As if there weren’t enough cinematic universes soon to be developed, Universal Studios jumped upon the popular train of establishing new franchises by creating the series of “Dark Universe” films focussing on the studio’s classic monsters such as Frankenstein, Dracula and, last but not least, “The Mummy”, with the latter becoming the first entry in the soon-to-be expanding list.
Telling the story of the mummified Egyptian princess Ahmanet returning to life and unleashing her immense power upon the world after US army officer Nick Morton, whose task it is now to fight and defeat her, having unincidentally unearthed her ancient tomb, the film – directed by Alex Kurtzman and featuring a high profile cast including the acting talents of crowd-puller Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, and Russell Crow – turned out to be a massive misstep, both financially and with regard to the film critics branche. It is yet to be seen how this development will affect future installments in Universal Pictures’s ambitious plan to set up their “Dark Universe”.
Of similiar controversy, but simultaneously far better reviewed, is the film’s musical score composed by action veteran Brian Tyler who, over the past years, has established himself as Hollywood’s go-to composer on almost every large-scale adventure movie, his fast-growing filmography encompassing the “Fast and the Furious” franchise as well as various entries into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Usually being praised for celeverly combining technical versatility with high quality entertainment, the composer’s recent works, this year’s “xXx: The Return of Xander Cage” and the “Power Rangers” reboot come to mind, have been quite underwhelming, especially given Tyler’s enormous talent. His subscription of fairly standard yet enormously successful blockbuster movies has led to him writing the same score all over and over again with no particularly noticeable change in style and his scores slowly becoming model examples of generic action scoring. Luckily, “The Mummy”, despite keeping that modern Hollywood touch, marks a welcoming return to old form: Being aware of the series’s rich musical legacy – Jerry Goldsmith’s ghost sends his nicest greetings possible -, Tyler stays true to the immense force of a large orchestra, combined with massive choir work, as well as various specialist Middle Eastern instruments – including the ney flute, the double-reed mizmar, the shaken percussion instrument sistrum, and Egyptian percussion, played by Tyler himself, having researched the field when he scored the desert planet Arrakis in TV’s “Children of Dune” in 2003 – and ultimately succeeds in delivering a powerhouse of a modern action score.
Without any doubt, the music’s greatest strength is its multi-layered, well-structured thematic work. Prior to the movie’s release, the composer stated that he wanted to create a fairly traditional orchestral score with themes clarifying both the film’s and the score’s narrative. Having already written half an hour of music before the cast and crew even started shooting, the motivated Tyler scored extra themes, motifs, backstory and mythology, admitting “I don’t recall a time when I had so many completely different melodic themes in one movie, but this really called for it.”
Being built upon three main identities and several minor motifs, Ahmanet’s theme, the most frequently used one, proves to be the heartbeat of Tyler’s entire composition. Musically illustrating the mummified Egyptian princess, the composer creates a rising five-note melody menacingly anticipating the antagonist’s resurrection and the nameless evil she is about to bring over Nick and his companions. Its variability, the way Tyler utilizes and changes its nature, largely helps adding depth to the on-screen action and her character in general by not only focussing on her being the story’s main anatagonist but by simultaneously accentuating her tragic backstory. As such, the composer sometimes uses the five-note melody in an almost lyrical, romantic variation, cleverly contrasting it from the theme’s usual nature.
Meanwhile, Nick’s theme, a rousing 8-note melody, both representing the character and the concept of fighting evil to save the good in general, comes along with a classic adventure vibe in the best way possible. Often performed by noble brass, it has a sense of reckless bravery and unrestrained optimism to it that is utterly captivating every time it gets played, perfectly capturing the protagonist’s heroics. Rounding out the main thematic palette is a motif associated with the mysterious organisation called “Prodigium”, first introduced in the same-titled cue, whose aim it is to hunt supernatural threats, led by the remarkable Dr. Jekyll. Plucked harp, underpinned by dark woodwinds and menacing choir, develop into a very rhythmic-driven main melody full of brooding anticipation.
The album opens with “The Mummy”, a four-minute cue presenting the score’s central idea, Ahmanet’s theme, in several different variations to ensure its memorability. It’s far more subtle use in “The Secret of the Mummy” is cleverly contrasted with the pounding action scoring that is going to follow, with occasional phrases of Tyler’s theme thrown in the mix, while the subsequent “Nick’s Theme” and “Prodigium”, both of them suites, introduce the remaining set of the composer’s main themes.
“Egypt’s Next Great Queen” and “Sandstorm” bring some quite different takes upon Ahmanet’s theme: While the former expands on her backstory, delivering highly lyrical, almost romantic orchestral writing, alternating with a few creepy string statements, the latter delves deep into the action/horror territory Tyler is famous for, featuring a percussion-heavy iteration that is accentuated by apocalyptic choir work. The orchestra calms down in the subsequent “The Call of the Ancients”, a cue largely dominated by warm string work, which, at the end, explodes into an Egyptian-favoured massive orchestra-and-choir action motif leading over to the rousing “A Sense of Adventure”, an impressive take on Nick’s theme whose stellar brass writing sparkles with sheer enthusiasm and energy. The lovely woodwinds flourishes accompanying the theme in “Haram” are absolutely wonderful, adding another layer to the wide range of orchestration.
The triple of “A Warning of Monsters”, the religiously tinged “The Lost Tomb of Ahmanet” and “Providence”, which features a romantic rendition of Nick’s theme, bring more subtlety to the music, characterizing the calm before the coming storm, further continued in “Enchantments”, until both “The Sand of Wrath” and “Concourse of the Undead” burst with exhilarating action writing. While the former expands on the previously heard choir material, the latter features a highly entertaining, rhythmic-driven version of Nick’s theme. But before the composer gives free rein to his action instincts, he, anticipated by the Prodigium theme quite fittingly heard in “World of Monsters”, explores some horror territory in the 4-minute “She Is Risen”, containing some familiar yet deeply angst-inducing string textures.
From now on, the action takes center stage, starting with the aggressive “Chaos, Mayhem, Destruction”. Integrating some highly expressionistic choir and brass writing, cues such as “Forward Momentum”, probably the score’s most complex action cue involving a incredibly fast-paced workout for the string section, and “Liberators of Precious Antiquites”, anchored by a return of Nick’s theme, Tyler shows off all his compositional skills while simultaneously never ignoring to play around with his previously established thematic material and, therefore, strengthening the film’s musical narrative. Same goes for the score’s horror cues, thrown in between the gigantic action, during which the composer shows no fear of creating some truly unpleasant, brutal orchestral sounds to build up tension and fully illustrate the supernatural threat the malevolent Ahmanet presents for mankind. “Possession of the Knight Tomb” successfully continues that trend and leads over to the 8-minute “Destiny”. Opening with cryptic choir and obscure woodwind passages, the cue develops into an epic set piece involving outstanding brass writing that, at the end, culminates into a yearning, choir-laden performance of Ahmanet’s theme unlike everything Tyler’s done with his theme before. “Sentience” and the subsequent “Between Life and Death” resonate with a more reflective tone, the latter featuring a soaring rendition of Nick’s theme before unleashing an unashamedly heroic, spectacular variation bursting with excitement for and anticipation of adventures still to come.
The composer still saves the best for the very last: Rounding out the score album is the conclusive 10-minute “The Mummy End Title Suite” in which Tyler revisits his previously established thematic material in a standout concert arrangement. Starting off with Ahmanet’s menacing melody, the sweeping “Ancient Egypt” variation leads over to Nick’s rousing heroic main identity. Apocalyptic choir and heavy brass end the movie on a propulsive high point.
As such, “The Mummy” proves to be Tyler’s most consistently enjoyable score in quite a while, for the composer manages to craft a truly powerful, fairly traditional orchestral soundscape featuring multiple memorable thematic identities assembled into a highly entertaining listening experience. Tyler himself has always been somewhat generous with his album cuts, with scores running under the one-hour mark being the exception rather than the general norm. Still, it is true that the overlong 124-minute release, being even longer than the movie it accompanies itself, despite its engaging nature, sometimes drags, mainly because of the mostly uninteresting suspense writing and the score’s overwhelming nature. Do yourself a favour and, if you have the time, compile your own track list by eliminating some of the redundant material hidden in the otherwise strong narrative.
This should not diminish the fact that, for the longest time, “The Mummy” is as much fun as it is technically impressive, remaining a well-crafted effort even over its full two-hour length, while simultaneously marking a return to old form for the composer. It seems, as by now, that Universal’s monsters, musically tamed by a Brian Tyler at the top of his game, certainly are in good hands.
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. Album produced by Brian Tyler.
1. The Mummy (4:29)
2. The Secret of the Mummy (4:41)
3. Nick’s Theme (2:04)
4. Prodigium (2:51)
5. Egypt’s Next Great Queen (3:23)
6. Sandstorm (1:12)
7. The Call of the Ancients (3:34)
8. A Sense of Adventure (2:40)
9. Haram (4:25)
10. A Warning of Monsters (6:07)
11. The Lost Tomb of Ahmanet (2:35)
12. Providence (1:59)
13. The Sand of Wrath (2:43)
14. Enchantments (1:06)
15. Concourse of the Undead (5:00)
16. World of Monsters (2:33)
17. She is Risen (4:04)
18. Chaos, Mayhem, Destruction (4:43)
19. Sanction of the Gods (3:07)
20. Unstoppable (4:15)
21. Beyond Evil (2:14)
22. Power and Temptation (1:29)
23. Inquest (1:36)
24. Forward Momentum (3:46)
25. Set (3:25)
25. Pathogen of Evil (2:04)
27. Liberators of Precious Antiquities (1:48)
28. Dawn of Evil (4:02)
29. Sepulcher (4:43)
30. Iniquity (2:12)
31. The Calling (2:35)
32. Possession of the Knight’s Tomb (2:43)
33. Destiny (8:22)
34. Sentience (3:19)
35. Between Life and Death (2:23)
36. The Mummy End Title Suite (10:13)
Album available on Back Lot Music.