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Beautiful score is early highlight from JNH
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
JAMES NEWTON HOWARD
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 1993 Hollywood Pictures; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
I am always slightly suspicious when I read about people's first album they bought, or book they read, or film they saw - how do they remember, am I the only one who can't remember anything likek that? However, I do remember the first book I read which really left a lasting impression on me when I was a boy, and it was Piers Paul Read's Alive, recounting the true story of the Uruguayan rugby team whose plane crashed in the Andes in 1972 and when, incredibly, 16 of the 45 people on-board managed to survive two months of living in unbelievable conditions before the last of them was rescued. It was turned into a decent film in 1993 (which I loved at the time) directed by Frank Marshall.
The music is by James Newton Howard and is the best of his scores up to that point. It maintains just the right balance between the film's various requirements - conveying both the beauty and deadliness of the landscape; both the courage (and eventual triumph) of the passengers and their terror and the awful decisions they have to make. The album opens with "The First Night", which does a good job of doing all of those things - the beautiful flute solo and more homely piano certainly offering some hope, some beauty, but some mournful sorrow.
The score's attention-grabbing sequences are for when good things happen to the passengers - "Finding the Tail" is an excellent example, with the florid orchestration boosting a fine melody, and Howard remaining impressively restrained on the whole despite the temptation to go all-out with the sweeping strings which I imagine was hard to resist. The cue also introduces a lovely guitar solo, perhaps a nod to the South American locale, which fits in very well. The best theme is heard in "Alberto", one of those tunes that does much of its good work in the harmonic department.
"Eating" is the film's most notorious sequence, and was I imagine very hard to score well, but Howard did so, musically conveying a range of emotions, using synth pan flutes to provide the inevitable, effective awkward feeling underpinning the longing and desire represented by the flute and violin parts. As the film draws towards its finale, so Howard finally really releases the shackles and allows the music to go full-pelt - "It's God" with a soaring trumpet theme; "The Final Climb" reprises a couple of earlier themes, Howard once again combining conflicting emotions with real class; and finally, a lovely end credits piece which is very recognisably from this composer, and one of the album's certain highlights.
In truth there is no shortage of those - this is fine music, used extremely thoughtfully and extremely well in the film, and it's a pity the album is now hard-to-find (though a couple are available at the time of writing from the Amazon link). At 30 minutes, there's certainly a feeling that the album could have run far longer and been even more satisfying, but even so this should be in any James Newton Howard fan's collection, and while he has written many fine scores since, this remains one of his very best efforts.