The late and great Jerry Goldsmith is one of my favorite film composers. He’s responsible for how Star Trek and Alien sound. Today, we’ll compare his popular score for The Mummy (1999) to Alan Silvestri’s score for its sequel, The Mummy Returns (2001). I’ll point out my personal picks from each.
Both scores keep their Egyptian theme with recurring motifs. Each composer creates adventurous soundscapes matching their action-packed epics. Goldsmith sounds imposingly dramatic whereas Silvestri delivers a bombastic sound ripe for a summer blockbuster.
You get a sense of each composer’s approach by how the movies begin. Goldsmith opens with “Imhotep” as we see the titular villain’s origin. Two main motifs are made here. The first intimidates you with a loud bang and horns blaring a cycle of notes. Another slows down the song with a pleasant melody, illustrating Imhotep’s (Arnold Vosloo) romance with Anck-su-namun (Patricia Velásquez).
Alternatively, Silvestri opens with “The Legend of the Scorpion King,” an operatic introduction to the warrior. It’s reminiscent of mid-20th century themes from epics like Ben-Hur. Instead of the melodramatic “Imhotep,” Silvestri gives The Scorpion King (Dwayne Johnson) a boastful and warlike theme. There’s calm moments in the middle and end of the song, signifying the villain’s loss in battle and eternal wait for resurrection.
Goldsmith makes your bones shiver with “The Crypt,” where Rick’s (Brendan Fraser) team finds Imhotep’s grave. Fun fact – you can hear this in the line for “Revenge of the Mummy” at Universal Orlando. This piece gave my stomach butterflies with its droning strings and fading horns. You’re left trembling like the characters creeping through Imhotep’s tomb.
The Mummy ends with “The Sand Volcano,” sampling motifs aforementioned. Goldsmith provides a triumphant yet bittersweet farewell to the audience. It boastfully reflects the epic climax and storybook ending. I love the extension of the softer motif (3:15), ending our movie beautifully with romantic strings.
Silvestri ends his score with “The Mummy Returns.” His main motif blasts in the first few seconds, evoking feelings of Egypt, heroism and dramatism. Unlike Goldsmith, Silvestri constructs a rollercoaster of death-defying adventure, bold choirs, thrills and excitement. The final segment (5:30) gives The Mummy Returns an adrenaline-charged sendoff. If you’re running late to work, play this at max volume.
Goldsmith and Silvestri exemplify ways to craft soundtracks for summer blockbusters. A composer can leave us hooked but intimidated. They can simultaneously kick us off our seats while cheering for our heroes.
YouTube – “Imhotep” (https://youtu.be/LWly0yvaY5M)
“The Crypt” (https://youtu.be/pkl9DxBxauo)
“The Sand Volcano” (https://youtu.be/kn1_TUbvpdc)
“The Legend of the Scorpion King” (https://youtu.be/9tOa0bU8Ugk)
“The Mummy Returns” (https://youtu.be/GI1qxigRQZw)