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THE WATER HORSE
Nice, but derivative fantasy score
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
JAMES NEWTON HOWARD
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2007 Sony Pictures Entertainment, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
A new Loch Ness Monster film? Again? Well, I'm not sure the world was exactly crying out for one, but here's The Water Horse. Director Jay Russell has generally worked with composer William Ross in the past, but has gone straight to one of Hollywood's favourite composers James Newton Howard for his latest - Howard himself has been writing mostly subdued scores for dramas of late, so this is a bit of a departure, and presumably a welcome one for his fans who prefer his more large-scale outings.
The film's set in Scotland. That should tell you pretty much all you need to know about the score, because all Hollywood films set in Scotland, or which mention Scotland, or in which a character may at some stage have known someone who had a second cousin who was from Scotland, will feature music which is dominated by... Ireland. Yes, nobody actually puts Scottish music in Hollywood scores, but Ireland's not all that far away, I guess, and so here we get Sinead O'Connor singing the opening song and The Chieftains joining in with the orchestra for Howard's score. I thought that sort of thing had pretty much run its course by now, but sadly not, so there's yet more of the happy-happy Oirish stuff for the listener's delectation. Nothing could make me reach for the "skip" button any faster. Still, if you're into that sort of thing then I'm sure you won't be disappointed.
Fortunately, there's more to the score than that, and when Howard is concentrating solely on the orchestra he writes his most captivating music since Lady in the Water. As can be the case with this composer, it's not so much the melody that grabs the attention, but more the way it's presented, the little flourishes in the orchestration, the sheer professionalism of it all. Howard's not a composer who is ever likely to make me leap out of my seat in amazement, but when he chooses to be he is perfectly capable of crafting impressive music, and at its peak The Water Horse certainly contains that.
There's nothing new here (you can track the temp-track from Far and Away to Braveheart and, curiously, for large parts of the middle The Horse Whisperer - Howard doesn't quote from them, but they're never far away) but then, I guess one shouldn't expect there to be (this composer writing music for this director was never likely to produce a score brimming with fresh, original ideas) and when staying away from the Celtic stuff there's nothing at all to dislike. The finest piece is "Swimming", featuring some dynamic orchestral adventure music punctuated by occasional choral appearances. It's impressive stuff, and rescues the score from being "pretty but forgettable" to something worth hearing. Even the Irish influences are done in a much more subtle way within the track. When the main theme soars away about a minute before the end of the cue, it's a magical moment.
The Water Horse is a pleasant, frequently charming score not without its frustrations, but equally not without its highlights. It's not exactly Lady in the Water, but it's nice to hear something like this from Howard rather than the turgid, dull thriller scores he's been doing recently and I'm sure the composer's many fans will be delighted with it.