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The Huntsman: Winter's War by James Newton Howard (Review)

posted May 4, 2016, 9:00 PM by Koray Savas   [ updated May 4, 2016, 9:01 PM ]

The Hunstman: Winter's War is the prequel to 2012's reimagining of the Snow White fairytale, Snow White And The Hunstman. Much of the cast and crew return for this second film, including composer James Newton Howard. The score marks Howard's first foray back in the fantasy genre since his brilliant work on 2014's Maleficent, and while The Huntsman does not surpass that effort, it delivers a fulfilling experience in his distinct musical voice.

The album opens with "The Huntsman," a somber cue led by brass that eventually seeps into a delicate string melody before it winds back down to brass. It is a short but defining moment for the score that helps establish the tone and atmosphere for the dramatic material. Autumnal and brooding, it represents the love between Eric and Sara while also foreshadowing the conflict ahead. "Lacrimosa" follows, a brief choral piece that also sets up the scale of the narrative. As the score progresses, Howard gives us a great balance between character development and robust bursts of action. The second half of "The Children Arrive" perfectly blends percussion and ostinati as it triumphantly builds to the main theme. "Freya's Spell" features clanging rhythmic structures and sharp, slashing strings and a fantastic flare of brass before it too builds to the theme. The action material here is refreshing and lucrative, giving the score a unique identity that has not been heard in Howard's film music for some time. On the other hand, there are cues like "Where's My Horse?" which further flesh out the nordic folk qualities of the narrative with acoustic guitar and lush strings. Howard achieves all of this within the first 30 minutes of the album, utilizing the second half to truly develop a long form action climax. "Stand Or Fall Together" is the highlight here, an 8 minute suite of heavy strings, underlying choir, and supportive electronics that all blend and rise into a flourish that dwindles into "Ravenna's Embrace," the closing track. The gentle mood that started us off returns, with one last statement of the theme to close out the musical journey.

Any fan of James Newton Howard's fantasy writing will find something to love in The Huntsman: Winter's War. The score effectively combines reflective character writing and bombastic battle music to create a darkly majestic soundscape. The wide range of instrumentation and detail give the score a special identity that builds upon the groundwork laid in Snow White And The Hunstman and shapes it into something much more memorable and impactful.