Museums and the Movies: The Mummy Returns

Hands up if you’ve ever said “YOU MUST NOT READ FROM THE BOOK!” in menacing tones, just as someone was about to pick up a book. It is, of course, a warning from The Mummy (1999) about reading from the Book of the Dead. Even though it’s entirely safe to read from the book – it’s a book of  prayers and spells to guide one through the Afterlife – I still like to quote this whenever we do an Ancient Egyptian workshop at the British Museum.

The kids give me blank looks, and it makes me feel as ancient as the mummies.

The Mummy doesn’t actually have a museum in it, although Rachel Weiss’ character, Evelyn, expresses frustration that the scholar’s in the British Museum’s Egyptology department won’t give her a job even though she’s fluent in Ancient Egyptian and is quite clearly awesome. Needless to say, I find myself relating to Evelyn quite a bit.

Flash forward to 2001 and we have a sequel: The Mummy Returns which does in fact feature a museum. The British Museum, naturally. Where else would a mummy go?

Set 9 years after the first film, the enigmatic scholars that seem to call the shots the British Museum have stopped ignoring Evelyn, in fact they “are begging me to run the British Museum.” Just imagine, a female kick-ass archaeologist adventurer in charge of the British Museum in 1933. How amazing would that have been?

The Mummy Returns sees Evelyn ‘travelling back in time’ a lot, seeing visions of her past life as an Egyptian Princess Nefertiti. This whole ‘travelling back in time’ thing is something that a good museum makes you feel too, but I imagine that exploring tombs would do the trick too.

Evelyn 'travels back in time'
Evelyn ‘travels back in time’

Now, the thing with The Mummy films is that Imhotep isn’t necessarily the Villain. Yes, he can be a bit evil but there’s always something a little bit more nefarious going on. The build up in this film leads us to the Scorpion King and the army of Anubis as the main Big Bad; Imhotep is more of an antagonist. The expanded back story, with his doomed love of Anaksu-Namun really humanises this oft maligned mummy. Also, why is Anubis portrayed as evil? I really don’t understand why deities associated with death are the de facto bad guys.

Anyway, there is another baddie for the O’Connels to face. This guy:

The Curator from the British Museum is revealed to be a villain!
The Curator from the British Museum is revealed to be a villain!

“I know him!” says Alex, son of Evelyn and Rick. “He’s the curator at the British Museum!”. This is kind of worrying, in terms of how museums are presented. Not only are they for “Urgh, rich people” but there seems to be a bit of a trend for presenting curators as villains (or at least plausible suspects) instead of experts. I suppose this kind of villainous portrayal kind of fits with the questionable history the museum has… but still…

This brings us to the museum. In a way. This isn’t the museum. It’s UCL. With its temple-like facade it just about passes, but where are the statues that are supposed to be adorning the pediment (see the header picture for the blog)?

The British Museum, well, UCL...
The British Museum, well, UCL…

The interior shots were much better, although none of these rooms actually exist. I did enjoy this vintage poster action.

Some vintage poster action "Some Treasures from Ancient Egypt."
Some vintage poster action “Some Treasures from Ancient Egypt.”

“Some Treasures from Ancient Egypt” reads the poster. I love how underwhelming it is compared to today’s exhibition titles.

In this bit, if you look closely, you can see a cheeky cameo by everyone’s favorite multi-lingual rock the Rosetta Stone.

A cheeky Rosetta Stone cameo there...
A cheeky Rosetta Stone cameo there…

I love the scene with the heroes exploring the museum at night. Everyone loves being in a museum after hours. It’s kind of why the Museums a Night festival is so popular.

The Mummy Galleries at night
The Mummy Galleries at night

Ah, yes. The mummies coming to life is a fear we have to deal with every day. Some of the kids who visit the museum have a real thing about this. Some of the grown ups too, come to think of it…

Yes, we're all still worried that the mummies will come to life unexpectedly...
Yes, we’re all still worried that the mummies will come to life unexpectedly…

No, seriously, why would you have open flames in a storage space?! BAD EVIL CURATOR MAN.

The curators don't *really* try to bring the mummies back to life...
The curators don’t *really* try to bring the mummies back to life…

You know what, museum films featuring chaos via a London bus is starting to become a thing. It happened in this film too.

Chaos on the buses...
Chaos on the buses…

This does remind me of every single time I’ve ever needed a night bus in London…

By the way, if you’re interested in the Scorpion King – the Big Bad in this film – the Ashmolean have something you might be interested in. Likewise, if you want to find out more about Nefertiti you can do what I did and head to the Neues Museum in Berlin. 


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