News of the World – James Newton Howard

Netflix apparently has a thing for bearded middle-aged men who travel with a girl. After reviewing the music for The Midnight Sky, starring George Clooney and a little girl, I will now talk about the music for News of the World, composed by James Newton Howard. The movie is a Western, in which Tom Hanks plays the war veteran Captain Kidd, who makes money by traveling from town to town and reading newspapers to an audience. On his journey he finds the little girl Johanna and he decides to escort her to her aunt and uncle.

With Western movies, you usually do not expect a full orchestral score. Most of the time the music is on a smaller scale with instruments that are related to that time period such as banjos, guitars, the fiddle and the piano, something Newton Howard also went for. What really stood out to me in this score is the main theme, which does not only represent Kidd as a person but also his profession of telling stories. The melody is simple and emotional, perfectly suited to the lonely man, and it sticks in your mind for many days after listening to the soundtrack or watching the movie. The most fleshed-out version of the theme can be heard in “Kidd Visits Maria,” but the theme reappears from time to time in different tracks, with “There Is No Time for Stories,” “What Else Can You Teach Me,” and “Kidd Defies Farley” as beautiful examples. When I listen to the music of the first track “Captain Jefferson,” it sounds like the melody is also a variation on the theme, and it probably is, but it is very difficult for the untrained ear to recognize. The same goes for the happy tunes of “Miss Johanna Kidd,” which could also have a hint of the theme in it. Sometimes I wish I had the time to write down all the notes to see whether that is the case or not.

As can be expected, not everything goes smoothly on the odd couple’s journey. There are some dark moments, as can be heard in “Erath County,” for example, with dark synth sounds, together with low strings, before the fiddle and piano start playing frantically to add even more tension. Another high tension track is “Dime Mountain,” which is nine minutes long and contains all kinds of synth textures, eerie string sounds, together with percussion. Every minute of the track you can listen to different sounds, instrumentations, melodies and patterns, keeping the sequence unique in sound, but also maintaining the tense vibe. 

The majority of the music for this movie has a supportive role and disappears in the background from time to time, but in some spots the Western music is allowed to shine. “Arriving at Red River” and “The Road to Dallas” are excellent examples of travel music with banjos, guitars, fiddles and the string orchestra that highlight the way of life in the Wild West.

Seeing an “End Titles” track on a soundtrack album always excites me, because most of the time it means that the composer has put together a suite of the movie’s music, as is the case with this one. You can hear a suite of “The Road to Dallas” travel music, together with the main theme and some other cues from the score. 

The supportive role of the music in this movie makes some parts of the soundtrack not that pleasant to listen to on their own. When you examine the individual parts, however, they are quite interesting for various reasons, like a unique pattern on a fiddle or new synth sounds, keeping the music fresh and compelling. I still prefer Newton Howard’s other works where music plays a much larger role, like in the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and The Hunger Games franchises, but the film music for News of the World is an interesting score in its own way, with an excellent theme and some wonderful tracks that I will happily listen to again.

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The highlights are in bold.

  1. Captain Jefferson Kidd (2:06)
  2. There Is No Time for Stories (3:57)
  3. Leaving Wichita (1:27)
  4. Arriving at Red River (1:18)
  5. Now for Some Federal News (5:02)
  6. Johanna’s New Clothes (3:11)
  7. The Road to Dallas (2:01)
  8. It’s Hard Finding Your Way Home (2:05)
  9. Dime Mountain (9:38)
  10. What Else Can You Teach Me (5:45)
  11. Erath County (3:28)
  12. Kidd Defies Farley (7:08)
  13. Johanna Returns Home (5:36)
  14. Dust Storm (3:27)
  15. A Gift (2:13)
  16. Castroville (2:14)
  17. Kidd Visits Maria (4:54)
  18. Miss Johanna Kidd (0:54)
  19. End Titles (5:10)

Total length: 1 hour and 11 minutes
Back Lot Music (2020)

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