wallis, though the latter is supposed to be his main love interest. Neither does he really have much chemistry with Jake Johnson (better known for his role on TV’s New Girl), so their buddy shtick just doesn’t play. Russell Crowe is solid, at least, and he and Cruise have a couple of good scenes together, but everyone else in this cast feels like they’re lost in the fog. The truth is, this film needed a firmer and more experienced hand in the director’s chair, someone whose vision could have clarified the script and the casting, and added a real sense of style and flare to the direction. Alex Kurtzman does a serviceable job here, but that’s about all.
The Mummy was shot mostly photochemically on 35 mm film using Arriflex 235 and Panavision Panaflex Millennium XL2 cameras with anamorphic lenses, though key stunt sequences were shot digitally in the ARRIRAW codec (at 6.5K) using the ARRI Alexa 65 cameras. Nevertheless, the film was finished to a 2K Digital Intermediate, a source that was upsampled, given an HDR10 color grade, and is presented here on 4K Ultra HD at the 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio. I must confess to being a little disappointed by the visual experience. Part of the problem, I think, is that choices in the direction and cinematography, not to mention the heavy use of on-set atmospherics (fog and smoke, enhanced by digital sand), mean the resulting image is dark, oppressively dense, and gloomy. Muddy would almost be the word I’d use. The lighting tends to be very flat and lacking in depth. This is meant to be high contrast, but too often the darkest blacks looked crushed and gray. This is not an image that pops off the screen… except when it does, most notably in those action set pieces shot digitally. Fine detail and texturing is good at times and great at others. There’s a light to moderate grain visible throughout. The color palette is rich but limited, pushed toward the warm tans and golds in the desert sequences, and cool blues and greens when the setting shifts to London. HDR does add some punch and detail to the highlights. This is certainly an improvement over the included Blu-ray version in terms of detail, but the color grade choices are also significantly different and darker overall than the Blu-ray version (and I actually think I like the Blu-ray coloring more in that regard).
The audio experience, however, is another matter. This is a very nice English Dolby Atmos mix (Dolby TrueHD 7.1 compatible), with a big soundstage, both horizontally and vertically thanks to the height channels. Clarity of dialogue is excellent and Brian Tyler’s score sounds great too, all the while you’re immersed in lovely atmospherics. Directional effects and movement are smooth and lively. Any scene with crows fluttering about is sure to dazzle sonically. Low frequency support is solid as well. Additional sound options include French and Spanish 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, and there are English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles for those who need them.
The 4K disc includes only one extra, which is a feature-length audio commentary with Kurtzman, joined by Boutella, Wallis, and Johnson. It’s cute, and there’s good information conveyed; certainly, it’s worth listening to once if you like the film. The package also includes the film on Blu-ray in 1080p with the same commentary and the following additional bonus features in HD:
- Deleted and Extended Scenes (4 scenes – 4:52 in all)
- Cruise & Kurtzman: A Conversation (21:15)
- Rooted in Reality (6:52)
- Life in Zero-G: Creating the Plane Crash (7:32)
- Meet Ahmanet (7:39)
- Cruise in Action (6:09)
- Becoming Jekyll and Hyde (7:10)
- Choreographed Chaos (6:35)
- Nick Morton: In Search of a Soul (5:43)
- Ahmanet Reborn: Animated Graphic Novel (3:52)
Here’s a nice surprise: These extras are actually quite good. Every single cast member is involved, you get to see lots of different aspects of the production in some detail, and there’s good information content. This is a nice package of material and it’s certainly more than you get on most Blu-ray titles these days. Naturally, you also get the usual paper insert with a Digital Copy code.
Ultimately, The Mummy is a frustrating experience, but it’s still worth your time. This is not a particularly strong launch for Universal’s Dark Universe franchise, but I am intrigued to see more. I just hope the studio hires experienced directors from here on out (Bill Condon is a good start for the forthcoming Bride of Frankenstein) and that the producers spend the time needed to get the script right. It’s true what they say: If it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage. Well… screen, in this case, but you get the drift.
- Bill Hunt