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.
A massive undertaking that spanned three continents, 50 sets, 64 zerogravity 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 an epic action-adventure that has been 5,000 years in the making.
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. But times have changed and even these monsters need a new life. So 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?
Centuries ago, Ahmanet was raised as a fearless warrior and heir to her father’s throne. She was destined to be the first female pharaoh, but when the king finally fathered a son, Ahmanet was cast aside. Driven mad by betrayal, she was entombed for eternity by the very people who swore loyalty to her.
To portray this character, the team would turn to Sofia Boutella, the breakout star of 'Kingsman: The Secret Service' and 'Star Trek Beyond'.
Boutella admits that what especially drew her to the part was the empathy she felt for the character. “It would be too easy just to make it obvious that she’s just mean or hate-able, and I liked that Alex never wanted to ‘monster-ize’ Ahmanet,” she reflects. “Even though she is technically a monster, it was important for all of us to find the psychology of her character and understand why she did what she did in that time to survive.
Playing lead character Nick Morton, Tom Cruise is the man whose films have grossed more billion in worldwide box office. He joined the production not only as star but also as creative partner. Cruise and his producers created an experience that was as scary and exotic as it was bold and daring. And it was also full of actions and stunt work, obviously.
Cruise appears to once again have added his own touch of next level stunt work to a new project. Since the first trailer, we can see a scene where Tom Cruise and co-star Annabelle Wallis are sent tumbling through the air inside a cargo plane . In real-life, the stunt was actually performed in zero gravity, on an aircraft specially designed for that purpose (see Zero Gravity Scene) and took 64 takes to complete.
But it’s not all about action. Tom Cruise wanted to create a Mummy for a new generation as audacious as it is unexpected. Nick is not simply the one responsible for setting Ahmanet free, he’s fulfilling an ordained destiny he couldn’t have possibly imagined, creating a psychological connection between him and the mummy. Now, he is the only one who can stop her ascension to a global ruler who will enslave humanity. Again, thanks Tom.
The Ahmanet Mummy look is a creative combination of makeup, wardrobe, prosthetic, and digital augmentation. Each evolving stage a different collaboration from the creatives on the film.
VFX created various stages of Ahmanet, who regenerates as she feed draining the life force from her victims and slowly taking human form once again. She evolves from an entirely created CGI skeletal force of skin and bones and bandages - when she is first unleashed from the sarcophagus - to a fully evolved human form.
It wouldn’t be a Mummy movie without an army of undead coming to take back the world from which they were prematurely erased. The undead in the film are fully digitally augmented by VFX which created multiple versions to make each zombie feel different from the next. Sunken ocular cavities, missing pieces of flesh (or limbs), gouged-out eyes, exposed bone, and other charming details make Ahmanet’s army truly jarring.
Audiences will be terrified by two types of undead in The Mummy. There are those who have been buried for hundreds of years and have been brought back to life by Ahmanet. Naturally, these corpses are the most decayed and broken down. The others are “modern” desiccated undead who were alive moments prior, and then killed by the princess before she drained their bodily fluids.
But a dead army is not the main problem for our heroes. As soon as Ahmanet becomes more powerful, she gains the magic power to creat mortal sandstorms like the one created in London. Shot early in the morning when the chaos of the city is still not live, the VFX team realised an impressive sequence of horror and pure action.
All hell breaks loose when Ahmanet’s sarcophagus is being flown from Iraq to London and ravens begin to crash thru the cockpit window. As one might imagine, things go downhill from there…and the plane begins to dive. This huge 20-ton steel frame cargo plane set was constructed and mounted onto a hydraulic base…proving to be the most complex build for the production.
This gimbal allowed for continuous rotation with the actors inside. Simultaneously, it provided a 15-degree tilt -front and back- to simulate take off and start of the crash. As the plane had to go from a static position to a tumbling position, everything in the plane had to be re-created in rubber and foam. Cast would actually slide from one side of the plane set to the other as the SFX rig rotated at different speeds.
Never been done before for a film, the production then introduced a real plane at Novespace headquarters, housed in Bordeaux, France, into the mix to complete and film this Zero G sequence. The 20 seconds of weightlessness audiences will see on film leads the crash sequence, with Nick trying desperately to grab parachutes from the plane wall and pass one to Jenny. Each take filmed was unpredictable as the cast and crew floated weightless around the plane cabin…at the mercy of physics.
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.
Their team built 50 sets in Europe and Africa—from England to Namibia to France—and half of the sets were crafted at the historic Shepperton Studios.
The first Shepperton Studios-based set, the Ahmanet's Haunts, where film shot was on the studio back lot; there, the art department crafted a huge build of a decrepit pier. Here, we first see Ahmanet crawl out from her sarcophagus casing, and feed on her victims. This large-scale build was complete with a bridge, 70-foot abandoned ship, and a running body of water—one that emulates a nondescript part of the embankment on the Thames river.
The reveal and unearthing of the sarcophagus happens in the Mercury Tomb set. This eight-week build took hundreds of craftspersons to pull off. Indeed, this is where the coffin—strapped to the center by a snake chain—sits in a CGI pool of mercury.
One of the other huge builds on the Shepperton Stages was the equally impressive Crusaders Chamber, the catacombs where the knights are buried. This large-scale set, which was complete with a running waterfall and detail map of the old world, felt just as real as Ahmanet’s supposed-eternal resting place. It required 60 painters to complete the work on the Crusaders Chamber set.
One of the most impressive set builds and signature set piece for the movie was for the secret society called Prodigium. This set represented a hidden basement loft space under the Natural History Museum in London, one where Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe) and his army of technicians could not only protect the world from the monsters, but protect the monsters from the world. The feel of Prodigium is rusty, worn, and halfway underground, so natural daylight can creep in.
The Mummy filmed in three countries including its base of production back at Universal Studios in Los Angeles. London and Namibia were the other two main locations that helped to develop the story.
“London is basically built on ancient burial grounds and tombs. I can’t think of a better fit for the theme of this movie and the actual story" said Tom Cruise. It’s also the sign of the original Roman colony of Londinium. Under us were so many dead Romans, crusaders, and everyone else who ever fought over this territory. In the movie, they come to life in the final battle. In the Charing Cross tube station the cast and crew climbed many sub floors underground. As well, they would film in the shafts of the subway system and the financial district on Cornhill Road as Ahmanet where conjured up the sand storm. For three days, the production was honored to film at the London Natural History Museum (NHM). The Mummy filmed outside the main entrance, inside the main lobby, in the Mineral Room, and inside one of the basement rooms.
It was important for the filmmakers that the opening action scenes that take place in Iraq feel real, without unnecessarily using a great deal CGI, therefore locations soon turned international. So the production traveled from the U.K. to Namibia in southeast Africa for two-and-a-half weeks of shooting. In Namibia, filmmakers replicated and also created Egyptian flashbacks and Nick’s vision from the story.
The final player to join the production was Academy Award® winner Russell Crowe, who plays Dr. Henry Jekyll, the head of the secret organisation known as Prodigium.
Similarly, Crowe appreciated that Prodigium is teased to the audience of 'The Mummy', but there is so much more happening beneath the surface. “There is a lot to find out about Jekyll, and it was a complicated journey to get where he is at this point in time,” the performer notes. “He operates Prodigium, which essentially is an organization that pinpoints evil and tries to neutralise it.”
He not only protects the world from monsters, he protects monsters from the world. So the main question is Jekyll a friend or a foe?
Universal Picture announced that The Mummy is the first of a series of films reviving the studio’s classic monster characters for a new generation that will be known as ‘Dark Universe’. Evoking such mainstay characters of foreboding doom and gloom, Universal is looking to bring back its own stable of original franchise proprieties in a big, big way that for sure will draw the attention of moviegoers around the world. Revisions of classics like Bride of Frankenstein and The Invisible Man have already been confirmed with respectively Johnny Depp and Javier Bardem in the main roles.
Welcome to a new world of gods and monsters. Welcome to Dark Universe.