February 2004 Film Music CD Reviews

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

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Peter Pan  
Music composed by James Newton Howard
Mandolin & mandocello: Davey Johnstone
Pan Pipes & Recorders: Phil Ayling
Electric bass: Neil Stubenhaus
Drums: Vinne Coliuta
  Orchestrations by Jeff Atmajian, Brad Dechter, Conrad Pope, Pete Anthony, Jon Kull and James Newton Howard
Conducted by Pete Anthony
Performed by the Hollywood Studio Symphony and Hollywood Chorale
Electronic score produced by James T. Hill
Score recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy
  Available on Varèse Sarabande VSD-6534
Running time: 44.31
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peter pan

See also Treasure Planet

Peter Pan has a long musical history, from the various scores employed for versions of the original JM Barrie stage play, through the 1950's American musical and Disney animated film (1953), onward via numerous other film and TV productions to the present day. Few would argue, whatever they may think of the film, that the finest musical interpretation of all is John Williams' magnificent score for Steven Spielberg's Hook (1992). Which is directly relevant here for director PJ Hogan's new Peter Pan would not exist in its current form without Spielberg's film. However generally derided Hook may be, Hogan clearly loves the movie. The evidence shines through clearly in the look of virtually every frame of his Peter Pan, and its does so equally in the sound of the score. James Newton Howard's Peter Pan is a work very much descended from Williams' masterwork.

Those who know John Williams' music will find much that is familiar here, which is not to say that James Newton Howard's score is derivative of Williams' Hook, only that it is clearly charting the course to Neverland under the influence.

While the melodies are not as strong as Williams' but then whose are? the approach is comparable, from the magical, tuned percussion glitter of the Main Title to the triumphant, soaring wordless choral writing of 'I Do Believe in Faries' to the scurrying, anticipatory strings and combative brass of 'Poison'. There are fantastical touches which call to mind the more whimsical, wondrous and playful moments of the Star Wars films (many of these in the Main Title alone) and the whole is wrapped with musical box charm. It may not sound very new, but those who appreciated the composer's rousing space opera homage Treasure Planet (2002), will find much to enjoy here.

The downside is the occasional, and frankly bizarre in context introduction of a synthesiser and drums driven motif which sounds for all the world like the introduction to a 1980's American power-pop anthem. This material first appears in 'Flying', mixed into a brilliantly orchestrated and uplifting paean to the joys of unpowered aviation. It is not unlikable of itself, but rather jars with the great bulk of the score as presented on this mostly very attractive album. Also less than welcome is the New Age style vocal arrangement of a cue such as 'Peter's Shadow'.

As can be seen from the credits this is a score which has the best Hollywood can lavish on a production. It is certainly highly polished and superbly recorded and mixed, with every detail of the orchestrations clear and detailed. One may grumble that certain cues have been omitted, and it would have been nice to have the end title music included, but fans of the composer and of the film will still find this a superior release. Fans of Hook meanwhile should perhaps think of Peter Pan as one of the most sincerely flattering homages to a great score to have emerged in recent years.

Gary Dalkin

***(*) 31/2

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