March 2001 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Vertical Limit
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There is no question that James Newton Howard has emerged as one of the leading composers working in film today. Among his recent compositions, Snow Falling on Cedars was truly outstanding and coupled with the equally impressive Unbreakable, he is obviously in a rich vein of form. So with such a high benchmark set, I approached this soundtrack with lofty expectations.

The opening track, 'Utah', has what might be described as a jungle rhythm (slightly odd for a mountain climbing thriller I know, but that's what it brought to mind!) but as this is very brief there's little time for it to make much impression beyond that. The more substantial 'Three Years Later' follows with a quieter, romantic theme, then gives way to some sturdy action/suspense playing with guttural choral work, before an uplifting, spirited signature motif makes an entrance. Big, bold strings and brass feature on 'Base Camp', with that jungle (read mountains!!) rhythm returning and there is more punchy dramatics on 'Avalanche' and 'Peter's Jump/Tom's Heart', where that key signature theme gets a good work-out. Best of all though are 'Nitro' with the tension mounting in an old-fashioned styled cue with plenty of percussive verve and 'Spindrift', which after a suspenseful, if rather routine first half, concludes with a flamboyant finale that really packs a punch. Disappointingly, more thoughtful cues like 'Your Father was a Smart Man' and 'Annie and Peter' do not stand up nearly as well. These would-be romantic pieces are really so inconsequential that they come and go without registering at all.

Sadly, when you consider how obviously talented Newton-Howard is, this has a definite sense of going through the motions about it, or if that is too harsh, then certainly the score lacks any real inspiration. It seems to me that a composer must feel something when he is writing his music and let's face it, we all know that artists sometimes take on jobs for the money rather than the love. Here, despite some solid enough action writing, Newton-Howard fails to imbue any feeling or passion into his work. To my ears this one sounds very much like a money job.

Mark Hockley

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