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THE MUMMY – Brian Tyler

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The Mummy is the first film in Universal Pictures’s series of new interlocking ‘Dark Universe’ films based on their roster of classic monsters. Tom Cruise stars as Nick Morton, an officer in the United States Army who moonlights as a treasure hunter. While on assignment in Iraq with his partner, Chris Vail, Nick accidentally unearths an ancient tomb containing a sarcophagus, inside of which are the mummified remains of an Egyptian princess. With the help of archeologist Jennifer Halsey, Nick determines that the princess in question is Ahmanet, who murdered her father, the Pharaoh, as part of a ritual intended to give the Egyptian god of death human form, and was buried alive as punishment. Finally freed from her prison after two thousand years, Ahmanet returns to life and unleashes her revenge upon the world; the only things standing in her way are Nick and his allies, and a mysterious organization called the Prodigium, a secret society dedicated to hunting supernatural threats, whose leader is the equally mysterious Dr. Henry Jekyll.

The Mummy is directed by Alex Kurtzman, has an excellent cast of co-stars including Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson, and Russell Crowe, and was a decent commercial success (its worldwide opening of $172.4 million was the biggest global debut of Tom Cruise’s career). Unfortunately, it was a critical disaster; reviewers variously called the film ‘incoherent,’ ‘derivative and unnecessary,’ and ‘basically a mess,’ all of which drops a cloud over the Dark Universe’s future installments, which are intended to encompass movies based on Frankenstein, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the Invisible Man, among others. It’s true that the film steals plot elements liberally from other movies – the two I noticed most prominently were An American Werewolf in London and Lifeforce – but personally I felt that the film had a fun, campy charm, and I enjoyed it a great deal.

Possibly the only person to emerge from The Mummy with his reputation solely intact is composer Brian Tyler, whose score for the film is a knockout. Tyler’s early career was peppered with excellent horror scores – things like Terror Tract, Frailty, and especially Darkness Falls – but it’s been several years since he let fly in this genre, one of the few remaining places where composers can really go for broke with a big orchestra, big themes, and big ideas.

As a student of film music history, Tyler was also very aware and respectful of the story’s rich musical past: as he related to Jon Burlingame for an interview in Variety, his score features intentional echoes of James Dietrich’s score for the original 1932 Boris Karloff film, as well as Hans Salter’s choral writing for the 1940 film The Mummy’s Hand, the Middle Eastern inflections in Franz Reisenstein’s score for the 1959 Hammer Films remake, and even Jerry Goldsmith’s magnificent score for the 1999 version. The resulting score is a big, bold, thematic powerhouse, featuring a large orchestra, a large mixed voice choir, and numerous specialist Middle Eastern musical instruments including a ney flute, a double-reeded mizmar Egyptian oboe, a shaken percussion instrument called a sistrum, and a type of zither called a qanun.

The score is built mostly around two recurring main themes, one for Nick and one for Ahmanet. Ahmanet’s theme is probably the most memorable and recognizable of the two, and is given its first major workout in the opening cue, “The Mummy”. A rising five-note motif for the entire orchestra, Ahmanet’s theme is at once exotic, romantic, imposing, and terrifying, somehow managing to convey all these conflicting emotions simultaneously, depending on the textures used to perform it. The light, lyrical flute version has a tender core that even conveys a hint of tragedy, while the more explosive version for brass and choir has an immense scale worthy of such a powerful monster. Tyler’s arrangement of the theme is magnificent; some of the brass writing, especially for the trombones down at the lower end of the mix, is astonishing, while the string flurries that lead into the final performance around the 4:00 mark are full of dread anticipation.

As one would expect given her dominant presence throughout the film, Ahmanet’s theme is the score’s main driving force, but to Tyler’s credit he finds ways to continually alter it to give the character depth, ensuring she’s not just a one-dimensional villain. In “Egypt’s Next Great Queen,” for example, her theme has a passionate lyricism, even a touch of poignancy, allowing her back story of betrayal, love, and murder, to be that much more tragic. Later, in She Is Risen,” her theme has a sense of power and simmering anger that is palpable. The choral variation of the theme in “Power and Temptation” is enticing, seductive, almost sexy, clearly conveying the magnetic power Ahmanet has over others.

“Nick’s Theme,” on the other hand, is more traditionally adventurous, a recurring 8-note theme which is used both as an anthem for that specific character, and as a sort of noble call to arms for the combined forces of good, including Jennifer and Vail. Superficially the theme appears to have the same rascally devil-may-care attitude of something like the Raiders March, but in reality it has more dark spots than that, coming across as more of a theme for an anti-hero. Subsequent performances of the theme in cues like the strong and purposeful “A Sense of Adventure,” “Haram,” the pseudo-romantic “Providence,” the foreboding-filled “She Is Risen,” and the fulsome finale “Between Life and Death” are quite excellent. My personal favorite, however, is the show-stopping “Liberators of Precious Antiquities,” which presents Nick’s theme with an almost John Williams-esque spirit full of flashy string runs and daring brass triplets.

“The Prodigium” itself also has its own musical identity, an exotic, vaguely threatening, but purposeful march that first appears in the cue of the same name, and which tends to showcase lighter plucked instruments underpinned by mysterious textures for woodwinds and chorus. Their theme crops up again in several places, notably the creepy “World of Monsters” cue, alluding to their hidden presence throughout the story, and their importance to the entire Dark Universe going forward.

These three main themes often combine in the score’s plentiful action sequences, ensuring that the central conflict is conveyed aurally through the different musical identities. Overall, Tyler’s action writing is deeply impressive, making use of the full orchestra at all times; the resulting music is always interesting and engaging, with complicated passages of rhythmic intensity, intelligent interplay between different sections of the ensemble, and more that a few moments of musical exhibitionism – Tyler regularly seasons his score with little flourishes and touches which keep the music entertaining. The second half of “The Secret of the Mummy” is exciting and propulsive, with tumultuous throbbing percussion underpinning the orchestral lines. “Sandstorm” throbs with enormous musical forces, a battering ram of orchestral and choral intensity. The finale of “The Call of the Ancients” is an explosion of breathless energy. “The Sand of Wrath” is immense, almost apocalyptic, blending statements of Ahmanet’s theme with exotic percussion and trilling brasses.

The way the two main themes play off each other, in cues like the thrilling “Concourse of the Undead” or the relentless “Sepulcher,” is outstanding. “Chaos, Mayhem, Destruction” is an unstoppable onslaught of aggression, featuring some notably impressionistic and vivid moments of brass dissonance, possibly courtesy of orchestrator Robert Elhai who is famous for that sort of thing. “Forward Momentum” is exactly what it sounds like it should be, a fiesta of scintillating rhythms and lithe movement, especially from the string section. Tyler isn’t shy of heading deep into pure horror music territory either; cues like “Inquest,” “The Calling,” and “Possession of the Knight’s Tomb” contain some brutally harsh and guttural orchestral effects designed expressly to unnerve, while cues like “Set” feature a collection of squeaking string figures, brass clusters, and percussion slams which make that character’s malevolent intentions more than clear.

Elsewhere, cues like the aforementioned “The Secret of the Mummy” feature those iconic Egyptian scales and chord progressions that immediately conjure up mental imagery of majestic desert vistas. I don’t have the technical vocabulary to explain exactly what it is about this music that sounds like Ancient Egypt – we don’t even know what sort of music they actually had at that time – and in truth most of it is probably down to pre-conditioning, stemming from decades of being told that this is what Egyptian music sounds like, but whatever the case may be, I still think it’s wonderful. These little inflections and touches continue throughout, giving the score a sense of place and history.

One other thing worth mentioning is that, with just a couple of small exceptions (like the effects in parts of “Unstoppable” and “Dawn of Evil”) the entire score is live and acoustic. Considering the fact that hybrid orchestral-electronic scores are the Hollywood norm these days, the fact that Tyler intentionally chose to go ‘old school’ and rely on traditional techniques and live musicians to bring this score to life is worthy of special acknowledgement and praise. Hearing actual, live human beings performing music, tiny imperfections and all, is for me a major part of what makes film music such a personal experience – their artistry and technique is as much a part of the final work as the composer’s skill in writing the music, or the conductor’s skill in coaxing the best out of the ensemble.

The soundtrack album for The Mummy is slightly unusual; at the time of writing the only available release is the download-only ‘deluxe edition,’ which contains 36 cues and runs for an eye-watering 125 minutes (which is longer than the film itself), although a shorter physical CD release is scheduled for later in the year, and will inevitably max out at a mere 80 minutes. Brian Tyler has always been a generous soundtrack producer, packing his albums to the brim with as much music as possible and usually front-loading them with all the best thematic pieces; occasionally, this results in albums which are simply too overwhelming, and in need of a little pruning to cut away some of the less vital pieces. Amazingly, the two-hour version of The Mummy doesn’t appear to suffer from these issues in the slightest. The music is so entertaining, and so skilful, that the two hours just fly by in an instant, with little to no dead air to be found anywhere. That Tyler was able to maintain this level of interest in me for so long is a feat indeed, and bodes well for the score’s overall replay value.

I sincerely hope that the lack of critical appreciation for The Mummy doesn’t derail the entire Dark Universe project, because the potential for musical excellence through this series is great. Brian Tyler has set the bar high with his score for this film, and the composers for the subsequent entries – whether it be Tyler, or someone else – will have plenty to live up to. Although I acknowledge that scores like Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were all a ton of fun, and although Truth was probably his best serious drama score in some time, I feel that The Mummy is probably Tyler’s best ‘popcorn’ score in half a decade or more. It’s got themes, it’s got blazing action, it’s got a full orchestra and choir, and it overflows with creativity. Really, what more could you want?

Buy the Mummy soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • The Mummy (4:30)
  • The Secret of the Mummy (4:42)
  • Nick’s Theme (2:05)
  • Prodigium (2:51)
  • Egypt’s Next Great Queen (3:23)
  • Sandstorm (1:13)
  • The Call of the Ancients (3:34)
  • A Sense of Adventure (2:41)
  • Haram (4:25)
  • A Warning of Monsters (6:08)
  • The Lost Tomb of Ahmanet (2:35)
  • Providence (1:59)
  • The Sand of Wrath (2:44)
  • Enchantments (1:06)
  • Concourse of the Undead (5:01)
  • World of Monsters (2:34)
  • She Is Risen (4:04)
  • Chaos, Mayhem, Destruction (4:43)
  • Sanction of the Gods (3:07)
  • Unstoppable (4:15)
  • Beyond Evil (2:14)
  • Power and Temptation (1:29)
  • Inquest (1:37)
  • Forward Momentum (3:46)
  • Set (3:26)
  • Pathogen of Evil (2:04)
  • Liberators of Precious Antiquities (1:49)
  • Dawn of Evil (4:02)
  • Sepulcher (4:44)
  • Iniquity (2:13)
  • The Calling (2:36)
  • Possession of the Knight’s Tomb (2:43)
  • Destiny (8:22)
  • Sentience (3:19)
  • Between Life and Death (2:24)
  • The Mummy End Title Suite (10:14)

Running Time: 124 minutes 43 seconds

Back Lot Records (2017)

Music composed by Brian Tyler. Conducted by Brian Tyler and Allan Wilson . Perfomed by The London Philharmonia Orchestra and the Pinewood Singers. Orchestrations by Dana Niu, Robert Elhai, Brad Warnaar, Andrew Kinney, Jeff Toyne, Rossano Galante, Larry Rench, M. R. Miller, Emily Rice and Breton Vivian. Recorded and mixed by Greg Hayes, Simon Rhodes, Frank Wolf and Brian Tyler. Edited by Joe Lisanti and Erich Stratmann. Album produced by Brian Tyler.

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  1. Travis
    June 20, 2017 at 9:30 pm

    Thanks for the review.

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