Home > Reviews > THE ADVENTURES OF HUCK FINN – Bill Conti



Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The Adventures of Huck Finn is a period adventure film directed by Stephen Sommers, based on the classic novel by Mark Twain. It’s one of dozens of adaptations of Twain’s timeless story, which combines elements of carefree adventure with more serious explorations of themes relating to friendship, morality, and the injustices of slavery, which were still fresh in the minds of Americans in 1885, when the book came out, considering that Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation freeing the slaves had been issued in 1862, just 23 years previously. The film follows the adventures of a young boy named Huck Finn (Elijah Wood), who runs away from his abusive father and teams up with an escaped slave named Jim (Courtney B. Vance) as they journey down the Mississippi River on a raft; as they travel down the river, Huck and Jim encounter a variety of colorful characters, including two con men (Robbie Coltrane and Jason Robards) who pretend to be the long-lost brothers of a wealthy man, and a group of feuding families who threaten to tear each other apart.

The score for The Adventures of Huck Finn was by Bill Conti and, with the exception of The Thomas Crown Affair in 1999, was one of the last major box office successes of a career which had begun twenty years previously. Although Conti is rightly famous for his rousing sports scores in the Rocky and Karate Kid franchises, his disco-inflected pop scores of the late 1970s and early 1980s, and his numerous classic TV themes, people tend to forget that he was excellent at writing traditional, classic, thematic orchestral scores too, and The Adventures of Huck Finn is one of those. It’s a score filled with warm, attractive Americana that perfectly complements Twain’s story; there is something timeless about this music, redolent of the wide open spaces of the American west, and it’s just captivating, charming, and whimsical, tuneful, and playful, all at once.

Conti’s influences are clear; he takes inspiration from the classic western film music of Jerome Moross and Elmer Bernstein, the more contemporary western film music of composers like Bruce Broughton, the orchestral classical music of Aaron Copland, and the period songs of composers like Stephen Foster, and blends this all together into a delightful evocation of a time and place.

In the “Main Title” Conti opens with a wonderfully expansive statement of his outstanding main theme, which is just as rousing and adventurous as one could hope for. A secondary theme, arranged in a more traditional way and built around jaunty horn lines and a solo fiddle as its centerpiece, acts as an interlude, beginning at the 1:13 mark, and it’s also good, but in a different way, evoking the civil war and its iconic folk music. Amusingly, Conti seems to have inadvertently borrowed a musical phrase from the classic Monty Python comedy “Lumberjack Song” as the coda to the main melodic line, which means that every time I hear it I reflexively think of the line ‘I cut down trees, I wear high heels, suspenders and a bra, I wish I’d been a girlie, just like my dear Papa,’ which I’m sure is not at all what Conti intended. I’m sure that’s just a me thing.

“Missy Finn Goes Shoppin” is a delightful continuation of the jaunty civil war era folk music, while “Next of Kin” is darker and more intense, a stark and aggressive string figure overlaid by all manner of expressive orchestral embellishments that speak to Huck’s dangerous confrontation with his drunken father, and his subsequent escape on a raft down the roaring Mississippi. “Do the Right Thang” offers a slower and more introspective version of the main theme featuring some especially lovely horn writing, while “Once a Slave…” contains some poignant writing for strings and expressive woodwinds, speaking to the anguish Jim feels when being confronted with his former life as a plantation slave, not to mention the latent racism that was (and still is) pervasive in certain parts of American society.

“We’re Still Friends” begins with an extremely moving, almost romantic friendship theme for Huck and Jim that is anchored by a spectacularly beautiful oboe performance; it then becomes dramatic and insistent in its second half, with a swirling string fugue underpinned by militaristic snares.

“Billy Gets Killed” is as emotionally compelling as one would expect, and then “The Barge” is the score’s main action cue, a wonderful piece of orchestral intensity that features some strident brass writing, aggressive rhythmic ideas, angular chord structures, and impressive parts for slashing strings, as well as an unexpected sequence featuring a harpsichord/church organ-esque synth texture which adds a new dimension to the score. In my opinion Conti doesn’t get as much praise for his straight orchestral action writing as he should, despite scores like Masters of the Universe sitting right there in his filmography, and cues like “The Barge” are yet another reminder of why this side of his musical personality should be more heralded than it is.

The subsequent “Huck Springs Jim” is another action cue, but this time is more caper-like than muscular; the music is sprightly, almost dainty, suggesting nimbleness and guile on Huck’s part, although even here the cue has a terrific swashbuckling rhythmic center and dynamic parts for strings, woodwinds, tapped percussion, and heroic brass fanfares. The conclusive “All’s Well” ends the score perfectly with extended versions of the main theme, the Americana secondary theme, and some of the flightier action material, before ending with a satisfying fortissimo flourish.

Despite running for just a hair over 30 minutes, The Adventures of Huck Finn is a superbly entertaining diversion, and is a welcome reminder to everyone that there has always been much more to Bill Conti than Rocky beats and disco dances. This is a classic adventurous Americana score of the highest order – hopeful, lyrical, warm, melodic, emotional at times, rousing at others – that perfectly captures the spirit of Mark Twain’s legendary tale.

Buy the Adventures of Huck Finn soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (4:43)
  • Missy Finn Goes Shoppin’ (2:42)
  • Next of Kin (2:01)
  • Do the Right Thang (2:48)
  • Once a Slave… (3:26)
  • We’re Still Friends (2:43)
  • Billy Gets Killed (2:19)
  • The Barge (2:43)
  • Huck Springs Jim (3:15)
  • All’s Well (4:25)

Running Time: 31 minutes 19 seconds

Varese Sarabande VSD-5418 (1993)

Music composed and conducted by Bill Conti. Orchestrations by Jack Eskew. Recorded and mixed by Lee DeCarlo. Edited by Steve Livingston. Album produced by Bill Conti.

  1. April 13, 2023 at 9:41 am

    One of my favorite scores by Conti. That main title is amazing. Thanks for this review!

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