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Jungle Cruise
  • Composed by James Newton Howard

Disney’s track record of adapting its theme park attractions into movies might politely be described as “mixed”, with only Pirates of the Caribbean having been successful (it’s best not to think too much about Haunted Mansion and Tomorrowland) but it always seemed that Jungle Cruise was likely to hit the right notes. It’s a little bit like Pirates in style, but more like the Brendan Fraser version of The Mummy crossed with the Dwayne Johnson Jumanji movies. It doesn’t really make the most of Johnson’s charisma as the jungle skipper with a complicated past but the interplay between him and Rachel Weisz and John Hannah as an English historian and her amusing brother – sorry, I mean Emily Blunt and Jack Whitehall – is the highlight.

James Newton Howard is no stranger to this kind of family fayre and was a top choice to provide the film’s music. His entertaining score is itself a bit like both Jerry Goldsmith’s The Mummy and Henry Jackman’s Jumanji scores, with a hint too of John Williams’s Indiana Jones music (particularly the highly-beloved fourth one). As he sometimes does – in particular for his fantasy scores, for whatever reason – Howard chooses to open the album with a lengthy suite of the score’s themes, which I presume is actually the end credits music (but can’t confirm because my daughter needed the toilet the second the credits started to roll). Oddly it barely features the main theme but a number of the score’s other main ideas – some of them heard only fleetingly within the body of the score itself – are given a chance to shine.

James Newton Howard

After this, curiously, is the first of two instrumental orchestral versions of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters”. They’re really good – inevitably recalling Michael Kamen’s arrangement of the song for the S&M concert and album – but quite what relevance the song has for this film has passed me by completely and it just drew me completely out of the film (particularly strange is that the two tracks are heard for the movie’s two flashback sequences to the 16th century, which I believe predates the writing of the song).

The score is action-packed almost from start to finish, with a number of frenetic sequences. The Williams-like “Stop Her!” is an early highlight, with a similar feel to the university chase cue in Crystal Skull. Shortly afterwards we hear the score’s fullest presentation of its jaunty main theme in “Steamer to Brazil”, a devilishly catchy little melody that is a real ear-worm. It gets another chance to shine in “Market Chase”, where it alternates with a secondary theme which seems to be associated with Blunt’s character (but the themes are used somewhat loosely really, Howard just using whichever one feels right at the time rather than strictly keeping them specific) – it’s a fast-paced, rollicking ride again edging close to Williams/Indy territory.

“Sub Attack” keeps up the action though with a slightly more serious feel now, Howard introducing a theme of sorts for the villain and some trademark percussive action music which leads into a brilliantly heroic blast of the main theme. “Lily Snoops” is a rare moment of calm, a charming piece of string-led drama, but it’s not long before we reach the score’s biggest and best action track, “The Tree Fight”, where the massive orchestra and choir are joined by some Spanish elements (well, guitar) representing the arrival of some dastardly conquistadors. It movies on at breakneck speed except for a couple of moments when Howard pauses the action and goes into full-on epic fantasy mode, which is fantastic.

The “love theme” (kind of) gets a brief airing in “Lily Finds Frank” – vaguely recalling Goldsmith’s from The Mummy, it’s very lovely but is only really heard in fits and starts in the score. I like the nostalgic “I Built a Boat” (including a nice, gentle version of the main theme which sounds completely different in this guise) but after that it’s action virtually all the way to the end, starting in the nicely-coloured “La Luna Rota”. “Underwater Puzzle” features some great thrills – all hints of the comedy that permeated much of the score’s first half having now departed – and some great moments for the horn section to shine, so typical of this composer. “Petal Negotiations” features an epic theme for the “tree of life” (the quest for which is the basis of the plot, for what it is) – it’s absolutely vintage JNH, and I wish he’d had the chance to explore it a bit more in the score. There’s still time for one last action blowout in “Conquistadors Arrive”, which is slightly bitty but has some great moments. Later “I Want You to Rest Now” is a nice sweeping finale (which isn’t actually the finale – there’s a brief coda after it).

The album is too long and needs cutting back for the score to be fully-appreciated – one day, when I’m a billionaire, I’ll start my own speciality record label which releases deluxe editions of soundtracks which are shorter than the previous releases and even though I’ll likely be the only customer, it won’t really matter because I’ll be a billionaire – but it’s not actually that hard to filter it down to a great playlist. It’s refreshing to hear a modern blockbuster like this filled with carefully-honed action music and not just the usual ostinato-based approach, and even if overall I think it’s perhaps a shade behind Raya and the Last Dragon in this composer’s 2021 releases, it’s still a highly entertaining piece of work. The recording is a bit strange – extremely wet, it doesn’t really showcase the intricate orchestration as it might – but that doesn’t stop me enjoying it. It’s hard to tell in this era of simultaneous streaming releases whether a film is actually successful or not, but I hope it is just so we get to hear a JNH-scored sequel in a couple of years.

Rating: **** | |

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  1. Marco Ludema (Reply) on Saturday 7 August, 2021 at 19:11

    JNH is one of those composers who always brings his A-game to a project. Can’t wait to hear what he’s got in store for Fantastic Beasts 3.

  2. Etienne (Reply) on Monday 9 August, 2021 at 13:35

    “The recording is a bit strange – extremely wet, it doesn’t really showcase the intricate orchestration as it might – but that doesn’t stop me enjoying it.”

    I have a question regarding this: is it an actual orchestra performing or is it the impression News of the World gave, a very cutting edge software playing the score. Because in NOTW, the orchestral parts sound so lifeless and I presumed that because of Covid, they can’t record with big orchestras anymore so Sibelius can do the job and they’ll soon realize that is sounds just ok but who cares actually?

  3. Julian Spritz (Reply) on Friday 13 August, 2021 at 23:50

    Hey the main theme reminds me of that old song “Anthony Bourdain” – do you remember the lyrics?

    Anthony Bourdain – he eats the food
    Imhotep – he eats the scorpions
    Viagra – they’re the blue pills
    Everybody! Condoms are for the acts of nature
    Don’t forget to arrange them by size
    Mine’s one of the bigger ones please
    Because of my larger than average size cock
    Sprinkle that cheese!
    Sprinkle it now!
    Then you can eat the food too just like Bourdain
    Up your shaft forever, my friend.

    Thank you and I really enjoy your nice website.