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Latest JNH/MNS collaboration is another winner
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
JAMES NEWTON HOWARD
* * * 1/2
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2008 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; review copyright (c) 2008 James Southall.
Director M. Night Shyamalan returns to safer ground with The Happening after his much-derided fantasy Lady in the Water. The film concerns a disaster which threatens to end mankind's presence on the planet - not a completely original idea, but right up this director's street. Reviews have been predictably mixed (they are for all his films) but I imagine it's well-made and handsome to look at. Of course, he reunites with composer James Newton Howard (this is their sixth film together) - this collaboration has undoubtedly become one of the most musically-fruitful in Hollywood. Howard can be a highly-frustrating composer, able to write truly fine film music when he wants to, but alternating it with absolute tripe (I know it's a crowded field, but Michael Clayton is surely the weakest music ever to have been nominated for an Academy Award). One thing about him is predictable however - he always brings out his A-game for Shyamalan.
The prominent credit on the album cover for cellist Maya Beiser immediately brings hope that this might be similar to The Village with its outstanding Hilary Hahn violin solos; it doesn't, really, but the cello is at the heart of everything. I guess the score to which this is closest is Signs - an almost constant sense of foreboding rather than outright terror, Howard cleverly constructing each and every one of the chills. The main titles introduce the dirge-like main theme, which is tremendously effective (check out the explosive end to "Central Park") - nothing hugely original, but still really impressive.
The tone is obviously dark throughout, and my only complaint is that in its middle-section, the overall mood is so unchanging, perhaps some judicious pruning of a couple of the pieces would have prevented the album dragging at all - it's no great problem, just a little thing which prevents it from joining the ranks of Howard's top work for this director. One thing I like is that even though everything is so dark, it is never actually that cold - the cello (and actually just as frequent) piano solos maintain the human touch. When the tension is finally resolved for the tremendous finale "Be With You" (a really warm conclusion to the score) it doesn't feel like a cheap film music trick, as these things often can - it feels thoroughly deserved, as if everything really has been building up to that moment.
The great news is that after that there is a lengthy end title suite composed specifically for the occasion - a rarity these days - and it's a really good one, even introducing some new material which builds on the score. I remember when every film used to have one of these, and it's a real shame that it's now so uncommon that it's worthy of a paragraph to itself in a review - but it would be great if the practice could be reintroduced. The Happening is a fine score - mature, rewarding, chilling in its own way. Recommended.