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988 1413

Artwork copyright (c) 2005 Paramount Pictures and Dreamworks, LLC; review copyright (c) 2005 James Southall



Enthralling, dark music


A side-effect of John Williams's remarkable ability to become associated with the biggest of box office successes has in recent years been a bit of a lack of variety in the kinds of films he scores.  Since the turn of the century, he has scored eleven films: the first was The Patriot and after that, there have been three Harry Potters, two lots of Star Wars and five Steven Spielbergs.  It's great that he is still at the top of his game and I don't want to sound excessively morbid, but he is obviously coming towards the end of his remarkable career and it would be wonderful if he were able to spend some time working on smaller films (as he did in the past) and thus having the opportunity to show off a side of his enormous talents which hasn't been exploited nearly as much as it should have been.

In any case, his latest Spielberg blockbuster is War of the Worlds, an updated adaptation of H.G. Wells's classic starring Tom Cruise.  At least working with Spielberg does give him different types of blockbuster to score, and this is a long way from their previous film, The Terminal - but musically not all that far from Minority Report of a couple of years earlier.  That brought in a new kind of Williams score, with a very dark style of rhythmic action music which he has also used extensively in the two most recent Star Wars instalments - but it's developed to its fullest extent yet, here.  Try to imagine a whole score which sounds like "Anderton's Great Escape" from Minority Report and you're not all that far off the mark here.

This is the most intensive and dark score Williams has ever written for Spielberg, moreso than Jaws or Close Encounters of the Third Kind, with the composer offering little respite from terror throughout the music.  The album opens with Morgan Freeman narrating over the "Prologue", with the musical accompaniment being low key and surprisingly garnished with electronics; the real fun begins in "The Ferry Scene", the first of many action tracks.  The darkness doesn't particularly subside in "Reaching the Country" which follows, but here Williams brings emotions to the fore, with a strained, almost elegiac portrait of despair which certainly has a clear antecedent in the most dramatic music in Revenge of the Sith.

The album continues to alternate between these two styles (with the emphasis very much on the former); with the composer's orchestration continually favouring the low end of the sonic spectrum, there is little break from the bleak sounds.  Williams's writing has reached such a mature level he seems to continually be able to project an elegant voice even with frenetic action music (I can't think of another film composer who does it so eloquently) which means the music never becomes unattractive, even when it is rather oppressive.  His writing for orchestra is just as strong as ever - there always seems to be so much going on, never a wasted note, always something new to discover on each new listen.  Notable in War of the Worlds is a far more prominent role for electronics than is usual in a Williams score; doing that has been just about the only thing he never seemed to master in the past, but even that is behind him here, with them blended seamlessly with the orchestra to create a perfect sound for the film.

War of the Worlds is a rare Williams score with no real main theme, but it isn't hampered by that at all.  Indeed, with the composer sometimes guilty of stating and restating themes a bit too often for my liking, it probably makes it a rather stronger album.  Each new track brings something new to the table.   This is a score which, more than most, benefits from repeated listens: there is such a rich detail to it that the more you listen, the more you hear (if you see what I mean).  Even though it is very dark music, it is never unlistenable, and at one hour the album seems the perfect length - and it's wonderfully produced, flowing very well from start to end (which is by no means always the case with Williams albums, which frequently need a bit of reprogramming to get the best out of them).  The music is completely riveting, always drawing the listener in with quieter moments before unleashing another barrage of orchestral terror.  This is not a score as broad or as satisfying as Revenge of the Sith was just a few weeks earlier, but it amply demonstrates that Williams remains at the top of his game.  

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  1. Prologue (2:52)
  2. The Ferry Scene (5:49)
  3. Reaching the Country (3:24)
  4. The Intersection Scene (4:13)
  5. Ray and Rachel (2:41)
  6. Escape from the City (3:49)
  7. Probing the Basement (4:12)
  8. Refugee Status (3:50)
  9. The Attack on the Car (2:44)
  10. The Separation of the Family (2:36)
  11. The Confrontation with Ogilvy (4:34)
  12. The Return to Boston (4:29)
  13. Escape from the Basket (9:21)
  14. The Reunion (3:16)
  15. Epilogue (3:11)