Home > Reviews > THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR – Randy Edelman


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The fourth film in the Mummy franchise, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, was unceremoniously ripped apart by film critics as by the far the weakest link in the franchise. The films have been getting progressively worse and worse as they made their way from The Mummy to The Mummy Returns to The Scorpion King to this film, and straight-to-DVD sequels notwithstanding, director Rob Cohen’s film looks to have finally sounded the death knell over what was once a successful set of films. Brendan Fraser returns as adventurous archaeologist Rick O’Connell, who this time finds himself in the far east in the company of his wife Evie (Maria Bello) and almost-adult son Alex (Luke Ford), crossing paths with the resurrected mummy of an ancient Chinese emperor named Han (Jet Li), whose vengeful spirit was encased – along with his vast army – inside terracotta statues by a sorceress (Michelle Yeoh).

Rob Cohen’s composer of choice is Randy Edelman – the pair have worked together previously on movies as diverse as Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, Dragonheart, Daylight and XXX – and so, he was natural choice to pick up the reins from Goldsmith, Silvestri and Debney here (that, and the fact that the film has the word ‘dragon’ in the title, which clearly secured the deal). After writing what seemed like 20 scores a year throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, Edelman went through a couple of years of not writing many film scores, and it’s nice to see him back in the saddle. Edelman’s hugely individual style of writing has endeared him to some while alienating him from others, but one thing which cannot be denied is that he is a truly original voice in the film music world. Whether you appreciate what he does it purely a matter of taste.

Against my better judgment, I actually really enjoyed Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. It’s clearly an inferior score to both Goldsmith’s original Mummy, and to Silvestri’s powerful Mummy Returns, but Edelman’s work has a sense of unprepossessing adventure, of light-hearted fun, and is completely free of any of sense of cynicism or self-parody. It’s a straight out, old-fashioned romp of a score, and makes for refreshing listening. Listeners familiar with Edelman’s music will notice a number of recognizable touches which earmark themselves as being clearly from the composer’s canon. Some of the chord progressions are clearly inspired by possibly the most popular Edelman score of all time, Dragonheart, although this is not necessarily a bad thing.

The main theme – “A Call to Adventure” – is a prototypical boy’s own melody, full of whimsy and an infectious can-do spirit. It’s clearly much lighter in tone than any of its predecessors, and completely lacking a sense of menace, but as a standalone piece it’s actually really good. It’s anchored by the familiar, wholly unique Edelman synth-strings which have dominated everything he has written from Gettysburg onwards, but unlike some of his less ambitious scores, has a much beefier orchestral sound, which is pleasing indeed, and is no doubt due to the presence of the London Symphony Orchestra before Edelman’s baton. Even the electric guitar, which joins in the fun towards the end of the cue, doesn’t seem out of place. The theme re-occurs several times throughout the score: accompanied by whooshing wind effects in “Crash and Burn”, in a more contemporary style in “Yang Follows the O’Connells”, in an action setting (and on a Wurlitzer!) in the exciting “Shanghai Chase”; as a sprightly English pastoral flute piece in “Rick’s Long Rod”; and in the rousing “Finale”.

However, where Tomb of the Dragon Emperor really shines is in its sub-themes, some of which are quite wonderful. There’s a thoroughly gorgeous romantic theme which first appears in “Silently Yearning for Centuries”, and is based around a resonant three-note cello motif which gradually rises to encompass the higher end of the string section, a softly cooing choir and ringing horns, to lovely, tingly effect. This continues on in the equally impressive “Open Wound”, in which husky-voiced throat singers and low bass chords gradually give way to mewling erhus. Anyone who has read my reviews over the years will know that I am a sucker for Chinese music played by a western orchestra, especially when authentic oriental solo instruments are added into the mix, and this is no exception. Recapitulations of the Chinese theme, in cues like “Reading the Scrolls”, “Ancient China” and “Heartbreak” are welcome.

Other moments of note include the swooping brass clusters which first appear in “The Reign of Terror”; the lovely, delicate piano motif which appears during the touching “A Family Presses Close” and later in “Love in the Himalayas” and “A Warm Rooftop”; the growling horns at the end of “Crash and Burn”; the simply gorgeous cor anglais solo in “Alex and Lin”; and the unexpected baroque dance in “Memories, Retirement and Dinner”.

Possibly the only parts of the score which seem a let down are the all-out action cues, some of which sound somewhat unfocused and chaotic, as though Edelman simply threw a jumbled mass of music together in the hope it would be exciting. Edelman has never been a great action music composer, and cues like “Entering the Tomb”, “The Emperor Versus Zi Yuan”, “Rick and Evy in Battle” and “Shielding a Son” seem just a little under-developed and simplistic. There’s also a slightly disappointing over-reliance on drum machines and synth samples to add an internal rhythm; the influence of Zimmer knows no bounds, it seems.

However, while clearly a step behind its predecessors in the franchise, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is nevertheless a fun and enjoyable action romp which, assuming one can overcome the inherent ‘cheesiness’ in the main theme, actually contains a great deal of good and worthy music. In fact (and discounting Gods and Generals, which was primarily a John Frizzell score), I’d go so far as to say that this is easily the best Edelman score in over a decade.

Rating: ***½

Track Listing:

  • A Call to Adventure (3:02)
  • Silently Yearning for Centuries (2:23)
  • Open Wound (2:05)
  • The Reign of Terror (2:48)
  • A Family Presses Close (2:38)
  • Formation of the Terra Cotta Army (3:07)
  • Reading of the Scrolls (3:54)
  • Crash and Burn (2:24)
  • Alex and Lin (1:13)
  • A New Assignment (2:53)
  • Yang Follows the O’Connells (2:53)
  • Shanghai Chase (4:50)
  • Mother and Daughter Reunion (2:01)
  • Ancient China (2:22)
  • Rick’s Long Rod (0:42)
  • Entering the Tomb (5:52)
  • Visit from a 3-Headed Friend (1:36)
  • Memories, Retirement and Dinner (2:30)
  • New Year’s Betrayal (2:23)
  • The Emperor Versus Zi Yuan (1:44)
  • Love in the Himalayas (2:10)
  • 2nd Century BC (1:09)
  • The Museum Becomes Alive! (1:41)
  • Rick and Evy In Battle (2:40)
  • A Warm Rooftop (1:21)
  • Heartbreak (2:38)
  • Return of the Dragon (2:47)
  • Shielding a Son (2:30)
  • Finale (3:25)
  • My Sweet Eternal Love (performed by Helen Feng) (2:53)

Running Time: 77 minutes 46 seconds

Varese Sarabande VSD-6916 (2008)

Music composed and conducted by Randy Edelman. Performed by The London Symphony Orchestra. Orchestrations by Randy Edelman, Ben Foster, Matt Dunkley and Nick Ingman. Recorded and mixed by Elton Ahi. Album produced by Randy Edelman.

  1. Hardy M
    December 9, 2011 at 11:38 pm

    My Sweet Eternal Love a really top list song, with strange lyrics. “My sweet eternal love, my sweet infernal love (?). Some say it’s a love song to that universe’s biggest fool, luci-fuhr, but better is that it’s about the otherworldlisness of romantic love. Helen Feng’s voice rings perfect for this piece. I also love the erhu, and its blending with the soundtrack … I only wish a full rendition of MSWL with erhu had been included.

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