Film scores

Soundtrack review: The Huntsman: Winter’s war (James Newton Howard – 2016)

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Everything that worked in the first “Snow white” score returns here in a worthy companion

“The Huntsman: Winter’s War” is a 2016 British-American dark fantasy adventure film and is a prequel/sequel to “Snow White and the Huntsman”, based on the characters from the German fairy tale “Snow White” compiled by the Brothers Grimm, as well as “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Andersen. It is the directing debut of Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, who acted as visual effects supervisor on the first film, and is written by Craig Mazin and Evan Spiliotopoulos. The film stars Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Nick Frost and Sam Claflin reprising their roles, who are joined by Emily Blunt, Rob Brydon and Jessica Chastain. I loved the first movie and I am happy that this is a prequel because we get to see evil Charlize Theron once again. I am even happier that James Newton Howard returned for the score because I still haven’t gotten enough of the first one. That piano opening still echoes in my mind and I consider “Snow White and The Huntsman” one of James Newton Howard’s best scores from the past few years. He also did a great job on “Maleficent” so I’m not worried about this one.

Usually when I listen to the score of a sequel and even more so when it’s written by the same composer, I look for a connection with the previous score; I look for something to tell me I’m in the same universe, I look for my favorite or least favorite characters and I want to recognize them at least marginally in order to have a starting point for this new journey. Just as I can’t wait to catch up with the characters when I see a sequel movie or the return of a TV show, I’m expecting to recognize old friends in the music as well.

“The huntsman” didn’t have a proper, fully fledged theme in the first movie and James Newton Howard wastes no time in introducing him from the first cue with an epic cue that comes from the same melodic universe as Snow White’s theme from the first movie; I recognize the distant horn, the subtle strings and the breathtaking buildup. JNH can expose emotion even in the strongest of characters; it doesn’t take more than 3 minutes to present us the most important sides of this character.

It’s fascinating how “You’re carrying his child” doesn’t feel like a love cue but more of an accusing statement. I can’t wait to see the movie and verify this but I find in here there the same cruel string motif that made “You failed me Finn” from the first score memorable. The connection between these two themes means that not everything is sweet and happy.

The way darkness is written in the “Snow white” scores is special to me; the darkness seems to dissolve in some moment and slither at ground level into every corner of an imaginary room. I see the music as if it were a witch able to change shape and once the snake has finished exploring the creature becomes human again with a sudden burst of musical energy before becoming an eagle and soaring up to the skies. A lot of cues have this ascendant evolution

Everything that worked in the first “Snow white” score returns here in a worthy companion: the tender flute emotion that’s most poignant in “We are worthy of each other”, one of those melodic butterflies James Newton Howard can stun me with; the dark action sequences for the fights; the sharp string sections that pop un like spears and the mysterious musical mist that ties them all together make sure that fans of the first score will enjoy this one as well.

Cue rating: 91 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 34 / 70

Album excellence: 49%

Highlights:

The Huntsman

Lacrimosa

You’re Carrying His Child

The Children Arrive

You Shouldn’t Walk in Shadows

Tavern Brawl

Where’s My Horse?

The Proposition

The Goblin Fight

We Are Worthy of Each Other

Kill Him

Ravenna’s Embrace

About the author

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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