The sequel to Ben Stiller’s Night at the Museum opens this week, cumbersomely titled Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. In the first film, Larry, a divorced dad played by Stiller, ends up as a night watchmen at the Museum of Natural History. What sets the movie’s plot in motion by magically causing all the museum’s creatures and statues to come to life? Something called the Tablet of Akmenrah from Ancient Egypt.
Oh, that Ben Stiller. You never know what he’ll get himself into next.
While not a great deal of thought was put into the plot of this family comic adventure, it is interesting to note their use of a magical Egyptian object as a plot device.
Let’s face it: there is something about ancient Egypt that fascinates modern man.
And why wouldn’t it? It’s one of the oldest civilizations known to us, yet capable of creating astounding works of art and architecture that survive to this day. The Ancient Egyptians seem exotic to us, almost alien, and yet oddly familiar – they went to school, worked, worshiped their gods, and got drunk, just like we do today. And in that order, too.
For fantasy fans in particular, Egypt holds a special appeal. Mysticism was a way of life in Egypt. There was a strong belief in gods, the afterlife, and magic, and this acceptance of the supernatural, coupled with their infamous practices concerning dead bodies, can create a strong foundation for a great fantasy story.
Egypt has been creeping into fantastical cinema almost since the dawn of film itself. Certainly most famous was Boris Karloff as the title role in 1932’s The Mummy, one of the most iconic early horror films starring the actor who also played Frankenstein’s monster. This film was reimagined (isn’t that verb stale yet?) for 1999’s film of the same name starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz, a special effects-fueled blockbuster which spawned three sequels, including The Mummy Returns, which features a pretty awesome flashback scene in Ancient Egypt.
Both Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess had episodes in which their heroes were involved with plots that took place in Egypt. The Xena episode was particular compelling, as it featured Xena impersonating Cleopatra in the Queen’s palace itself.
Anne Rice explored Egypt in her Vampire Chronicles, which were brought to the screen in 2002’s Queen of the Damned, starring the late Aaliyah as the first vampire, a Queen from ancient Egypt. It’s a bittersweet film to watch in light of the actress/singer’s untimely death, but despite the film itself being a tad subpar, Aaliyah herself puts on quite a show.
Bruce Cambpell, that king of B-movies, fought a mummy in 2002’s Bubba Ho-tep, and did it while wearing an Elvis jumpsuit.
And speaking of B-movies, 2004’s Catwoman featured a plot in which a cat from ancient Egypt brought Halle Berry’s character back to life after someone killed her for, well, making Catwoman.
So it looks as though the land of the Nile will continue to be a muse for authors and screenwriters for years to come. Oh, I almost forgot – one of the most riveting fantasy films of all time is set in Egypt, and features a wicked pharaoh, a young seer, curses, telekinesis, transfiguration, sorcerors, and tons of other silly fantasy cliches. Oh, that Ten Commandments. Good flick.