The Original Monster Is Reborn in The Mummy
Frankenstein’s Monster. Creature from the Black Lagoon. The Wolf Man. The Invisible Man. The Mummy.
Those are but a few of the names of Universal Pictures’ iconic monsters from days past and present that conjure up unforgettably haunting cinematic images…ones that stay with us for a lifetime. Now, Tom Cruise headlines a spectacular, all-new cinematic version of the legend that has fascinated cultures all over the world since the dawn of civilization: The Mummy.
A massive undertaking that spanned three continents, 50 sets, 64 zero-gravity weightless sessions (mid-flight), 300-pound sarcophagi, thousands of special and visual effects, decades of imagination, more than one million feet of film—not to mention countless moving parts and pieces—the world creation and cinematic launch of The Mummy represents a labor of deep love for the hundreds of cast and crew who have spent endless hours painstakingly developing and crafting an epic action-adventure that has been 5,000 years in the making.
The creative team on this action-adventure event is led by director/producer Alex Kurtzman and producer Chris Morgan, who have been instrumental in growing some of the most successful franchises of the past several years—with Kurtzman writing or producing entries in the Transformers, Star Trek and Mission: Impossible series, and Morgan being the narrative engineer of the Fast & Furious saga as it has experienced explosive growth from its third chapter on.
David Koepp (Mission: Impossible, War of the Worlds) and Academy Award winner Christopher Mcquarrie (The Usual Suspects, Mission: Impossible series) and Dylan Kussman wrote the screenplay for The Mummy, which is from the screen story by Jon Spaihts (Prometheus, Doctor Strange) and Kurtzman & Jenny Lumet (Rachel Getting Married).
Thought safely entombed deep beneath the unforgiving desert, an ancient princess (Sofia Boutella of Kingsman: The Secret Service and Star Trek Beyond) whose destiny was unjustly taken from her is awakened in our current day, bringing with her malevolence grown over millennia and terrors that defy human comprehension. From the sweeping sands of the Middle East through hidden labyrinths under modern-day London, The Mummy brings a surprising intensity and balance of wonder and thrills in an imaginative new take that ushers in a new world of gods and monsters.
For almost a century, audiences have been drawn to the monster characters for many reasons. Not only do these super-humans straddle the fine line between life and death, there is such allure to the power of creatures who are capable of so much more than we dare imagine for ourselves. Truly, we empathize with their deep struggle between dark and light.
Curiously, our fascination with monsters has a fittingly cinematic beginning.
Although explorers had excavated the majority of mummified Egyptian royalty by the time that British archaeologists Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon unearthed a boy king called Tutankhamen in 1922, it was this discovery that coincided with an explosion of global entertainment. Initially, the subject matter riveted worldwide audiences in traveling museum shows throughout the decade. But none could imagine what would happen when, one year later, in 1923, the talking motion picture (“talkie”) was introduced and began shifting the silence in movie theaters across the world.
Nor, could audiences know the depth of cinematic terror to come until Boris Karloff, the man they had seen the year prior as Frankenstein’s Monster, emerge on the screen as the first theatrical Mummy, Imhotep, in Karl Freund’s 1932 masterpiece for Universal Studios. Screams of terror that could only be guessed at a decade earlier were now filling up theaters, heard both on screen and from the audience.
Filmmaker Sean Daniel, who has had quite a storied history of his own with Universal—serving in 1985 as the youngest production president since the studio began—has been fascinated with the subject material since he was a boy. Not only did he produce the most recent Mummy trilogy, the now-independent producer approached Universal more than four years ago about reimagining and rebooting the anti-hero for a new generation of audiences…ones ready to be transfixed and terrified by this dark creature, just as generations before them had.
It was Daniel’s deep belief that this immortal character—who speaks to us all in the darkest of the night—draws us under its spell. Indeed, it’s drawn this godfather of the modern Mummy movies back to fascinating source material since 1994. “From my early days at Universal, I’ve advocated that we continue to be in the Mummy business. I feel that this character speaks to people’s sense of what life and death are about, and who has the power over that,” the producer reflects. “It’s mysterious, dark, exciting and scary. Over the years, I have always wanted to see Mummy movies in theaters, and that’s why I’ve championed them. I just believe in monster movies as a genre, and that these compelling characters and stories are meant for global audiences.”
Once the Universal-based team of director/producer Alex Kurtzman and producer Chris Morgan, who serve as the narrative architects of the Universal monsters saga—partnered with Daniel, it was decided that The Mummy would be the first chapter in Universal’s new series.
Daniel felt strongly that enough time had gone by since the last film, and there was an opportunity to reimagine the entire idea. Working from a screen story by Jon Spaihts and Kurtzman & Jenny Lumet, The Mummy team began the next stage of development, one that would lead Kurtzman to ultimately helm the production.
The production team felt that making a version that was contemporary would be both a challenge and a huge creative opportunity. “Critical to this was the great partnership with Alex, who had a vision for how to tell this story and create a new character—making The Mummy a woman for the first time ever,” explains Daniel. “He created a way for us to care about this dangerous creature with powers, one whose plight and agony mean something to the audience. That was central to Alex’s vision, and to what I was advocating to the studio about how to do this anew.”
The Mummy filmmakers gave their team the time to precisely capture the mood and spirit of this world. “What we are trying to create here is a texture and tone rooted in the Universal horror classic, while having one foot in the modern age,” provides Kurtzman. “This serves as a nod to these classics, while also bringing these monsters to life in a whole new era for a global audience.”
“We knew that, in order to work, this film has to be scary,” reveals the director. “Very scary. Yet, we still want to be able to recognize that there in a human being inside these monsters, and empathize with them. One of the things that’s so important about the monsters is that we find a way to love them while we fear them.”
Just as the characters had such an indelible imprint on Daniel and Kurtzman, so they did with Morgan. The producer recounts the time he met them: “When you first are introduced to monsters, it tends to be as a child, and there’s something about it that grabs you. I remember my brother was in Cub Scouts, and I was six. They had a day where they went to the library, and they were going to watch a horror movie. It was for Halloween, and it was The Mummy.
“I was too young; I wasn’t supposed to see it,” he continues, “but I remember sneaking to the doorway and peeking in. This was right at just the wrong moment for a six-year-old, which is when they are mummifying Boris Karloff alive. I was horrified. I remember stepping back, and I was going to walk away, but then I thought, “What is going to happen?’ So I snuck back in and I watched the rest of the movie. Ever since then, I have been hooked on the monsters.”
As the key team behind The Mummy, Daniel, Kurtzman and Morgan were joined by fellow producer Sarah Bradshaw, who has lent her talents to such epic retellings as Maleficent and Snow White and the Huntsman. While the foursome began to reimagine an antihero for a new generation, they began to ask themselves what would be most astonishing to them as moviegoers. What they have created—from a screenplay by David Koepp and Christopher McQuarrie and Dylan Kussman—is as big as it is intense…an epic action-adventure that is as full of scares as it is extraordinary fun, scary and bold.
The producers felt strongly that their version of The Mummy had to be grounded in the modern era, and looked forward to bringing her into a space and time that was foreign to her. They wondered: “What would happen if a badass female mummy, fueled by an unforgivable betrayal and centuries of thirsting for revenge, was unleashed on today’s world?” It was also crucial for the entire team that this version of The Mummy would be unlike anything ever before seen on screen.
Over the course of development of The Mummy, global superstar Tom Cruise, who portrays soldier of fortune Nick Morton, joined the production as star and creative partner. As did his fellow collaborators, Cruise offers that he grew up watching monster movies, and that not only inspired him to become an entertainer, but it is what drove him to this particular labor of love. “I love The Wolf Man, Dracula and The Mummy,” he says. “It was terrifying as a child seeing these films. This movie is genuinely terrifying as well, yet it has the kind of scope and elegance of the original ones.”
In their initial conversations, Cruise and his producers made a pact to honor the tradition of these monster movies, and respect what the characters mean to audiences…while giving them something entirely unexpected. Explains Cruise: “You want to see the monsters win. That’s what is interesting about the way these stories are told. They both terrify us and yet your feel sympathy for them. It’s transcendent.”
Cruise and Kurtzman, who previously collaborated on Mission: Impossible III, were very much on the same page when it came to their vision for The Mummy. The director lauds that what makes his star connect so well with moviegoers is that we’re all on the same cinematic journey together: “We both feel a tremendous inheritance and a sense of responsibility. Tom thinks how the audience thinks, and he brings everything to life in a unique and an exciting way.”
The filmmakers would soon be off to the arduous task of bringing Princess Ahmanet and Nick Morton together in a place that was unfamiliar, yet timeless, to both of them. Daniel, who has lived with the world of ancient Egypt in the front of his mind for many decades, reflects upon reinventing the story with this chapter: “In keeping with the core idea of reimagining The Mummy, we are setting the film in modern London. We knew this would be a movie in which The Mummy was an incredible woman, and that the story would be happening today…amidst all of our lives. There’s nothing mythical about it. Here she is, risen after 5,000 years, and walking through one of the world great cities—causing incredible mayhem.”
Similarly, Bradshaw enforced this mandate of “sticking to reality.” She explains: “It was always about making The Mummy grounded in today. We wanted to have a sense that you could believe that it could happen to you. We not only try to achieve that with the sets, but with the lighting as well.”
The producer also advises that she appreciated having such an involved collaborator as Cruise on the production. “You definitely have to be on your toes with Tom because, when he comes on set, everything is always about making it better. Tom will see something that perhaps the rest of us haven’t seen and you’ll say, ‘Oh….okay.’”
As they worked together, Cruise and his producers created an experience that was as scary and exotic as it was bold and daring. The Mummy for a new generation is as audacious as it is unexpected. While people will recognize core elements from Universal’s monster universe—this film celebrates classic mythologies—The Mummy’s characters are grappling with all of their lives upended as Ahmanet enters today’s world.
The producers appreciated Cruise’s involvement at every step of the process in making The Mummy a reinvention, one that drew its key elements from the cinematic canon. “In pre-production, Tom would gather us together to watch films such as The Shining and Seven,” recounts Daniel. “He drove everyone to think creatively throughout all phases of pre-production, shooting and post.”
© 2017 Universal Studios. www.themummy.com