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June 2001Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

index page/ monthly listings /June01/

The Mummy Returns  
  OST: the composer conducting the Sinfonia of London and Chorus; orchestrations by Mark McKenzie, David Slonaker and William Ross
  DECCA 013 983-2   [73:36 - includes the song 'Forever May Not Be Enough' by Live]

The Mummy Returns

Jerry Goldsmith has spent his career in John Williams' shadow, scoring Star Trek movies while Williams has the Star Wars sequence, Supergirl (1984) against Superman (1978), King Solomon's Mines (1985) against Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981); penning the music for those features Steven Spielberg thought only important enough to executively produce, such as Poltergeist (1982), against those Spielberg directed, which always go to Williams. So when Goldsmith scored Stephen Sommer's The Mummy (1999), and delivered one of the best action adventure scores of his career, it looked as if once again he was in Williams shadow, the film clearly being 'inspired' by the Indiana Jones trilogy. Except that The Mummy was the best Indiana Jones movie Steven Spielberg and George Lucas never made. Far better than any of the three they did, and coming out at the same time as The Phantom Menace (1999) delivered all the pulp comic-strip thrills, fun and adventure Lucas forgot to include in his return to the Star Wars saga.

Having scored Sommer's film previous to The Mummy, 1998's Deep Rising, Goldsmith declined to continue the association for The Mummy Returns. Which is a shame because it deprives the sequel of an essential element of continuity. It is likely that 99.9% of the popcorn audience the film is aimed at will neither notice nor care, but for those of us who do, musical continuity helps a film series enormously. However, as a replacement composer Alan Silvestri has delivered a score far better than one could ever have hoped for. It is only to be regretted that he has not, for whatever reasons, been able to incorporate Goldsmith's themes into his music.

Silvestri has had a lot of experience on fantasy and science-fictional blockbusters, his work including Predator (1987) and The Abyss (1989), and the entire Back to the Future trilogy (1984-89) for Spielberg protégé Robert Zemeckis. The Mummy Returns is in every aspect a Spielberg-Lucas-Zemeckis pulp adventure clone. This is pastiche. Silvestri knows it, and has pulled out all the stops. Play this music to many people and they would identify it as the work of John Williams. Many familiar Williams devices are present. There are moments which sound as if they come from a Star Wars movie, an Indiana Jones movie, The Fury (1978), Dracula (1979) (try the wildly skittering flutes which open the second track, 'Scorpion Shoes'. Which in a way is perfectly fine, for this is parody perfectly appropriate to the tongue-in-cheek post-modern approach of the film itself. Just as the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies were homages to a cinema long gone by, so are Sommer's Mummy films, referencing not just Lucas and Spielberg's inspirations, but their own homages and such additional fare as the stop-motion animation masterworks of Ray Harryhausen, gloriously scored by the likes of Bernard Herrmann (Jason and the Argonauts (1963) and Miklós Rózsa (The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974)). And there is indeed an element of Miklós Rózsa's rich harmonic writing and shatteringly combative percussion in several cues, for Rózsa was surely the ultimate master of the widescreen desert adventure score, painting epic aural canvases for Ben-Hur (1959), King of Kings (1961) and El Cid (1961), films whose visual sweep appear to have created in Sommer's a desire to return a sheer vastness to a cinema all to often lacking that quality in the era of tiny multiplex screens.

So we have pastiche. But it is for the most part glorious pastiche. A thrilling, exhilarating and very, very loud rollercoaster ride which will delight those who grew-up collecting John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith albums in the later half of the 70's. There is a lot of music - almost 70 minutes of score. Unlike most modern orchestral action film music, there is nothing perfunctory. Much of the writing may follow the action 'Mickey Mouse' fashion, but it is almost exhaustingly densely written and orchestrated. This is a rich and intense piece of work, performed by a huge orchestra with a vast amount of attention to detail. And happily Silvestri gets really fiery performances out of the Sinfonia of London.

So complex is the fabric of the score, and so bludgeoning is the initial impact, that it takes some time to really appreciate just how much is going on, what riches there are to be explored. Cacophony this may be, but far from the random percussive noise of lesser action scores, this is joyfully organised sound and fury. It may be best first time to go straight to track six, 'Evy Kidnapped' which introduces a big, soaring Indiana Jonesque march as a means of approaching the music. There are other tunes, but there are not immediately obvious; a desert melody, a lush love theme. Primarily, action and adventure dominate.

Now here is an irony. The Mummy had a great big and rather splendid end title, and though the music was edited together from various parts of the score, it still worked very well. No horridly anachronistic pop song besmirched the end of The Mummy. Unfortunately the end title didn't appear on the corresponding soundtrack album, apparently because of the very fact that it was edited together from material already on the disc. Its absence left the album with a dying fall. Perhaps someone noticed and decided to do something about it, for on the album for The Mummy Returns we have what is a default end title, a veritable suite which could also serve as seven-and-a-half-minute overture. And the irony? It doesn't completely accompany the end title of the film. Part of it does, but it is rudely interrupted by goth-rock ballad 'Forever May Not be Long Enough' performed by a band called Live, written by Ed Kowalczyk and Glen Ballard. At least when James Horner ruins the end title of a film he co-writes the song himself and incorporates the main theme from the score into the song, thus maintaining some of continuity. Live's song has nothing to do with Silvestri's score. The solution is to stop one track before the end and pretend the album only goes up to 18.

Otherwise this is a terrific CD, filled with exciting set-pieces and delivered with really forceful and dynamic sound, like a modern reincarnation of 1950's studio recording. It may take a few plays to really begin to get to grips with all that is going on. It may disappoint initially. It may be too relentlessly noisy to play all at once without getting a headache. But wait until the house is empty then see if your amplifier goes all the way up to 11. All but the most sober and serious should have a great time.

Gary S. Dalkin


Ian Lace is not so sure:-

As a listening experience this is a big disappointment from a major screen music writing talent such as Silvestri. (Granted it does its job in the theatre underscoring the juvenile non-stop action and frenetic pace of the film.) We have paraded practically every bombastic and Egyptian/Arabian cliché in the book stretching back to the sort of material that accompanied the adventure films that thrilled me in the Saturday morning cinema clubs of my youth more years ago than I would care to admit. I could detect not one memorable theme, not one really original idea beyond some imaginatively harmonised percussion passages. My attention continuously wandered, that is when my ears were not bludgeoned by the large orchestra going practically at full blast for most of the 73+ minutes of this exhausting album. Definitely a case of it would have been better if -- 'Jerry Goldsmith Returns!'

Ian Lace


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