Top positive review
A tears-inducing soundtrack on the verge of perfection.
on March 12, 2003
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.