After his fine work for Signs
last year, James Newton Howard returns to alien invasion territory and demonstrates
how once again he is one of the masters of the modern horror score. Based on
a novel by Stephen King, directed by Lawrence Kasdan and with a cast including
Morgan Freeman this is A list, big budget horror with all the frills and commensurately
rather more aural imagination than in many a bang-crash-wallop genre score of
late. Which is not to say that Howard doesn't deliver on the malevolent fury
when the time comes. But it all begins very quietly, rather disturbingly, making
the familiar strange…
Whether by coincidence or design
the main title introduces a motif which holds the score together, a delicate
tickling melody over scrapping percussion which sounds for all the world as
if it is about to turn into a warped version of John Barry's Diamonds Are
Forever title song, and then doesn't. Reflecting the snowbound setting of
the action, this is ice cold music, cold, and indeed hard, one might think,
as diamond. The cue builds to a suspenseful finale, ushering the chill fairytale
fantasy of "Finding Rick".
This magical, dreamlike atmosphere
continues and grows through "Animal Exodus", before a minute in, the nightmare
arrives, programmed percussion landing at the two minute mark and accompanying
a relentless march theme which creates a real sense of dread and foreboding,
over the top of which a lonely whistle presumably acts as the voice of the Dreamcatcher
The first major set-piece comes
with "The Weasel", a slow building suspense cue which develops into pulsating
delirium rivalling Jerry Goldsmith at his action blockbuster best. "The Debate"
blends sophisticated programmed rhythms with complex orchestrations in a way
which shows how this sort of thing can be done with taste and intelligence,
the cue finally resolving in orchestral grandeur of the unexpected kind.
"Henry Returns to the Cabin" delivers
rock solid SF-horror suspense action, developing into a desperately urgent motif
which imbeds itself in memory and won't let go. "What Are You Up To" pushed
the electronic rhythms to the fore, but rich brass and another powerfully composed
motif hold everything together with great cohesion. By the time the album reaches
"Curtis and Owen Battle" the gloves are really off, blistering rhythms, scorching
brass and cascading strings make this a simply breathtaking set-piece. After
this "Duddits Warns Henry" is almost lyrical in Howard's string writing, that
is before a vicious second half leading to the sombre epilogue cue, "Pete and
Trish", which brings the score full circle.
A first-rate horror-SF blockbuster
score which delivers on all fronts.