Gods of Egypt

Gods of Egypt is the latest film from Australian director Alex Proyas (of Dark City fame). It is a classic fantasy epic based around Egyptian mythology, very much in the Clash of the Titans tradition, in which a mortal hero Bek (Brenton Thwaites) squares off against god of darkness Set (Gerard Butler) and tries to save the world… and his love Zaya (Courtney Eaton)… You know, that sort of thing. The film will open in April and seems to attract no interest whatsoever from general public, if we are to believe early box office predictions. It is already famous, however, for its racial casting controversies. Why would anyone even bother to bring this up in this particular case is beyond me, seems like the film is hardly worth it. In any case, we shall find out how it does soon enough.

Marco Beltrami continues his collaboration with Proyas and Gods of Egypt is their third project together (after 2004’s I, Robot and 2009’s Knowing). The composer, once famous for his numerous horror scores, decided to branch out considerably in recent years, creating an eclectic body of work for both big blockbusters (World War Z, The Wolverine) as well as small personal dramas (The Homesman, The Drop). His latest work harkens back to the more traditional orchestral sound he’s been developing years ago for films like Knowing or Hellboy, and recently revisited in Seventh Son. And it is indeed a welcome return to form.

Gods of Egypt is probably a more traditional score than Seventh Son. Beltrami stated how he would watch films like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Lawrence of Arabia while prepping. Indeed, several elements and colours seem to recall those classics. Another obvious influence seems to be composer’s old mentor Jerry Goldsmith and his The Mummy from 1999. The main theme appearing in ‘Gods of Egypt Prologue’ brings back the romantic idea of Ancient Egypt as conveyed in Stephen Sommer’s two films. While it doesn’t appear that often throughout the album, its appearances are always welcome and enjoyable. Of particular note is the spectacular final statement in ‘God of the Impossible’.

Composer created other notable themes for Gods of Egypt. The most prominent one is a love theme first heard in brief track ‘Bek and Zaya’. Its more delicate and romantic woodwind statements (beautifully showcased in the ‘Bek and Zaya’s Theme’ concert suite) this melody seems to suggest Beltrami was inspired by Alex North’s classic theme from Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus. It evokes the same sort of timeless quality  while feeling appropriate to its ancient setting. The melody tends to be hinted at in the more suspenseful material (‘Chaos’) and receives its redemptive touching final appearance in ‘God of the Impossible’ finale track. Hathor (played by Elodie Yung in the film) gets her own haunting theme which is best represented on the album’s final track.

What’s interesting, the two opposing godly forces of Set and Horus and  are represented by simple but effective thematic ideas. The hero’s theme is developed  and pronounced most fully in the wondrous ‘Wings and a Prayer’, It is a fairly brief ascending motif that is frequently stated on trumpets. The villain is offered a somewhat more generic descending motif (‘Red Army’). Towards the end of the film, they literally clash in a battle. In ‘Obelisk Fight Part 1’, forces of darkness seem to overwhelm heroic theme with massive percussive forces and choral chanting. It does, however, reclaim its power in the following track (‘Obelisk Fight Part 2’) and manages to win the day. Quite a rare clarity in storytelling to be found in a modern blockbuster score.

The score is full of percussive writing, displayed most audibly in tracks like ‘Coronation’ and ‘Red Army’. In the latter piece, Beltrami also uses a strange and eerie amalgam of vocals and electronic effects to sell Set’s villainous nature. The lighthearted uses of rhythmic sections can be found in several enjoyable action pieces (‘Market Chase’, ‘Snakes on a Plain’). Beltrami makes a really cool use of brass all the way throughout Gods of Egypt and it has an unique quality of feeling both old and modern (‘Set vs Horus’). Finally, there’s an obligatory appearance of duduk in ‘Hathor’s Bedroom’, accompanied by lovely string writing. The chorus is ever-present, either chanting forcefully or simply offering a lovely mystical backing for orchestral writing. Apart from the group ensemble, the composer also uses three vocal soloists (Asdru Serra, Angela Little and Sussan Deyhim) and their performances can be heard primarily in ‘Channeling Zaya’ and ‘Hathor’s Theme’.

While not earth-shattering nor terribly original, Gods of Egypt score is probably the most easily enjoyable Marco Beltrami album in many years. Certainly a more well-rounded and memorable than Seventh Son. It has a certain quality of merging modern sensibilities with adorable callbacks to film music’s glorious Golden and Silver Age classics. The strong thematic base helps a great deal when listening to this this generous 74-minute album. It is consistently interesting and offers one of 2016’s first real highlights.

-Karol Krok

Gods of Egypt will be released by Varese Sarabande next month