September 2002 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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EDITOR’s RECOMMENDATION September 2002

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James NEWTON HOWARD
Signs  
  Hollywood Records 2061-62368-2   [45:36]

Signs

The third collaboration between Newton Howard and director M. Night Shyamalan is easily the best. The Sixth Sense, in having to create a spooky atmosphere at all times, often comes off as sound design or effect rather than score. Unbreakable remains an indefinable oddity, being a superhero movie without anything resembling what we've come to think of as a hero theme. It's upbeat main theme belongs more to the mystery of the character than his heroism too. None of this is to say the scores aren't good. They're just perceivable within a greater context now that another collaboration is out, and is one that eclipses them both.

Signs is about more than just crop circles. There are themes of the family unit as it should be and as it is presented broken apart. There's an overall theme of faith not just in the religious sense though. A lot of the film's subtext can be viewed as cyclic in nature, given its ending which is (to borrow a CD cue title) all to do with "The Hand of Fate." It's therefore a pleasure to experience the subtle intellectualisation of these themes as characterised by Newton Howards's small collection of cyclic motifs. The film's trailer was scored with a brief statement of some of these, which would indicate that director and composer were in synch with what approach to take on the picture well in advance of final scoring.

"Main Titles" is a quick burst of introductory drama, before the album settles into what will be a gentle build up of suspense for about two thirds of its running time. There are no real tricks employed. There aren't any overt electronic effects added either. Through accumulation and repetition, the tension is tightened until it briefly explodes during the last few cues. And by explosion I merely mean a stab that underlies an on-screen surprise. There are no sustained action cues or shrieking nastiness. Neither belong. Instead the tension is given relief and then the motifs we've been familiar with are given a warm payoff in the closing "The Hand of Fate Part II".

This is the best Summer blockbuster movie score you'll find this and for many recent years.

Paul Tonks

****

Ian Lace adds:-

I fully support Paul Tonk's appreciation of this imaginative score. I have always admired the best of James Newton Howard's work and this is top-drawer. The music's short motifs seem to form cyclical patterns, so much so that there is an impression that the score assumes some sort of clever geometric shape emulating crop circles. But beyond that it has humanity too, there is a clear dramatic and emotional thrust. The style of the music embraces minimalism and impressionism with subtly, but telling modulations and dynamic shifts. The harmonies are striking, almost mesmerising; and the orchestration brilliant. If I had to link it with any previous score I would be tempted to think of Close Encounters of the Third Kind - especially the abduction scene. In a particularly barren year this fascinating score is very welcome

Ian Lace

****

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