What constitutes a box office success? It's a difficult question that's been thrown up by Universal's new horror/action epic The Mummy, one that's flopped on the domestic circuit yet reaped massive returns internationally, despite scathing reviews. Tom Cruise stars as quasi-archaeologist/soldier/wise-ass Nick Morton whose discovery of the lost tomb of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) soon spells disaster for the entire world. With the former princess now resurrected it's not long before killer sandstorms are unleashed and the creature is looking to use Nick as a vessel for her evil. The movie is positioned as the first in Universal's planned 'Dark Universe' franchise, essentially a retooling of their classic movie monsters from the 1930s and 40s. Regardless of whether The Mummy starts things off successfully, it does have a distinguished musical pedigree in the form of Brian Tyler. The composer reunites with director Alex Kurtzmann, with whom he has collaborated on the likes of Now You See Me and the Sleepy Hollow TV series, for a rip-roaringly entertaining score that plays to both his primary strengths: thunderous action and brooding menace.
It's a score that follows in illustrious footsteps, not just those of James Dietrich for the classic 1932 original but also Jerry Goldsmith and Alan Silvestri, whose terrific scores for the tongue in cheek Brendan Fraser reboots are both career highlights. Generously listeners have been treated to a luxuriant two hour deluxe album (a standard 80 minute release is planned for later in the year), which really shows off the breadth of themes and instrumental nuances Tyler has at play.
In fact this is a score that really benefits being separated from the noisy aural gloop of the movie. The music gets somewhat lost in the film mix so a standalone listen is important, beginning with Tyler's opening quartet of suites: 'The Mummy', 'The Secret of the Mummy', 'Nick's Theme' and 'Prodigium'. These encompass, respectively, the awe-inspiring threat of Ahmanet's powers (complete with sorcerous choir), the majestic radiance of the Egyptian landscape, the brassy theme for Cruise's hero (composed by Tyler very late into production) and the somewhat mischievous mystery of the secret society headed up Russell Crowe's Dr. Henry Jekyll.
Fully orchestral and recorded in the expansive environment of Abbey Road Studios, the album begins strongly and immediately calls to mind Tyler's earlier horror score work on the likes of Frailty. The use of the duduk alongside the brass and strings (all of which were recorded together live, as opposed to separately) creates an appropriately exotic texture a la Children of Dune, although it's the inverted waltz of the Prodigium theme that lingers in the mind the most, conveying a subtle sense of the urgent fight against evil. The highlights come thick and fast with Tyler's action music pleasingly calling to mind not his synthetically enhanced Fast & Furious scores but more robustly orchestral works like Timeline and Iron Man 3: chock full of impossibly complex brass passages and racing strings that take the breath away. 'Sandstorm' and 'A Sense of Adventure' feature noble horn renditions of Nick's Theme whereas the explosive 'Concourse of the Undead' and 'Forward Momentum' hit the kind of frenetic heights the aforementioned Jerry Goldsmith would have been proud of. The rousing statements of Nick's theme in the closing duo of 'Between Life and Death' and 'The Mummy End Title Suite' mark some of Tyler's best action music in some time.
But it's not the only highlight. Ahmanet's theme gets a brilliantly mysterious workout in 'The Call of the Ancients', 'Haram' (where it builds into a stirring, propulsive rhythm), 'A Warning of Monsters' (juiced by some intriguing wind writing) and 'The Lost Tomb of Ahmanet', again leavened with the odd speciality instrument to give it a bit of Egyptian flavour. When Tyler lays on the full gothic flavour it's superb, the clanging bells and shadowy strings of 'Sepulcher' mixing Nick and Ahmanet's themes together to indicate the increasingly twisted bond that is coming between them.
Unsurprisingly it's horror that tends to dominate throughout, the aforementioned Frailty, Darkness Falls and Godsend called to mind in the violent, turbulent textures of 'She Is Risen', 'Dawn of Evil' and 'The Calling'. There's even a standalone theme for the Egyptian God 'Set', whom Ahmanet looks to invoke in order to destroy our world, another nicely sinister piece that lends further texture to the score. Towards the climax the operatic sense of choral terror really starts to ramp up as the future of the Earth hangs in the balance, 'Possession of the Knight's Tomb', 'Destiny' and 'Sentience' pitting the score's primary themes against each other in a battle to the death.
In all honesty there's very little that's new in the Mummy score: it mixes together all of Brian Tyler's familiar horror and action characteristics but does so with such brio and professionalism that it's never anything less than an enjoyable listen. Tyler is a composer uniquely positioned to bridge the power anthem bombast of the Hans Zimmer era with the richly melodic old-school Hollywood approach and this score shows off his abilities in fine style.
He's always generated attention for his trademark 'big' sound but what The Mummy also shows is that he has a strong handle on musical subtlety and instrumental understanding, a welcome reminder of his acclaimed breakout with Children of Dune. That it's recorded live also gives an enjoyably organic, earthy quality to the music quite at odds with the heavily processed, airless recordings of modern day soundtracks. Whether or not Tyler will return to future Dark Universe movies remains to be seen but the series is certainly off to a fine musical start.