Universal is trying once more to revitalize its catalog of classic monsters with this week’s The Mummy. No, this isn’t a straight reboot of the 90’s film series starring Brendan Frasier and eventually The Rock. It’s a new story starring Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe and others that brings the franchise into the present day and ups the action by presenting a threat not just to the heroes at the center of the conflict but also the world as a whole.
In this week’s release Cruise plays Nick Morton, a…something (none of the trailers or plot synopses make this clear) who makes the tragic mistake of disturbing the sarcophagus of Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an ancient Egyptian figure who wielded dark powers to…destroy the world? He winds up being integral to her plans even as, with the help of Dr. Henry Jekyll (Crowe), he tries to foil those plans.
Deep breath, everyone.
The first poster takes its cue from the first teaser, which features a massive action set piece set inside a cargo plane. This image shows that same interior, with the mummy’s sarcophagus strapped down to the floor. The bigger world that the movie is setting up is teased in the copy “Welcome to a new world of gods and monsters,” which is also a line that’s featured in that first trailer.
The second effort is a close-up of Ahmanet featuring her freaky eyes and the language and characters that are embossed on her cheek. This is meant to give it a spooky, otherworldly feel.
The third one pulls the camera out to show more of Ahmanet’s face (specifically both cheeks) as it looms of the London skyline which is being eaten away by some sort of force. Cruise is standing over it all as well, looking kind of powerless and just sort of taking it all in. He looks like he’s watching a crab walk along the beach, not like there’s any urgency to his character or actions.
Two IMAX posters play up the scope of the story, one showing Cruise repelling down past the massive sarcophagus that incites the story, the other showing him standing heroically as the ancient warrior looms in the background above a city that’s being destroyed by a red swarm. They’re not that interesting visually but they do work to establish that this is a big supernatural story that’s being sold.
The first trailer starts out by throwing us into the middle of the story, it seems. So Morton and others are escorting the sarcophagus home on a military transport before it’s taken down by a magical swarm of bats. Halsey escapes the plane but Morton goes down with it and dies, but that doesn’t last. After he’s brought back to life we hear from Jekyll that he’s now part of a larger world of magical mysteries. That includes the now reincarnated Princess Ahmanet, who’s out to reclaim what was taken from her millennia ago and which involves…destroying the world or something.
The trailer was only half about selling this movie, for which very little story elements are shown. Instead it’s focused on selling yet another movie of Tom Cruise running away from swarms of things and trying to prove to everyone that he knows what’s going on. It’s also really concerned with establishing Crowe’s Jekyll as the cornerstone of an expanded horror creature universe, promising the audience that this is just the first chapter in a much larger story.
The second trailer starts with the discovery extraction of the mummy from its resting place, an adventure that was fairly perilous in and of itself. We get some backstory on Ahmanet before we find out that the unwitting archeologists have caused that old evil to be unleashed upon the modern world. There’s a connection between her and Morton that’s being exploited so Ahmanet can return to power and take over the world. He tries to foil her at every turn but it doesn’t look good.
At least this explains more of the story. It still looks like Mission Impossible: Ghost Squad but it should appease fans of big budget effects-laden blockbusters as well as those who are enjoying Cruise’s late-career action turn.
The third trailer opens with a condensed version of the same plane crash sequence we’ve seen before. We find out Jack survived because he’d been cursed and is now being exposed to a magical world he’s not ready for. He’s connected to the mummy he awakened and becomes part of her plan in some way and…
You know what I’m out. There’s such an overt effort here to sell a mythology that’s completely undeserved and foreign that the entire thing collapses under its own weight. Instead of simply selling an action-packed supernatural thriller with Tom Cruise, it’s selling a bloated series of set pieces strung together with long-winded exposition about a backstory that we have no context for. No.
Online and Social
The final trailer loads when you pull up the movie’s official website. After closing that it displays full-screen silent video featuring footage seen in the trailers. Down in the lower left are links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr profiles along with a link to the Prodigium, the mysterious organization Cruise’s character is introduced to and invited to become part of.
That site starts with an informational video of the organization and then allows you to take a virtual tour of the facility, either fully within the browser or via VR.
Back to the main site, the first section in the drop down menu of content is “About” which is long on name-dropping Cruise and the rest of the talent but short on adding any new information or context to the story.
The “Gallery” has a decent collection of some of the posters and some stills that have been released. “Videos” has the three trailers and the Inside Look featurette.
“Partners” lists the two companies that have signed on for promotional support while “30 Rock VR” has information on the VR experience that’s being hosted in New York City that takes people inside the plane stunt that’s been a central focus in the campaign.
Finally there’s another prompt to get tickets and then one to find out about the Dark Universe the studio is trying to launch with this movie.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
One of the first TV efforts was a co-branded spot that ran on ESPN during the NBA Playoffs, featuring basketball stars all turning to watch the news as reports of an attack in London are breaking. Those reports show Ahmanet and her supernatural conjurings before it cuts to the movie’s title and release date. More traditional spots that highlighted parts of the story and showcased the massive action came later in the campaign.
Promotional partners for the movie included
- Saks Fifth Avenue, which created movie-inspired window displays showing off some of the props and costumes.
- Mac Cosmetics, which provided tips on how to look like an ancient Egyptian princess and offered the products to do so.
Outdoor and online ads used the key art of Cruise and Boutella’s characters while social media ads used the trailers and other videos.
Media and Publicity
At the same time the first trailer was released, director Alex Kurtzman talked about the story, how he wanted to subvert the audience’s expectations about a Tom Cruise movie, directing a fight sequence between Cruise and Crowe and more. More first look photos, including this one from EW, followed.
The studio created a VR experience at SXSW earlier this year that took viewers inside the plane sequence that was featured so prominently in the first trailer. That same stunt continued to be the focus of much of the press, with Kurtzman talking at CinemaCon about the 64 takes necessary to fully capture it.
A stream of exclusive new images like this kept the conversation at a medium boil in between big pops in the campaign. One appeared in EW’s summer movie preview along with an interview with Boutella where she talked about her character, the research she did for the movie and more.
A behind-the-scenes featurette introduced us to the Prodigium organization that is lead by Crowe’s Dr. Jeykll, making it clear that it will act as the focal point of an expanded universe dealing with monsters and other phenomena. Around the same time Universal held “The Mummy Day” with a massive 75-foot sarcophagus looming over an event attended by Cruise that invited fans to come out and hopefully get excited for the upcoming movie.
The overt efforts to sell this as an essential launch of a larger world became even more ham-handed with the announcement Bride of Frankenstein would be the next movie in the series, coming in 2019. That was accompanied by photos of Cruise and Crowe alongside Johnny Depp, who would play The Invisible Man and Javier Bardem, would would tackle Frankenstein’s Monster. It was all put under the “Dark Universe” umbrella branding that included Universal’s classic horror movies as well as those to come.
Cruise of course made the media rounds, talking about this movie as well as other upcoming projects. Crowe also did some press work in the weeks leading up to release.
Bela Lugosi: They don’t want the classic horror films anymore. Today it’s all giant bugs. Giant spiders, giant grasshoppers… Who would believe such nonsense?
Ed Wood: The old ones were much spookier, they had castles and full moons…
Bela Lugosi: They were mythic. They had a poetry to them.
Edward D. Wood, Jr.: Yes.
Bela Lugosi: And you know what else? The women… the women preferred the traditional monsters.
Edward D. Wood, Jr.: The women? Huh?
Bela Lugosi: The pure horror, it both repels, and attracts them, because in their collective unconsiousness, they have the agony of childbirth. The blood. The blood is horror.
Edward D. Wood, Jr.: You know, I never thought of that.
Bela Lugosi: Take my word for it. If you want to make out with a young lady, take her to see “Dracula”.
I can’t get this scene from Ed Wood out of my head as I try to sum up a campaign that’s done everything it can to make the movie as unappealing as possible, at least to me. I’m a huge fan of the original Universal monster movies but what I remember from them is the sense of brooding terror, of looming danger around every corner. The stakes were low – Dracula was only ever a threat to those within his reach and The Mummy didn’t have world domination in mind – but that made it more real because it warned you not to cross those characters.
There’s nothing about this campaign that presents an attractive alternative for those looking to head to the box office this weekend aside from Cruise’s star power. The story on display is threadbare and incoherent, the characters all some level of incompetence masked as mystery.
No motivation for anyone’s actions, no sense of who anyone is or why they’re acting as they are is offered at any point in the marketing with the exception of the villain’s desire to end the world as we know it. Substitute her sandstorm with a sky beam and you have any superhero movie from the last 10 years.
Not only that, but the ham handed way Universal is trying to launch a franchise just makes no sense and becomes more of a deterrent than anything else. It makes no sense (particularly since it just tried to do this a few years ago with Dracula Untold) since it publicly commits them to a big project it may not be able to deliver on if this movie flops or underperforms. Working to establish that “bigger world” took up a lot of the campaign’s breathing room, meaning this release in and of itself didn’t have that space to sell itself, it needed to sell the franchise. That’s a mistake not even Marvel has made.