the mummy nostalgia bomb

(Welcome to Nostalgia Bomb, a series where we take a look back on beloved childhood favorites and discern whether or not they’re actually any good. In this edition: Stephen Sommers’ 1999 blockbuster The Mummy goes under the microscope.)

Romance! Adventure! Mythology! Monsters! Oh my!

In 1999, I was the ripe old age of eight. I was a fourth grader who already felt like a nerd, wasn’t that interested in boys, and thought the epitome of cool was rocking my brother’s old three wolf moon t-shirt. That was the year The Mummy, starring Brenden Fraser (*swoon*), hit theaters. What followed was a chain of events that I can only describe as “borderline obsessive.” It’s rare for a movie, especially one has received so many mixed notices over the years, to change your life.

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 Good Movie + The Right Timing = Obsession

The mythology, the monsters, the history! When the VHS came out, I watched the movie every. Single. Day. That’s right. My daily ritual when I came home from school was to fix a snack, rewind the tape from the previous day’s viewing, and watch The Mummy. Sometimes twice. No shame. This went on for at least a month.

The Mummy sparked an interest in Egypt that follows me even today. I bought books to learn hieroglyphics and I started reading everything I could on Egyptian mythology and mummification. I wanted to know everything that Evelyn, Rachel Weisz’s tough librarian character, knew. Being a nerd was one thing, but being a nerd who could not only resurrect ancient Egyptian mummies, but also save the world from unspeakable evil all with the powers of her brain…this was dream too intoxicating to ignore!

I took years of horse back riding lessons, becoming quite the equestrian, because the brains weren’t enough. If I was going to be as cool as Rick O’ Connell, I had to ride a horse and go on adventures. How else would I beat the other archeologists to the super secret dig sites? That being said, this is also around the time that I started discovering the difference between wanting to be Rick O’ Connell and wanting to marry Rick O’ Connell. It seems strange now, but ’90s Brenden Fraser was a romantic awakening for me, and I am willing to bet, even if I didn’t quite realize it then (I was 8, boys were still gross), that is probably one of the bigger reasons I kept watching.

By middle school, my male interests turned to the boys in the hallways, but I was still sporting a ring with my name in hieroglyphics daily. In fact, I didn’t take that ring off until college when it slid off my finger and was lost forever. Even as a film major, I took as many non-major Egyptology classes that I was allowed to take. By then, I had long since abandoned the idea that I could read a book and raise a mummy from the underworld or be a gun slinging adventurer, but the grip of The Mummy still had a firm hold on me.  At the end of those courses, I was able to write choice fun phrases in ancient Egyptian. It would have been an excellent way to pass notes in my non-Egyptian classes, had I had friends to pass notes to.

Fourth grade me was determined to be an archeologist. Though Indiana Jones had shown me for years how badass being an archeologist could be, that only gave me the job description. The Mummy gave me a destination. I wanted to shoot like Rick O’ Connell and be as knowledgable as Evelyn Carnahan. There is a magic to The Mummy that other adventure stories lacked. Indiana Jones didn’t fight monsters – he fought people (though, Nazis and Monsters are pretty close relation). The Mummy had elements of horror, romance, action, comedy, and fantasy, but the fantasy land was real!  I could, theoretically, go to Egypt!

Growing up Catholic, I was familiar with Christian mythologies, but ancient Egypt was something else, it was something exotic. From the sweeping landscapes to the mummification process to the curses and language, The Mummy introduced a whole new world. It was a love letter to a part of history and culture that I hadn’t learned about yet, it encompassed what I wanted to be when I grew up: a gun wielding archeologist traversing the sands of Egypt…in the 1920s, when the outfits were cooler.

However, in another entry in the long history of adults not realizing the impact of things they say to children, those dreams were crushed when an adult stopped to tell me that I didn’t really want to be an archeologist, because I would never get to see my family and it isn’t that glamorous and I wouldn’t get to ride horses and shoot monsters. Sigh.

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A Horror Fairy Tale

So what is it about The Mummy? How could a movie (especially a movie that certainly didn’t receive unanimous critical praise) inspire all of that?

In getting ready to write this article, I sat down to watch The Mummy for the first time in…well, a couple months. What I realized watching it with my writer-hat on was this: The Mummy has a lot of heart. It begins like a Disney movie, with a voice over narration telling you a classic tale, but re-imagined for kids that have started realizing that they want an adventure with a little more oomph. In the first five minutes, you already have a salacious affair, some very impressive body paint, murder, and mystic lore. You know, everything a growing kid needs.

The Mummy has all of the qualities of a story book. It is an action-horror-fairytale of good versus evil, and it doesn’t shy away from explicitly laying it all out for you. Honestly, I don’t know how many more ‘these lands are cursed,’ ’you mustn’t read from the book’, and ‘most have never returned,’ comments you can fit into one movie. It follows a reliable, and comforting, structure, with the characters sliding neatly into several archetypes.

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The Hero

Rick O’ Connell is the only character that takes three ‘first-impressions’ to really understand. We first meet him as an American adventurer fighting with the French Foreign Legion. Here, we see him as strong, capable, a fighter, a suitable Prince Charming for our yet unknown damsel. Next, we see him as a dirty prisoner, obviously shaken by his time in battle and the strange occurrences he witnessed in the desert. He is a rebel, a cowboy, not the straight up and down soldier we first saw, he even forces a kiss on our wide-eyed heroine. And lastly, we meet his final form at the boat docks before they set out on their adventure. Once again, he has returned to the cleaned up soldier from the first scene, but now that we know he has got a little old west bad boy in him. And I say again: swoon.

As I mentioned before, Rick O’ Connell was a sort of romantic awakening for me as a child. He was handsome, gruff, and capable. The flawed man you see in the prison cell was a broken down version of who he really was. He helps protect the American treasure hunters who he was previously at odds with, he tries to save Beni as the walls are closing in (even though Beni had committed unforgivable wrongs!), and he saved Evie from the Mummy, even though he had initially wanted to flee. He is a man of loyalty, and a worthy first big Hollywood crush.

Honestly, I think first crushes effect us more than we realize. I found the Rick O’ Connell to my Evelyn Carnahan when as a college girl studying film and ancient Egypt – I met and married a soldier. Like Rick to Evie, he has the skills that I lack and vice versa, the perfect counterpart to my still-dreamed-about archeological adventures. It doesn’t hurt that he loves The Mummy too.

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