The post below was written by my good friend Vic, from Vic’s Movie Den.You can see my version of this post on Vic’s blog here. If you love movies, make sure to visit Vic’s blog regularly; he’s always posting interesting news, reviews and more. Enjoy!
Even though I had heard of James Newton Howard (JNH) and knew of some of his works by reputation, it wasn’t until 2005 after the score to King Kong was released that I began to go back and go through his extensive library of films before 2005; scores like Waterworld, Glengarry Glen Ross, Dinosaur, and even Stir of Echoes. Upon discovering his unique style of piano, horn and string compositions, I began to see a wonderful pattern in his soundtracks. I was glad to find out that his scores have an incredible replay value and revisiting them often resulted in my finding even more unique and stylish layers in them. Outbreak, Snow Falling on Cedars and the score to the sci-fi Stephen King film Dreamcatcher all have stunning merit and serve as a wonderful tapestry for his kind of individual vision. He is indeed a fast and hard working composer who at times can be working on two or more scores at once. Soon to come he has After Earth and the next hunger games movie: Catching Fire. I recently also was turned on to The Prince of Tides, The Bourne Legacy and Salt from Newton Howard. So, in conclusion I will give you all my Top 5 favorite scores by James Newton Howard. This won’t be easy. I hope you enjoy and discover the work of this masterful composer if you haven’t yet.
An incredibly well crafted work of musical art. It has an ethereal flow and wonderful atmosphere. It is serene then menacing then other-worldly in it’s passion. It is beautifully melodious and features the incredible work of Hilary Hahn on the violin. The almost five-minute long “Those We Don’t Speak Of” is a stand out piece that will get under your skin and move your soul in it’s haunting beauty.
4 – I Am Legend
What I love about this score is how simplistic and understated it is. It is indeed close in tone and style to some other of his scores like Batman Begins. This score is sentimental, dramatic and rich. It proceeds in layering hope and despair in some very beautiful tracks like “My Name is Robert Neville” and the heart breaking “Sam’s Gone.” While it does have some action cues, this score will remain as a very thought provoking composition for me.
3 – Signs
This score is a very unique JNH composition for me in that it evokes a sense of spirituality and mood. It is a deep and atmospheric piece of work that includes some vicious piano cues and minimal and suspenseful techniques. JNH provokes, in the first half, real suspense and mood. It is almost two scores in one. One is melodious and ethereal and the second half which includes the sonic “The Hand of Fate: Pts. 1 and 2” is hands down (no pun intended) one of the best tracks on the score. Signs builds tension and strength using the minimal approach that James Newton Howard is so good at.
2 – King Kong
This is the score that really won me over on James Newton Howard. Until then I just knew of his scores to animated movies and such. It wasn’t until I watched and closely listened to this incredible composition that I knew I had to go back and revisit some of his earlier works. In the meantime I bought the score to King Kong and listened to it night and day. It is rousing, sweeping and quite emotional. During the action pieces of course we do get the big, loud and deeply percussive rumblings like in “Head Towards the Animals” and “Beauty Killed the Beast.” It is when Newton Howard takes the time to slow down and serve up a more emotional and contemplative composition like “A Fateful Meeting” and even the striking “Central Park” is when this score stands apart from the rest of the pack. Despite not sticking to much of the period, this score is incredibly fast, unique and big. The replay value is incredible. Highly recommended!
1 – The Lady in the Water
It seems that whenever Newton Howard does a score for director M. Night it always ends up being a resounding effort. Unfortunately, in most regards the score ends up being so much better than the film itself. Examples are “The Happening” and of course “Lady in the Water.” My wife and I rented said film one night and I could not follow the movie because the score was so darn melodious, soulful and lyrical.It is the purest score that James Newton Howard has ever done in my opinion. The first track “Prologue” demonstrates how well Newton Howard can showcase layers and threads throughout his scores. The incredible motif of the “Lady” runs through the entire score with different expressions and ethereal musicality. I was so impressed by the haunting beauty of this score and it is so effective in provoking a sense of peace and alarm (like in the moody “The Party). The climactic track “The Great Eatlon” shows off Newton Howard’s bombastic nature in the ways of John Williams. “The Healing” is perhaps my favorite track. It is haunting and precious as is the majority of this stunning score. Do not miss it!