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Howard continues fine partnership with a director who doesn't deserve him

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Album cover copyright (c) 2006 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall

M. Night Shyamalan is one of the few directors in Hollywood who truly tends to polarise opinion.  I suppose it's nice that in this day and age, at least someone's provoking a little debate with his films.  But that's about the only nice thing I can say about them.  Virtually everyone - even the director's most fervent fans - is agreed that his films have pretty much been on a downward spiral since his breakthrough The Sixth Sense.  I certainly think so - but given that I thought The Sixth Sense was a risible piece of junk which wouldn't have been too far out of place in some student film competition, that downward spiral plunged even further depths with the stupefyingly ridiculous Unbreakable and threatened to find the earth's core with Signs.  After that, I gave up, so I'm unable to offer an opinion on The Village or indeed Lady in the Water - I'm sure nobody's too concerned about that.

One thing that all five of these films have in common is great music, with James Newton Howard's contributions to the films being of a very high standard throughout.  The Village was something of a pinnacle, with its beautiful, folksy violin solos and all, but Lady in the Water certainly comes close to matching its quality.  I've read a couple of reviews of the film but haven't really been able to tell what it's about (something I seem to have in common with most people who have seen it) - some kind of fantasy.  And a sense of the fantastic pervades Howard's score throughout, with gorgeous modal progressions dominating proceedings.

Impressively, Howard actually avoids the pitfalls that would have tripped up most film composers today, by restraining from piling on a 100-piece orchestra and similar-sized choir from start to finish, instead employing far subtler orchestrations most of the time, with gentle synth textures embellishing harp and modest strings in many cues.  Sometimes - such as in "Charades" - Howard underpins this atmosphere with a horn theme which is barely present but works on a kind of subliminal level as a result.  It's very clever stuff.  The same cue sees the debut appearance of the main theme, a Goldsmithian piece which might be from The Haunting or something (I suspect that was the temp-track, particularly the solo flute part).  That said, when the piece develops and a very distant female choir is added, the music is 100% James Newton Howard - his musical voice having developed into one of the most strong and recognisable around.

There's much music here which is very beautiful - on top of the hues already described, Howard adds in some piano solos which add a perfect floating texture, suggesting water.  It's not all fun and games though, with some rather darker music here too - "The Blue World" is a piece full of mystery and intrigue, with some soft, dissonant textures being employed wonderfully well.  It builds into something very grand and dramatic by the end, again recalling The Haunting (one of Goldsmith's most underrated scores, by the way) - this time the cavernous horn sound of that score's action music.

Howard saves the best till the end, closing out the score with an oustanding triumvirate of cues, "The Healing", "The Great Eatlon" and the end titles piece, which run together unbroken (rather begging the question as to why they're indexed separately) as a single eleven-minute piece which is as impressive as anything Howard's ever done.  Finally releasing the tension which has built up during the score, the composer unleashes a rhapsody of colour and beauty - he builds slowly even here, but when the full orchestra and choir are unleashed in their full glory in the middle section, it feels like the payoff has been earned - this is no cheap manipulation as is so common in film music, it feels like the whole score has been building to this place, and it's truly electrifying.  One slight disappointment: the end titles don't end properly, instead seguing into the first of the four Bob Dylan songs (covered by others) which follow.

This is consistently a very good score and features some music which goes well beyond just "very good" - overall, perhaps some parts in the middle aren't quite interesting enough to elevate the score to being quite at the same level as The Village, but even so it's clearly one of 2006's finest.  For all that I think of Shyamalan's films, if they continue to inspire James Newton Howard as much as this then I don't care how bad they are - I don't have to watch them, after all! - I'll keep buying the CDs.  It's well-produced, with a soft recording from Shawn Murphy which suits the music very well, and just over 40 minutes of original music is the perfect length for most scores.  Excellent.


  1. Prologue (2:52)
  2. The Party (6:40)
  3. Charades (5:50)
  4. Ripples in the Pool (1:49)
  5. The Blue World (4:25)
  6. Giving the Kii (1:49)
  7. Walkie Talkie (2:08)
  8. Cereal Boxes (2:33)
  9. Officer Jimbo (3:31)
  10. The Healing (4:03)
  11. The Great Eatlon (4:41)
  12. End Titles (1:43)
  13. The Times They Are A-Changin' Whisper in the Noise (5:59)
  14. Every Grain of Sand Amanda Ghost (4:15)
  15. It Ain't Me Babe Silvertide (3:46)
  16. Maggie's Farm Silvertide (3:36)