Music composed by James Newton Howard
Label: Varèse Sarabande
Catalog: 302 066 901 2

Year: 2008

1. Main Titles
2. Evacuating Philadelphia
3. Vice Principal
4. Central Park
5. We Lost Contact
6. You Can’t Just Leave Us Here
7. Rittenhouse Square
8. Five Miles Back
9. Princeton
10. Jess Comforts Elliot
11. My Firearm Is My Friend
12. Abandoned House
13. Shotgun
14. You Eyin’ My Lemon Drink?
15. Mrs. Jones
16. Voices
17. Be With You
18. End Title Suite

Total Time: 50:40

Reviewed by
Tom Hoover

James Newton Howard rejoins director M. Night Shyamalan for his latest feature, "The Happening." The soundtrack offers 18 trackes from Howard and is available both online at iTunes and also on retailer shelves. Given the costs involved in buying from a physical storefront these days, I would recommend purchasing it online, which is what I did. A soundtrack like this, even though it's from a prominent composer, isn't exactly something I deem to be a collectable. Plus, Varese Sarabande doesn't exactly offer much in the way of liner notes so my purchase method was ideal for me.

After my first listen of this score, the best way I can summarize it is by saying that this is a sturdy effort by Howard. While most of his other collaborative efforts with Shyamalan have produced interesting styles, this one plays more along the lines of "The Sixth Sense," which means it is more of a traditional type of horror score. What makes it better than "The Sixth Sense", however, is that "The Happening" might very well be the most gentle gothic score I might have ever heard, combining a sense of human compassion with a semblance of fright. In the end, though, it's the middle ground that prevails, thus leaving the proceedings with a mixed result.

"The Happening" is not the type of score that will drive your senses in any one, sharp direction for a sustained period of time. It's not quite haunting nor is it emotional enough. Instead, it plays on as if it's an undercurrent to what's happening (not a pun) on the screen. There are sounds of elegant cellos, hushed underscore and unsettling orchestral lashes throughout the album. It's effective, it's just not necessarily great fare since none of the best aspects are sustained for any extended period of time.

The soundtrack is at its most enjoyable when Howard lets the percussions out to play for a bit, first heard in Track 4 and picked up again briefly near the final act of the album. It's in these moments that the action is perceived to be a little more raw and jaw tightening, which is a great reaction to a horror score. In other areas of enjoyment, Howard's use of strings and piano add a layer of emotion to the story and comes close to pulling the listener in a bit deeper to the saga. In short, there is a proficient musical tapestry in use but its effectiveness is probably best engaged while watching the movie itself, wretched acting by Mark Wahlberg aside.

My disappointment in "The Happening" is apparent since I have typically enjoyed the Howard/Shyamalan collaborations in the past. No matter the deliberate pace of the director's movies, Howard has typically created unique and interesting motifs and underscores for each of the films, most noticeably with "Signs" and "The Village." Here, though, it's back to square one, so to speak, with more of a conventional horror/thriller score that is more routine than it is original.

If you are a fan of Howard's more serviceable efforts, than you will appreciate the work he has provided for "The Happening" and would enjoy this soundtrack. If, like me, you were geared up for another original, unique entry in the world of the Howard/Shyamalan collaboration, than you will be left a bit disappointed. A sturdy, workmanlike effort for sure, but not a recommendation for the masses.