The Happening (Soundtrack) by James Newton-Howard



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The Happening by
James Newton-Howard

The Happening

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 The Soundtrack
The Poster







The Happening (Soundtrack) by James Newton-Howard

The Happening
Composed by James Newton-Howard
Varese Sarabande Records (2008)

Rating: 5/10

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Listen to this soundclip of The HappeningMain Titles (357 kb)

Listen to this soundclip of The HappeningMy Firearm is my Friend (348 kb)

Listen to this soundclip of The HappeningEnd Titles Suite (362 kb)

More clips from The Happening at


...the score for (THE HAPPENING) has its moments, but other scores such as LADY IN THE WATER or THE VILLAGE might more suitably scratch that Shyamalan/Howard itch you might get from time to time.

Shyamalan Happens
Review by Christopher Coleman

I've long been an M. Night Shyamalan supporter...even in the face of pretty harsh criticism. Yes, indeed, I liked LADY IN THE WATER: the film, the score, everything. I don't think there is a more maligned director in Hollywood right now. I've lost count of the number of failings he is accused of having, but perhaps the chief among them is "pretentiousness." Well, one man's pretension is another man's...creativity. Oh yes. That word was certainly dusted off and included in many reviews and messages boards once again when it came to Shyamalan's latest project,THE HAPPENING. In most cases, Shyamalan's stylistic storytelling and sometimes cryptic moralizing wins me over - despite awkward dialogue and off-kilter acting; however, this streak ends with THE HAPPENING for me. To his detractors, all I have left to say is "Shyamalan happens." He does and will continue to do things his way and enough people keep watching his films to keep him gainfully employed. If nothing else, director M. Night Shyamalan is consistent in a few areas. First, his films rarely adhere to Hollywood-conventions. Second, he always seek to make some sort of moral or existential point. Third, he always brings on composer James Newton-Howard to provide the musical score.

M. Night Shyamalan has taken both "awkward dialogue" and "off-kilter acting" to a new level in THE HAPPENING. Yes - the point of the film is well-taken, despite being misunderstood, by some, as a film pushing the "green-agenda." It's not really about that at all. Yes, we, the human race, are screwing up the planet but we have also been screwing up each other for quite some time, and the earth ain't none to happy 'bout it. The film is not making a statement about treating the earth better as much as it is about treating the human race better. I can only surmise that our leafy cohabitants have figured out that if we treat our own species so badly, we are going to continue to treat the earth even worse. Humans have become a threat to everything. So, the earth does what most living things do when threatened; avoid or eliminate threat. What more clever thing than to cause the threat eliminate itself? Quite economical. Once again Shyamalan has come up with an "idea" that is quite interesting. Plant life adapting, evolving, communicating, and collaborating to rid themselves of this fleshy threat? Who wouldn't love that? When it comes to the execution of this story, though, that is another matter all together. To put it flat, Shyamalan truly missed it this time and has left me little to argue on his behalf with. Other than the creepy Betty Buckley (she'll always be Mrs. Eight is Enough to me), the casting is downright awful and the script given to them is even worse. Yes, M. Night manages get our pulses moving with a few disturbing moments of self-execution and murder, but if it takes that sort of thing to save a film, then that film has got big troubles. Other than the premise, there isn't a lot to take away from THE HAPPENING.  Now, for some film score fans, the lone silver lining of any M. Night movie comes with the knowledge that there will likely be another magical, mystical, beautiful effort from composer JAMES NEWTON HOWARD.  So is THE HAPPENING saved by Newton-Howard's contribution this time out?

Sadly, not. Now, relax you JNH-faithful. By no means is THE HAPPENING a bad score, but it isn't a stand-out effort for the composer nor a stand-out component of the film. I would go as far as to say that the score is actually under-utilized in making THE HAPPENING a more visceral experience. Between all of the on-screen and off-screen suicides, the amount of emotion or tension the audience experiences is minimal. In terms of style, JAMES NEWTON HOWARD's work for this film is consistent with his more recent collaborations with Shyamalan. The most identifiable element is the title theme. Beyond that, there a handful of brief instances of noteworthy, thematic material  and very understated score functioning as the mortar in between.

The opening track, "Main Titles" immediately gives us the central theme of the score. In it we hear all of the key elements of the score as a whole. Dissonant strings, the piano hook, and lead cello begin things. The combination of these three elements provides that other-worldly feel common to Newton-Howard's previous efforts like SIGNS and THE VILLAGE. As the theme progresses we get part-b of the theme, which reflects the threatening aspect of film. A 3-note motif is repeated by low brass with more pensive strings are layered over. The addition of congas bring a more "organic," if not "primal," edge to the piece while a final orchestral swell brings the piece to a dramatic conclusion. James Newton-Howard expands on the two distinct characteristics of the title theme throughout the score, but stays within the emotional limits he's established as well.

The key moments of the film (ie. the death scenes) are all given a full performance of the main theme, usually emphasizing the intensity of part-b, and even augmenting it with a stronger militaristic feel via snare drum and increased volume of the brass section see: "Central Park" (4), "Rittenhouse Square," and "Mrs. Jones" (15). On the comparatively lighter, melodic side, we have a handful of decent tracks. Track 2, "Evacuating Philadelphia," while containing a good deal of suspense at the onset, contains a beautiful melody played sumptuously on cello by Maya Beiser - the motif is short-lived but has a curious far-eastern flavor to it. "Jess Comforts Elliot" (10), after a rather ominous first-half, includes a soft and sentimental segment played primarily on piano and cello and strings. JAMES NEWTON-HOWARD saves the best two tracks for last. Track 17, "Be With You" finally gives us an uninhibited love theme that evolves from light string and cello elements into the most emotional performance of  part-a of the score's title theme. The piece is not too far off from his other climactic pieces found in LADY IN THE WATER or THE VILLAGE, but doesn't quite measure up to either. Finally, we perhaps hear what JAMES NEWTON-HOWARD had in mind all along for his score. With the constraints of story and scene behind him, Howard is allowed enough time to develop his main theme much more fully. "End Title Suite" (18) allows Maya Beiser's soulful cello room to breath before we hear the "lightest" interpretation of part-a on piano and violin. Following this the harp is introduced just prior to a completely new and lively segment for strings and brass, not heard anywhere else on the soundtrack.  While the majority of this soundtrack is average, it concludes on a very good note.

THE HAPPENING has proven to be a disappointment for even the staunchest M. Night Shyamalan fan. JAMES NEWTON-HOWARD's score is mostly reminiscent of his previous works with the director and, at least on that level, is disappointing. There was certainly room to do something a bit more preten...err creative.  In itself, the score for this film has its moments but other scores such as LADY IN THE WATER or THE VILLAGE might more suitably scratch that Shyamalan/Howard itch you might get from time to time. For the avid collector, I would call THE HAPPENING soundtrack an acceptable purchase, but for those outside of that group, you might want to consider waiting James Newton Howard's other collaborative effort this year...THE DARK KNIGHT.

Rating: 5/10

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Track Title Track Time  Rating
1 Main Titles 2:18  ***
2 Evacuating Philadelphia 2:21  ***
3 Vice Principal 1:55  ***
4 Central Park 2:58  ***
5 We Lost Contact 0:59  ***
6 You Can't Just Leave Us Here 1:43  **
7 Rittenhouse Square 1:58  ***
8 Five Miles Back 1:12  **
9 Princeton 3:06  **
10 Jess Comforts Elliot 2:30  ***
11 My Firearm is My Friend 2:58  ***
12 Abandoned House 1:31  **
13 Shotgun 4:27  ***
13 Your Eyin' My Lemon Drink? 4:27  **
13 Mrs. Jones 1:44  ***
13 Voices 1:35  **
13 Be With You 3:41  ***
13 End Title Suite 5:35  ****

Total Running Time

50 minutes  




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