What We Learned from The Mummy Blu-ray About Where the New Franchise Went Wrong
It's safe to say Universal did not expect the latest reboot of The Mummy to fare as badly as it did What was supposed to reboot the classic monsters in a shared cinematic universe blessed by the supposed biggest movie star in the world (note to Universal: that'd be Will Smith) instead got bashed for feeling like a transparently obvious attempt at a franchise-starter that was more concerned with sequels and spin-offs than anything else. But now that the Blu-ray is out, and features commentary from most of the major players before they realized how the public would react, can we learn anything? Indeed we can. Some of it should be more obvious than other parts.
The first thing to know is that nobody involved had any idea the "Dark Universe" logo at the start of the movie would play as badly as it did. The Blu-ray commentary is recorded while director Alex Kurtzman shows an un-color-corrected, no-sound version of the final film to Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, and Jake Johnson (i.e. every major player who isn't Tom Cruise or Russell Crowe), and all involved loveLOVElove the introduction of the scorched-earth logo, not realizing it will become a punchline months later. Kurtzman promptly rattles of the movies that will follow: Bride of Frankenstein, Creature From the Black Lagoon, The Wolfman, and Van Helsing, a series he's now apparently considering leaving after one installment. And one could argue that the early signs were there for anybody who cared to look.
Some stories have laid the fate of The Mummy directly at the feet of star Tom Cruise, implying he was a Xenu-style tyrant who'd broach no dissent. But listening to Kurtzman suggests there was no struggle; just fanboy adoration. At one point, he notes that if a scene "isn't 100% right" as far as Cruise is concerned, you will reshoot. He also frequently mentions times that shooting was held up because either Crowe or Cruise had "better" ideas, including a half-day where the simple act of crossing a bridge resulted in Cruise suggesting the whole room be on fire, and he have a fight scene.
Additionally, we learn that Crowe prefers a three camera set-up, while Cruise, favors one; Kurtzman, smartly, takes his star's side, and the proof of the pudding is that Cruise is included more than Crowe in the extras. Cruise doesn't appear on commentary, but a featurette where he and his director talk includes numerous body-language "tells" like crossed arms and hands to mouth (usually indicative of untruths). Both men flatter each other hyperbolically, particularly when Kurtzman gob-smackingly notes that Cruise was somehow the first to insist that The Mummy had to be a good mummy movie first and foremost before it could launch a franchise. The star also insisted on the scene where he wakes up in the morgue, even though it was not in the script and required a major rewrite to incorporate. (Kurtzman praises Cruise's great instincts for intuitively coming up with it.)
If you had a problem with the CG effects, however, the issue gets more muddied. After bizarrely insisting that he wanted to shoot most of the movie like Terrence Malick -- which to Kurtzman, apparently, means no CG (never mind the dinosaurs in The Tree of Life), we get schooled in what is and isn't real, and it likely will surprise you. Sarcophagus? Fake. Birds? Fake. Giant sinkhole in the Iraqi desert? Real. Swimming zombies? (Our favorite part.) Real, except for digital face replacement.
Oh, and if [SPOILER] you were confused how exactly Cruise brings Wallis back to life at the end of the movie, Kurtzman explains: "His monster-ness brought her back." Take that as you will.