Film Music Review
The Sammy awards








Special Merit






Music composed, orchestrated and produced by James Newton Howard. Additional orchestration by Brad Dechter and Chris Boardman. Music conducted by Martin Paich with the Hollywood Studio Symphony. Recorded at Sony Studios Scoring Stage, 1994. Music edited by Jim Weidman. Reissue produced for La-La Land by Dan Goldwasser. Reissue digitally mastered by James Nelson at Digital Outland, Tacoma, WA. Reissue CD art direction by Dan Goldwasser, Warm Butter Design.


Disc One: 21 Tracks (Playing Time = 54:21)

Disc Two: 22 Tracks (Playing Time = 71:33)

La-La Land Records 1250

Rating: ****


Lawrence Kasdan’s WYATT EARP (1994) was intended to be a return to the western genre the director had explored a decade earlier SILVERADO (1985). The film paired Kevin Costner as Earp with Doc Holliday played by Dennis Quaid.

Costner’s 90’s decade found him in a host of poorly-received films and his work here earned him a Razzie Award for Worst Actor. The Razzie’s rewarded the film with many nominations at the time and the story of one of America’s greatest Western “heroes” languished by additional critical pans. These reviews, coupled with the recent release of TOMBSTONE insured an early death for the film which still managed to do good box office and critical notice for its cinematography.

However, it was James Newton Howard’s score which slipped under the radar almost entirely managing to make AFI’s nomination list for 250 best film scores a few years ago. Howard had first worked with Kasdan on GRAND CANYON (1991) and had been tapped for a number of romantic dramas, and most recently the science fiction thriller FLATLINERS. WYATT EARP allowed the composer to write a score more in keeping with was his first Western score.

The “Pre-Main Titles” music introduces an Americana thematic idea on trumpet and slightly expanded with strings before darker material clouds the final bars. The theme will become the important recurring idea in the score and is given a fuller expansive presentation in the “Main Titles” that follow. This is Howard in his most epic style in music that is a cross between approaches by Broughton and Williams.

The music is always brilliantly orchestrated and recalls the broad Americana styles set by Aaron Copland (heard quite well as “Talk on the Porch” opens) in the concert hall and Elmer Bernstein in film. The result is an extension of Broughton’s SILVERADO with perhaps a touch of Newman’s HOW THE WEST WAS WON or even Barry’s DANCES WITH WOLVES often brilliantly epic in their orchestral dress (for moments like “The Wagon Train”). The theme gets its moments of exciting action setting as well, one of these early on in the almost Goldsmith-like “The Wagon Chase.”

Moments of more period folk-like music (“Boys Go To Town,” “Skinning Buffalo”) also appear some, like “The Railroad/Wyatt Plays Hardball” and “The Buffalo Hunt”, tend to have a more Celtic feel. “The Wedding” also introduces a more romantic approach to the thematic material in one of several gorgeous musical moments. Another thematic thread appears in “Dodge City/New Laws” which will be used to provide a musical connection for this important setting as the film unfolds. As disc one comes to a close, and we move into the central part of the score, the music tends to increase in intensity and take on more serious action tones bringing in thematic material into these darker musical moments. Tracks also tend to be a bit longer as musical ideas are now given more opportunity to expand and continue to alternate between more action-driven material and character emotional support. “The Brothers Prepare/The Shootout” places a slower, sadder setting of the primary thematic material in its opening section hinting at the drama to come, but still set in rich orchestral writing that moves into one of the big climactic moments of the film. In its final moments, Howard employs a number of interesting musical effects that increase some of the creepiness of the scene and hint at some of his horror scoring approaches.


La-La Land fits the entire score across the first two discs expanding upon the original soundtrack release and noting these moments of unreleased music as well as music that was used in an expanded edition of the film. Fans of the composer may be additionally intrigued by the material which appears on the third disc however. Here there are some eleven alternate score cues to compare how the composer shortened or lengthened specific musical sequences. There are three source cues consisting of the original “Funeral Procession” and two alternate takes. There are also five synth mockups that allow listeners a window into Howard’s compositional process and what he was sending to Kasdan early in the development process of the score and film. An additional track, “It’s A Boy” features a speech by the composer as well. This third track will perhaps be referenced more than actually listened to on a regular basis, but it does help make this presentation a most complete one.

WYATT EARP is indeed one of the finer scores of the 1990s. It comes at a point in Howard’s career where he was in the midst of great recognition and a cementing of his own musical style at that point in his career. The epic sweep of his thematic material coupled with the Americana approach in this score will make this a great listener for fans hungering for a day when scores like this were far more common and when ambient sound design and electronics had not quite overtaken the traditional orchestral scoring style.

La-La Land’s overall presentation is as superb as one would expect from the label in what has been a stellar year of recent classic film music releases along a variety of newer film music releases.

—Steven A. Kennedy


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