Soundtrack Review: Snow White and the Huntsman (James Newton Howard)

Snow White and the Huntsman

James Newton Howard

Rating: ***

James Newton Howard’s music has remained consistently good since his rather explosive entrance into mainstream film composition with 2000’s Dinosaur, going on to score some of the decade’s most memorable films. The quality of his music has remained good, while others have stumbled and drifted or receded into the background. Always lyrical, haunting and beautiful, Howard brings these same sensibilities to one of 2012’s most anticipated films, Snow White and the Huntsman.

The central theme of the score (Snow White’s theme) is heard early and often, Howard making no bones about whose story this is, often played in brass or cello. There is a decisive lack of leitmotifs in the score, a general theme given for Snow White and the good guys, a repeated deep blast of brass and electronica for the villains, and a hauntingly glorious five minute cue in “White Hart.” White’s theme is augmented several times by varied accompaniment representing the various characters she encounters along the way as the story widens and unfolds, though (strangely enough) there is no real motif or recurring theme for the Huntsman either.

Beyond this, the score is mostly comprised of smoldering underscore for the plottings of the Queen, cues which lack much of interest and which are nearly spoiled by the inclusion of metalic grinding and clanking noises not unlike the irritating villain cues from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, though not rising nearly to that level of dissonance. The action music, while exciting and thrilling in its own right, lacks the cohesive muscle of leitmotifs that could have drawn them together into the score proper. As they stand, they could have been from any sort of adventure/fantasy film. They lack a distinctive mark or sound that connects them directly to the score, however much of a kick I might get out of listening to them.

The lyrical meanderings of the score, on the other hand, are delightful, reminding strongly of the magical underscore to the softer moments of Howard’s own Lady in the Water. Apparently this is where he put all the gorgeous softer moments that should have been included in The Dark Knight Rises. Some of these treatments return with a strong presence in what may easily be the best cue on the album, “White Hart.” This cue alone lifts the score out of the “good, but lacking cohesiveness”  category, one which more and more scores seem to be falling into these days. It and the previous cue “Sanctuary” even reminds of the stylistic yesteryear of James Horner and Jerry Goldsmith in the middling and later sections, before devolving into one of the most intense performances of the evil Queen’s theme included in the score.

Though good, and serving functionally in the film itself, the score ultimately meanders with filler, however good (even superior) filler it might be. I was hoping and looking for something at the end that brought all of the music together into a unity, but this moment never arrived. Beyond “Sanctuary,” the most memorable cue on the album is the song by Florence + the Machine. The thematic material does its duty, and does it better than many, but this alone cannot pull it out completely out of the mire of chaotic wandering. I will likely return to a number of the cues for my writing and listening pleasure, but that doesn’t make it a constructed unity.

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