In Thebes, 1290 BC, the high priest Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo) falls in love with Anck-Su-Namun (Patricia Velasquez), the mistress of the Pharoah Seti I (Aharon Ipalé). When the Pharoah discovers the affair, the couple kill him. Imhotep flees the country, but Anck-Su-Namun kills herself, in hopes that the high priest can resurrect her. Imhotep and his priests steal her corpse and take it to Hamunaptra, The City of the Dead, but their attempt at resurrection is stopped by the Medjai, the Pharoah’s bodyguards. Imhotep is buried alive forever with flesh-eating scarab beetles and sealed in a sarcophagus before the statue of Anubis.
In 1926, Jonathan Carnahan (John Hannah) gives his librarian sister Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) a puzzle box and the map to Hamunaptra. He admits that he stole the box from American adventurer Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser), who had explored the city when he was in the French Foreign Legion. The siblings meet the adventurer and make a deal so he will lead them to the city.
He guides the party to the city, but they run into a band of adventurers led by the cowardly Beni Gabor (Kevin J. O’Connor). Though the leader of the Medjai, who are sworn to prevent Imhotep’s return, Ardeth Bay (Oded Fehr) warns them to leave, they continue in their excavations. Searching for the Golden Book of Amun-Ra, Evelyn finds Imhotep’s remains. The Americans find the Black Book of the Dead and canopic jars containing Anck-Su-Namun’s preserved organs.
Evelyn reads aloud from the Book of the Dead, accidentally waking the much-decayed Imhotep. When the adventurers return to Cairo, Imhotep follows them with the help of Beni. Imhotep gradually regenerates by killing the members of the American expedition and brings the ten plagues of Egypt with him. Rick, Evelyn, and Jonathan meet Ardeth Bay at the museum. He believes Imhotep will attempt to reincarnate Anck-Su-Namun by sacrificing Evelyn. She believes that the Book of Amun-Ra can kill him. Imhotep corners them with an army of slaves and she agrees to come with him if he spares the others. Imhotep betrays that trust, but the others fight and escape.
Imhotep, Evelyn, and Beni return to Hamunaptra, pursued by Rick, Jonathan, and Ardeth, who find the book of Amun-Ra. Imhotep prepares for Evelyn’s sacrifice, but after a battle with the mummified priests, she is rescued. She reads from the Book of Amun-Ra, making Imhotep mortal, and Rick fatally wounds him. Beni sets off a booby-trap by stealing gold and is devoured by scarabs. Hamunaptra sinks into the sand and the heroes ride off with treasure.
The film was written and directed by Stephen Sommers. It is an actual remake of The Mummy (1932). It took years to come about, with a plethora of screenwriters and directors. Sommers version was an adventurous romp as well as a spooky tale. The crew were bedeviled by sandstorms, snakes and scorpions, and dehydration in the Sahara Desert. ILM did the effects, which are mind-bending, and Jerry Goldsmith wrote the music. It received mixed reviews from critics, but audiences loved the adventurous tale and the likable characters and actors, except for Imhotep, who is seriously creepy. It spawned sequels and prequels (notably with Dwayne Johnson), and an animated series. A 2017 reboot with Tom Cruise was supposed to usher in a new Universal monster series but failed.
A dark, mystical, and sexual script by Clive Barker was rejected. Joe Dante, Alan Ormsby, and John Sayles also wrote treatments which would have been too ambitious and expensive. George A. Romero tried a zombie-like film that was too dark and violent for the studio. Mick Garris wrote an expensive art-deco period-piece. Steven Sommers finally scored with a kind of Indiana Jones meets Jason and the Argonauts, a romantic adventure with a faster, meaner, scarier Mummy than the rambling wreck of the Thirties. Brendan Fraser was the swashbuckling hero who didn’t take himself too seriously and Rachel Weisz was the smart and fearless heroine the audience felt comfortable with.
The Mummy, who gradually regenerates piece by piece into fully human, was a special-effects triumph which seemed alive, but the rats and locusts that crawled over Rachel Weisz were real. In a hanging scene, Brendan Fraser nearly died. Patricia Velasquez wore a costume that consisted of a loincloth, jewelry, panties, and a lot of body-paint. Rachel Weisz wore a white Victorian nightgown during the ship-sinking that turned transparent when wet and had to be painted white. A cloak worn by an extra turned out to be the one worn by Alex Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi. Brendan Fraser had the skill of reproducing the exact same movement over and over, which was a boon to the effects wizards.