James Newton Howard,
The Village soundtrack
(Hollywood, 2004)

M. Night Shyamalan has used James Newton Howard to compose the soundtrack music for all of his films, and the score for The Village, their fourth and latest such collaboration, totally succeeds in providing just the right mood for each scene, helping significantly to create the ominous atmosphere that Shyamalan's movies are known for.

As a stand-alone CD, however, there's not much actual music that works outside the context of the movie. Sure, the Hollywood Studio Symphony sounds great and there are virtuoso violin performances by Hilary Hahn, but the net result is more sound effect than musical composition.

Hahn's violin dominates the sound and her playing is beautiful, but this is purely the audio element of the movie. Her violin can sound wistful and melancholy one minute, spooky and terrifying the next. Harps and flutes add seasoning when needed. With occasional classical sounding interludes, the orchestra here is unquestionably effective at building the tension that helps propel the story of The Village.

Howard has had an incredible career in music since starting out as a keyboard player in the early '70s. His discography of credits as a producer and session musician reads like the book of musical history of the 1970s and '80s and includes Elton John, George Benson, Carly Simon, Neil Diamond, Diana Ross, Earth Wind & Fire, Boz Scaggs, Crosby Stills & Nash and Eric Clapton, to name just a few of the hundreds of artists he has worked with.

As varied and accomplished as his popular music career was, he has eclipsed himself as a film score composer and producer of film soundtrack music. Howard moved into film work in 1985 and has established himself at the top of the field alongside John Williams as one of the go-to composers for major Hollywood blockbusters. He's won three Oscars and one Emmy for his soundtrack work. Howard's website biography has a well-written and completely detailed description of his professional career.

That the soundtrack for The Village works so well within the film is a testament to Howard's skill as a composer and producer, but this soundtrack disc is strictly for soundtrack collectors, Hilary Hahn completists and maybe for diehard fans of Shyamalan films who want an audio souvenir.

by William Kates
29 July 2006

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