By RACHEL REEVES
For the characters in the new movie ESCAPE ROOM: TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS, it’s all about finding the clues to solve the deadly puzzles designed by the mysterious Minos group. Similarly, for composer Brian Tyler it’s all about finding the musical cues that best encapsulate the film’s intricate blend of heart and high-stakes action. Along with co-composer John Carey (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Mummy), Tyler once again returns to the world of ESCAPE ROOM and crafts another unique score that fuses electronic and acoustic elements into one bold and industrial-tinted sonic experience.
One of the biggest names in modern film composing, Tyler is certainly no stranger to the world of sequels. Along with being the main composer behind the Fast and Furious films, Tyler’s credits include huge franchise hits like Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Final Destination, The Expendables 1-3, Thor: The Dark World, Rambo (2008) and the upcoming Scream movie. He’s also contributed his talents to fan-favorite films such as Ready or Not, John Dies at the End, Frailty, Bug and Constantine. A supremely talented multi-instrumentalist and conductor, it is Tyler’s intimate and instinctive approach to scoring that has quickly made him one of the composers redefining what a big-budget Hollywood film sounds like.
In celebration of the ESCAPE ROOM: TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS release, Rue Morgue spoke with Tyler about this latest ESCAPE ROOM adventure, his passion for mentorship and his recent work with Ghostface and Dom Toretto.
One of the cool things about ESCAPE ROOM: TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS is that it not only dives deeper into the mythos of Minos, but it also explores the relationship between Ben and Zoe amidst a whole new batch of players. How did the return of Ben and Zoe as characters impact your score for this new film?
You know, it’s a very interesting set-up here because of the way that Ben and Zoe are being brought into this world, this “Tournament of Champions.” This idea that it is the greatest of the greatest people that have survived before. You’re now surrounded by the best of the best. And, they have this relationship that goes back to the first one in the sense that there’s history here. They’ve really been wanting to find out about Minos and who’s behind all the escape rooms, so this one has something that’s new, but also a part of their immediate memories.
So, the music has to really kind of connect to the first movie and what they went through. It’s almost played through the lens of a memory in a sense that [they] both share this memory. As dark as it is, it’s still a shared memory, you know? I think in that way, the main theme from ESCAPE ROOM, if you really strip it down, it’s a very emotional theme. But then it gets taken over by this other intelligence, this mind, this faceless nemesis that continues to haunt their lives. And of course, they get thrown back into the game and an entirely new situation that is even crazier, more epic, and really tests their wills as human beings.
We can’t talk about this new ESCAPE ROOM film and not talk about the killer (no pun intended) rooms. Each one is so distinctive both in look and sound. Talk a little bit about your approach to scoring these critical and large-scale moments in the film. Was there a room that was your favorite to score?
That’s funny. [Laughs] It’s really hard to pick a favorite room! It just keeps on upping the ante as the film goes on. And then you have the idea that they each need to be both unique musically and unique as a puzzle. The music changes from a more investigative kind of tone to a completely desperate and maniacal tone. Each one also has its own story and feel. The film feels like such an epic ride because each time you drop into a room, it’s almost like its own story all to itself. There’s like a three-act play that takes place within each room.
I think all of them are incredible, but just the idea of being placed in a kind of innocuous setting that turns out to be very diabolical is the most terrifying to me. But, the fun thing about it is, as I’m doing the music, I’m trying to make it so all of that tension and the ingenuity of the characters becomes outlined in the music in a way that makes the audience in the movie theater feel like they’re trying to solve the puzzle and get out of the room themselves. And I think that this film really captures that transference of the situation from the movie to the audience. There’s a thin line between the tension of thinking about being put into these rooms as the characters are and, as they’re trying to figure it out, you’re trying to figure it out. So emotionally, the ride has to feel like it really takes you on the full journey from room to room. And certainly, with any of them honestly, they have to go through the idea of, “Can we figure this out?” Then it kind of turns to desperation. Like, “I don’t think that there’s any way we can do this! This is impossible!” Maybe they can, but it’s still incredibly desperate and it just ratchets up and has an incredible amount of suspense while you’re trying to think things through at a high level. It’s almost like the wildest game of 21 Questions. Or something like that where you’re dangling over a cliff or something. The peril that you feel as you’re trying to figure it out just creates this amazing tension and suspense.
And then, the fact that you care about these characters! The characters are really, really strong in this movie. From room to room, with Ben, Zoe, and everybody, you’re right there with them and you can really relate to them.
You co-composed the scores for both ESCAPE ROOM films with John Carey. In the past, Carey worked for you as a music arranger and has often talked about how you really showed him the ropes of the industry. How important is that mentor-protege relationship in the composing industry and what was it like working alongside him on these projects?
Yeah! I kind of gave him his first job working for me here at the studio and that mentorship was a big part of it. I really wanted to give him the chance to work on a film. It’s very hard as a new composer to get on a film because you kind of have to have been on a film to get on a film. It’s one of those things. And so, if I can give someone the chance to have that credit, work on it and help me with the score, I will. We can work on it together and you know, collaborate in a way. It is almost like being in a band. It’s actually quite fun. And at the same time, if it helps someone that’s talented that might not otherwise have been able to get on a film of this size for maybe another decade or so, why not? It’s a very, very tough road sometimes and I feel like there are people that really deserve it and are really talented. I want to give that opportunity to them. I do that pretty often with different people as much as I can and John definitely deserves it. We love collaborating together and you know, he’s so good!
You’ve worked on so many incredible films that span all genres, but I have to say, I love it when you get to play in the horror sphere. And, you have one film, in particular, coming up that I just have to ask you about—Scream (2022). Outside of Marco Beltrami, you’re now the only other composer who has ventured into Ghostface’s world. What was it like walking the streets of Woodsboro and working on a project with such an iconic and previously established sound?
You know, it’s great! I love those movies and I love those scores. And, there’s this time gap between SCREAM and the previous SCREAM movies, but it definitely connects. Both as films and musically. There’s this kind of connection too that we bring into the “now” with these new directors that have come on board that also directed Ready or Not. That’s of course how I know them and the producers. I’ve worked with the producer William Sherak before and we go all the way back with films like Four Dogs Playing Poker, Darkness Falls and so many things in the early 2000s. I’ve done so many films with William. And then James Vanderbilt is a writer and producer and you know, I scored his film Truth with Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford. He also wrote Darkness Falls, actually! So this was kind of like getting many, many people that I’ve worked with many, many, many times all together. Between the directors and the producers, it’s something like 20 films we’ve done together if you combined it all.
And, getting into that Scream world…I mean, I loved the series before and still do to this day. I also love where this takes it. Also, stepping into a role where it’s a series or something, I’m very used to doing that. I took over the Final Destination series after Shirley Walker passed away. When Jerry Goldsmith passed away, I took over the Rambo series. And then, of course, I’d take over Avengers: Age of Ultron from Alan Silvestri and then the Iron Man series. I’ve done it quite a lot and I always want to honor the past and what came before. I also want to create something that is very unique and ultimately, is the exact right tone for the particular film that I’m working on.
That is so wild. Your career is really just incredible and honestly, kind of overwhelming.
Yeah, there’s a lot. [Laughs]
Speaking of giant franchise films, you also scored the latest installment in the Fast and Furious series…
That’s right! So that’s taken on an entirely new and fantastic story arc with Dom’s brother. And also going back to Han and encountering old friends and new foes. Because of that, the music goes in two really interesting directions. One going back to nostalgia and bringing in themes that we have not heard since Tokyo Drift that are really kind of beloved. Then there is also this really, very epic and kind of powerfully emotional theme with the Toretto’s. We go back into the past of how Dom became Dom and how the family structure has really shaped everything behind Fast and the Furious. Even things we didn’t really previously know about.
So, that music is new. And then of course, there’s all the themes for Brian and Mia, Roman and Tej, and even the characters that rip from Tokyo Drift like Twinkie. Also, stuff for Letty, Han and all these different characters. They are now part of this fabric which is now nine movies strong. That’s a lot of story. That’s a lot of characters and there’s a lot of themes in a way, they have a musical language. I’m so glad that Justin Lin as a director came back because he put that into motion; that it would be more than songs put together. Now it could be like how he wanted to do it; like Star Wars and The Godfather where you’d have a really cinematic style to it. And that style means a very prominent score that has now been done in so many different ways; from orchestra to hip-hop, you name it. It just has a very rich tapestry and I just love it.
Ok, final question. I know that you’re a bit of a car guy yourself so I’m curious, which car would you personally like to drive home out of all the cars in the Fast and Furious franchise?
Oh boy. That is a tough one. You know, here’s the thing. I have this affinity for Han’s Mazda RX-7 from Tokyo Drift. It’s pretty amazing and it’s a drift car. I follow the drivers that do touge, which basically just means hill or mountain in Japanese. They drift around these narrow roads up in the mountains and I actually know some of those people that do that. But yeah, I like that car. That would be really cool. If Han could loan me his RX-7 from Tokyo Drift, that would be pretty dope.
The ESCAPE ROOM: TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) from Sony Music Masterworks is available now. Hear a Rue Morgue exclusive track here.