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Soundtrack review: Dreamcatcher (deluxe edition) (James Newton Howard – 2003)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Dreamcatcher (deluxe edition) (James Newton Howard – 2003)

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“Dreamcatcher” is a 2003 American science fiction horror film based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name. Directed by Lawrence Kasdan and co-written by Kasdan and screenwriter William Goldman, the film stars Damian Lewis, Thomas Jane, Jason Lee and Timothy Olyphant as four friends who encounter an invasion of parasitic aliens.Four childhood friends, Jonesy, Beaver, Pete and Henry all share a special secret. Each year, they take a trip into Maine woods. This year is different. A blizzard occurs, and they recover a man found wandering around. Unbeknownst to them, this wandering individual isn’t the only being to be found. Now they must act fast to stop the outbreak developing and to prevent the world from its doom. James Newton Howard wrote the score.

James Newton Howard and horror is always an exciting combination as his works for “Flatliners” or all the M. Night Shyamalan movies have provided me with meaningful standalone listening experiences. This Varese expanded release of “Dreamcatcher” is a great opportunity to explore one of his scores I am least familiar with. The “Main titles” are unusual for my favourite JNH sound as it echoes back to his 90s way of writing suspenseful music, more electronic than melodic; the cue is cold and quite effective as it gives me chills. There is a piano motif in there that recurs in the next cue “Finding the keys / Be careful” and warms me up with a nice melody; I am getting electronic nostalgia from this cue as it reminds me both of bands like Tangerine Dream and of the “Saw” franchise sound with that dark metallic echo.

The James Newton Howard emotional subtlety comes into play in three short but delightful piano inserts: “Gathering Wood / Remembering Duddits”, “Memory Warehouse” and “Toasting Duddit”; I get here the melodic melancholy that has made JNH my second favourite composer, that sensitivity that is unmatched in todays film music world. I am discovering in “Dreamcatcher” an almost unique combination of melodic and ambient etherial sound as I recognise James’ trademark piano motifs in between more atmospheric pieces. I feel as if I am listening to a quiet electronic score from the 80s as I am more hypnotised than scared; there are some chiming sounds that make the mood dreamy an fairy tale like. as a huge fan of ambient and electronic music I am very happy to discover one of the more minimalistic compositions of his illustrious career. If it wasn’t for the signature JNH elements like that dripping piano or the middle section of “Animal exodus” which is a precursor of his “Snow white” theme I wouldn’t have guesses that he wrote the score.

The longer cues are the truly scary ones as James Newton Howard brings his most aggressive sound to this Stephen King adaptation. I remember the most uncomfortable moments from “Signs” when I listen to “Weasel kills beaver” and it makes sense since the scores were written very close to each other. The stormy string section is terrifyingly violent and trumps the other elements of the cue.

“Dreamcatcher” has some of the most retro industrial electronic pieces James Newton Howard has written. It is also one of his scores that feels the coldest. There are traces of his emotional warmth but this album is dark and harsh. It’s not the kind of score I would go back to and listen to again but it’s enjoyable enough in the moment and in the movie. The second CD is darker and less melodic than the first and it changes the mood of the album. I am always more particular to the warmer, more ambient moments especially when the action or horror ones aren’t that meaningful so when “Dreamcatcher” is over I am left with a few beautiful and sensitive cues, most of them related to Duddits. If I make a playlist of all the cues related to this character I got something I would listen to again.

Cue rating: 83 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 23 / 96

Album excellence: 24%

Highlights:
Finding The Keys / Be Careful
Gathering Wood / Remembering Duddits
Memory Warehouse
Toasting Duddit
Saving Duddits
Finding Rick
Military Moves In
I’m That Monster
Picking Up Duddits
Duddits Tells Story
Duddits and Mr. Gray

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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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