Home > Reviews > THE EMPEROR’S CLUB – James Newton Howard

THE EMPEROR’S CLUB – James Newton Howard

November 22, 2002 Leave a comment Go to comments

emperorsclubOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Movies about inspirational teachers, while not exactly ten-a-penny, are certainly genre mainstays, with a cinematic language of their own. Robin Williams played one in Dead Poets Society, Richard Dreyfuss played one in Mr Holland’s Opus, and now Kevin Kline joins their league with his performance in director Michael Hoffman’s The Emperor’s Club as William Hundert, a enthusiastic, well-respected, if a little stuffy professor at a boy’s school in 1972. All is well, and Hundert is happy in his work, until a disruptive force arrives in the shape of young Sedgewick Bell (newcomer Emile Hirsch), who immediately throws the status quo into disarray. As Hundert and Bell lock horns, deep moral and ethical questions raise their heads, leading to a confrontation, the repercussions of which could last a lifetime…

James Newton Howard’s score for The Emperor’s Club is, on the whole, quite lovely. The last few years have really been Newton Howard’s own, with success after success, becoming the new resident composer at Disney and capitalizing on his success on The Sixth Sense by developing a fruitful director relationship with M. Night Shyamalan. It’s refreshing, therefore, to see him still make time for little films which require less bombast and instead retain a kind of quiet musical dignity. His work here is light, uncomplicated, unassuming, but wholly enjoyable – the epitome of film music “easy listening”.

In actual fact, The Emperor’s Club sounds more like a Thomas Newman score than anything else, and there are shades of The Shawshank Redemption in more than one or two tracks. The main title theme is a folksy affair, with a lovely string led melody and nice acoustic guitar element, making the whole thing awash with upright decency and integrity.

The Newman connection comes by way of ‘Teaching Montage’ and ‘Hundert Remembers’, both of which feature prominent and upbeat guitar and dulcimer, cheerful woodwind phrases, and a sensitive piano underbelly. Could is be the influence of one George Doering, whose body of work includes every Thomas Newman score since the beginning of time? I sense a conspiracy going on… (I’m joking of course!)

The rest of the score, by and large, passes by amiably on a bed of soft strings, sentimental woodwind performances, endearing pianos, and occasional bursts of brass to remind us that America’s best and brightest are attending St. Benedict’s School for Boys. ‘Quiz Montage’ is lively, with a prominent dulcimer and scratchy strings; ‘Elizabeth’ briefly introduces a new theme for a romantic encounter; ‘Sedgewick’s Father’ is lighter in tone, with a tinkly, pseudo-magical ambience; ‘Hundert Comes Clean’ injects a faint Gaelic mood; and the finale, from ‘The Toast’ through to ‘Young Martin Blythe’ stirs and sweeps with noble horns, rousing pianos, and a victorious performance of the main theme in conclusion.

All in all, The Emperor’s Club floats by for half an hour or so, never really drawing attention to itself (with the exception of the upbeat final cue), but nevertheless achieving all its stated goals by presenting a charming, affecting mood, and leaving a pleasant taste in the proverbial mouth. There’s very little else to say, really… except to give my recommendation for fans.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (2:16)
  • Teaching Montage (2:38)
  • Hundert Remembers (2:39)
  • Quiz Montage (2:20)
  • The Big Test (1:24)
  • Hundert Quits (2:36)
  • 25 Years Later (2:29)
  • Elizabeth (1:19)
  • Sedgewick’s Father (1:20)
  • Confronting Sedgewick (2:08)
  • Hundert Comes Clean (2:41)
  • The Toast (2:36)
  • Young Martin Blythe (2:16)

Running Time: 29 minutes 13 seconds

Varése Sarabande VSD-6424 (2002)

Music composed by James Newton Howard. Conducted by Pete Anthony. Orchestrations by Jeff Atmajian, Brad Dechter and James Newton Howard. Featured musical soloists George Doering, Danny Greco and Steward Canin. Recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy. Edited by Jim Weidman. Mastered by Patricia Sullivan-Fourstar. Album produced by James Newton Howard and Jim Weidman.

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