Home > Reviews > SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS – James Newton Howard

SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS – James Newton Howard

December 24, 1999 Leave a comment Go to comments

snowfallingoncedarsOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

It was with a combination of surprise and great disappointment that I first listened to Snow Falling on Cedars, James Newton Howard’s fifth and final score of 1999. The word of mouth had hitherto been wholly positive, with many citing the rich ethnic textures, beautiful string themes and powerful choral passages supposedly inherent in the score. Well, I’m sorry to say that, with a few brief exceptions, I was totally bored by the whole experience, and was left wondering whether the rest of the world was listening to the same score as me.

Snow Falling on Cedars is the first film director Scott Hicks has made since the Oscar-winning Shine back in 1996, but it has actually been in the can for over two years. Originally slated for a Christmas 1998 release, it missed the Oscar voting deadline, and was subsequently held over for 12 months so that it would be eligible for the 1999 awards and fresh in the Academy’s minds. Adapted from the best-selling novel by David Guterson and starring Ethan Hawke, James Cromwell, Youki Kudoh and Max von Sydow, the film tells the story of a murder trial involving a Japanese man (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) charged with killing a local fisherman. The case stirs long dormant memories in one of the reporters covering the trial (Hawke), who was once in love with the accused man’s wife (Kudoh), but whose romance was shattered when World War II broke out and the young woman, along with her family, were arrested up and forced to live in prison camps.

The main problems with Snow Falling on Cedars as a score are threefold. Firstly, there are no obvious recurring elements – just a series of little repeated motives and instrumental phrases which appear in several cues but are not of sufficient weight as to constitute classification as a “theme”. Secondly, the album as a whole is extremely quiet, relying on the softest of strings and nearly inaudible woodwind textures to carry the virtually entire score. Listening to Snow Falling on Cedars is almost like listening to the sounds of nature, and is actually more like something Thomas Newman would write. Things waft, breeze and rustle with a great deal of delicacy and restraint, and although I appreciate that generating such a sound is a real accomplishment for Newton Howard and his orchestra, it does not make for particularly stimulating listening. The third, and biggest problem is that, for extended periods of time, virtually nothing happens. Cues run into one another without you even noticing the tracks have changed, while the tone and tempo remains so constant as to almost lull the listener to sleep.

But this is not to say that the score is without merit. The choral work, by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, is especially impressive, no more so than in the cue ‘Tarawa’, easily the best cut on the album and right up there with the best single tracks of Newton Howard’s career to date. Other choral cues, notably ‘Hatsue and Ishmael Kiss’, ‘Typeset’, ‘The Evacuation’, ‘Snow Drive’ and ‘Humanity Goes on Trial’ are less glorious but still leave a positive impression. The Japanese ethnic elements of the story are illustrated through the use of various items of percussion and a shakuhachi (Japanese wood flute), an instrument that James Horner regularly uses, and which features in several cues, adding a subtly wistful, almost dream-like texture to the music. In addition, there is a nice little melody in ‘The Strawberry Field’ which piques the interest, and an attractive cello solo in ‘The Worst Kind of News’, while ‘Seven Acres’, ‘The German Soldier’ and ‘Susan Marie Remembers’ briefly raise the dramatic level to more acceptable heights.

Overall, though, I found Snow Falling on Cedars to be a great disappointment. I used like James Newton Howard’s music quite a lot, but his scores of late (or at least the ones which have seen a release) have generally failed to impress me. I wanted this score to be another Heaven and Earth, or another Joy Luck Club, and at least have something similar to the soul-stirring theme that featured in the trailer. Unfortunately, it turns out to be nothing more than a cut-price Thomas Newman clone with a couple of nice, relaxing moments and a massive choral cue that would sound completely out of place if it wasn’t so brilliant.

Rating: **

Track Listing:

  • Lost in the Fog (2:59)
  • Carl’s Fishing Net (2:52)
  • Moran Finds the Boat (1:12)
  • Hatsue and Ishmael Kiss (1:42)
  • Kendo (0:51)
  • Driftwood Hideaway (1:49)
  • The Strawberry Field (3:54)
  • The Worst Kind of News (1:07)
  • Seven Acres (1:53)
  • The German Soldier (3:13)
  • Snowstorm (1:53)
  • Coast Guard Report (3:13)
  • Typeset (1:39)
  • The Evacuation (6:34)
  • Courtroom Montage (1:34)
  • Susan Marie Remembers (1:36)
  • The Defense (1:46)
  • Snow Drive (1:29)
  • Typing (1:41)
  • Tarawa (4:09)
  • The Battery (0:46)
  • Carl and Kazuo Negotiate (1:44)
  • Humanity Goes on Trial (4:47)
  • New Evidence (1:23)
  • Snow Angels (2:30)
  • Can I Hold You Now? (4:47)
  • End Titles (6:14)

Running Time: 67 minutes 30 seconds

Decca 289-466-818-2

Music composed by James Newton Howard. Conducted by Artie Kane. Orchestrations by Brad Dechter, Jeff Atmajian and James Newton Howard. Featured musical soloists Ron Leonard and Bill Shozan Schultz. Los Angeles Master Chorale conducted by Paul Salamunovich. Recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy. Edited by Jim Weidman and David Olson. Mastered by Pat Sullivan. Album produced by James Newton Howard and Jim Weidman.

  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: