Tag Archives: james newton howard

Soundtrack Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games
(Original Motion Picture Score)
Composer: James Newton Howard
Running Time: 43 min.
Released: 2012

 

 

 

Considering The Hunger Games was released on DVD barely a week ago, I figured now would be a good time to review what is, in my opinion, one of the finest aspects of the film: the score, composed by none other than J.N.H. I’ve encountered several less-than-favorable reviews of it, and the most common criticism seems to be that score is too minimalistic. I beg to differ: the score is minimalistic, but perfectly so. Howard invests thought and emotion where lesser men would have settled for cheap thrills. And frankly, I find it incredible that most listeners can’t appreciate that. Their loss, I suppose. Here’s hoping it gets some recognition come Oscar season – J.N.H. deserves no less.

Katniss Afoot and The Train are perfect examples of the quiet beauty that permeates this soundtrack; while Horn of Plenty captures the pomp and grandeur of the Capitol with choir, drums, and a fanfare of trumpets. The Countdown is a gripping bit of work, accompanying one of the most nail-bitingly intense sequences in the entire film. And then there’s Rue’s Farewell: for me, this piece is the highlight of the album. Lovely. Just lovely. I won’t even try to describe it further, because I can’t. You have to listen to it yourself. With Muttations, Howard gives us an action cue firing on all cylinders – grim, daring, and frenetic. The final track, Tenuous Winners, swells with triumph and relief, only to assume a darker tone in the closing seconds. Because, after all, the story isn’t over yet.

Purchase the MP3 album on iTunes or Amazon.com.

Soundtrack Review: Snow White & The Huntsman

Snow White & The Huntsman
(Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Composer: James Newton Howard
Running Time: 67 min.
Released: 2012

 

 

 

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.

Purchase the MP3 album on iTunes or Amazon.com.

Soundtrack Review: Blood Diamond

Blood Diamond
(Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Composer: James Newton Howard
Running Time: 60 min.
Released: 2006





J.N.H. is one of my favorite composers for a number of reasons – not the least of which is his ability to craft tight, memorable scores that stand well on their own apart from their film counterparts. Blood Diamond is no exception; and at the risk of sounding cliche, I’ll even call it a gem. Fusing elements of a traditional orchestra with a bevy of African instrumentation and choral effects, Howard has produced one of the best works of his career – a marvelously rich musical tapestry full of poignancy, depth, and excitement.

The album opens with Blood Diamond Titles, a quiet piece underscored by the vocals of Senegalese musician Youssou N’Dour. The second track, Crossing the Bridge, gives us a taste of the haunting and tuneful main theme, reiterated throughout the rest of the album. Village Attack is propulsive and intense thanks to an effective use of throbbing percussion and electric guitar; Goodbyes, one the other hand, is soulful and reserved, highlighted by a soft piano melody. With Diamond Mine Bombed, we’re once again treated to a smart, action-oriented cue that kicks into high-gear around the 1:10 mark. The climax of Howard’s score comes with Your Mother Loves You and Thought I’d Never Call?, crowned by the breathtaking London, in which the main theme is fleshed out to its fullest. Also included on the album (separate from Howard’s score) are three African songs – Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars’ Ankala, Emmanuel Lai’s Baai, and Bal Burea’s When da Dawgs Come Out to Play. The first two are decent enough and fun to listen to, but the third (as you can probably tell from the title) is just plain obnoxious, sticking out like a sore thumb on an otherwise perfect soundtrack.