CD Review: Mummy 3 and Mongol

Composers: Randy Edelman / Tuomas Kantelinen
Label: Varese Sarabande
Suggested Retail Prices: $13.99
Grade: B / A

When the respective Asian warlords Gengis Khan and the The First Emperor of China set out to conquer the world, little did they imagine that Hollywood filmmakers, let alone white composers, would be singing their fearsome praises- one with the sword, and the other with a mostly gentle brush. But this is indeed the case with the soundtracks for the latest MUMMY film, and indie MONGOL, an example of how the more subtle musical weapon proves to be the mightiest at invading the listener’s imagination, and paying tribute to the awesome power of their subjects.

THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR (or MUMMY 3 for short) marks the sixth collaboration between director Rob Cohen and composer Randy Edelman after such action-packed works as XXX, DRAGONHEART, DAYLIGHT and THE SKULLS. But if there’s one work that this spectacular draws its inspiration from, then it’s DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY. It’s arguably the best film and score to come from either man, an emotional and adventurous quest between melodic East and West whose title theme seems eternally attached to every other film trailer. DRAGON EMPEROR takes much the same approach- understandably minus most of the subtlety. After all, we’re dealing with a barrage of special effects here instead of a spiritual warrior. And with the music buried deeper in the film’s sound mix than its Oriental Imhotep, listening to the 70 minutes on this soundtrack is the best way to appreciate the effort that Edelman’s put into his massive score.

DRAGON EMPEROR has mostly everything you’d expect from a soundtrack of this type, frenetically lush action stylings, an arsenal of Asian instruments and big adventurous themes. It’s all well and good, but the real problem is that it all doesn’t seem like “mummy” music- a bigger problem that afflicts the movie as a whole. In the previous sagas’ entries, Jerry Goldsmith and Alan Silvestri set a tone of monstrous adventure, a blend that captured both the fun and chills that director Stephen Sommers was after. But while the past scores immediately struck a happy, memorable medium between the RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK vibe and classic Universal horror music, this DRAGON EMPEROR somehow lacks their instantly memorable impact.

Probably the best way to enjoy both film and score is not to even think of this as MUMMY stuff at all, but rather a sweeping martial arts epic that just happens to have monsters and Brendan Fraser in it. Beginning with a rousing theme that recalls no genre so much as a western about a raft fording the Colorado River, Edelman unleashes all manner of massive action set pieces with a symphonic flair that easily meshes with his Asian music. The Emperor’s theme has big brass balls, percussion thunders with the feet of 1000 Terra Cotta warriors, a horn trumpets valiantly, and a galloping motif never makes us doubt the good guys will take Jet Li down. Yet there’s a curious lightness to the symphonic sound here. And when what seems to be a Casio organ shows up during a Shanghai street chase, you wonder if the score’s truly gone bonkers.

But as enjoyably action-vanilla as this thunderous music is, it’s this EMPEROR’s more intimate moments that really make the album shine. As he’s more than proven in such scores as COME SEE THE PARADISE, THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS and the delightful 27 DRESSES, Randy Edelman can write instantly memorable romance like no one’s business. And sure enough there’s got to be some girly moments he can put that talent to amidst the MUMMY’s chaos. Indeed, Edelman’s gorgeous love theme and beautifully emotional scoring depicts a Buddhist yearning and Victorian nostalgia that seem to come from another score altogether. Yet it’s these moments when you get to step in this MUMMY’s calmer Zen streams where the score casts its true magic, let- alone the mythic qualities that get a bit de rigueur once the swords start swinging, and the decaying warriors begin to march under the Emperor’s command.

While it may also have a warrior cast of hundreds, Finnish Composer Tuomas Kantelinen tells the story of the ultimate MONGOL with far less flair, a stirringly appropriate way to go for this realistic look at Asia’s most revered god-emperor. And with his often-spare use of Asian instruments and throat singing, Kantelinen conveys a beautiful, melodic emptiness as his score develops. You can almost feel the cold, eerie beauty of the Mongolian vistas in the writing, which thankfully never goes for the kind of Asian musical stereotypes you’d expect. For as Kantelinen notes, director Sergei Bodrov wanted “film music” for his naturalistic epic, an approach that makes even the sparest ethnic approach here take on a rhythmic sweep worthy of an old-time Hollywood epic.

The power, and thrill of MONGOL is that you never know where this strikingly talented composing newbie will take us as he tactically employs gorgeous orchestral themes, shimmering electronics, piercing strings and the percussive hooves of its horse armies. There’s a sense of grandeur, and respect for the titular Khan who would be king, the feeling of a man looking into the heavens and deciding its gods have given him power over man and Earth. By the time Genghis wins the decisive battle that will make him legend, its symphonic oomph has the kind of dark power and deep brass that would make any conqueror stamp his feet with delight. Then when full-on metal and orchestral thrash play over the end title, it’s the jaw-dropping cherry to Kantelinen’s massive creativity for MONGOL- marking it as one of the year’s best scores, and films, a tribute to awe, power and destruction for the “greater” good that have been any emperor’s score from time immemorial.

Raid the mummy’s musical TOMB HERE, then conquer with the Khan HERE.

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