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Section Header
Composed and Co-Produced by:
James Newton Howard

Co-Orchestrated and Conducted by:
Pete Anthony

Co-Orchestrated by:
Jeff Atmajian
Brad Dechter

Co-Produced by:
Thomas Drescher

Performed by:
The Hollywood Studio Symphony

Hollywood Records

Release Date:
July 30th, 2002

Also See:
The Sixth Sense
The Village
Lady in the Water
The Happening

Audio Clips:
1. Main Titles (0:28):
WMA (184K)  MP3 (227K)
Real Audio (141K)

9. Boarding Up the House (0:31):
WMA (202K)  MP3 (250K)
Real Audio (155K)

11. Asthma Attack (0:31):
WMA (202K)  MP3 (250K)
Real Audio (155K)

13. Hand of Fate, Pt. 2 (0:30):
WMA (197K)  MP3 (242K)
Real Audio (150K)

Regular U.S. release.


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Sales Rank: 81454

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Buy it... if you seek a strong companion piece to James Newton Howard's other scores for M. Night Shyamalan films despite the lack of memorable appeal built into its quietly propulsive constructs.

Avoid it... if you expect even the most engaging material in Signs to compete favorably with the superior atmospheres of The Village and Lady in the Water.

Signs: (James Newton Howard) Just when you thought that there couldn't be another fresh new avenue to take with the alien invasion scenario, director M. Night Shyamalan found another new one to explore. Aliens indeed are invading the planet, but rather than showing their exploits in grandiose proportions, Shyamalan conveys the story through the redemptive tale of an emotionally distraught middle-America farming family. While it's temping to say that Signs is an alien fantasy flick, especially with its fascination with crop circles and old school techniques of showing the aliens themselves, it's more intriguing in its ability to be credible as a redemptive horror one instead, using the terrifying event to help a family find peace. Some audiences wrote off the conclusion of the story as ridiculous, though Signs was the first major film from Shyamalan not to rely on an overtly surprising twist to stun audiences. In the lengthening list of films representing the collaboration between Shyamalan and composer James Newton Howard, Signs is not the strongest or weakest, but it is a somewhat predictable entry. Both of their prior two partnerships, The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, were provided with above average scores for stories that didn't rely heavily upon the music for their suspense. The opening moments of Signs might have made you think that that equation was completely scraped, though ultimately Howard's writing for the picture is more in tune with his other Shyamalan scores. While the mass majority of Howard's fans continued to delight in his magnificently large-scale adventure scores of the time (Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Dinosaur, etc), a devoted following of the Howard/Shyamalan pairing was about to expand its ranks considerably. These were the days before the high profile scores for The Village and Lady in the Water made tremendous waves, but in Signs, Howard solidified himself as an extension of Shyamalan's psyche, with the music for his films minimalistic in construct but very rich in texture. These earlier scores didn't garner awards recognition for Howard, nor have they sold beyond their expectations on the record store shelves. But the continuing quality of Howard's intense music for such an intense director was always worth a listen or two, even before the collaboration's greatest successes.

Like The Sixth Sense most specifically, Howard contributes to the story with a heightened emphasis on one section of the orchestra. In the aforementioned film, it was the piano. Here, the piano is joined by a doubling up on harps and several woodwind instruments, including mostly flutes, oboes and clarinets. Their often fanciful, off-tone performances are combined with a plucking string motif at low volumes, forming a style of mystery well-suited for the small-town nature of crop circle incidents. That motif is specifically a rising three-note figure that increases its presence as the film progresses, occasionally inverting when the primary characters are their most frightened. There is technically a title theme that develops fully in "The Hand of Fate - Part 2," but even this noble string and horn performance is dominated by the flowing repetitions of this three-note progression that whimsically flutters about the soundscape. In its most fluid and harmonic presentations, ranging from the surprisingly optimistic midsection of "Boarding Up the House" to the extremely pleasant "The Hand of Fate - Part 2," Howard collectors will note stylistic similarities between this material and the intoxicating rhythmic personality of Lady in the Water (and parts of The Village). In a general sense, Howard achieves a major accomplishment in his score for Signs by creating suspense out of an interstellar incident while also employing instrumentation and a tone appropriate to small town America and the mentality and simplicity of its farming lifestyle. Howard utilizes the violins in a fiddle-like technique of inserting them off key for quiet periods while the rest of the players perform their regular rhythmic motifs. Slight electronics, never as important in their volume or role as in other Howard/Shyamalan scores, offer the suspense associated with extra-terrestrial life, and their background consistency is toned to perfection in the wondrous "In the Cornfield." The light and occasionally charming tone of Howard's fluffy three-note motif maintains a comfortable environment for much of the score, perhaps to tease the minds of the audience into believing that there is something intrinsically neat about crop circles, or perhaps to play to the ill-fated notion that whatever is producing them must be benevolent. Several cues finish the cells of these string and woodwind motifs with a seductive flourish of a harp or two. A false sense of security is a strong asset in this approach.

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The constructs of Signs are intended for slight, minimalistic performances for most of the score, requiring the kind of appreciation on album that suggests elevated volumes. Only in a few cues does Howard resort to the necessary full orchestra hits for sudden, frightening moments on screen. The most interesting of these moments is "Main Titles," which contains some of the score's most robust horror material. By evoking Bernard Herrmann's most effective techniques for establishing a tense atmosphere, Howard sets up the listener for a level of extroverted Psycho-like shrieking and blasting that never really develops in the remainder of the work. Instead, the majority of the rest of the score exists in a somber realm of low brass and the occasional repetition of the primary motif in multiple keys. On album, the listener will encounter only a few truly engaging sequences of harmony before the extremely powerful "The Hand of Fate - Part 2" closes the listening experience with the ultimate in positive resolution. The personality of the score lies in the difficult subtleties of precise instrumentation and the shifty, rising motif. The most attractive aspect of most of the Howard/Shyamalan scores is the composer's keen sense of rhythmic propulsion, whether stylish in the contemporary setting of Unbreakable, classical in the alluring violin performances of The Village, or hypnotic in the fantasy environment of Lady in the Water. In Signs, this rising motif is so obviously the heart of the music that it succeeds despite its simplistic construct. The score's detraction is its inability (logically) to express itself clearly until its closing moments, leaving many bare moments of empty space. It isn't as haunting as The Sixth Sense, nor perhaps as creative as Unbreakable. Its highlights can't compete with The Village and Lady in the Water, though it's a superior album experience when compared to the more troubled The Happening. It lacks the beauty of similarly constructed suspense scores of the time, such as John Debney's Dragonfly. At 45 minutes, the album for Signs is reasonable in length, though short in memorable material and heavily reliant on the mood it creates. As part of a compilation of Howard's music for the director, it has upwards of ten solid minutes to contribute, and don't be surprised if you seek far more material from its peers. *** Price Hunt: CD or Download

Bias Check:For James Newton Howard reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating is 3.35 (in 56 reviews)
and the average viewer rating is 3.34 (in 62,100 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

 Viewer Ratings and Comments:  

Regular Average: 3.4 Stars
Smart Average: 3.27 Stars*
***** 703 
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    * Smart Average only includes
         40% of 5-star and 1-star votes
              to counterbalance fringe voting.
   Brass Section (Hollywood Studio Symphony)
  N.R.Q. -- 6/7/07 (8:21 a.m.)
   A score full of interesting and unusual orc...
  Sheridan -- 8/30/06 (7:54 a.m.)
   My Track Names
  S -- 6/27/05 (3:59 p.m.)
   Impressive Mr. Howard!
  Jared Kraft -- 3/7/05 (2:17 p.m.)
   The Hand
  JS Park -- 1/17/05 (7:17 p.m.)
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 Track Listings: Total Time: 45:34

• 1. Main Titles (1:45)
• 2. First Crop Circles (3:15)
• 3. Roof Intruder (2:19)
• 4. Brazilian Video (1:56)
• 5. In the Cornfield (5:42)
• 6. Baby Monitor (1:09)
• 7. Recruiting Office (2:11)
• 8. Throwing a Stone (5:47)
• 9. Boarding Up the House (3:00)
• 10. Into the Basement (5:23)
• 11. Asthma Attack (3:42)
• 12. Hand of Fate - Part 1 (5:32)
• 13. Hand of Fate - Part 2 (3:48)

 Notes and Quotes:  

The insert includes a list of performers, but no extra information about the score or film.

  All artwork and sound clips from Signs are Copyright © 2002, Hollywood Records. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 9/1/02 and last updated 2/17/09. Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 2002-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.