James Newton Howard

" Sign me up Bernard, this is amazing stuff! "

Written by Thomas Glorieux - Review of the regular release

Signs or the 3rd movie of M. Night Shyamalan is surely one of his most beloved, but perhaps also the most innovating one of all. The subtle clues and hints he leaves wandering around are still noticeable after multiple viewings. It was also the last movie of him which was unanimously praised by both the audience and critics. After that fans and opinions were somewhat scattered around in groups and ideas. But when it comes down to the music, James Newton Howard has never really disappointed for Shyamalan. And like always, Newton Howard has a 6th sense when it comes down to being the best.

The album opens with a stinger, a keeper, a moment that puts you directly on the edge of your seat. Or how "Main Titles" resurrects Bernard Herrmann stings, unleashing its innovating theme for the movie. You see, all it takes is a couple of notes, 3 here to be exact. In "Main Titles" they are shocking and unnerving, in "First Crop Circles" they are mysterious and light as a feather, giving us no clue more than the family Hess is having.

And when the first shadow appears, so does Newton Howard start to toy around with his flutes. "Roof Intruder" is so ingenious that it transforms the whole 3 note motif into a totally other motif, more mysterious and playful. The actual sign of the 3 note motif is then only warming up, because now the playfulness is long gone and the joke isn't so amusing anymore. And "Brazilian Video" (a segment long after the roof intruder in the movie) confirms the danger. It even shows us a face of the intruder. The stings and the 3 note motif are ferocious once again.

It must be hard to make sure one 3 note motif can carry the entire score and film, and yet Newton Howard does it with ease, putting his motif through all kinds of variations and moods. "In the Cornfield" gives it somewhat emotional hope, until unknowingness clouds the score. That is until the flutes turn up their magic again at the end of "In the Cornfield". It uses it further in "Baby Monitor" and in "Recruitment Office", reprising the roof intruder part alongside some lovely emotional music.

Signs above anything else is so brilliant, that with little Newton Howard can do so much. The ingenuity of how he puts the 3 note motif through all kinds of trumpet variations, piano moments and soft flute versions in "Throwing a Stone" is exceptional, until it builds to that ominous alert status. This ingenious idea is only heightened in "Boarding up the House", when he toys further with the flutes in emotional uplifting ways.

The lovely emotional material in "Into the Basement" is only interrupted by the unnerving strings and the stinger moment of the brass. What follows next in both this track as the next "Asthma Attack" is a sign of clever underscoring, turning the weight over to the visuals and the strength of the acting that is happening at that specific time.

Yet when something builds to a climax, make sure it is heard as a climax. And "The Hand of Fate Part I" and "Part II" is definitely the climax of Newton Howard's career. In here both the emotional and the shocking overcome all obstacles in creating thereby the subliminal. The way he grows to the ferocious 3 note versions is staggering, the way he inserts in it hope and answers through his fanfares all the more unbelievable. It is ladies and gentlemen what filmmusic is all about. Emotion and something new through a simple yet unbreakable 3 note theme.

Like a lady in the water, Signs is nothing without its musical accompaniment. It is a living breathing piece of music that underscores and over scores its counterpart in every obstacle. Without a doubt, it is the highlight between Shyamalan and Newton Howard for sure. The movie is subliminal because it leaves around details for you to find, while the music supports all the clues with innovating and above all memorable filmmusic. Trust me when I say this, the movie is so much with and nothing without it.


1. Main Titles (1.45) Excellent track
2. First Crop Circles (3.15)
3. Roof Intruder (2.19)
4. Brazilian Video (1.55) Excellent track
5. In the Cornfield (5.42)
6. Baby Monitor (1.09)
7. Recruiting Office (2.11)
8. Throwing a Stone (5.47) Excellent track
9. Boarding up the House (3.00) Excellent track
10. Into the Basement (5.23)
11. Asthma Attack (3.41)
12. The Hand of Fate - Part 1 (5.32) Excellent track
13. The Hand of Fate - Part 2 (3.48) Excellent track

Total Length: 45.36
(click to rate this score)  
(total of 22 votes - average 4.32/5)

Released by

Hollywood Records 2061-62368-2 (regular release 2002)

Conducted by

Pete Anthony

Orchestrations by

Jeff Atmajian, Brad Dechter & James Newton Howard

Performed by

The Hollywood Studio Symphony