Writer/director Stephen Sommers was no stranger to writing and directing remakes of classic films when he decided he wanted to remake The Mummy. Sommers' big commercial breaks came with the Disney remakes of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huck Finn and Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. When producers James Jacks and Sean Daniels learned of Sommers' interest in The Mummy, they immediately called a meeting, and production on the film began.
The filmmakers all agreed that they wanted The Mummy to be a "huge action adventure film with a hint of romance." Producer Daniel explained: "We wanted it to be fun...an adventure film with a lot of humor, but not a comedy. Our aim is to be scary, not gory...funny, not campy. We wanted to show that we have a great affection for the original movies."
The 17-week shooting schedule started in Marrakech, Morocco, on the Cairo Prison set. Temperatures of 130 degrees in the early morning were common during the production; however, the filmmakers felt that if they shot anywhere in the United States, the movie would look too much like the original Mummy films.
Temperature wasn't the only obstacle faced by the producers; lodging in the small desert towns in Morocco where shooting continued proved elusive. Co-producer Patricia Carr remembered, "It was not easy finding enough hotel rooms in a small desert town, which only caters to tourists who stay from one night or two at most. The accommodation problem grew even worse when production began filming and there were over 800 people to accommodate."
The non-human co-stars in the film also provided quite a challenge. Nearly all the actors had to endure working with the notoriously temperamental camels. Rachel Weisz recalled being "manacled to an alter with live rats clamoring all over my body for a week" and live maggots and a combination of rubber and live beetles were used on Arnold Vosloo during Imhotep's resurrection.
In the end, though, the experience was a positive one among the cast who had to endure the sometimes uncomfortable shoot. Of Sommers, Brendan Fraser said "Stephen is constantly on the move, he has boundless energy. He has the ability to accept suggestions and the courage to try everything. He constantly told us to 'play with it', which is really a freeing experience. He knows how to direct an action picture...he's fast, he's quick, and every shot counts." Rachel Weisz echoed the sentiment: "(Sommers has) got more energy than any person I have met. He's really inspiring and fun. He's got a wonderful sense of humor and, because he wrote the script himself, it's all in his imagination." The film also went on to be a huge success at the box office, spawning the sequel The Mummy Returns, the forthcoming The Scorpion King and an animated series on the Kids' WB!.
Other notes from the production:
Co-producer Patricia Carr had ample experience setting up complicated desert locations. She worked in the Sahara Desert on Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, in the deserts of Arizona on Return of the Jedi and the deserts of Jordan and Spain in Indiana Jones and the Lost Crusade.
The Hamunaptra set was built on a dormant volcano near the town of Erfoud, Morocco. It took 16 weeks to build the set, which was destroyed on camera. The interiors of Hamunaptra were constructed on the legendary Shepperton Studios lot in England.
The language that Imhotep speaks is an Egyptology professor's approximation of how ancient Egyptian sounded. The actors were given scripts that had the lines in English, and were then coached on phonetic pronunciation of the language. Because no recorded examples of ancient Egyptian exist, though, the results are anyone's best guess.
Because of the extensive visual effects, Brendan Fraser said, "there were many scenes where we found ourselves acting, or reacting, to nothing in front of us. In situations like that I guess you rely on the thing you're asked to call upon in the first place...your imagination." When a scene called for the actors to show fear or terror in their reactions, the crew would hold up a photograph of how Arnold Vosloo looks as the Mummy, as a source of inspiration.
Fraser told the Chicago Sun-Times that, while shooting the hanging scene, director Sommers felt the noose wasn't tight enough around Fraser's neck and the noose was cinched. When the floorboard dropped out, Fraser blacked out. A doctor later told him that he was technically dead for about 18 seconds. Instead of seeing the light, though, Fraser recalled seeing "a grip in a green shirt who said 'No big deal. The same thing happened to Mel Gibson on the set of Braveheart.'"
Vosloo had to continue shooting two weeks after the rest of the cast wrapped production. To accommodate Industrial Light and Magic, all of his scenes that required special effects were re-recorded with the actor wearing special sensors that would capture his motions for the computer. The computer, in turn, was used to create the digital effects used to turn Vosloo into the Mummy.