The opening voice-over was originally intended to be read by Imhotep. Director Stephen Sommers later realized that Imhotep wouldn't be able to speak English, and gave the voice-over to Ardeth Bay instead.
In one scene, Beni is shown with a sackful of gold which he is trying to load onto a camel, and Beni pulls the camel by the reins but the camel doesn't budge; the camels all, for some reason, hated Kevin J. O'Connor.
In 2004, Universal Studios theme parks (Hollywood and Orlando) opened their "Revenge of the Mummy" rides based on both this movie and The Mummy Returns (2001). The rides became so popular, the lines would stretch into the main park with riders waiting for hours in the hot California or Florida sun. To alleviate the stress of waiting, when the lines would move, fans of the movie would wearily chant "Im-ho-tep. Im-ho-tep. Im-ho-tep." as the hypnotized townspeople do halfway through the movie.
When King Tutankhamen's tomb was found on November 4, 1922, the person in charge was George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon. Along with him was his daughter, Lady Evelyn Carnarvon. Rachel Weisz's character is named Evelyn Carnahan. Originally, her character was meant to be Evelyn Carnarvon. She and her brother were to be the children of the "cursed" Lord Carnarvon. The only evidence of this left in the film is in the line where Evelyn tells O'Connell that her father was a "very, very famous explorer". The Mummy novelization goes into a bit more detail on her back story.
"Imhotep" was actually the name of the architect who developed the first pyramids in ancient Egypt, most notably the Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara around 2600 BC. His ability was such that he was later said to have descended from the gods. His name means "one who comes in peace". However, as far as anyone knows, he was not a despised villain as portrayed in the movie, but much more likely revered as the architect and physician he was.
Leonardo DiCaprio was rumoured to have been offered the role of Rick O'Connell. It's believed DiCaprio was said to have loved the script and wanted to be in the film, however he had already agreed to star in The Beach (2000). It's also been said that DiCaprio asked if The Beach could be delayed so he could film The Mummy, but producers refused. Ironically, filming of The Beach was delayed anyway.
The presence of living scarabs after centuries of isolation from food sources was better explained in an early version of the script; Imhotep was cursed to live forever when some of the sacred scarabs force themselves down his throat; and by eating him, the scarabs themselves were also cursed with everlasting life.
Ardeth Bay, an anagram of Death By Ra, is the name of a sworn protector of mankind from the mummy Imhotep. However, in The Mummy (1932), Ardath Bey is the alter-ego of the mummy Imhotep (played by Boris Karloff) when he attempts to pass for a modern Egyptian (note the difference in the spelling of both names).
Brendan Fraser was cast due to the success of George of the Jungle (1997). Stephen Sommers also commented that he felt Fraser fit the Errol Flynn swashbuckling character he had envisioned perfectly. The actor understood that his character "doesn't take himself too seriously, otherwise the audience can't go on that journey with him".
When Clive Barker was attached to the project, The film was intended to be a low budget horror film. Barker's vision for the film was violent, with the story revolving around the head of a contemporary art museum who turns out to be a cultist trying to reanimate mummies. George A. Romero was brought in with a vision of a zombie-style horror movie similar to Night of the Living Dead (1968), but this was considered too scary.
The production had the official support of the Moroccan army, and the cast members had kidnapping insurance taken out on them, a fact Stephen Sommers disclosed to the cast only after shooting had finished.
In some scenes, characters who speak Arabic can be heard saying the same lines with different subtitles. This isn't as much a mistake as it is a throwback to the hero movies of old, in which foreign characters would say their lines in a different language to put up the illusion that they were speaking in said language.
The plastic dummies used as dessicated corpses in the film to represent the Mummy's victims are the same as those used in the cult 1980s sci-fi film Lifeforce (1985). One character even refers to the Mummy sucking the 'lifeforce' out of people.
To create the Mummy, John Andrew Berton Jr. used a combination of live action and computer graphics. Then, he matched the digital prosthetic make-up pieces on Arnold Vosloo's face during filming. Berton said, "When you see his film image, that's him. When he turns his head and half of his face is missing and you can see right through on to his teeth, that's really his face. And that's why it was so hard to do." Vosloo described the filming as a "whole new thing" for him; "They had to put these little red tracking lights all over my face so they could map in the special effects. A lot of the time I was walking around the set looking like a Christmas tree."
When Jonathan accidentally brings the military mummies to life and they go after O'Connell, Brendan Fraser runs across skeletons that are floating in water to get away from the mummies while making the same sort of noise that his character George makes from George of the Jungle (1997).
The locusts shown in the scene at Hamunaptra were mostly computer-generated, but a number of live grasshoppers were used for the shot; the grasshoppers were chilled in a refrigerator to make them more sluggish and easy to film.
To avoid dehydration in the scorching heat of the Sahara, the production's medical team created a drink that the cast and crew had to consume every two hours. Sandstorms were daily inconveniences. Snakes, spiders and scorpions were a major problem, with many crew members having to be airlifted out after being bitten.
Arnold Vosloo understood the approach that Stephen Sommers was going for in his screenplay, but only agreed to take on the role of Imhotep "if I could do it absolutely straight. From Imhotep's point of view, this is a skewed version of 'Romeo and Juliet'."
In the scene on the riverboat, Beni is thrown overboard and into the river by O'Connell; during filming, Kevin J. O'Connor helped Brendan Fraser to appear as though he was throwing him overboard by jumping up.
Although the American O'Connell could certainly serve in the French Foreign Legion he could not be a Lieutenant as depicted in the movie. Officers in the Legion are required to be French nationals. As an American, O'Connell would not be eligible for a commission.
A different take of Ardeth Bay's introduction scene on top of the mountain was used later in the film when O'Connell and crew are crossing the desert at night. This time, the lighting was adjusted accordingly.
Stephen Sommers toyed with the idea of opening the film with the old Universal film logo, which would dissolve into the desert sun. He'd later use that opening for Van Helsing (2004) (though the logo would turn into the flame from a torch instead).
Clive Barker's vision for the film was violent, with the story revolving around the head of a contemporary art museum who turns out to be a cultist trying to reanimate mummies. James Jacks recalls that Barker's take was "dark, sexual and filled with mysticism", and that, "it would have been a great low-budget movie". After several meetings, Barker and Universal lost interest and parted company.
Joe Dante's version would have cast Daniel Day-Lewis as the mummy. This version (co-written by John Sayles) was set in contemporary times and focused on reincarnation with elements of a love story. It came close to being made with some elements, like the flesh-eating scarabs, making it to the final product. However, at that point, the studio wanted a film with a budget of $15 million and rejected Dante's version.
Production Designer Allan Cameron found a dormant volcano near Erfoud where the entire set for Hamunaptra could be constructed. Stephen Sommers liked the location because, "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." A survey of the volcano was conducted so that an accurate model and scale models of the columns and statues could be replicated back at Shepperton Studios, where all of the scenes involving the underground passageways of the City of the Dead were shot. These sets took 16 weeks to build, and included fiberglass columns rigged with special effects for the movie's final scenes. Another large set was constructed in the United Kingdom on the dockyard at Chatham which doubled for the Giza Port on the River Nile. This set was 600 feet (183 m) in length and featured "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".
George A. Romero's version was a vision of a zombie-style horror movie similar to Night of the Living Dead (1968), but which also relied heavily upon elements of tragic romance and ambivalence of identity. Romero completed a draft in October 1994, cowritten with Alan Ormsby and John Sayles, that revolved around female archaeologist Helen Grover and her discovery in Abydos of the tomb of Imhotep, an Egyptian general who lived in the time of Ramesses II. Unfolding in a nameless American city in modern times, events are set into motion when Imhotep inadvertently awakens as a result of his preserved cadaver having been exposed to rays from an MRI scan in a high-tech forensic archaeology lab. The script then progresses to a fish-out-of-water story when Imhotep, having regained his youthful appearance, recognizes the need to adapt to a contemporary society that is three thousand years removed from the one he came from. Assuming at first that he is a representative from the Bureau of Antiquities, Helen finds herself drawn into a tentative relationship with Imhotep while also experiencing clairvoyant flashbacks to a previous life in Nineteenth Dynasty Egypt as a priestess of Isis. Summoning mystical powers through incantation, Imhotep later resurrects the mummy of Karis, a loyal slave whose body had been resting alongside his master's in the same tomb but is now held in the local museum. After escaping into the city sewer system, Karis embarks on a vengeful rampage against the various criminal fences and high society antiquarians who had acquired stolen relics from his tomb. Romero's script was considered too dark and violent by James Jacks and the studio, who wanted a more accessible picture. Compounding the issue was the fact that Romero was unable to extricate from a contract for a different film project he had in negotiation at the time with MGM, and so his involvement with the film was severed and the development of an entirely new script was commissioned to other writers.
Kevin J. O'Connor, who plays Beni, previously appeared in Law & Order: The Troubles (1991), in Law & Order's first season. That episode, like this movie, features a character named O'Connell who is generally addressed by surname only.
The scene where O'Connell saves Evelyn from the sacrificial slab was filmed with Brendan Fraser fighting against invisible mummies. He meticulously choreographed his every movement, and all mummies were later added to the shot with computer-generated imagery, matching his moves.
The location shown in the scene where Imhotep and his minions corner the protagonists was an actual entrance to a thirteenth-century graveyard in Marrakesh. In the shots of the graveyard entrance, a manhole cover was used for the surviving protagonists to escape; the manhole was constructed for the film and had a large pad inside so that the actors would land on the pad and not hurt themselves.
The lever-triggered slowly settling stone megaliths with sand pouring out like water, from which the characters must escape or be entombed alive, are based upon Howard Hawks' Land of the Pharaohs (1955), where Pharaoh Cheops's tomb is constructed to be sealed in this manner after he is placed within. Historically no such sophisticated engineering technology was ever employed.
A scene deleted from the film showed Rick, Evelyn and Jonathan crossing a field full of skeletons (belonging to Rick's fellow soldiers from the foreign legion and other fortune-seekers) before entering Hamunaptra. Another sequence that was cut occurred while Rick and Jonathan are trying to pry the chest containing the Book of Amun-Ra from the statue of Horus: suddenly, several mummies break through the floor and attack, but they quickly turn their attention to the chest. They open it and are immediately doused by pressurized acid. This scene explains why a hole in the floor suddenly appears between shots in the movie.