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The Huntsman: Winter’s War
  • Composed by James Newton Howard
  • Back Lot Music / 2016 / 74m

A follow-up to 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman, The Huntsman: Winter’s War sees Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron reprise their roles from the first film.  There’s a new director though (Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, who was visual effects supervisor on the first film, makes his directorial debut) and some new cast members including Emily Blunt, Jessica Chastain and, wonderfully, Rob Brydon.

There’s no change of composer though, with James Newton Howard returning.  It’s only four years old but I can’t say I remember a single thing about his score for Snow White and the Huntsman – in the capsule review I wrote at the time I suggested it had some excellent highlights but was fairly standard overall.  Winter’s War is I guess much like that too.  It’s no Maleficent to say the least, but it’s written very much along those lines.

James Newton Howard

James Newton Howard

I guess the main thing that keeps it below that standard is the lack of a truly strong set of themes.  I’m reliably informed that barely any music is reprised from the first score – given I can’t remember it, I wouldn’t know – and to be honest if there’s a third film four years from now then I probably won’t remember if any of this music is reprised in that one either.  But while they might not stick in the memory, there are several good melodic ideas, all very typical of this composer, with those stirring harmonies he does so well, but only one theme that really sticks around.

An early highlight is the beautiful choral “Lacrimosa” but it’s not until the second half of “The Children Arrive” (ten minutes into the album) that the score really feels like it gets going, when an heroic theme emerges on the horns, with a martial percussive momentum underneath it.  The first real drama is “Freya’s Spell”, a sinister action motif emerging which is later reprised in “Tavern Brawl”, a solid cue marred a little I think by the unnecessary electronics.  Later, “Goblin King” is an angry, growling action track – and the subsequent “The Goblin Fight” even more so, full of Howard’s little trademarks for such music and very entertaining.

“Where’s My Horse?” is a question I often find myself asking, and it’s a beautiful cue, delicate and full of class.  Indeed, there are several sweet little cues which are really quite lovely – “We Are Worthy of Each Other” perhaps the loveliest of all, the gentle piano solo and lilting arrangement of the main theme coming together beautifully.  The finale “Ravenna’s Embrace” opens with some really nice choral music before the orchestra enters to deliver the score’s strongest few minutes of music – when the inevitable swell from the strings comes a minute or so before the end, it’s really quite stirring.

Having said all that about the highlights, those tracks don’t quite make up half an hour, and while that’s a perfectly respectable amount of strong music, unfortunately the album runs for 75 and the rest of it is really rather bland.  Every time the score makes you sit up and take notice, a couple of minutes later it starts trundling along again seemingly without much direction, and that’s a shame.  On the whole it’s certainly an enjoyable ride and this is one of those film scores where you’re left wondering what might have been if the composer had found as much inspiration from the whole film as he evidently did from certain parts of it, but James Newton Howard is a classy film composer when he’s writing this kind of music and so even if it’s not near the top of the range by his standards, it’s still worth hearing.

Rating: ***

See also: Snow White and the Huntsman James Newton Howard | |

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  1. Lu-Hiep Phan (Reply) on Tuesday 7 June, 2016 at 16:58

    This album suffered from the same issue as the first one. Long running time with few highlights. But when you get to them, it’s almost worth wait. You’re right that the 75 minute album is over long. A 30-45 minute length album would have been much more satisfying.

  2. ANDRÉ, Cape Town. (Reply) on Wednesday 8 June, 2016 at 00:44

    The score works remarkably well in the movie, complimenting the production values, storyline and period settings perfectly. I was unimpressed with the sample tracks selected by Screen Archives, and had decided to avoid this score…but after hearing NEWTON-HOWARDS fanfares, dark choral and orchestral themes for the malice and evil done to humanity by the sorceresses, AND then the sumptuous, triumphant symphonic cues for the return of stability to the world and mastery over chaos, I’m now looking forward to the score-CD. Once again, the music will rekindle images of Charlize Theron’s ‘Ravenna’… Emily Blunt’s ‘Freya’… and Chris Hemsworth’s easy-going hero, Eric — AND that marvellous golden magical mirror with all its malignant power.