Film scores

Soundtrack review: Collateral (James Newton Howard – 2004, 2016)

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Writing about this much anticipated and eagerly awaited by me release of the “Collateral” score is tricky. The way this came about brings me back to the debate of film mix versus separate score or should I say, in this case, director’s vision vs. composer’s vision. “Collateral” is one my favorite movies and I watch it quite often. As usual, director Michael Mann chose to combine score elements with music from other artists into a very effective mix. Usually I can’t wait for a complete or expanded release of a score for a movie I love because it will remind me of special scenes or moments from the movie, or of the atmosphere. But what do I do when James Newton Howard writes 50 minutes of music of which only 15 make it to the film? I can’t connect the music to scenes from the movie; in fact in the movie Antonio Pinto’s music was more recognizable. I can only imagine how it would have sounded, knowing the movie so well, and to comment on how JNH felt those scenes needed to be scored. But in the end it is a score of one of my favorite movies written by my second favorite composer so I am happy.

Knowing “Collateral” so well and having seen if so many times, I’ve made its special atmosphere my home. So when the edgy and ambient “Max and Vincent talk” opens this release, all my doubts about the lack of connection between music and film went away. The composer created an artificial universe for the story, a universe in which I can play one of the characters. After all, “Collateral” plays in darkness all the time and James Newton Howard is one of the composers who knows darkness best. Lately he hasn’t had a lot of chances to explore this side of his music so it’s a nice refreshment of the range of his music.

I can see why some of the music didn’t make the score and I imagine a lot of scenes also fell to the cutting floor. There is a theme for Sylvester Clark which is one of the characters who dies after less than a minute on screen. There are a few more cues which were written for scenes that didn’t make it.

As the score progresses there are moments when I remember James Newton Howard’s score for “Falling down”; I hear the same disturbed sound, the same endless and heavy darkness and the music also makes me think of Howard Shore’s “Se7en”. I am happy when I discover pieces like “You like jazz?” which evoke the atmosphere that attracted me so much to the movie and when I get to the cues that actually made it to the movie like “Max steals briefcase”.

The sparse atmospheric moments are my favorites. This score works most as an atmosphere setter and shows James Newton Howard’s music in a dark, contained and reflective place. For the standalone listening experience I would have liked more cues like “Max meets Felix” for example. He wrote a score that’s a bit of an orphan now because the themes are that enjoyable on their own and I can’t always connect them to the movie either.

For James Newton Howard fans this will be an interesting listen. My favorite cue still is the “Finale” requiem (with a great cue title here “Would anyone notice?”) which I already knew from before.

Cue rating: 81 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 11 / 53

Album excellence: 22%

Highlights:

Max And Vincent Talk

You Like Jazz?

Max Meets Felix

Would Anyone Notice? (Finale)

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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