Brian Tyler wrote half an hour’s worth of music for “The Mummy” before director Alex Kurtzman even started shooting. The “Fate of the Furious” composer was on the film for a year and a half, ultimately recording well over two hours of music (for a film that only runs 107 minutes) with an 84-piece orchestra and 32-voice choir at London’s Abbey Road.
“There was more music than they could actually put in the theatrical version,” Tyler told Variety from Paris, where he attended the premiere of the Tom Cruise film. “I scored extra themes, backstory, mythology, all sorts of things.” And in an era when so many directors demand scores that avoid memorable melody, Tyler created a score with at least half a dozen identifable themes that intertwine and develop in the classic sense of scores past. Here is an excerpt from Tyler’s exotic-sounding main theme, complete with choir:
“I don’t recall a time when I had so many completely different melodic themes in one movie, but this really called for it,” Tyler says. “Traditional themes can clarify the narrative when there are a lot of things going on.”
That sensibility also links Tyler’s score to the classic “Mummy” scores of the past, many of which also created a vague sense of ancient Egypt and utilized choir to invoke a sense of mysticism and evil. Aware of the long history of “Mummy” music dating back to the 1932 original, he says there was “definitely a nod” to James Dietrich’s brief original score, “that plodding, quarter-note cyclical theme” as Boris Karloff gazed into his pool to murder his enemies. (Listen here at one-minute mark.)
The Egyptian setting was an obvious influence, and demanded a choir singing Egyptian words and phrases “that would relate to the history,” Tyler says, just as Austrian composer Hans J. Salter wrote for “The Mummy’s Hand” in 1940. (Listen here at the 3:45 mark) Given a much bigger music budget for the 1959 Hammer Films remake, German composer Franz Reizenstein combined the Middle Eastern feel with wordless choir.
Tyler cites both Bernard Herrmann and Jerry Goldsmith as influences on his contemporary film scoring. Goldsmith scored the first film of the most recent “Mummy” trilogy in 1999, adding both mixed choir and pounding percussion.
Tyler confesses that he added a fleeting reference to Goldsmith’s score when Jenny (Annabelle Wallis) uses the Book of the Dead as a weapon in a brief scene in the new movie. That book (the original prop from the 1999 film) is a throwaway bit in the new film, although a key plot element in the earlier film.
For the new “Mummy” score, Tyler incorporated several ancient Middle Eastern musical instruments including the ney flute, the double-reed mizmar, the shaken percussion instrument sistrum, and the stringed qanun. Tyler himself played Egyptian percussion, having researched the field when he scored the desert planet Arrakis in TV’s “Children of Dune” in 2003. Tyler also visited the London set, and stars Tom Cruise and Sofia Boutella even attended Tyler’s May 2016 film-music concert at London’s Royal Festival Hall.
Tyler and director Alex Kurtzman have worked on numerous projects together over the past decade. Kurtzman says the new score “marries adventure, tragedy, yearning, mystery, horror and humor in a way that echoes all our soundtrack heroes, yet with an ear that’s uniquely his.”
Moviegoers who see “The Mummy,” which opens Friday, will notice something else about the music. After the usual Universal fanfare (composed by Goldsmith), the studio is introducing its new “Dark Universe” logo music, which will herald all of the monster movies in the new franchise. It was composed by Danny Elfman, whose own monster-movie scores include Universal’s 2010 remake of “The Wolfman.”