Kristen Stewart as the fairest of them all? No thanks. Another score from the great J.N.H. himself? Yes please. Hollywood’s latest adaption of Snow White wasn’t received well by fans or critics, who branded it neither magical nor memorable. I’m not going to argue with that assessment. What I am going to argue is that the score is worth your time, even if the movie is not. Surprised? Don’t be. Samson found honey in the carcass of a lion, and James Newton Howard wrote a stellar score for a less-than-stellar film. In fact, I wouldn’t hesitate to call it some of his finest work to date. It’s dark and complex, gripping and lovely – and it has all the magic and memorability that a fairy-tale should. So let the journey begin: “Once upon a time, there was a composer named James Newton Howard, and his music was the stuff of legend.”
The first track, Snow White, introduces us to the main theme – a quiet and enchanting piece, full of swelling strings and faintly mysterious piano. You couldn’t ask for a better opening: as soon as I heard it, I knew I was in for a treat. And I was right. Beauty and emotion abound in this score, my favorite examples being Fenland In Flames and the mesmerizing Sanctuary. Such loveliness I expected; this is J.N.H. after all. What I did not expect was to be blown away by how magnificent the action music sounded. This is a darker, more audacious side of Howard, one which we don’t hear as often. I wish we did. I absolutely love it. Tracks like Escape From the Tower and Warriors On the Beach come alive with pulse-pounding intensity, a bravura display of heavy percussion, ominous brass, and tenacious strings. Marvelous, marvelous stuff. Bringing the album to a close is Coronation, and believe me, it’s every bit as glorious as the title suggests.