James Newton Howard
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms


4.0
excellent

Review

by SowingSeason STAFF
November 3rd, 2018 | 36 replies


Release Date: 2018 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Timeless tradition with a modern twist.

The soundtrack for The Nutcracker and the Four Realms embodies all of the mystique and enchantment that surrounds the holiday spirit. Outside, street lamps collect snow as horse-drawn carriages make their way through town. The front windows on each house glow like little embers, and on every door hangs a wreath. Inside are bright lights, crackling fireplaces, with dancing. If you tire of the merry-making and festivities, you might venture up a long and winding staircase towards a room you’ve never seen before. You stumble upon a secret passage; a doorway to another realm. Composer James Newton Howard invites us into this magical kingdom – one that is starkly familiar and tantalizingly mysterious all the same. It’s a score rooted in timeless Christmas tradition, but with dark and foreboding shadows lurking beneath the surface.

Four Realms maintains a lot of its traditional appeal through the implementation of Tchaikovsky’s timeless Nutcracker pieces, which are re-imagined and sprinkled throughout the score. ‘Coffee’, ‘Marie and Fritz Awake’, ‘Overture’, ‘Nutcracker and Marie Depart for the Pine Forest’, ‘Sugar Plum Fairy’, and ‘Waltz of the Snowflakes’ are all woven into the soundtrack at various points, infusing it with enough familiar tunes to keep the audience focused. The selection curiously lacks some of the most iconic and recognizable junctures from the original Nutcracker suite, however, like ‘March’ and ‘Candy Cane.’ While one can’t help but wonder if the presence of such moments would have provided Four Realms with an extra jolt of Christmas spirit, the soundtrack still does quite well. What it takes from Tchaikovsky feels updated in context, and what is delivered as brand new material is adventurous, classically composed, and thematically on-point.

Howard’s composition winds and turns, alternating between somber, soft-glowing string/piano pieces such as ‘Presents from Mother’, and spirited, whimsical full-bodied movements like ‘Clara Finds the Key.’ There’s a deft balance that makes the entire score digestible rather than cyclical or tiresome. An excerpt that aptly displays Howard’s skillful use of contrast occurs between ‘Mouserinks’ and ‘Just a Few Questions’, where the former tramples listeners with a frenetic orchestra and the latter settles into an uplifting, regal moment of clarity. Typically, the adrenalized, borderline panicked spikes in sound represent the movie’s adventure theme, whereas the slower moments act as ellipses…a chance for the listener to become adrift in thought; lost in whatever holiday memories they hold dear. In the case of a song like ‘Clara’s New World’, it contains a little of both – with an original Nutcracker introduction that slowly bleeds into an intoxicating blend of hushed chimes and horns, all of which builds to a haunting choral midsection before climbing to a sweeping, poignant violin apex. Some of the strongest tracks on this effort – such as ‘Clara’s New World’ – are Howard originals, which is a point that shouldn’t be ignored when assessing the soundtrack’s authenticity.

There are of course plenty of reasons to still be cynical. The movie is produced by Disney, after all. The blatant theme-saturation could be construed as your typical marketing ploy. Literally no content pertains to the true meaning of Christmas, either. And as a cherry on top, it’s clearly too early to be pushing a holiday agenda, no matter what your local mall may be trying to sell you. Oh, and the shameless tacking-on of the Andrea Bocelli song at the end of the score screams, “download our single!” While all of these points are valid, when has the holiday spirit ever been about logic, or common sense? It’s about indulging in your fantasies; believing in magic even though you know deep down that there’s no such thing. It’s about you, your memories, and the traditions that you hold close to your heart. In cases like this, a little bit of cheesiness and indulgence is permissible. That may be all The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is, but if it helps you open a few doorways into your imagination, and to access just a fraction of that ever-elusive holiday spirit, then I’d wager that it’s worth a quick listen.




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Comments:Add a Comment 
SowingSeason
Moderator
November 3rd 2018


28401 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

S(n)owingSeason strikes early this year.

Digging: John Nolan - Abendigo

TheLongShot
November 3rd 2018


528 Comments


Reviewing film soundtracks is a difficult task, but you did a super nice job here. Normally I'd say that a description of the film itself would be imperative for a review like this, but given that the film has a solid 35% score on Rotten Tomatoes so far, maybe it's best to just stick with the music (:

SowingSeason
Moderator
November 3rd 2018


28401 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Thanks! Yeah I think in the case of a Christmas-themed soundtrack, assessing it as a standalone work separate from the movie is fine.

Papa Universe
November 3rd 2018


18147 Comments


and is the film okay?

Digging: Selvans - Faunalia

Source
November 3rd 2018


4445 Comments


Rotten tomatoes means nothing

TheLongShot
November 3rd 2018


528 Comments


Means about as much as the opinions of any music critic

Source
November 3rd 2018


4445 Comments


Exactly

SowingSeason
Moderator
November 3rd 2018


28401 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I'm not putting too much stock in the film because I basically utilize this as holiday music and nothing more

Dettlaff
November 3rd 2018


193 Comments


Is there a way to use emoji's on this site?

William21
November 3rd 2018


309 Comments


This is one of those movies that I saw a trailer for and immediately thought "why does this exist"

Poor James Newton Howard

Source
November 3rd 2018


4445 Comments


You can use emojis. Here's proof

"My brother would play this and traced and kindly in the car all the time. Makes me wanna 🙎🔫 "

Pho3nix
November 5th 2018


548 Comments


I am glad somebody on this site reviews movie sountracks!

Usually, I never listen to a score of which I've haven't seen the movie beforehand - am only familiar with JNH's work on 'Nightcrawler' and on the 'E.R' soundtrack, but I should probably look into his music more. I have heard much praise for 'The Village' for example.

SowingSeason
Moderator
November 5th 2018


28401 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

It's actually pretty rare that I review soundtracks (maybe ~ 1/yr) but it's a nice way to branch out from typical album reviews every now and then. I also usually write one "holiday album" review each November/December so this kind of fits both shoes.



This was nice to play in the car at the lit-up, decorated malls while my wife and I went store to store to begin our shopping.

guitarded_chuck
November 5th 2018


16539 Comments


what fucking malls are lit up on november 5th

DoofDoof
November 5th 2018


827 Comments


Sowing's got maybe five years until he becomes one of those folk who keep their decorations up in one room. all. year. round.

Digging: The Bathers - Sweet Deceit

SowingSeason
Moderator
November 5th 2018


28401 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

most malls in my area were already decked out before halloween, which is kinda disgusting

contrary to what the review suggests though I really like to wait until black friday to decorate, otherwise things sorta lose their meaning

guitarded_chuck
November 5th 2018


16539 Comments


sowing goes to starbucks at 6am on november 1st to ask for a candy cane latte only to find a creeped out barista informing him that the stock truck doesnt arrive with with themed ingredients till 8

SandwichBubble
November 5th 2018


8063 Comments


might as well stuff my thanksgiving turkey with peppermint bark instead of stuffing what with everyone on my block already putting up Christmas decorations

Digging: A Place to Bury Strangers - Transfixiation

Trebor.
Staff Reviewer
November 5th 2018


56213 Comments


"This is one of those movies that I saw a trailer for and immediately thought "why does this exist""

Yeah, one of the most why movies ever made

Digging: Lil Peep - Come Over When You're Sober Pt. 2

SandwichBubble
November 5th 2018


8063 Comments


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8CTeLy3Ujxc



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