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Soundtrack review: Outbreak (James Newton Howard – 1995)

Film scores JNH Thursday

Soundtrack review: Outbreak (James Newton Howard – 1995)


“Outbreak” is a 1993 movie with a stellar cast. Almost every actor in the movie is an Academy Award winner or nominee and it’s a pleasure to watch the likes of Kevin Spacey, Dustin Hoffman, Morgan Freeman, Rene Russo, Cuba Gooding jr or Donald Sutherland act in this frightening and gripping story about a deadly African virus running a rampage in America. This is one of those stories that can hit pretty close to home because something like this could happen at any moment. The score was written by James Newton Howard and benefits from an extended release this year. 1990s JNH is a very interesting period. Before he became the master of dark subtlety and sensitivity, James Newton Howard used to tackle a lot of thrillers in that decade. Some worked fine, others not as much. From what I remember, I liked this one.

When I hear “Motaba River Valley / Walk Through Village” connections start forming in my mind. There’s the urgency I loved in “The fugitive” and here are the suspense motifs bordering on horror which will return, together with the echoes of a female voice, in scores like “Signs” many years later. James Newton Howard is my second favorite composer and I’ve listened to most of his works. I love hearing how his music evolved and I love discovering buds of brilliance in his earlier works.

“Outbreak” is all about the terror of that deadly virus. The general feeling of the movie is fear and the music reflects that in a way only JNH can produce. All the fans of his works for M. Night Shyamalan will undoubtedly recognize here the birth of that sound. It’s not as melodic and it doesn’t have that dark velvet feel yet but it’s there, at its most raw and frightening. I also recognize moments from “King Kong”. All this references the feelings show me that ”Outbreak” is a very important score in the evolution of James Newton Howard as a composer. Some of his 90s output could even go unnoticed but not this composition. Just like the virus in the move, his sound for this score beautifully infected his future works and for me those future compositions wouldn’t have been that good without “Outbreak”.

During the 100 minutes of minutes of this release there is time for the entire palette of feelings this wonderful composer can pour in his music. Besides the grave terror and suspense which makes the meat of this score, we have alert and masterfully paced action cues ( “Trying to escape” leaves me out of breath and is something that would make even Jerry Goldsmith proud), tender romantic cues (“Keep the dogs” comes to mind) and melodic inserts that shine some light in the atmosphere.

I can’t help but pull another rthread from “Outbreak” which leads me to another JNH favorite, “I am legend”: “Nobody Leaves Town / E-1101 / Quiet Streets” brings that sweeping heartbreak back and I realize that there is actually a connection between how the two movies feel in some moments.

“Outbreak” for me is one of the best and most influential scores James Newton Howard has written in the 90s. I am glad I got to rediscover it in this deluxe edition and I recommended to anyone who loves his music.

Cue rating:

Total minutes of excellence:

Album excellence:


The Bomb / Main Title

Motaba River Valley / Walk Through Village

Keep The Dogs

Examining The Virus / Old Friend

Jimbo Frees Monkey / Jimbo Gets Sick / Blood Splatters

Jimbo Dies / Autopsy

Sam On Runway / Ford Gets Antibody / Good Luck

Military Arrives


Sam Through Mob / Isolating Town / Pet Store

Trying To Escape

Nobody Leaves Town / E-1101 / Quiet Streets

White Flags

Cedar Creek Exodus

Casey Rips His Suit

Robbie’s Symptoms

TV Station / Sam On TV

Cops Arrive / Mcclintock Takes Off

A Little Resistance / Helicopter Chase

Robbie’s Bedside (Film Version)

Robbie’s Cured / End Credits

A Little Resistance (Album Version)

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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