The Mummy Returns opens almost exactly two years to the date after the 1999 release of Mummy, the (1999) and one year after production began on the sequel last spring in Morocco.
Universal Pictures' response to the immediate box-office sizzle of Mummy, THE (1999) left writer-director Stephen Sommers little time to bask in his film's amazing success. "The movie opened on a Friday night and at 6 AM Saturday, Ron Meyer called and said, 'We want another.' I stuttered a bit, didn't sleep for a week, and after that sat down and started writing," Sommers recalled
Like Rick O'Connell, the hero of Mummy, the (1999) and The Mummy Returns, Sommers was primed for his mission because his new story had already been brewing for months. "By the time we had finished making Mummy, THE (1999) we had all these ideas for a sequel that would tell the story with a much larger canvas and feature the next generation of special effects. I wanted to bring back a lot of the same characters in an entirely new adventure without relying on old tricks. I really wanted to outdo myself."
Mummy, THE (1999) which told the story of Sahara Desert treasure-seekers in the 1920's who stumble upon an ancient tomb and unwittingly unleash a legacy of terror, was loosely based on the classic 1932 Universal Pictures production starring Boris Karloff. After generating a record-breaking opening weekend gross of $43. 36 million, the 1999 film went on to earn more than $414 million worldwide. The film is ranked 31st on the list of all-time box office champs and was also the top-selling live-action home video title of 1999.
Sommers decided to set The Mummy Returns in 1933, eight years after the events of Mummy, THE (1999) allowing his characters time to evolve. "Rick and Evelyn are now happily married and a great romantic couple, living comfortably in London but still poking around the basements of ancient temples from time to time," he said. "They have a son, Alex, who carries the best qualities of both parents, and is very much part of their lives. He is not just cute and cuddly- he has nerve."
"Having a family is both a strength and a weakness for O'Connell," said James Jacks, who, along with Sean Daniel, produced both Mummy, the (1999) and The Mummy Returns. "It makes him very vulnerable and his adventures carry a greater personal risk."
By 1933, the O'Connells have established an idyllic home, but dark forces put them in the path of pent-up ancient energies so intense that they rip through the centuries and plunge the couple back into a life of adventure.
For Evelyn, the echoes of the past begin with dreams that eventually invade her waking life as she slips between the realities of the present and frightening glimpses of another strangely familiar existence long ago.
Even Rick, firmly rooted in the here and now, learns that something as innocent as a tattoo on his arm might mark him as a man with an undeniable destiny.
"A lot of people are fascinated by ancient Egypt, including me," said Sommers. "We go back to those times in The Mummy Returns, not just in the opening sequence, but throughout the story. It interweaves The Scorpion King's primitive beginnings 5000 years ago, Imhotep's history in the Pharaoh's court 3000 years ago, and the O'Connells' current life in the 1930's."
To make this story work, it was critical that Sommers lure the cast of his 1999 blockbuster back for The Mummy Returns. "Brendan, Rachel, John and I had all agreed not to make the sequel unless it could be better. Thankfully, when I completed the script, the whole gang loved it," he said. "Absolutely," agreed Rachel Weisz. "It's a period film with a really good mixture of horror, visual effects, comedy and romance. All these different genres came together brilliantly
The sequel appealed to the returning actors for other reasons, too. For Brendan Fraser, the chance to work with Sommers again was very important. "It's hard to keep up with the guy," Fraser said of his director. "He has such a passion for his work that it rubs off on everyone. His energy was tremendous, even in the fierce heat of the Sahara Desert. I think his metabolism probably spiked another hundred points on this shoot!"
Fraser also appreciated the enthusiasm that Freddie Boath, the young actor who makes his screen debut as Rick's and Evelyn's son, brought to the set. "He is a great kid and so funny," said Fraser. "He knew everything about Mummy, THE (1999)- his mother told me honestly he must have seen it at least thirty or forty times! Kids these days! He was quick to remind us about any nuance we may have overlooked. He gave the script supervisor a run for her job. He really threw himself into the work by buying into the reality of the situation. I had a wonderful time reliving my kid-dom with Freddie.
"Just like the first Mummy, this film is packed full of action," Fraser added, "and now the dial has been turned up again. And up again.
Much of the action falls on his shoulders, but not all of it. Evelyn, the feisty librarian that Weisz played in the first film, is a woman in full bloom in The Mummy Returns. Evelyn has developed an intense physicality, which meant that Weisz had to be in fighting shape
To approximate the story's primitive Egyptian hand-to-hand combat, Weisz and co-star Patricia Velasquez trained extensively in ancient Japanese martial arts. "We trained during the entire shoot, nearly five months," Weisz recalled. "We used small swords along with tridents, so there were four swords fighting at the same time, all fluid movements with kicks and flailing arms. It was a real challenge and I never thought I would master it, but I am quite proud of how it looks onscreen."
As Evelyn's brother Jonathan, John Hannah once again delivers much of the film's comic relief. According to Hannah, his character has two ambitions: to stay alive and to get rich. "Jonathan hasn't done much in the intervening decade," said Hannah. "He's spent all his money and is definitely pursuing a hedonistic lifestyle." But one thing has changed. He has a nephew now, somebody who relates to his own childlike outlook. "When Alex is kidnapped, it all becomes very serious and personal for Jonathan," said Hannah.
Hannah observed that Sommers had changed in the time between the making of the two films. "I think the confidence of knowing that the first movie worked so well allowed Steve to be bolder this time," he said. "Everything is bigger now-the stunts, the effects, the whole concept. "
The villains are bigger, too. In addition to the powerful Imhotep, the evil Meela and her ancient counterpart, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, and the legions of otherworldly beings who blindly serve the master mummy, The Mummy Returns introduces World Wrestling Federation superstar The Rock in his first major screen role
The Rock plays the terrifying Scorpion King, whose story is told in a prologue set in 3067 BC. Back then, he was a proud desert warrior who made a pact with the god Anubis in the face of death- his soul in exchange for victory. The implications of that agreement are still reverberating in 1933 when The Mummy Returns begins in a bug and snake-infested tomb.
In his traditional milieu, the World Wrestling Federation, The Rock works under no-frills conditions- steel chairs and concrete floors. He learned that the world of filmmaking is tough in a different way. "I flew to Morocco in early May, 2000 and ended up in a place called Erfoud on the edge of the Sahara Desert," The Rock recalled. "The atmosphere around the film was electrifying. There was a lot of motivation. I had to get up at 2 every morning and sit in the make-up chair for three hours. It took another hour to get cleaned up at the end of each day."
Although The Rock lacked formal acting experience, Sommers enjoyed working with him. "He was a natural and his charm and confidence will take him far as an actor," the director said. "Naturally, The Scorpion King has his own army of other-worldly beings waiting to heed his command Anubis warriors, pygmy skeletons and all kinds of nasties and creepy-crawlies," Sommers promised
Principal photography for The Mummy Returns began in the blazing deserts of Morocco. Prior to that, the company completed second unit work in Jordan, where key action and visual effects sequences were filmed. Jordan locations included the gorges at Petra and a railway station just outside Amman, which was outfitted with vintage steam engines.
In Morocco, the production took up residence in the small desert town of Erfoud, the same locale that served as home base for Mummy, THE (1999) two years earlier. An increasingly popular film destination for directors looking to capture the Sahara Desert, Erfoud is also a major attraction for tourists who enjoy watching the sun set over the spectacular sand dunes.
After completing work in Erfoud, Sommers led his cast and crew to Ouarzazate, a one-time French Foreign Legion garrison town where action sequences were filmed at a specially constructed desert airfield.
The company then moved to England and settled in at Shepperton Studios where ancient pyramids, palaces and temples were reconstructed. Practical locations used in England included the Tower Bridge over the River Thames, the London streets in front of the British Museum, a mammoth sand quarry in Bedfordshire and a country park in Buckinghamshire. One pivotal London chase scene involves an old-fashioned red double-decker bus. Buses were rounded up from private collections as far away as Wales and Belgium, then restored and dressed for the shoot with real ads from the era.
According to producer Sean Daniel, the filmmakers originally envisioned an entirely London-based shoot. Although the story expanded beyond the British Isles, Daniel knew the difficulties of shooting in exotic locations all too well. "There is no way you can prepare for sun in the Moroccan desert," he said.
But once back in notoriously chilly London, the cast and crew were almost nostalgic for the blazing Moroccan sun. "Everyone told me that this was the worst British summer in years!" said Jacks. "It was rainy and chilly and our night filming was constantly interrupted by weather and rainstorms. "
The physical challenges of the shoot motivated the filmmakers to bring back as many veterans from the first production crew as possible. "The key to filming in tricky locales is building a sense of trust," said Sommers. "When I came to England on the first Mummy, I was the only American. Even though I was an outsider, the crew and I hit it off immediately and had so much fun. This was doubly comfortable. When I walked on the set, not only did they know me, they knew it would work out in the end- and that I wouldn't leave them stuck in the desert!"
Extra-special Effects For The Mummy Returns
Visual effects are a vital component of action-adventure films and the effects for Mummy, the (1999) set a high standard for the films that followed it. Universal and Sommers were determined to out-do that film's thrill quotient for the sequel, as was Academy Award®-winner John Berton, the mastermind who led the effects team for both films at the world-renowned Industrial Light & Magic (ILM).
The first film had a great sense of adventure and dramatic storytelling that we tried to recreate with this film as well," said Berton. "There is spectacle and the tremendous story of these people and their battle against the forces of evil. "
Berton had new tools available for the sequel. "The technology has improved vastly over the past two years," he explained. His team used the latest computer-generated special effects and animation techniques to make Imhotep, The Scorpion King and their many cronies and minions such dazzling predators.
"Imhotep has gotten a lot stronger since the first film," noted Berton. "He does more than just scare people in this movie--he has interaction with them. So, there is more of a developed character in this film and that adds a new challenge for us in terms of making his performance look real. For me, the hardest thing is the creatures, because you are trying to bring something to the screen that has an organic realism. "
Arnold Vosloo, who portrays the reconstituted mummy, enjoyed the technical challenge of acting for the effects sequences with The Scorpion King. "It can be tricky for an actor because for certain parts of the film, you are reacting to something you think you can imagine, but of course ILM's imagination is far wilder than you can ever hope yours to be."
To ensure that the effects blended seamlessly with the cinematography, Berton and his team were always on hand when Sommers shot scenes that involved visual effects. "We needed to bring as much information to ILM as we can in order to rebuild the set in the computers," explained Berton. "We have a group of technicians we refer to as our 'camera match-move team' who track and measure the camera positions, which way they point, what the lenses are, everything. If the camera is moving, they know not only where it started and ended, but where it was in the middle and how fast it got there. All these things are really important for us to take a synthetic image and place it in the same space as the real image."