Whether it’s action, romance, or angry, angry beetles, Stephen Sommers’s 1999 hit The Mummy has what you’re looking for. Marketed as a next-generation’s Indiana Jones, The Mummy succeeds as a film by delivering exactly what it promises – and a little bit more.
With an ensemble cast including Brendan Fraser, pre-Oscar Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, and Arnold Vosloo, there are enough contrasting, zany characters for any “Which character are you” Internet quiz. But what keeps The Mummy from being just another visual-effects-laden Hollywood song and dance?
Enough of whether Valentine’s Day was invented by greeting card companies, created in St. Valentine’s dark laboratory of evil science, or if “Valentine’s Day should be every day” in a healthy relationship. You love the candy, so what does it matter?
Valentine’s Day should be an excuse (for those of us who need an excuse) to be just a little bit nicer to those for whom we care. It should be a day of reaching out, of reforging connections, and of gratitude to those with whom we share compassion. What a nice day!
So why celebrate it by watching Casablanca – a film, by most definitions, about love lost?
The Sweet Hereafter – 1997 – dir. Atom Egoyan
(Filmmaker and author quotes from DVD commentary)
Adapted from a Russell Banks book and directed by Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan, The Sweet Hereafter is the sublime, aching story of a fatal school bus accident in rural Canada. Most of the town’s children are killed as a result, and city lawyer Mitchell Stevens (Ian Holm) travels to the town to fan the flames of confusion and anger into a potentially lucrative class action lawsuit. However, the town’s sorrow mirrors Mitchell’s own personal drama: the loss of his daughter to drugs and darker forces still. The themes of confinement are rife within this drama of parents, children, lovers, and courage.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – 2008 – dir. Steven Spielberg
It was only a matter of time, I suppose, until aliens would show up in an Indiana Jones film. After countless screenwriters and even more countless drafts, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull finally saw the light of cinemas nearly twenty years after the release of Last Crusade. The actual legend of the crystal skull concerns a series of artifacts discovered in Central and South America in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Explorers purportedly unearthed several carved quartz skulls, and it was claimed that these skulls possessed not only unimaginable powers but that they could not have been crafted by modern means. A 1996 BBC documentary investigation revealed that several crystal skulls that had been displayed in museums and held by collectors throughout the world were forgeries. However, there did indeed exist a few specimens whose construction defied conventional explanation.
Speaking of defying convention, Indiana’s fourth outing has been tossed about as one of the weakest (if not THE weakest) of the series. As an action film, it delivers, and Harrison Ford himself presents a terrific performance. So what’s the problem with Crystal Skull?
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – 1989 – dir. Steven Spielberg
Harrison Ford is in this movie too, but Indy for the first time takes a backseat to a character that is even more engaging than he is: his father.
A public left scratching their heads at the significance of Shiva Lingas identified far more readily with the lure of the Holy Grail. “Every man’s dream,” indeed.
Of course, the Holy Grail is a metaphor, and while it makes a physical appearance in this film, it stands for tempered wisdom, responsibility, and courage. Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott) says, “The search for the Grail is the search for the divine in all of us.” Indiana Jones, as he walks the breath, word, and path of God, demonstrates his humility, his wisdom, and his bravery. In short, Indiana must prove himself heroic to be worthy of the grail. Certainly, so must we all.
The movie that defines the action-adventure genre, Raiders of the Lost Ark introduced movie audiences everywhere to Indiana Jones, the romance of archaeology, and just how dangerous the ark of the covenant can be.
*FUN FACT: According to the Ten Commandments, graven images were strictly forbidden. However, the one time God makes an exception in the bible is for the lid of the ark itself, adorned with two golden seraphim. Why do you think that is?
Indiana Jones took full advantage of the blockbuster mentality that had gripped Hollywood since the arrival of Jaws six years prior. Gone were the days of the big studios, the stables of stars, and the Vietnam-enriched, experimental filmmaking that defined much of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King – 2003 – dir. Peter Jackson
The Return of the King is the end of a cycle and the beginning of a new era. The age of the fair folk passes, and the age of men dawns.
In Tolkien’s books, Aragorn the Ranger has a goal of claiming the kingship from the outset. However, in the films, he undergoes a transition from reluctant leader to king of men. Of course, such a transition is interesting to watch – we first see him as a shady character at the Prancing Pony Inn, contrasted with the crowned royalty he becomes at the end of the third film.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers – 2002 – dir. Peter Jackson
Its theatrical release only a year after the World Trade Center attacks, director Peter Jackson mentioned that the producers briefly considered retitling the film, although opted against the idea as, “Fans would’ve killed us.”
I’ve often pondered alternate titles for the trilogy’s second installment. Tolkien himself was less than happy with it in hindsight. He never even concretely specified WHICH two towers the title referred to, although one was most certainly Orthanc, the spire of Saruman, the corrupted white wizard. Other contenders could include Minas Tirith (Gondor’s capital), Minas Morgul (the lair of the Ringwraiths), or Cirith Ungol (the guard tower at the secret entrance to Mordor).
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – 2001 – dir. Peter Jackson
In a story about a wizard, four Hobbits, two men, an elf, a dwarf, and a golden ring that refuses to stay lost, where do we fit in? More specifically, what do we like about The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring?