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Rather dull action score is far from infectious
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
JAMES NEWTON HOWARD
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 1995 Warner Bros.; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
Wolfgang Petersen's rather disappointing Outbreak is a thriller centered around the spread of a deadly virus in a small US town and the military's attempts to contain it - but with the top brass (for no obvious reason that is disclosed in the film) wanting to blow everyone up rather than cure them. With an absurdly overqualified cast - Dustin Hoffman, Morgan Freeman, Donald Sutherland, Kevin Spacey - it is quite good fun, even though it's so dumb. Petersen has been eclectic when choosing composers in the past, but seemed to get a safe pair of hands here with James Newton Howard, who wasn't exactly the A-lister he is today, but had a solid enough body of work behind him on this kind of film.
It is surprising how low-key the score is - while in part this is due to the somewhat abbreviated album (this was 1995, the days of half-hour soundtrack albums), it is also a general facet of Howard's approach to the film, which was to accentuate the suspense rather than the action. He does this, typically, with little thematic cohesion - you could play these tracks in any order, there isn't any development from one to another, or even much relation between any of them - but it works well enough in the film.
The opening main title accentuates that sequence's African setting with the percussion and subtle choir; and "Motoba River Valley" even includes a few seconds from then-ubiquitous Lebo M. After this, it's quite a while before anything interesting happens - the emphasis is on inconsequential suspense music which doesn't leave much impression at all. The beautiful "Robbie's Bedside" features the score's only memorable melodic material, which is really very pleasant.
The main action music is saved for the final two tracks, which occupy about a third of the album's running time between them, and these are easily the score's best. "A Little Resistance" features some vibrant, muscular music which shows off Howard at his most engaging. It's nothing earthshattering, but fares so well in comparison with what has preceded it for twenty minutes that it's difficult not to love. The lengthy "They're Coming" wraps things up, and while it seems a little unfocused, it's still enjoyable enough. Outbreak features two excellent cues totalling ten minutes, and one or two other moments of note - so I guess Howard fans will want to pick it up. He's done far better elsewhere, however.