The Mummy 1999 Blu-ray Review (with D-BOX)

Stephen Sommers modern The Mummy film took audiences by surprise in 1999 by distancing itself from the original Boris Karloff version with an enjoyable blend of then state-of-the-art special effects and an unexpected comedic chemistry from a cast spearheaded by the unlikeliest of new stars, Encino Man’s Brendan Frasier. It spawned multiple sequels and spin-offs and continues to be a relevant series nearly a decade later.

Universal Studios Home Entertainment’s decision to tap the still expanding “Mummy” franchise for their grand entrance into the Blu-ray arena plays off this popularity and the timely release of The Mummy: The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor in theaters and The Scorpion King 2 on Blu-ray.

What’s fun about Sommers’ original Mummy versus its predecessors is, at the time, there was no indication a re-envisioning of The Mummy would reach a large enough audience to build a franchise from. Rachel Weisz wasn’t above an action comedy yet, and Brendan Frasier proved he could handle a lowbrow comedy but had no experience in a tentpole summer release, much less playing a character destined to be compared to Indiana Jones. Sommers took a big risk and thankfully for him and Universal, it paid off handsomely.

Naturally a bump to 1080p video resolution on Blu-ray Disc is ideal for a film like The Mummy with several large set pieces set in prime real estate to showcase high definition: the desert. Unfortunately as was found on the previous HD DVD version and appearing here in this virtually identical VC-1 encoded transfer is a slight softness to the image that degrades detail and clarity just enough to be noticeable. On the positive side, color reproduction and black levels are relatively strong, important when the cast spends a great majority of the film working their way through dark underground tombs.

The big news for Blu-ray and high definition fans debuting with The Mummy is Universal’s bold decision to adopt DTS-HD Master Lossless for all of their Blu-ray releases. This often preferred and considered “best” lossless audio format looks great on a spec sheet but does it really provide a better aural experience than the lossy Dolby Digital Plus track on HD DVD? I’m happy to report the answer is yes. Bass extension especially shines and outperforms Dolby Digital Plus during the heavy action sequences when tombs are crumbling to the ground or the Mummy is using desert sand to attack his enemies. Surrounds use is appropriately enveloping with bullet ricochets, swirling sand and screams echoing throughout the room. Dialogue seems sharper and more pronounced than on HD DVD with dialogue never drowning out amidst the frequent and chaotic action sequences.

D-BOX Motion Code
The Mummy is one of three Universal Blu-ray titles D-BOX is supporting with Motion Code. Obtaining the code will require downloading it from D-BOX’s servers as it is not included on the disc.

One of my favorite D-BOX moments in The Mummy is the opening zooming establishing shot of ancient Egypt. I had forgotten this scene existed and was pleasantly surprised to “move” through it with D-BOX.

Two additional standout scenes for D-BOX are the plane versus the Mummy sandstorm and the implosion of Hamunatra. The aerial chase sequence is memorable for pitching the chair forward as the plane dives over a cliff face and then leveling off below as the plane does. Hamunatra’s implosion offers a distinctly different experience of a building vibration/rumbling sensation as the tomb’s destruction moves towards the fleeing heroes. The act of escaping the crumbling tomb is more aggressively coded by D-BOX than the main tomb structure crumbling to the ground.

My only complaint with D-BOX Motion Code on The Mummy are gunfire kickbacks aren’t as jarring as felt on other gunfire-heavy titles. This concern is nitpicking and likely wouldn’t be recognized by an average consumer not actively searching for fault.

An instant downer when examining The Mummy’s supplements on Blu-ray is they are identical to those found on the HD DVD version, complete with 480p resolution. That dashed hopes of Universal’s willingness to take advantage of BD-50s to improve the supplements on HD DVD catalog titles coming to Blu-ray rather than porting them as-is.

Previously exclusive to The Mummy on HD DVD and now on Blu-ray is U-Control picture-in-picture support for select behind-the-scenes footage. U-Control is always welcome on any title to spice up extras viewing and The Mummy’s collection of fly-on-the-wall footage and interview snippets is no exception.

Three Feature-Length Audio Commentaries – The commentary by Director Stephen Sommers and Editor Bob Ducsay is far and away the most insightful with the pair dissect the film and its inspirations. While it’s fairly cut and dry, the Brendan Fraser commentary is loose and full of jokes and anecdotes, including stabs at his own performance. The final commentary with Oded Fehr, Kevin J. O’Connor and Arnold Vosloo is a hybrid of the first two with a balanced mix of production insight and lighthearted banter.

Deleted Scenes (2:21) – Three throwaway and forgettable scenes in-total are included: one on the steamship to Egypt, one in the chamber while the heroes fend off “zombie” mummies and one with the heroes on camels counting dead bodies.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor Sneak Peek (3:01) is the length of a long trailer but actually is comprised of behind-the-scenes footage and brief interview snippets with Jet Li, Michelle Yeow and Brendan Fraser. It’s just enough to get someone excited to check out the third Mummy installment.

Visual and Special Effects Formation is a series of five mini-featurettes that discuss the visual effects work that went into creating six scenes including The City of Thebes and the squirm-inducing Scarab Burial. There’s plenty of making-of footage included like set models and renderings being put to use, but there’s no “play all” function which is a nuisance considering each scenes’ short runtime.

An Army to Rule the World, Part 1 (4:02) – A neat compare and contrast segment by the producers between the CGI-created Imhotep and his army and featured old-school wrapped priest mummies dating back to the original 1930s films.

Unraveling the Legacy of The Mummy (8:07) – The title of this featurette is deceiving as much of what’s discussed pertains to Universal monster films in general like Frankenstein and Dracula. Many of the crew working on Sommers’ The Mummy were inspired by the original Universal monster films.

Building a Better Mummy (49:55) – After U-Control this is far and away the most robust viewing of supplemental material on The Mummy. The nearly 50-minute runtime allows all kinds of goodies to appear like cast and crew interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and snippets of the finished film compared against the original The Mummy as a device to illustrate the inspiration.

Storyboard to Final Film Comparison – A typical storyboard-versus-finished shot comparison for seven total scenes: Anubis Chamber, Desert Sandstorm, The Sahara, Final Fight, Hangman’s Noose, Scarab Run and Trouble in Cairo.

Rounding out the supplements is a straightforward Photograph Montage (4:18) that could have benefited from a high definition presentation.

The big question is whether The Mummy on Blu-ray is a worthy upgrade from DVD and HD DVD. The former is a no-brainer; even detail in the slightly soft image on Blu-ray outshines the limitations of DVD by a long shot. When comparing the HD DVD and Blu-ray, the only discernable upgrade is switching to DTS-HD Master Audio from Dolby Digital Plus. For most people, this reviewer included, that negligible improvement does not warrant a $20 upgrade from HD DVD to Blu-ray.

– Dan Bradley

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