The Mummy

By Jared Young

Mailed on June 12, 2017

Stamp image Junk
Half StarEmpty StarEmpty StarEmpty StarEmpty Star

Dear Jeff Shell
Chairman of Universal

Dear Jeff,

I'll give you this: The Mummy has a decent opening scene.

Unfortunately, that scene occurs about fifteen minutes into the film, after the audience's capacity for childlike wonderment has been pulverized by a worthless, turgid, redundant expository prologue. A prologue that serves not only to ruin whatever meager suspense the screenwriters later attempt to set up, but also to demonstrate the complete intellectual contempt with which your studio, in its lust to reap the riches of an expanded universe of films, holds for the general movie-going public. So, things could have started well. But they didn't.

This movie is a Frank Frazetta paperback cover painted over by Thomas Kincaid; it is possible to sometimes glimpse the camp and fun and menace beneath the surface, but it's so quickly subsumed by the deafening stupidity of your contemptuous moneygrubbing – which here takes the form of bad plotting that accommodates bad action sequences that are executed with bad special effects – that the experience of sitting in a theater and watching it is only slightly less pleasant than spending 100 minutes witnessing a drowning swimmer struggle to break the surface, gasp for air, choke on the brackish water, and disappear into the murk.

Ask yourself this question: how bad does a movie have to be to extinguish Tom Cruise's seemingly inextinguishable charisma? His career has weathered countless queasy rumours and religious peculiarities and weird public outbursts; is it a feather in your cap, Jeff, to be able to claim that you were the one, finally, to kill his onscreen charm?

Why am I blaming you? I don't know. Someone has to answer for this. And you have a history of trying to perpetrate this sort of cinematic pyramid scheme. It's hard for me to pin the blame on the screenwriters. There are six of them, after all, and I'd bet even they can't remember who wrote which imbecilic lines of dialogue (though I refuse to believe that it was David Koepp or Christopher McQuarrie, the two men responsible for Jurassic Park and The Usual Suspects, and will instead cast a sideways glance at John Spaihts, the guy who wrote Prometheus and gifted cinema with that unforgettable line of dialogue: "he cut me off!").

But what makes The Mummy so godawful isn't some issue of filmmaking craft—it's a cultural one. As television has replaced film as the medium where dramatic risk and creative multiplicity are rewarded, Hollywood studios like yours have cynically chosen to narrow the scope of what cinema is capable of doing. The wide-release movie was once a thing of endless possibility: it could be for adults, or kids, or intellectuals, or dimwits, or scaredy-cats, or young women, or even old women; it could be self-serious, or funny, or awkward, or ebullient, or corny, or ironic—or all of those things at once. But wide-release movies today are just big, endlessly long, and have no beginning and no end, only a middle act that comes from nowhere and goes nowhere.

But even to call The Mummy "middling" is too big a compliment. Like each of Donald Trump's moral and criminal missteps, I always expect that the latest one will be his last. Because how can he possibly survive to make another? The camel's back is already bowed beneath the weight of a million tons of straw; this one will surely break it! Likewise, how can the studio system bear to make another blockbuster after a major release as catastrophically shitty as The Mummy? Like Trump, I'm sure you'll find a way to surprise me (by which I mean, of course, disappoint me).



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