Film Score Monthly
Screen Archives Entertainment 250 Golden and Silver Age Classics on CD from 1996-2013! Exclusive distribution by SCREEN ARCHIVES ENTERTAINMENT.
Wild Bunch, The King Kong: The Deluxe Edition (2CD) Body Heat Friends of Eddie Coyle/Three Days of the Condor, The It's Alive Ben-Hur Nightwatch/Killer by Night Gremlins Space Children/The Colossus of New York, The
FSM HOME MESSAGE BOARD FSM CDs FSM ONLINE RESOURCES FUN STUFF ABOUT US  SEARCH FSM   
LOG IN
Forgot Login?
Register
Search Archives
Film Score Friday
Latest Edition
Previous Edition
Archive Edition
The Aisle Seat
Latest Edition
Previous Edition
Archive Edition
View Mode
Regular | Headlines
All times are PT (Pacific Time), U.S.A.
Site Map
Visits since
February 5, 2001:
14916936
© 2017 Film Score Monthly.
All Rights Reserved.
Return to Articles

Unbreakable CD Review

by Jonathan Kaplan


Unbreakable **** 1/2

JAMES NEWTON HOWARD

Hollywood HR-62290-2

14 tracks - 45:31

It's hard to talk about how good this music is without revealing elements of the film's story...in fact, it's impossible. I won't go out of my way to ruin the surprise, but if you still haven't seen Unbreakable and you really, really want to, you shouldn't read this review.

At first listen, the Unbreakable album might come off as a moody blend of unassuming writing that's repetitive to the point where more than one listening is unnecessary. This is mainly due to James Newton Howard's impressive maintaining of a consistent tone, as well as his economic use of notes. Despite a wealth of thematic ideas, the score never seems overloaded with material because of the organic and simplistic nature of the writing. And most important, Howard's many themes are as closely related as are the two main characters themselves.

Bruce Willis' David Dunn is not the easiest character to reinforce musically. Howard uses an Arvo Part-like repeating string descent (which opens the album) to represent Dunn's fear and questioning as he slowly discovers and comes to terms with his "gift." As more and more strings (through addition of forces, octaves and a slow crescendo) enter the mix, a hip hop beat seeps in, adding to the drive and build of the piece. This combination of neo-church music and pop percussion helps to capture a timelessness and an almost universal sense of impending importance. It was vital to the film that Howard come up with a powerful but emotionally non-specific theme like this one -- it helps, perhaps better than any other element in the film, sustain the idea that there's an important mystery unfolding before our eyes. The theme also bears several variations: an octatonic version ("Blindsided") for added intensity and imminent danger; along with a happier, cathartic and more chordal treatment for Dunn's victory over "The Orange Man" (as David finally quenches his thirst for purpose).

Equally important to the story is the ascending, noble hero theme that first sounds at the close of "Visions" but is thoroughly explored in "Weightlifting." This theme represents the heroic and mythic side of David Dunn -- it's used at innumerable key moments in the film (the weightlifting scene; as David tears off the car door; as the children rescue him from the pool). This isn't, however, just a "superhero" theme. It lends Dunn a warmth and humanity (as in an early scene -- not included on the album -- where Dunn stands at the edge of the tunnel, watching the football practice). Howard even extends the theme to represent Dunn's love for his wife (Robin Wright) with a dorian variation that finishes in a more intimate (and less epic) fashion ("The Wreck" and "Carrying Audrey").

James Newton Howard obviously gets a ton of mileage out of his David Dunn material. Still, at first listen, it appears that Samuel L. Jackson's character is treated with an entirely different palette of musical ideas -- no doubt cut from the same cloth, but melodically independent from Bruce Willis' protagonist. A closer look reveals that James Newton Howard paid utmost attention to the connections between the two men.

"Reflection of Elijah" accompanies an extended flashback sequence concerning Samuel L. Jackson's Elijah/Mr. Glass character. The cue opens by reiterating the first three notes of the "Visions" theme under Glass' repeating four-note octatonic motive (a perverted version of Dunn's hero theme).  The more sensitive music that follows is revisited elsewhere across the album, first in "Hieroglyphics," where Elijah explains to David the importance of comics. It's here that Howard clarifies another connection between Elijah's and David's themes. The piano passage introduced at 1:35 of "Reflection of Elijah" is actually culled from Dunn's ascending mythic theme -- it's a simple similarity that could have been dismissed as coincidence...if not for the combination of the two motives in "Hieroglyphics."

"Reflection of Elijah" closes with Mr. Glass' main theme, first in lush strings and then in delicate piano and mallets. This motive is extremely similar to the one used to heighten David's fear of water (during the "School Nurse" story, and as David struggles in the pool after getting "Blindsided") Howard makes it his business to quietly promote the fact that Elijah and Dunn are indeed on the same (musical) "curve."

Unbreakable is as rewarding on an album as it is supporting the film -- this despite significant resequencing. "Visions," the opening track on the album, actually occurs toward the end of the film during the climactic train station scene. "Visions" begins similarly to the film's actual opening cue (track 6, "Unbreakable," on the album), but is far more climactic and covers more territory. "Weightlifting" has been bumped up to track 3, perhaps to establish the hero theme before its variations in "Hieroglyphics." There are a few small tidbits that didn't find their way from the film to the album but the most important music is here, including the elegiac and brilliantly tasteful "The Wreck." The resequencing (presumably done for pacing purposes) takes away from the story-telling aspects of the music, but I don't have any problem skipping around as necessary. Besides, listening to the music out of order shouldn't cause you any permanent physical damage.  -- JZK


If you're thirsty for more JNH analysis (or if you're still wondering why this album got 4 1/2 stars), be sure and check out the FULL VERSION of this review -- approximately 700 words longer -- when it runs in FSM Vol. 6, No. 1.

MailBag@filmscoremonthly.com

Return to Articles Author Profile
Comments (0):Log in or register to post your own comments
There are no comments yet. Log in or register to post your own comments
Film Score Monthly Online
Professor XL
Hart to Heart
A Wild Wild Box Set
Isham Tech
Blonde Ambition
Wong's Turn: Tracked Music, Part 2
Score Restore: Sphinx
Ear of the Month Contest: Craig Safan, Vol. 1
Gold Rush: The Jazzy Bank Teller
Today in Film Score History:
August 16
Alan Silvestri wins Emmys for Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey’s main title theme and its premiere episode score; David Arnold and Michael Price win for Sherlock’s “His Last Vow” (2014)
Bruno Nicolai died (1991)
John Williams records the third season theme for Lost in Space (1967)
Miles Goodman died (1996)
Tadashi Hattori died (2008)
FSMO Featured Video
Video Archive • Audio Archive
Podcasts
© 2017 Film Score Monthly. All Rights Reserved.