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August 08, 2004

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The Village by James Newton Howard

The Village by James Newton Howard

M. Night Shyamalan's The Village, had been one of the Summer's more highly anticipated films; not for special effect "ooos and ahhs," but from the potential of experiencing a film that might just challenge the brain (and other portions of the nervous system).  While the film opened well at the box office, it had already met with tepid reviews.  For film music fans; however, the anticipation was for the next release of one the more prolific of Hollywood's composers - James Newton Howard. 

Expectations of The Village's score might have centered around Howard's last collaboration with Shyamalan, Signs, but instead the listener is met with something quite different.  One of the James Newton Howard's most engaging scores to date was the subtle yet poignant, Snow Falling on Cedars and The Village tends to have more in common with the latter than Signs.  As intensely enjoyable Signs was, this is a welcome surprise.

The strongest connection to Snow Falling on Cedars is the music's core coming from the strings.  Instead of the pulsing-twilight-zone-like intensity which began and ran throughout Signs, The Village begins and is coursed through with a tender, lullaby-like main theme played on the violin.  Another shared characteristic between the two scores is swirling layer of strings which continually build upon one another heightening suspense and anticipation.  For The Village that anticipation is finally met with brief instances of music which are certainly meant as pay-offs for all the suspense.

Of course,  audiences are not flocking to see a bedtime story and The Village is not all lullaby and strings.  There are a number of tracks which are anything but comforting, such as track 4, Those We Don't Speak of, track 9, The Forbidden Line and track 12, It's Not Real.  Each of these provides ample contrast to the remaining, more docile, tracks.  However, the CD's listening experience can be a bit jolting as a result.

Overall, The Village, whether it can maintain its success at the box office or not, contains another worthy musical effort from James Newton Howard.  The softness of the score is perhaps Howard's own "twist" meant for the film music fan as opposed to the always anticipated plot twist from Shyamalan.  Fortunately, this musical curve works and while the score may not be getting headlines, it is no doubt one of the Summer's more intriguing efforts.
 

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King Arthur by Hans Zimmer

King Arthur by Hans Zimmer

Galloping into the Summer movie-mayhem of 2004, comes the Antoine Fuqua directed King Arthur. For some, the choice of Fuqua (Training Day) as director might only be out done by the selection of Hans Zimmer as the film's composer.

The key to enjoying the film is understanding that the writers and producers have sought to tell a "historical" tale of Arthur, his knights, and his beloved Gwenivere. A fact not clearly communicated in the trailers I have seen. Gone are references to Camelot and the Merlin the wizard (although his character is still represented), chases for Holy Grails, ladies of lakes and so on. Instead we have Arthur or Arturius...a Roman who has been named protectorate of the southern half of Britain. Arthur's charge is to protect the Roman/Christian half of the island from the invading Saxons as well as from the continual resistance of the indeginous, pagan peoples of the island. So the connection of composer Hans Zimmer to King Arthur might stark to make a bit more sense, if one will "connect the dots."

Ah. Let's start with Romans - who once feasted on the exploits of their...Gladiators. Ah Gladiators. Get the tie in? If you do, it would seem, then that Hans Zimmer, crafter of the memorable film score from Ridley Scott's Gladiator is not such a stretch. Perhaps to the modern day moviegoer, having contemporary-flavored film scores set to historical backdrops, is more than expectable as long as the score is evocative. OK. Not buying it? Perhaps it is simpler than all that. King Arthur is, afterall, a Jerry Bruckheimer produced film and this prolific producer/composer tandem has resulted in recognizable efforts such as Crimson Tide, The Rock, and Pearl Harbor.

For Zimmer-haters out there, they will find a number of "Been there. Heard that" characteristics...not the least of them Zimmer's collaborative song with Moya Brennen, "Tell Me Now (What You See)," which opens the CD. Echoes of Clannad and The Mists of Avalon permeate the piece. While the song is serviceable, it's hardly memorable.

Now, for the true Zimmerites though, the familiar elements will be found as the score's strengths. The core strength of Zimmer's score for King Arthur is found in its heroic main theme and forceful action pieces. Best exemplifying this might be track 2, Woad to Ruin.  It is a powerhouse of classic Zimmer musical embattlements, most notably the return of a powerful male chorus. The track lasts some 11 minutes and one-half minutes, that will sure to delight even the marginal Zimmer fan. Also of note is track 4, Hold the Ice, which accompanies the most engaging sequence of the film, Unfortunately, this sequence made the intended climactic battle anything but

King Arthur certainly isn't a complete rehash of scores of years gone by. Overlaying the synthesized background are classic, celtic, percussive and wind instruments that gives the score a welcome bit of "tangibility"...a bit of earthiness only occasionally attached to a Zimmer project. Hans Zimmer's work here isn't groundbreaking, but, at the very least, it is one of his most sublime efforts in the last 5 years. Overall, King Arthur is a strong effort...stronger than the film itself. While the film is hurt from awkward editing, a bagful of inconsistencies, and rather drab characters, Zimmer's score easily takes roost in one's memory and long after the final credit has rolled.

 

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Sci-Fi in Hi-Fi by Neil Norman

Sci-fi in Hi-Fi by Neil Norman

Sci-Fi Rock Star, Neil Norman takes flight once again with the release of the Sci-Fi compilation, Sci-Fi in Hi-Fi. For those who are not familiar with Neil Norman's style, just think "Mecco" with 21st Century fidelity. For the hard-core film or television theme fan who needs something to do their jazzercize to, Neil Norman is your man! For Sci-Fi in Hi-Fi Neil "Normanizes" most every recognizable sci-fi theme from the last century (Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Jurassic Park)...and some which were not too recognizable to begin with (UFO, The Prisoner). The lone track that bares any real resemblance to the original theme is from the 80's television show, Airwolf. With the orchestral exception of track 20, Jurassic Park - The Lost World Medley, the "band" elements take center stage on this disc: electric guitar, drums, and oh those retro-20th century synths!

What separates this particular release from Neil Norman's previous compilations is that this CD packs both standard DSD CD audio, but also a Super Audio CD layer! The selection of film music released in SACD is still relatively thin, so credit must given to both Norman and label, Audio Fidelity, for producing this hybrid disc.  If you're feeling adventurous, in search of something different, or just want to test out the capabilities of your finely-tuned, upscale, home theater system, then Sci-Fi in Hi-Fi by Neil Norman might be worth a spin.

Make no mistake about it, as with most Neil Normal projects, Sci-Fi in Hi-Fi is for a very select group - the kind of group that even a film music fan might call "a little off center." Still, if one is in a quirky, spoofy, retro-sort of mood, this CD could fit the bill.
 

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