Case history: Sequel to the effects-laden blockbuster The Mummy, which first sought my help two years ago. The producers were aware of my pioneering work in action-adventure, especially my groundbreaking therapy of Terminator while still a Script Intern at Cedars-Spielberg. (My course of action: "Does Arnold have to talk? Two words: liquid metal. . . . Couldn't hurt Linda [Hamilton] to lift some weights. . . . Hasta la vista, baby, Script Intern.") You know the result, that Terminator 2 was far superior to its predecessor. The Mummy made a lot of money, but everyone hated it, and the producers—anxious for a long-running franchise—sought me out here at the Virginia Mayo Clinic.
Treatment: The Mummy's problem was thinly drawn characters floating amid gaping plot holes barely hidden by computer-generated special effects. I suggested a radical course: less plot, more characterization and special effects. While I'm pleased the filmmakers followed my advice and produced what I believe to be a superior film, I must stress that the patient's trajectory of recovery is still on its upward arc.
Diagnosis: The Mummy Returns' sheer number of effects have the effect of making the effects not so effective. They kind of run together, one tableau after another. The main characters, Rick and Evelyn O'Connell, have been remade into bantering birds, sort of a Banana Republic version of The Thin Man's Nick and Nora. Their gay lifestyle and sterling asides are in bizarre contrast to a plot about Scorpion Kings and the apocalypse. What's worse, they have also acquired a precocious, smart-mouthed kid. (The Script Doctor hates precocious, smart-mouthed kids and will continue to speak out against them in all their forms.)
Prescription: Special effects are still this movie's bread and butter, but they could benefit from being a little less special. The Indiana Jones movies this series strives to emulate were just as special for their floor crawling with snakes as their giant rolling ball. More special, in fact, because at those moments, Jones seemed most human. Even if a movie is about the end of the world, we have to feel invested in what someonemight lose. Like Indy, Rick O'Connell should be drawn darker; faced with the end of the world, we should believe he might not stand to benefit from such an occurrence. He should have lost something dear to him—say, a precocious, smart-mouthed kid. Finally, the couple in this movie is supposed to have been married eight years, yet they still have significant desire for each other. This is confusing, threatening to push the film out of the action genre and into fantasy.