Overflowing with state-of-the-art special effects, exotic Moroccan locations, swashbuckling by Brendan Fraser, and more rats, locusts, and scarabs than Cher has comebacks, ''The Mummy'' is nothing if not epic in its proportions. So it may be hard to believe that the movie was originally set to unravel as a low-budget horror movie shot for between $12-15 million in Vancouver. According to producer James Jacks, there was one big problem in the way of that initial plan: ''We could never get the budget low enough to make the studio happy and still have the special effects we needed.''
That didn't stop Jacks and his partner, Sean Daniel, from giving it their best shot during seven years of development hell. They hired writers like John Sayles (''Lone Star'') and Kevin Jarre (''Glory'') to churn out some creative (read: cheap) takes on the legendary character, ranging from gore period pieces to modern-day mummy tales. ''The scripts were quite good,'' says Jacks.
Of course, good is in the eye of the beholder. ''I read John Sayles' script, and it's really interesting,'' says ''The Mummy'' writer-director Stephen Sommers. ''You can tell somebody at the studio probably said, 'Hey, we want a contemporary ''Mummy!,'' because his script takes place in Los Angeles during the 1990s, with the mummy walking down Melrose Boulevard, hanging out in Venice Beach. It wasn't bad, it just wasn't a 'Mummy' movie.''
So how exactly did a cheesy low-budget horror flick become a summer blockbuster with a hefty $80 million price tag? A changing of the guard at Universal (following the ignominious failure of ''Babe: A Pig in the City'') led to a renewed interest in reviving the funky old monsters the studio made famous in the '30s. ''The new group was more willing to go with a somewhat more inflated budget,'' explains Jacks. So when Sommers walked in with visions of Egypt dancing in his head, Jacks and Daniel happily scrapped their mummy-