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Soundtrack review: The Village (James Newton Howard, 2004)

JNH Thursday

Soundtrack review: The Village (James Newton Howard, 2004)


The collaboration between writer/director M. Night Shyamalan and James Newton Howard is one of the most durable and successful pairing the film music world has seen. It’s been the source of some of the best movie scores in the past 15 years, and it’s one of the reasons James Newton Howard is my second favorite composer.
I am starting today a series that will go on until the end of the year, JNH Thursday. Each week I will review one of my favorite JNH scores, because he is one of the composers that made me fall in love with film music some 13 years ago.
“The Village” is the first Shyamalan project where a gap appears between the score quality and the movie quality. His first three movies were all amazing, as were the scores. Here, the movie was found lacking. James Newton Howards’s score though remains one of his most treasured to date, and was nominated for the Academy Awards.
Violin has always been my favorite instrument to hear in a music score. A violin solo can affect me more than any other instrument, it goes way deeper. Before “The village”, I was always looking for scores that featured Itzhak Perlman. He is my favorite violin player, and his magnificent collaborations on John Williams’ scores are among my favorite movie cues ever. With the help of James Newton Howard, I discovered Hillary Hahn.
Her violin dominates and completes this score. It complements JNH’s usual subtlety and adds an extra dimension to it. This score is like a beautiful black and white painting with sudden bursts of bright colors in some parts, inserts that make me appreciate it even more. When an exceptional composer meets such a gifted musician, magic happens. The first track, “Noah visits”, is like a haunting soft cry that you hear in the middle of the night. “What are you asking me” follows and introduces the main theme of the movie, a sweet and haunting melody.
“The vote” is a wonderful dialogue between composer and soloist…It starts like a trademark JNH cue: rich, with dark undertones, vibrating, like the deep sea in the middle of the night. 4 minutes into it everything else goes silent, and the violin takes over like a faraway beacon: lonely, quiet and pulsating, and the world around it watches it, unable to reach it.
And then comes “The gravel road”….A cue like this comes along once every few years; it not easy for a composer to come up with such a perfect cue and also for the orchestra or soloists to be able to transform his vision in such blissful sounds. Hillary Hahn’s violin sounds not of this Earth in “The gravel road”. This cue tears me apart and puts me back together again; it’s pure, lonely, tender, and heartbreaking and it will remain a landmark in JNH’s career. There is nothing more powerful than a haunting and sweet violin solo. The wealth of emotions it transmits is almost too much to bear. I am unable to move when I listen to this cue; it stops my world with its pure beauty.
“The Village” left something inside me that won’t go away. It is a dark, beautiful and unforgettable composition and we should consider ourselves fortunate that James Newton Howard is around and making such wonderful music. We’ll all get to know him and his music better, every Thursday from now on…
My ratings (for the complete version):
Cue rating:  76 / 100
Total minutes of excellence: 65 / 83
Album excellence: 79%
Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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