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5.0 out of 5 stars Signs - Brilliant score by JNH
James Newton Howard's score for Signs has topped my collection. The sounds are simple and classic, yet very stimulating and adrenaline-pumping--akin to the famous strings in Psycho. The depth of the music is in its layers of instruments. The music complements the movie (the DVD of which I own) so well, reviving that Hitchcockian-style thriller I enjoy so much. In...
Published on Dec 20 2003 by M. Drejza

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars good, but ..
this score is missing something. i'll say that up front, but i'll also say that if you were a fan of this movie, and you're a fan of james newton howard, you'll enjoy this. basically all of the tracks are variations on a recurring theme, which makes this score somewhat repetitive. it's a score that is used more for the effect of seeing the imagery combined with the...
Published on Aug. 24 2002 by writer@repairman.com


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5.0 out of 5 stars Signs - Brilliant score by JNH, Dec 20 2003
By 
M. Drejza "markd1970" (Bear, DE) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Signs (Audio CD)
James Newton Howard's score for Signs has topped my collection. The sounds are simple and classic, yet very stimulating and adrenaline-pumping--akin to the famous strings in Psycho. The depth of the music is in its layers of instruments. The music complements the movie (the DVD of which I own) so well, reviving that Hitchcockian-style thriller I enjoy so much. In addition, I think the music captures so well the emotional plot within the story. I typically listen to movie music while driving. On many occasions, I drive with my two young sons to and from school. I watched Signs with them (editing out certain parts). Afterwards, we listened to the music in the car. The three sudden, loud, and scary parts (end of Brazilian Footage [Track 4], beginning of Asthma attack [Track 11] and Hand of Fate [Track 12]) made us all jump. And at every listen, at the climactic part, my younger son says "Swing away Merrill. Merrill, swing away." and then yells "WATER!" (sorry if you haven't seen the movie yet). You can't get a better response from a 3-yr-old. The music tells the story.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Perfect within the film, less so by itself, Oct. 30 2003
By 
This review is from: Signs (Audio CD)
I'll play the contrarian: I really enjoyed the film. The higher meanings and the semi-surprise ending worked for me. It's a spiritualized Twilght Zone episode.
James Newton Howard is so attentive to the plot and underlying emotions of each scene that the music becomes indispensable. Other reviews have rightly mentioned the Bernard Herrmann minimalism. The three-note motif is a similar tactic to the five-note signature of "Close Encounters." Howard's intent with the opening theme was to create what he called "[...]a context of expectations." The music telegraphs that at SOME point, something big is going to happen to go along with it.
Normally, the music will change to mark a shift in location (city, country, planet). Since nearly all of this movie occurs within 20 acres, the repetition and thematic simplicity reinforce the claustrophobic atmosphere of the film. Still, this presents exactly the same problem as with John Williams' score for "Minority Report." Parts of the score become TOO sedate when removed from the film.
The furthest Mel Gibson's character gets from the confines of the farm is in flashback dreams of his wife. In turn, that memory keeps him cooped up under his roof, trying to hide from God. Howard uses warm strings to signify the issue of faith gently working its way back into the Hess household. Changing which instrument does the three-note trickle greatly varies its mood and effect.
The subdued nature of the score also gives the crescendos more punch ("Into The Basement," "Asthma Attack," and "The Hand of Fate - Part I") There's a thread of heartland Americana in the gentler parts of the score, particularly in "The Hand of Fate - Part II."
The music and the film are a great partnership. On its own, the soundtrack is worth getting for the energy of the first track, and of the last three.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A modern take on classic suspense themes, July 31 2003
This review is from: Signs (Audio CD)
I've really enjoyed James Newton Howard's work on the films of M. Night Shyamalan. "Unbreakable" was really a standout score for Howard, so I had high hopes for his music for "Signs." Though Howard takes a completely different approach to his music for "Signs," I was not disappointed in the least.
"Signs" is a movie that hearkens back to some classic suspense films, such as Hitchcock's "The Birds," which Shyamalan mentions specifically as part of his inspiration for "Signs." It's a film which borrows heavily from some of the best suspense films ever made, but puts it in a modern context and peoples it with vibrant characters. With this in mind, it should not be at all surprising that Howard took a similar approach for his music for the film.
The opening theme of "Signs" is strongly reminiscent of some classic suspense themes, particularly those of Bernard Herrmann. When I first heard it, it put me in mind of those old thrillers of Hitchcock's, which sets the stage perfectly for the film. The same sort of adapted classic thriller theme is used at several points through the film, most noticably in the final scenes (on the CD, in "The Hand of Fate").
Throughout his score for "Signs," Howard repeats and builds upon a three-note motif that changes its nature depending on the scene. The same basic three notes are used to express the suspense of "Roof Intruder," the mystery and wonder of "Baby Monitor," the restrained tension and release of "Asthma Attack," and the triumphant conclusion of "The Hand of Fate." The three-note motif is, in fact, present through a great deal of the score, though sometimes more clearly than others. It's a remarkably effective musical device, elusive yet instantly identifiable. It keeps the viewer firmly grounded in the film, while the variety of ways in which it is used provide all the necessary emotional impact. And, as an added bonus, it's wonderful to listen to on its own; beautifully ethereal.
James Newton Howard is a skilled composer, particularly when collaborating with M. Night Shyamalan. With "Signs," however, he has outdone himself, and crafted a score ideally suited to the themes and feelings expresses in the film. It is music which stands well on its own, even as it is tightly bound to the film it was written for.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Signposts Say Avoid The Film; Buy The Soundtrack, March 26 2003
By 
T. Lobascio (New Jersey United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Signs (Audio CD)
While I made no secret of my disappointment over director M. Knight's recent film Signs, I thought that composer James Newton Howard, did a good job with the score. I would even go so far as to say that the music for the film was its best component. Howard took a cue from Bernard Herrmann's music for several Hitchcock movies for Signs. In other words, both composers decided that "less is more" often does the trick and creates great film music.
The "Main Title" for example is a very simple composition. The use of piano getting louder and louder creates an effective and haunting memory that has stayed with me long after the rest of Signs has slowly faded from my conscience The rest of the music of the score is an emotional hodgepodge. There's tension, saddness, excitement and a touch of romance. Too bad that music as good as this found its way into such a bad film. Fortunately, the CD soundtrack allows me to enjoy the best part of the film, without having to sit through the film again
The 13 track CD has a running time of 45:34 and is recommended to be a part of anyone's film music collection
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5.0 out of 5 stars Best Soundtrack of the Year, March 20 2003
By 
Jen (Gainesville, FL United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Signs (Audio CD)
Although James Newton Howard's early soundtracks have their charms, Howard really came into his own in his collaborations with M. Night Shyamalan -- the Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and especially Signs. The Main Titles are an arm-rest grabbing thrill, and had me in the theatre closing my eyes so I could appreciate the music better. This piece announces the genre of the music, and the film, immediately. It is a throwback to the scores of Bernard Herrman for Hitchcock, especially the Vertigo soundtrack, and announces Shyamalan's challenge to the reigning master director. The film may not stand up to the Hitchcock standards, but the score certainly does.
For the rest of the album, Howard toys with and develops the fast three note ascending arpeggio that signifies the aliens. It is by turns harsh and terrifying, as in the Main Titles, questioning, awe-inspiring, triumphant, and in the end hopeful. The development of this theme is the true genius of the album. Rather than having the hero's theme ride roughshod over the villain's at the climax of the movie, as it does in so many, many soundtracks (just take a look at any of John Williams'), this movie ends with the incorporation of the villainous theme. In one form or another, this motive is almost always present, permeating the album.
This is not an album for soaring and uplifting themes; there are practically no melodies that will remain in your memory after you finish your first listen. Instead, the album gives off a mood and an emotion. One of my favorite moments is in the track The Hand of Fate - Part I when the alien's theme is at its most fully-formed since the opening credits, only to be transformed into struggle, then unmitigated triumph as our heros finally put together all the pieces of the puzzle. The last track, The Hand of Fate - Part II, hardly ever fails to bring tears to my eyes, as it radiates hope. And don't worry, this album has enough jolts and shocks to warrant being the score to a horror film. Over all, this was absolutely the best new soundtrack I came across all year. Don't listen to this soundtrack on your walkman, or in your car; you're going to want to hear every nuance.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A tears-inducing soundtrack on the verge of perfection., March 12 2003
By 
cinemagirl (Los Angeles, CA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Signs (Audio CD)
The immense talent of James Newton Howard is fully demonstrated in one of, if not _the_ best, soundtracks of the year. Now that the nominations for the Academy Awards have been announced, it is outrageous that this score was conspiculously left out. If this isn't an Oscar-winning score, then what is? In the tradition of "American Beauty" and "Requiem for a Dream," as aforementioned by another critic, the main technique here is minimalism. This might initially seem tedious, but it is anything but, and this approach is congenial to the style of Shyamalan, who at first wanted this film to have no score whatsoever. He felt that an obstrusive score would take away from the power of his film. Fortunately, in Howard he found a perfect partner, for this extraordinary composer can mediate between the extremes.
The three-note theme is an ingenious concept, for not only is it haunting, but it sounds very much like a code, which is completely appropriate for the scary nature of the movie. However, don't mistake this score for a mere horror soundtrack. Art, in the fullest sense of the word, is definitely here in such melodic pieces as "Asthma Attack" and "Baby Monitor." There is one particular track that stands out above all others, and it alone is worth the price of the CD: it is "Hand of Fate Part I." Buy this score, skip to the track, and forward it until you have only 1:15 left -- this is the precise part where the daughter looks into the window to see Joaquin Phoenix's character doing something very heroic (no spoilers here!). But anyone who has seen the film will immediately recognize this moment as a perfection union of cinematography and score.
Anyone who is familiar with soundtracks knows how many "throwaway" scores there are. The best way to judge a soundtrack is by how memorable it is after you have listened to it only once: Can you hum the melody? Howard demonstrably always keeps this in mind while he is working, and "Signs" is one of the best examples of ingenuity at work. A soundtrack that can stand alone is a soundtrack worth checking out.
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5.0 out of 5 stars What a wonderful score, Dec 26 2002
This review is from: Signs (Audio CD)
What a superb score indeed. I purchased this recently
It reminds me so much of John Carpenter's THE FOG (another film where the sheer simplicity of the score was the winning factor and which made it so atmospheric). You may hear people talk about this score in terms of "its all the same music just played again and again". This is very shortsighted (or shorteared). They're not paying enough attention to the mold of it. This same music fits into each different scene of the film like a glove and is mystical and creepy all the time suggesting an uncertain and nail biting future for the family and all mankind throughout. For many,the Main titles are their favourite part of this score. But when i first saw this movie i found them a bit odd initially. It cannot be denied that main titles are a homage to Psycho. But the real genius of the score is elsewhere on the disc if you ask me. A particular scene and cue is where young Culkin gets onto the family car's roof and the family link hands to create an ariel for the baby walkie talkie. A long lingering shot of Culkin's hand reaching further out to the sky along with Howard's superb score is a scene which impressed me very deeply this year. We need more films and scores like these in an age where our senses our blasted by over powerful scores and some directors flip between scenes every second giving you a headache in an attempt to hide a bad film. Simplicity and lingering shots can make a movie more realistic. I for one reccomend this score 100%. Its a shame it will be limited to those few who noticed it strongly in the film as its a score rarely found on the shop shelves. Like Danny Elfman's score to Red Dragon, it will be a masterpiece that went unnoticed by the majority of moviegoers. Its our little secret. :)
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4.0 out of 5 stars Shows signs of a winner, Nov. 8 2002
By 
Brandon Cutro (Tyler, Texas United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Signs (Audio CD)
James Newton Howard has become a hit composer and is one of the busiest composers out there. Teaming up with director M. Night Shyamalan for the third time (The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable), Howard scored the film a la Bernard Herrmann. It is a very suspenseful and dark score and is nothing you would listen to if you wanted to be in a cheerful mood. The basic theme is a three note piano motif that plays throughout almost every track. Other instruments such as the harp and woodwinds along with strings add to the suspenseful three note theme. Electronics are also employed to give the score an otherworldly sound to it. The main theme bursts with horns and strings punctuating every note. Most of the rest of the score contains somber low brass along with the piano. "The Hand of Fate (part 2) contains very meaty brass stabs that Danny Elfman used in Planet of the Apes. The score is a good length at about 45 minutes, so there is plenty of music offered. I'm always looking forward to James Newton Howard's works because he is a truly gifted composer that has made his mark.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Intricate and well crafted, Oct. 8 2002
This review is from: Signs (Audio CD)
A soundtrack does not always need to blow our mind. Rather, a good soundtrack is one which matches the rhythm of the film. Some soundtracks may be just dandy standing on their own, but in turn they fail miserably to provide the necessary emotional accents to the various scenes of a movie. These might be termed "stock soundtracks." In the early days of British film-making it was common for producers to use a Mendelssohn symphony or some piece from Elgar to cover the obligatory musical background. However, these scores - masterpieces in their own right - did not keep rhythm with the film. For all its deficiencies, the music from Gone With the Wind at least marked a watershed as it showed the film industry on both sides of the Atlantic that music could actually be used to enhance a film.
James Newton Howard's music for the movie Signs certainly is a great example of an understated, yet well-adapted soundtrack which greatly enhances the movie-going experience. Drawing upon Berrnard Hermann's famous scores for the various Hitchcock productions, Howard has composed a tense and very emotional score. The soundtrack has two primary themes. The first theme introduced is a sort of string staccato piece which increases in intensity as the opening credits roll and is used later in the suspenseful moments of the film. This segment is where Hermann's influence is most evidenced. However, the second major theme is possibly the more inspired piece, for it is in the emotional and religious moments that Howard's music is used to full effect. This second theme has an almost hymn-like tone; it is slow, contrapuntal, and mellow. Thankfully, not only does this theme work well on its own, it also wonderfully adapts to the emotions of the slower, more dramatic scenes.
In many ways, Howard's music surpasses the music of composers like Hermann, for he has produced a soundtrack that is able to match the mood swings of the film. There is a time for everything: a time for staccato strings and a time for harmonious hymns. And Howard's Signs shows us how it is done.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Howard's Signs, Sept. 28 2002
By 
Luis M. Ramos "Soundtrack and Film Freak" (Caracas, Venezuela) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Signs (Audio CD)
Ever since John Williams's own motifs for movies like "Jaws" and "Close Encounters Of The Third Kind", I had never felt submerged on a musical motif until James Newton Howard came up with an unsettling leitmotif for M. Night Shyamalan's latest effort "Signs". As Shyamalan directs Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, and the rest of the cast in a story about circles that appear mysteriously on a corn field, Howard delivers a score that intensifies the suspense of the film.
The leitmotif is presented by the strings whenever the aliens or the circles are shown, and it's repeated throughout the CD without boring the listener. The main title is amazing, but the best tracks on this album are the two parts of 'The Hand Of Fate', where Howard goes beyond the final scene where Gibson's character come face to face with an extra-terrestrial.
Thanks to scores like "Signs", I have come to respect James Newton Howard as a film score composer because, in my opinion, this is one of the best movie soundtracks of 2002.
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Signs by James Newton Howard (Audio CD - 2002)
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