Thursday, May 26, 2016

Unbreakable (Howard, 2000)

    James Newton Howard has scored many (if not all) of M. Night Shyamalan's features, and "Unbreakable" is no exception.  This film is an unusual blend of superhero origin story and domestic mystery thriller, and so Howard's score is, in turn, really quite different from any superhero score preceding it.  Instead of brass and percussion being the main action elements, here moody piano and strings take center-stage, as well as an important but understated (and hypnotic) electronic groove with new-age synth textures.  Brass becomes more prominent at the climax of the film, but for most of the film it is limited to a lone trumpet playing the distant "hero theme".

     Much of the melodic texture is based on soft arpeggio/ostinato figures which are developed in different ways, with vary gradual changes in dynamics.  The main themes are also often combined or otherwise related to one another, and this skillfully creates a consistent soundworld for the film.
  • Vision theme: Fateful 8-note melody in 2 4-note phrases, sometimes with an answering 2-note rising horn-synth motif, and sometimes followed by a more peaceful 6-note "B theme".
  • Hero theme: Begins with a 6-note opening fanfare (in 2 3-note phrases), and then sometimes ending with a more resolute end figure.
  • Glass theme: 4-note rising ostinato motif, falling on the 4th note.
  • Elijah theme: 10-note theme in a winding melody.
  • Water theme: Piano figure somewhat derived from the Vision theme.

Film Sequence, Music Elements
1 5:57 Visions 0:00: Elijah tells David to go to a public place to try out his superpowers.  David goes to a train station and begins getting flashes of crime from people who he brushes against (Vision theme in soft strings/piano and distant answering synth horns, electronic percussion enters with impact textures, rising high textures).
2:04: David begins deciding on an appropriate vision to further investigate (rising harmonies, held high suspense textures, Vision theme in a heavy/dark variation). 
3:11: In one vision, the orange man breaks into a family's home and takes them prisoner (piano ornament into held suspense strings, string glissandi/bass pulses/piano accents, swell).  In the terminal, David sees the orange man and follows him outside into the rainy night (Vision theme building in string layers, Vision B theme in a plaintive string figure, piano accent, soft violin figures with piano/string suspense swells).  He follows him up stairs and to a darkened house (Hero motif in distant trumpet/timpani).
2 4:09 Reflection
Of Elijah
0:00: In 1974, Elijah talks to his mother about his fears of breaking his bones (Glass motif ostinato/falling Vision theme fragment in strings, poignant strings/piano, soft piano ostinato/strings with hints of Hero and Vision themes).
2:04: His mother tells him that he has a gift, but it's outside across the street (worried low strings).  He gets the gift box and finds a comic book inside.  His mother promises him more comics if he goes outside (Elijah theme in soft strings/harp, piano, joined by soft strings).
3 3:43 Weightlifting 0:00: David finds out that he can lift more weights than ever before.  His son helps him test himself several times, each time increasing the weight (Hero theme in strings, developed in searching variations, joined by distant trumpet, developed in ostinato fragments with piano, celeste and trumpet elements, low suspense strings, playful piano/pizz strings enter, Hero theme developed on celli/pizz bass, piano/string tremoli, distant trumpet fanfare).
4 2:02 Hieroglyphics 0:00: Elijah tells David that he has been looking out for a real life incident reflecting a comic story, and describes his affliction.  He explains that he has been looking for his opposite, an indestructible man.  David is skeptical (falling-rising motif in curious harp/piano arpeggios with strings, joined by Hero theme in strings, piano/celeste arpeggios dialogue with Hero theme).
5 2:27 Falling Down 0:00: At the stadium, Elijah follows someone which David has mysteriously been able to identify as an armed danger (Glass theme in violins, bass).  He crosses a busy traffic lane (descending fragments in strings/harp/cello).
1:17: Elijah is confronted with descending subway stairs and falls down when he hurries down them (low piano accent, suspense strings/poignant celli, poignant Elijah theme in piano over held strings).  Before passing out he notices that David's "super" instincts were correct (string/brass swell).
6 3:23 Unbreakable 0:00: (Partial) In 1961 inside a department store backroom, Elijah is born with broken bones (winding piano ostinato/soft strings, cello figure).  Main title, opening credits (Vision theme in piano/strings over low held texture with answering synth-horns, joined by electronic percussion/impact textures, ending in rising harmony swell).  In the modern day, David rides a train and looks out the window (Vision theme in solo piano).
7 2:26 Goodnight 0:00: Unused, possibly when David returns home after freeing the family from the orange man (Hero theme in violins, developed on strings, joined by piano, trumpet, harp arpeggios/poignant cello/strings, soft piano/strings cadences with low string end figure).

UPDATE: Having just seen "Glass", it's possible that this music was intended for the unused scene (seen in "Glass") of David saying goodnight to his son after the lifting montage.
8 3:46 The Wreck 0:00: David visits the stored wreckage of the train (Vision theme variations in strings, Vision theme joined by piano accents, Vision B theme in violins).
0:57: In flashback, David wakes up from a car crash (harp accent into distant trumpet, worried strings).  He uses superhuman strength to extract Audrey from the wreck (building bass pulses and strings, building with subtle choir towards full Hero theme in celli, brass/timpani).  Someone arrives and asks him if he is injured.  David hesitates to answer (Hero theme in subdued strings, distant trumpet, unsure falling strings).
9 1:32 Second Date 0:00: David tries to reunite with his estranged wife Audrey on a dinner date and explains that something feels "not right".  Audrey tells him that she never would have wanted his car accident to happen (thoughtful strings, piano, cello, poignant strings, full Hero theme in piano).
10 1:23 School Nurse 0:00: The school nurse remembers when David was injured as a child (Water theme in piano/soft strings).  She tells him that he seemingly died in a pool drowning, but was revived after 5 minutes (thoughtful/mysterious strings joined by falling piano/harp arpeggio).
11 1:55 Blindsided 0:00: (unused) Inside a darkened house, David frees some captive family members and sneaks upstairs to look for the orange man (ominous piano ostinati/low string figures, Hero motif, harp ostinato joins).
0:46: David is pushed over a railing and lands on a vinyl-covered pool (slams, brass accents/tremolo strings/distant trumpet).  The vinyl sinks and David is trapped (low piano accents, Water theme in hesitant high piano over Vision theme fragment in strings/trumpet, string accents/tremolo swell).  
12 2:30 The Orange Man 0:00: A pole is lowered and he grabs it.  He rises out of the pool (full Hero theme in horns, strings, brass).
0:42: David sneaks up on the orange man and grabs him (suspense strings/piano/low strings, timpani).  The orange man tries to throw David against the wall but eventually ends up unconscious (noble variation of Vision theme in strings supported by brass, strings and timpani).  David frees the mother (soft piano figures/strings).
13 2:36 Carrying Audrey 0:00: (unused, soft string figures derived from Hero theme, piano/celli, strings)
0:52: After returning home from saving the captive family, David carries Audrey up the stairs (Hero theme in piano, strings).  He puts her in bed and he embraces her (soft strings/piano, Hero theme variation developed in piano, carried into distant trumpet).
14 7:41 Mr. Glass - End Title 0:00: (Alternate) Elijah offers his hand to David (Glass theme in low strings, developed in falling strings/harp).  David shakes Elijah's hand and realizes that Elijah was behind all of the mass accidents (suspense strings, piano).  Elijah explains that he almost gave up hope looking for his opposite (poignant strings/harp variation of Vision theme, Vision theme in strings joined by piano).

(Alternate) End notes, credits:
3:00: Elijah theme in piano over subtle percussion/cello, Vision theme (with answering synth-horn motif) and electronic percussion.
4:16: Rising harmonies into tense strings, ominous Vision theme in strings, Vision B theme, joined by brass, poignant string layers
6:14: Hero theme in strings, joined by brass/timpani, Hero theme in soft strings joined by distant trumpet.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much! Your detailed analysis have been so helpful for my music assignment! Cheers