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Soundtrack review: Wyatt Earp -complete score (James Newton Howard – 1994)

JNH Thursday

Soundtrack review: Wyatt Earp -complete score (James Newton Howard – 1994)


“Wyatt Earp” is a 1994 American semi-biographical Western film, written by Dan Gordon and Lawrence Kasdan and directed by Kasdan. It stars Kevin Costner in the title role as lawman Wyatt Earp, and features an ensemble cast that includes Dennis Quaid, Gene Hackman, Isabella Rossellini, Mark Harmon, Michael Madsen, Joanna Going, Tom Sizemore, Bill Pullman, JoBeth Williams, Linden Ashby, and Mare Winningham. It’s the second Wyatt Earp themes movie of that year, after Tombstone. Apparently it was made after Kevin Costner couldn’t agree with the Tombstone director to get the story more focused on Earp. This is one of James Newton Howard’s dearest scores and it was released in complete form a couple of years ago. First time I heard it I couldn’t connect very well with it but that’s happened before.

I don’t know if it’s fair or not, but when I think Kevin Costner and Western my standard is John Barry’s “Dances with wolves”, one of the best scores ever written. JNH tells me not to worry with his “Pre-main titles” opening which plays like a zoom in on the landscape where the story will take place. It’s a subdued beginning, a sun rise. The main titles are where the horn really shines as a theme is born. For once I enjoy a jolly and playful orchestral theme that makes me think of riding and vast plains and a new beginning. For me James Newton Howard is strongest when he’s sensitive and dark but this… this is something else, a celebration of western America and film music in the same time.

How amazing is a film music score where f a cue at the very beginning already has the emotional weight and beauty of an end credits suite? Yet “Virgil and James / boys go to town” does just that. The strength of “Wyatt Earp” also resides in how heroic and inspirational almost every little cue is. These are moments you usually wait for once or twice in a score, the pinnacles, the climaxes, and yet each gun fight, each horseback ride in here has the same intensity. I also love to recognize in “Hit to kill” for example an ancestor of one of my favorite JNH themes, “The orange man” from “Unbreakable”. I love to hear a Celtic inspired master themes like the gorgeous “The Railroad / Wyatt Plays Hardball” or “The Buffalo hunt”. The journey of “Wyatt Earp” is magnificent and rewarding. James Newton Howard paints a vast and layered musical canvas of a time long gone.

There are moments that make me think of James Horner’s “Legends of the fall”. Other moments are so sweepingly beautiful that I forget about everything else. “Wyatt Earp” is probably the most spectacular score James Newton Howard has written. He’s written action, horror, mystical, emotional, sensitive and romantic scores but in here he just went roaming on the planes of his imagination and came up with a legendary composition which will be as durable as the stories it talks about.

Cue rating: 91 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 69 / 126

Album excellence: 55%


Pre-Main Titles

Main Titles

Hit To Kill

The Wagon Chase

The Railroad / Wyatt Plays Hardball

The Wedding (Long Version)

Urilla Dies

Nicholas Springs Wyatt

Wyatt Watches Buffalo / Skinning Buffalo

The Buffalo Hunt (Long Version)

Too Affable

It All Ends Now / Mourning Ed

Tombstone (Long Version)

Stage From Prescott / Wyatt Meets Josie

The River Seduction

Wyatt And Josie In Bed

Cosmopolitan Hotel / Walk To Jail / The Trial / Virgil Is Ambushed

Morgan Dies

We’ve Stayed Too Long / One For Morgan

Ride Outta Town

Nice Mob

It Happened That Way

End Credits



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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