Review by Brad Green:
Imagine waking one morning to find that Prince has signed his erstwhile symbol into your backyard crop fields. Signs of the Times you think, until you hear the background music. A short, staccato motif, unsettling and repetitive. A little in the vein of a certain conspiracy theory series. Spooky Mel… as an out-of-breath Scully might say… perhaps the perpetrators come from an even colder, more distant place than Minneapolis!
James Newton Howard’s score doesn’t really sound like the X-files; and absolutely nothing like Prince (although you’d be excused for thinking so when you spy the shape of the crop circles on the cover). What it does share with Mark Snow’s popular theme is the attitude that a minimalist motif on recycle, plus plenty of space for an eerie wind to wend its way through the music, adds up to a whole lot of uneasiness.
Howard has again teamed up with M. Night Shyamalan, as he did with Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, to go about giving us the creeps. Mighty effectively too. Curbing his giant melodic and pop sensibility, Howard sticks to the task of conjuring shadows and suspicions. The three note motif that is the foundation of the score is laconic in tone as well as time-span. It is played by edgy violins, breathless flutes and percussive pianos. It is constantly repeated with subtle variations, and overlaid upon itself, tightening and tightening the tension.
After a while, the regular pattern becomes almost subliminal; dislodged from predictability. As with Howard’s score for Unbreakable, it is not unfair to say that there is more atmosphere than entertainment value here. The soundtrack’s purpose being obviously to support Shyamalan’s knack for personifying paranoia. Nevertheless, the first and last cues – Main Titles, and The Hand Of Fate Parts I and II – ratchet up the intensity with powerful brass figures, and a chugging, dramatic quality that captivates.
In between are basically incidental cues, although there is always something subtle occurring: a tweak of the theme; a series of aural pinpricks; a cleverly finessed segue of instrumentation. Howard is magnificently adept at summoning up the sounds of night and just the right sounds for M. Night Shyamalan. It’s not the sort of soundtrack that makes me immediately want to play it again, but it has given me the urge to go straight out and see the movie.
Published August 15, 2002