Although The Mummy is very much an Egyptian story, the political climate in Egypt during the pre-production period made it impossible to set up such a major movie with all its inherent logistical problems. So a decision was made to shoot the complicated location sequences in Morocco, with Marrakech providing the casbahs and bazaars of 1923 Cairo. The ruins of the lost city of Hamunaptra, the legendary City of the Dead, would be built in the Sahara Desert outside the small town of Erfoud.
But what were the problems of setting up a movie the size and scale of The Mummy in Morocco? This mammoth task was the responsibility of experienced co-producer Patricia Carr, who seems to have cornered the market in desert movies, having worked in the Sahara Desert on Star Wars in 1976 and Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1980; the Arizona and Yuma deserts on Return of the Jedi in 1982; and the deserts of Jordan and Spain on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in 1988.
"We had to do a great amount of work in a relatively small amount of time," says Carr. "But after meeting with the local city officials, we were able to get medical cover in place, as well as arrange all the catering and transportation and have everything completed in record rime."
For the cast, the Moroccan locations were exotic but the conditions proved extremely difficult to shoot in, given the heat, the sandstorms and the rebellious camels.
Hannah says, "Filming in Morocco was quite an experience. The biggest challenge was maintaining the energy level right up to the start of the scene. It was really hot out there, and the snakes, scorpions and spiders made it difficult to keep your focus and maintain your enthusiasm."
Fraser adds, "The whole shoot was a bit risky, a little frightening. They had real charging horsemen coming at us with lots of blank gunfire. It was good fun though."
The actors did receive a fair amount of training to ride camels at fast speeds, and were given weapons and ammunitions training to prepare for the battle scenes.
"According to Stephen, all I had to do was turn up, shoot guns and 'look like a stud,"' says Fraser.
O'Connor adds, "The worst thing I was asked to do on this movie was to ride a camel. I was given lessons but I think I could spend an eternity learning how to do it, and still never master it. I don't think I'll ever go on a camel again."
Temperatures of 130 degrees in the early morning were commonplace during the production, but the producers knew that if they were to shoot the film anywhere in the United States it would look too much like the original Mummy films. Sommers was persistent in his requests that the film be shot on location.
And producer Jacks was extremely pleased with the results, saying, "I don't know how we could have done any better location-wise as far as just pure beauty of the locations. I mean, we have cliffs, we have mountains, we have tong expanses of rock-hard desert for the camels and horses to race on, and we have huge sand dunes."
He adds, "We never could have gotten that in California or Arizona."
In The Mummy, Hamunaptra is the hidden city in the desert which rises from the ground when our treasure-seeking heroes approach. But to try and create this magical fortress on film presented a huge challenge for the production. Researchers poring over books on Egyptian architecture and Egyptian life found no information on the existence of such a city, so the creative brain power had to be at its peak.
Production Designer Allan Cameron, who had also previously worked with Sommers on Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, was the kind of go-getter Sommers needed to get things going. Almost immediately, Cameron found a dormant volcano near the town of Erfoud, where the entire set for the City of the Dead could be built.
Sommers says, "I trust Allan to find any location - he did the same on The Jungle Book. You give Allan a plane ticket and send him out, and he'll find pretty much everything we need."
"When Allan discovered the volcano I knew we had to use it," says Sommers. "A city hidden in the crater of an extinct volcano made perfect sense. Out in the middle of the desert you would never see it. You would never think of entering the crater unless you knew what was inside that volcano."
Says Cameron, "The volcano was the most 'important exterior set we had. The lost city of Hamunaptra is where the majority of the action takes place, either above ground or in the passageways and chambers underground, so the right took was of utmost importance."
He adds, "Once I found the location, we did a whole survey of the volcano so we had all the dimensions to take back to Shepperton Studios where we made a model of the volcano and scale models of the columns and statues and bases and then really planned out how it would best work for the action."
Several of the sets were built with special effects which enabled the city to fall down and collapse, Columns were made out of fiberglass covering an interior metal structure, with special-effects rigs inside that. The rest were made out of plaster.
In the end, the set took 16 weeks to construct and was then destroyed on camera. The result is truly a staggering visual achievement, and one of the highlights in the film.
As for moving a production crew necessary for the size of a project like The Mummy, Carr had more than enough on her plate.
"It was not easy finding enough hotel rooms in a small desert town which only caters to tourists who stay for one night or two at the most," says Carr, "and the desert region of Morocco is becoming more and more popular with tourists because of the current political troubles in Egypt."
The accommodation problem grew much worse in mid-May when the production began filming in Erfoud and there were 800 people to accommodate (which included cast and crew as well as over 200 Tuareg horsemen and 80 Legionnaires).
To create the underground passageways of the City of the Dead, interior sets were built at Shepperton Studios, the legendary sound stages in London where many mammoth film productions have shot in the past.
"The most visual," continues Cameron, "was probably the huge, rat-infested underground necropolis which had a large cemetery surrounded by a detritus moat with human remains bobbing in the goo. Then there was the cavernous treasure chamber, filled with lots of golden statues and trinkets."
Another enormous undertaking was the exterior set constructed in the United Kingdom on the historic dockyard at Chatham, which stood in for the Giza Port on the River Nile. The set was 600 feet in length and contained a steam train, an Ajax traction engine, three cranes, an open two-horse carriage, four horse-drawn carts, five dressing horses and grooms, nine pack donkeys and mules, as well as market stalls, Arab-clad vendors and room for 300 costumed extras.
O'Connor says, "I'm glad we filmed the locations in the desert at the beginning of the schedule. If we shot the interiors at Shepperton Studios first, that would have been tough. It was great to get through those Moroccan locations while everyone still had so much energy."
But the actors knew that an epic about an expedition of explorers in the Sahara Desert would be an intimidating task for anyone. In fact, Weisz was called upon to endure some of the most horrific scenes in the movie, a task for which she was more than prepared.
Weisz says, "I was manacled to an altar with live rats clamoring all over my body for a whole week. In another scene I had four-inch-long live locusts poured over my head and entangled in my hair."
Despite the unsavory demands placed upon the cast, everyone involved in the production had nothing but raves for director Sommers.
Fraser says, "Stephen is constantly on the move; he has boundless energy. He has the ability to accept suggestions and the courage to try everything. He constantly told us to 'play with it,' which is really a freeing experience. He knows how to direct an action picture... he's fast, he's quick, and every shot counts."
Weisz adds, "He's got more energy than any person 1 have met. He's really inspiring and fun. He's got a wonderful sense of humor and, because he wrote the script himself, it's all in his imagination."
"Steve really cares about this movie and he has obviously given it a lot of thought. It jumps so much from place to place, from scene to scene, but he seems to have really thought everything out in terms of the story," says O'Connor.
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