Tutankhamun, the pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, was the inspiration for Nina Wilcox Putnam and Richard Schayer to come up with a story of a vengeful mummy after the passing of millennia. British archaeologist Howard Carter and his team, with the financial backing of Lord Carnarvon, found the unlikely location of Tutankhamun's tomb. It was big news in the West, as the whereabouts of the pharaoh's remains were lost due to his premature death. They were aware of the locals warning them about the curse, which they dismissed it. There seemed to be a change in the air after Lord Carnarvon passed away. It happened six weeks after the discovery.
There was a romantic aspect behind this eerie story, and Putnam and Schayer came up with a stirring tale of lost love, vengeance, and déjà vu. Karl Freund, one of the leading figures of the German Expressionism, wasn't thinking of distorted sets when he filmed "The Mummy" in 1931. Boris Karloff, who played Count Dracula and Frankenstein, turned out to be the right actor to play Imhotep, a high priest who stole the Scroll of Thoth in able to resurrect his dead lover. The pharaoh found it a sacrilege, ordering Imhotep to be tortured, mummified and buried alive. Freund's knowledge in black-and-white lighting came to the fore, as he captured an iconic shot in pre-Code cinema. Boris Karloff's face, a result of mummification for many centuries, seemed chalked and lined up with a familiar emotion. Revenge. A dim light captured Karloff's eyes, gleaming with malicious intent. And moviegoers have a clue on where those eyes were looking at.
Freund's "The Mummy" could be based on parched records, as Tutankhamun's Ancient Egypt was on strife. The filmmaker, who hailed from Bohemia, craftily used the lights to create a solemn, if not, fatalistic mood. Carter might have sensed it, but he was aware that this would be part of the adventure.
And it turned into a romp
Stephen Sommers seemed to be a huge fan of Indiana Jones, as his remake of "The Mummy" was a death-defying adventure. It could be the sentiment of young viewers, who wanted to see the world right away. Take note that backpacking was a phenomenon (after the publication of Alex Garland's "The Beach"). Armchair traveling was the best thing about summer blockbusters, and Sommers didn't disappoint the audience. A search for hidden treasure led to the accidental discovery of the Book of the Dead. The chain of events could be compared to the falling of dominoes, a sight that could excite anyone.
A remake usually ends up as inferior to the original, but Sommers managed to turn his into its own motion picture. There were numerous references to "Raiders of the Lost Ark", including Jerry Goldsmith's rousing musical score, but the then-young viewers wouldn't know it. (If they did have an idea, then they might have forgotten the details. There were too many movies to recall every one of it.) This will lead to the next item. Why will Universal do a reboot? Another generation will be introduced to the romantic (and brooding) aspects of this story. There are many ways to come up with jaw-dropping action. (Otherwise, no one will pay attention to a dead corpse.) And the mummy can be a symbol of our earnest wish. It had nothing to do with gold. Think of speed instead.