Soundtrack review: Unbreakable (James Newton Howard – 2000)
When I think back at the compositions that ignited my love for film music, there’s a core group of 7 or 8 that get the credit. I consider them the original sparks, the perfect scores that invited me into a world I couldn’t live without now.
The second collaboration between M Night Shyamalan and James Newton Howard (and, incidentally, my favorite movie from the bunch and one of my favorite superhero origin story movies ever) is one of these scores. As I was leaving the theater after the movie, two things were stuck in my head: Samuel L Jackson saying “I think this is where we shake hands” and the unbelievable music I had heard in two key moments of the movie.
I went home and started frantically searching for more information about that unreal music. I had gotten real goose bumps during the big reveal of the movie, but the music had had the biggest contribution. I identified the two cues as “The orange man” and “Mr Glass”. Then I discovered the entire score and I was hypnotized. I had never heard anything like it. The first time I played it, I listened to the entire album four times. It was the most beautiful thing I had heard in my life. The subtle, minimalist tones… the sweet darkness… the beautiful melodies… I was amazed that I could actually identify instruments… I heard strings… a trumpet… a piano… A new world was opening itself up to me and I jumped right in. How could a piano sound so gentle? How could the piano keys sound like my own heartbeats? How could music be so deep and in the same time so easy to connect with? I felt like a superhero myself… Had I developed super hearing, had my sensitivity increased hundred fold, what was going on with me? I closed my eyes and remembered Bruce Willis stretching out his hands in that crowd and feeling everything everyone had done; I realized how difficult it must have been for him to be aware of such a power suddenly, because I was feeling the same thing with the music. Can I handle it? My life was going to change from that moment… As cues like “The wreck”, “The orange man” or “Mr. Glass” were building up I was slowly acknowledging a new awareness inside me. The music was flowing inside me, filling me up to the brim until the moment of acceptance. Everything I had heard until then seemed trivial and empty.
…I still get nonstop goose bumps when I listen to this score and its theme. I am still amazed that a composition like this exists. No matter how many masterpieces James Newton Howard has come up with since then, this still is one of my ten favorite movie scores of all time. “Unbreakable” is the most subtle and sensitive score from the most subtle and sensitive composer. “Unbreakable” is the serum that makes a film music listener feel like a superhero.
James Newton Howard just told me “I think this is where we shake hands…” and showed me the world of absolutely beautiful film music. It took a while for me to recover, and it’s still one of my greatest desires to be able to shake his hand back and thank him for everything. I wouldn’t be here without “Unbreakable”.