Snow White and the Huntsman (James Newton Howard)

Final Musings: With Snow White, James Newton Howard offers a formulaic entry in his career which at times does succeed to impress while at other times, leaves you in pain. It’s disappointing to hear the composer incorporate a lot of generic material (much of which is harsh on the ears) in a genre that has often brought out his best material. But while this pales in comparison to his greater works, this score can still be a treat for the composer’s fans,  for it’s still full and ripe with Howard’s characteristic lyricism.

There seems to be no end these days to modern retellings of fairy tales; a fad arguably spawned by Tim Burton’s absurdly successful Alice in Wonderland. And whether it’s the comedic, over-the-top approach or the dark revisionist’s angle, the results largely remain the same. Rupert Sanders’ directorial debut is the second Snow White feature film of the year and certainly the better of the two, but that doesn’t say much. Expectedly, an array of well-conceived sets, colourful visual effects and an amusing performance by Charlize Theron is all there is to salvage the film from a mess of uneven acting, poor scripts and blatant clichés set up to lure in Twilight fans. Signed on to the project is composer James Newton Howard, a man who has become quite the veteran in scoring fantasy films. Having dabbled in the genre with fantastic entries like Lady in the Water and The Last Airbender, it’s not hard to see why the thought of Howard scoring a Snow White film a la “warrior princess mode” have left his fans drooling in anticipation. The finished product however might not have ended up with the same result.

In a way, this score is almost to James Newton Howard what Avatar was to James Horner or Alice in Wonderland to Danny Elfman. Yet whereas those two scores were highly effective mergings of the best compositional facets of their respective careers, Snow White and the Huntsman falters in many regards. The score draws inspiration from half a dozen of his past scores including Snow Falling on Cedars, The Village, King Kong and Lady in the Water. Accordingly, the music is full of Howard’s trademark lyricism and majesty that he regularly employs in his fantasy works. But considering the modern approach taken with this score, the composer does choose to deviate from his more traditional fantasy scoring in its constructs. Rather than scoring the film with consistent blown-up orchestral or choral grandeur, Howard chooses to dominate the score with more intimate solo instruments, especially his characteristic piano material, although the former is still present. While this is no major detraction in itself, other problems do exist. Read the rest of this entry »


The Hunger Games (James Newton Howard)

Final Musings: If you expected a bold adventure score, this isn’t your score. But if you’re a fan of James Newton Howard’s atmospheric works like Snow Falling on the Cedars, then you will probably enjoy this. Regardless, this score is definitely worth some repeated listens and careful attention. There is great merit to this work and one can’t help but appreciate the fine amount of thought put into it. It may be flawed, but it is definitely something to appreciate.

Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy quickly rose in popularity upon its release. Yet it’s likely that even she didn’t predict the massive financial success that the film would open up with. Having hit box-office records with having the 3rd best opening weekend (preceded by The Dark Knight and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2) and the biggest opening for a non-sequel, the release of the potential upcoming film adaptations were confirmed. There are probably several factors that lent to the film’s success. And whether it’s the fact that people may be using The Hunger Games as a substitute for the large gap that the Harry Potter franchise left in the film industry, or simply the endless promotion for the production, the studios definitely found a new cash machine to milk. Perhaps its fortune is also in debt to the intriguing premise. The Hunger Games tells the tale of a girl named Katniss in a dystopian future where a male and female tribute of adolescence are picked from each district to fight to death in an event to amuse the elitist society of the Capitol of the nation. Despite some of the flaws of the movie and the narrative’s similarities to Battle Royale, it was well liked by both critics and mainstream alike.  A potential franchise of such hype inevitably leaves many endless possibilities in terms of the music. Initially, fans were enthralled to hear about Danny Elfman’s designation as the composer. However, due to schedule conflicts, Elfman would soon be replaced by James Newton Howard; a man who seems to have a talent for producing well crafted replacement scores (namely King Kong) in a short amount of time. Does he do the same this time around? He does, but perhaps not to everyone’s liking.

To really analyze this score, one would have to pay careful attention to its use in film. At times it works remarkably well in the picture while at certain moments, the keen listener might find it to be rather uneven. In fact, many viewers will be surprised by the fact that much of the music heard on film is actually not by James Newton Howard. And while the mention of source music often induces a great deal of skepticism from the film music community (and unbelievable enthusiasm from more mainstream fanboys), this is actually a particular case in which it works well. Highlights include the intriguing vocal melody composed by T-Bone Burnett near the beginning of the film known as Katniss’ Lullaby (a.k.a. Deep in the Meadow Lullaby). And some will probably be disappointed to learn that the Capitol Anthem was actually composed by Arcade Fire, although it was arranged, adapted and utilized as an actual theme by Howard. Oddly enough, James Newton Howard had 80 minutes of music written out for the film, and with only 30-40 minutes actually used in film (the rest being replaced by source music), one can’t help but wonder what Howard had planned. Read the rest of this entry »