May 2003 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Gary S. Dalkin
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Music composed by James Newton Howard
  Performed by the Hollywood Studio Symphony
  Available from Varèse Sarabande VSD-6456  
Running time:39:43
Crotchet   Amazon UK   Amazon US


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 itself.

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.

Gary Dalkin

 **** 4

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