- Composed by James Newton Howard
- Sony Classical / 2011 / 60:15
Another of those circus-based romantic dramas set during the great depression, Water for Elephants is based on the novel by Sarah Gruen and directed by Francis Lawrence, changing pace considerably from his previous film, I Am Legend. As with that film, the music is provided by James Newton Howard. The soundtrack album sounds like a bit of a compilation, featuring uncredited arrangements of various pieces of Alexandre Desplat’s music for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Thomas Newman’s Scent of a Woman (and others), Elmer Bernstein’s To Kill a Mockingbird and a bit of James Horner too. Howard does have previous form here (he’s written a couple of action scores in the last few years which seem to be a direct impersonation of John Powell and his little-known The Emperor’s Club was itself almost entirely based on Newman’s Scent of a Woman).
I must say that this isn’t a full-scale hatchet job, à la 300. Howard doesn’t lift music verbatim but it would be hard to argue that a huge proportion of the score isn’t substantively a rearrangement of other film music. There’s one original theme here which is very nice, also a few standalone cues of real merit, particularly the darker moments of the score’s second half – and indeed Howard’s arrangements of the temp track are expertly done to make the whole thing blend together reasonably well. I am just astonished that a composer of his standing would agree to do this – I know the argument is that if the composer doesn’t do what is asked of him, he will quickly find employment harder to come by, but surely Howard is offered enough movies that he could work on high-profile films without having to compromise himself as distastefully as he has here. It’s hard to form a real conclusion without seeming hypocritical given my past words on scores like 300 – and that’s because actually this blending of other music works really well to form a lovely album. Were I not familiar with any of the music on which it is based I would award the album four stars – whether rational or not, I find my enjoyment of it is tempered enough to not be able to do that, but it isn’t tempered so much that all enjoyment is removed. ***