Snow Falling on Cedars

James Newton Howard

" Beautiful painting canvas from James Newton Howard "

Written by Thomas Glorieux - Review of the regular release

It is credit to James Newton Howard's talent that he distinguishes himself with various genres. And drama is but one of the many where he can add a special touch. The movie Snow Falling on Cedars is based on David Guterson's novel of the same name. The plot revolves around a murder case in which Kabuo Miyamoto, a Japanese American, is accused of killing Carl Heine, a respected fisherman in the close-knit community. The director Scott Hicks chose James Newton Howard for this assignment, especially after having heard Newton Howard's ability to meld ethnic instruments with an orchestral score in Waterworld. The only thing here was that the composer had to balance his sound more to the mysterious death and the blossoming love rather than the action of world war 2.

So whatever you expect of Snow Falling on Cedars, expect it to mesmerize and silence you through the tranquility and beauty of Newton Howard's composition. Because then and only then you area ready for "Lost in the Fog", a cue that delves you deep inside the foggy waters through soft ethnic scoring and mysterious underscore. In fact, there is more where that came from. The beautiful sound of the cello in "Carl's Fishing Net' may appear to bring something different, the moody whispering score remains to cloud the intentions. The choral end however does clear things up a bit, especially once it will trigger this score's most amazing track near the end of the score.

That choral theme is one of the most recognizable tunes and returns in "Hatsue and Ishmael Kiss", "Typeset", "Courtroom Montage", the absolutely amazing "Tarawa", "Carl And Kazuo Negotiate" and "End Titles".

"Driftwood Hideaway" has a solo vocal moment that was used in the first trailer of How to Train your Dragon, there's a touching violin moment in "The Strawberry Field" that breaks hearts, there's a sense of mystical urgency in "The German Soldier" and "Coast Guard Report" that will surprise you, there are violin moments that will bring back fond memories of The Village in "Snowstorm", there are rising strings that show us "Susan Marie Remembers" all the while cello and choir actually fuel "Snow Drive" most effectively.

The first powerful track however appears to be at the middle of this score. In "The Evacuation" choral moments are heard that will later erupt in the brilliant "Tarawa". The strength of the first cue is not its powerful sound though, it is the subtle heartfelt nature of the choir that underscores rather than emphasizes. However that is not the issue of this score's most amazing cue "Tarawa". Here the initial choral theme suddenly drives the eruption that this score needed, and here is where the choir delivers you a full avant garde climax that you'll remember for the rest of the year. Another thing of beauty turns out to be "Humanity Goes on Trial", where the rising strings of "Susan Marie Remembers" now get an encore of choral beauty.

The end is particularly lovely. First we have heartbreaking cello solos in "Snow Angels" that will literally silence you once they rise to the occasion in "Can I Hold you Now?" (an absolute standout track). And in "End Titles" the most important moments return for a final encore.

I can honestly understand that some people will consider Snow Falling on Cedars to be nothing more than an overlong exercise of soft meandering cues, with the exception of a couple of stand out tracks. Because it is quite frankly that in a nutshell. But the real strength of this score is not the meandering quality, but the meaning of it all. This is a courtroom drama and then words speak louder than actions ever could, so why turn up the volume if that isn't totally necessary. No, Snow Falling on Cedars' strengths lie in the fact that most of the cues need to underscore already powerful words, while some need to break out and show you the true meaning. Put that together and you receive one of the most interesting listens of 1999.


1. Lost in the Fog (2.59)
2. Carl's Fishing Net (2.52)
3. Moran Finds the Boat (1.12)
4. Hatsue and Ishmael Kiss (1.42)
5. Kendo (0.51)
6. Driftwood Hideaway (1.49)
7. The Strawberry Field (3.54)
8. The Worst Kind of News (1.07)
9. Seven Acres (1.53)
10. The German Soldier (3.13)
11. Snowstorm (1.53)
12. Coast Guard Report (1.12)
13. Typeset (1.39)
14. The Evacuation (6.34) Excellent track
15. Courtroom Montage (1.34)
16. Susan Marie Remembers (1.36)
17. The Defense (1.45)
18. Snow Drive (1.29)
19. Typing (1.41)
20. Tarawa (4.09) Excellent track
21. The Battery (0.46)
22. Carl and Kazuo Negotiate (1.44)
23. Humanity Goes on Trial (4.47) Excellent track
24. New Evidence (1.23)
25. Snow Angels (2.30) Excellent track
26. Can I Hold you Now? (4.47) Excellent track
27. End Titles (6.13) Excellent track

Total Length: 67.32
(click to rate this score)  
(total of 10 votes - average 4.6/5)

Released by

Decca Records 466 818-2 (regular release 1999)

Conducted by

Artie Kane

Orchestrations by

Brad Dechter, Jeff Atmajian & James Newton Howard

Performed by

The LA Master Chorale