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THE VILLAGE – James Newton Howard

thevillageOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

With the exception of The Sixth Sense, which was brilliant on all fronts, I have never been that fond of M. Night Shyamalan’s slow-moving thrillers, or of the scores his regular composer James Newton Howard wrote for them. Unbreakable was sub-par, and Signs was a fairly good film but I was one of the few who did not connect with the score. Shyamalan’s fourth and latest film is The Village, a mysterious tale set in Covington, a hamlet in 19th century Pennsylvania. Creatures dwell in the woods near the village, and an unspoken truce has existed between the humans and the creatures for decades – essentially, we won’t disturb you, if you don’t disturb us. However, things change for the worse when young Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix)  ventures beyond the boundaries and into the domain of ‘Those We Don’t Speak Of’ and incites their wrath. With a cast that includes Sigourney Weaver, William Hurt and Adrien Brody, the film has the right credentials to be a success, while the score is a rarity in that, already, it is by far the best for a Shyamalan film to date.

More lyrical and refined than other JNH/Shyamalan scores, The Village is anchored by a series of wonderfully resonant and expressive violin solos performed by teenage sensation Hilary Hahn, already a Grammy-winning recording artist and respected classical composer. Her instrument provides the textural undercurrent for the entire duration of the score; she is present in every track, opening memorably in the first cue, “Noah Visits”, reaching beautiful heights in the quasi-classical “What Are You Asking Me?”, and the touching ‘Will You Help Me?”, arguably the best track of the album.

Although similar in nature to Signs in the way that the music builds from a core base of tiny shifts in the string performances, The Village outstrips its predecessors by being more beautiful in the lyrical moments, and equally more powerful during the moments of action and suspense. What is most impressive is the way in which Newton Howard evokes the rural way of life, and the way in which the idyll is shattered, without resorting to the usual histrionics of Bernard Herrmann-style slasher effects or overly-grandiose orchestral flourishes.

The Village is small and intimate, like the film’s setting, and when the moments of terror and horror do come, they are all the more shocking for shattering the tranquility. “The Bad Color”, “Those We Don’t Speak Of”, “It Is Not Real” and “The Shed Not To Be Used” contain an eerie dissonance, occasionally mixed with powerful percussion and ancient-sounding instruments, to illustrate the ever-present threat the villagers face from their forest-bound invaders. Other tracks, notably ‘The Gravel Road’ and the misleadingly tranquil ‘The Forbidden Lane’, build upon Newton Howard and Hahn’s minimalist violin figures, mixing and melding them with soft flutes and pianos, while ‘Race to Resting Rock’ picks up the tempo and increases the sense of flight and urgency.

The Village is undoubtedly one of the more accomplished scores of 2004 to date. It makes powerful statements with restraint rather than bombardment; uses interesting instrumental performances in intelligent ways, and makes performance and technique as much of a factor as pace and volume. Some may be a little put-off by the generally quiet and intimate nature of the score, but not me. The Village is a real winner.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Noah Visits (2:35)
  • What Are You Asking Me? (6:01)
  • The Bad Color (3:57)
  • Those We Don’t Speak Of (3:59)
  • Will You Help Me? (2:34)
  • I Cannot See His Color (1:31)
  • Rituals (2:01)
  • The Gravel Road (4:31)
  • Race to Resting Rock (1:16)
  • The Forbidden Line (2:17)
  • The Vote (6:03)
  • It Is Not Real (3:36)
  • The Shed Not To Be Used (2:03)

Running Time: 42 minutes 29 seconds

Hollywood Records 2061-62464-2 (2004)

Music composed by James Newton Howard. Conducted by Pete Anthony. Orchestrations by Jeff Atmajian and Brad Dechter. Featured musical soloist Hilary Hahn. Recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy. Mastered by Dave Collins. Album produced by James Newton Howard.

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