No expense has been spared to make the film look good. The production values are top-notch lavish photography and sets, a lush score. Magnificent use is made of real Egyptian locations and there are some extraordinarily convincing recreations of the tomb and antiquities. The degree of authenticity is fortified by the impressive list of museums, universities and Egyptian ministries that the film credits for their help notedly these appear even before the films title or names of the stars. The Awakening feels like this is the first real mummy film indeed, it probably is the first mummy film to actually be shot in Egypt.
The plot, to anyone who has seen any mummy films, holds no particular surprises in terms of working out that Kara will reincarnate in the body of Stephanie Zimbalist. The fact that this is construed as the plots big surprise despite an inordinate number of clues dropped throughout is a big anti-climax. The film feels structured wrong as a story most mummy films get this possession aspect out of the way early in the piece rather than at the climax. Nevertheless, the film bides the time in between well. The Omen-esque showcase deaths a victim hung by a winch rope, Ian McDiarmid impaled on a syringe, Susannah York thrown out of a window and then a shard of glass dropped on her neck seem routinely contrived. However, Mike Newells direction holds a number of effective shock images of the sleeping Charlton Heston being dragged along the floor toward his safe by the manacled safe key on his wrist; a momentary image in the mirror where half of Stephanie Zimbalists face seems a mummified map of wrinkled scars. The opening where the amplified sledgehammer blows of Charlton Heston breaking into the tomb are crosscut with Jill Townsends labour pains and the opening of the sarcophagus with the babys first breath of life, is a remarkable sequence one that not only makes a marked connection between the birth of the child and the reincarnation of Queen Kara but which also draws contrast between Hestons abandonment of his wife over his obsession with Kara.
Elsewhere, Mike Newell fails to quite develop the sexual element lurking underneath, nor the hints of incest and patricide that seem to be doomed to be replayed. The Awakening a decent little film though if it has any of the faults it is accused of, it is sedate in pace and perhaps a little distant. Charlton Hestons rather remote delivery is perfect for the role of the absent-minded academic that the film requires, although does not exactly make for sympathetic viewing.
Mike Newell went onto become a highly respected director in the British film industry, making films such as Enchanted April (1992), the enormously popular Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), An Awfully Big Adventure (1995), Donnie Brasco (1997) and Pushing Tin (1999). He has dabbled in genre material on a number of occasions including Bad Blood (1982) about a true-life New Zealand mass murderer; Into the West (1992), a work of Irish magical realism; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005); and the videogame Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010).