I’m mixing things up for the next few entries here, so instead of analyzing existing films, I’m going to opine a bit on some proposed remakes. I’m generally sticking to Science Fiction here, but I also like to go with a wide umbrella for that term, encompassing not only hard SF, but also comics, horror, and monster films. And I’m starting with The Mummy.
I recently watched the original 1932 film, starring Boris Karloff, after I purchased a set including six of the original Universal Monster films. Partially it was just to get Frankenstein (and Bride of Frankenstein) for my podcast, but also partially because of Universal Studios’ announced intention to reboot their monster franchises and form a Monster Cinematic Universe (hereafter referred to as Monsterverse!)
Now, taking into account Marvel’s success with the MCU, I’m fundamentally opposed to Cinematic Universes, just because I feel it lowers the stakes for any given film. For instance, since we know there’s an Avengers 3 coming, do we really think any of the major characters will be killed off in the films leading up to it? Color me unsurprised we didn’t have major character deaths in Civil War. (Even though to comics totally did kill off characters.)
That aside, I’m fairly positive on the “new” Universal Monsters idea. Having watched a number of the classic films now, I can say they’re absolutely chock full of Remake Room. And it all basically amounts to the films being very much products of their time.
I have to keep in tension the obvious cultural impact of the films while also realizing that in strictly bang-for-buck entertainment terms, they really don’t hold up. The running time tends to be 75 minutes or so, and in every case (so far), they end abruptly without much payoff. Sorry if this is heresy.
With The Mummy, of course, we’ve already had remakes. The 1999 film was terrific fun (as was its first sequel), removing much of the horror aspect and going more for Indiana Jones style adventure. Not to mention featuring the adorkable Rachel Weisz at her most fetching and Oded Fehr as the man-crush worthy Ardith Bay (a nice nod to the original film, BTW).
The Remake Room for the 1999 film was a change in tone and style. The original was probably intended to be scary, but with a late twentieth (or early twenty-first) century perspective, it just isn’t frightening in any way.
So let’s talk about the proposed remake, starring Tom Cruise as our lead and Sofia Boutella as the titular mummy. Wait, what? A female mummy? Can this be? Must I be offended due to the gender swap? Can I restrain the Nerd Rage this doubtless causes me?
Yep. The Nerd Rage isn’t strong with this one. Actually, I just don’t seem to possess Nerd Rage. Switch up gender/race/species at will! I’m good. (Just make a good film!)
The film is also leaving Egypt behind, at least according to everything I’ve read, so that’s a pretty major departure from the original. And it’s clear ground-breaking, which is something I look for in a remake.
Another bit of Remake Room it carves out is that it’ll be set in contemporary times, something the previous remakes haven’t done (in keeping with the adventure/pulp tone).
So with all these variables, is there a chance for this film to work? I’m going to say yes. Tom Cruise generally throws himself into his roles, though in very Tom Cruisy fashion. Maybe he’s always the same character, but you can’t say he mails it in. I like the twists of the female mummy and modern setting, which leave the film a better chance to have actual surprises in it, something sorely missing from a lot of remakes (still need to do that Star Trek one…).
To be successful, though, this film will have to set up the Monsterverse. And this is another angle on the pitfalls of Cinematic Universes: a film can collapse under the weight of setting up a universe (*cough* Batman v. Superman *cough*). So here’s hoping they go for a light touch in setting up their future franchise and focus on just making a good film first. (See Dracula Untold and Victor Frankenstein for how to not do it.)
From what I’ve read, they’ll be introducing Dr. Jekyll (played by Russell Crowe), so that’s probably a clue as to how they’ll get the ball rolling. And I wouldn’t be the least bit shocked to see a couple of other stray names from the original canon of monster films.
But there are a couple of potential landmines here, and the biggest and most obvious is the Monsterverse itself. Hard to think they’ll kill off the title character if they need a Mummy in future films. If they obviously kill her off but she’s alive again in a mid- or post-credits scene, I’ll be sorely disappointed.
Another problem waiting to happen is if the film goes for the wrong tone. The original was supposedly scary. This remake should go for that. I’d love to have it frightening enough that I don’t want to see it (I’m a wuss when it comes to horror). Alas, they’ll go for PG-13, severely limiting how scary it can be.
So I guess I’m cautiously optimistic about this one, but who knows what we’ll actually get?
I’d welcome your thoughts on the potential for this film to succeed or fail, as I’m working out how to grade the likelihood of either. What could make this film good? What could kill it?
I’ve been a bit slow to post recently, so I’ll try and get another one of these up next week. And we’ll be talking War Games. Seriously, that’s happening, whether we need it or not. (And we don’t.)
Seth Heasley is co-host of Take Me To Your Reader, a podcast covering adapted science fiction. You may be interested to hear their episode covering the book Frankenstein and several of its many adaptations.