James Newton Howard’s Jungle Cruise sparks a welcome return to the wondrous world of loud, ’80s-esque action adventure film scores, and it comes complete with some sublime-sounding, well-crafted orchestration and a heroic and rather memorable main theme to boot.
With Raya And The Last Dragon earlier this year, James Newton Howard dazzled us with an exquisitely composed orchestral style but his score sadly lacked in the thematic department (at least for me). That being said, I’m happy to say that Jungle Cruise simply doesn’t have that problem, and what better way to prove it than with opening cue Jungle Cruise Suite. Swirling, upbeat strings open the piece, with light, enthusiastic bursts of brass then painting a delightfully adventurous picture as the ’80s movie-esque orchestra then starts to rise in the background. Slowly the volume and intensity builds as emphatic percussion also joins the fray, and a few seconds later the main theme then plays loudly and proudly in its debut rendition. All-in, it’s quite a bold, grandiose and light-hearted piece, and a happily memorable one to boot. It and the fast-paced, Indiana Jones-esque orchestra here go hand-in-hand for its two minute introduction, with gentle strings then fading the adventure quietly away as the suite continues on. A rather romantic-sounding piano then echoes through the cue, with strings emphasizing this quietly hopeful change in tone before a few notes from the main theme then fly back in on loud brass, and the orchestra sets a powerful pace as action takes the forefront for several dramatically tense minutes. This then segues into the introduction of a rather mysterious-sounding new motif, with the orchestra playing rather ominously for a minute or two before dramatic vocals then build up into the cue’s wondrous, exquisite finale, and quiet strings then fade the orchestra to a gentle close.
Curiously, Metallica then briefly take over the score in Nothing Else Matters (Jungle Cruise Version Part 1), with a strings and vocals-focused orchestral rendition of their well-known Nothing Else Matters song. It’s an enjoyable if not slightly oddly placed cue, and it doesn’t last for long either as James Newton Howard then takes back the reins in Breaking Into The Archives. The rather mysterious motif from the back half of the suite plays briefly at the beginning of the cue, setting quite a secretive tone through much of the four minute piece that then builds up into pure wonder as vocals join the fray towards cue’s end. Stop Her! then launches into action territory, with a loud, minute-long orchestral build-up hinting closely towards the main theme before then diving away in the last few seconds as the music turns tense and the action comes to a sudden, crashing stop. A Steamer To Brazil then lightens the mood a tad, with serene woodwinds taking the forefront initially before loud, emphatic brass then takes over for a rather heroic, adventurous few seconds that then segue straight into Jungle Cruise, where the main theme plays through in as glorious an orchestral appearance as its initial suite debut. Speaking of which, we really do need to talk about Newton Howard’s instrumental sound here – it sounds absolutely, genuinely stunning. The musical style across the album is so rich and at times, utterly breathtaking (particularly in the action moments), and even sans main theme the orchestra is just so fun and enjoyable to listen to that I find myself grinning just listening to it. I mean, just listen to that opening suite – you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s just superb.
Whistling woodwinds open Preparing To Set Sail, with a hopeful rendition of the main theme then strolling through on upbeat strings. Things then turn a little tense in the cue’s back half, with the strings becoming quite worrisome together with some increasingly in-your-face percussion, which all then builds into subsequent action setpiece Market Chase. Here, loud bursts of grandiose brass kick off a fast pace, with light, swirling strings and increasingly dramatic drums sweeping along for two minutes of enjoyably enthusiastic action before tension then briefly takes over following a crash of percussion. This doesn’t last for long though as a loudly triumphant rendition of the main theme then roars victoriously over the anxious strings for an unapologetically rousing finish to the track. Sub Attack then continues where the action leaves off, but leaves the main theme behind as bursts of aggravated brass and some rather Amazonian-esque percussion take over for the majority of the three minute track. Warm, gentle strings then calm the pace back down in the rather short Encantado, giving us a brief break from the action with a quiet, peacefully atmospheric cue before The Rapids then dives straight back in with loud, anxious brass and rollicking percussion taking centre stage, and coming to a crashing crescendo at just past two minutes in. A light, playful piano then plays through Lily Snoops, with some quietly optimistic strings occupying the background and overall making for a rather ambient but enjoyably orchestral piece overall.
A rumble of worrisome percussion followed by some decidedly villainous-sounding vocals set the stage in The Tree Fight, with tense brass then playing a short and rather panicked rendition of the main theme as the action starts to kick into gear. As the music continues, the malevolent vocals start to become more and more prominent, setting the music increasingly on edge through the majority of its six minute runtime until a loudly anxious crescendo is then reached with a final crash of tense percussion. Lily Finds Frank then reprises the gentler side of the opening suite on quiet, reserved strings, with a few notes from the main theme briefly sounding through in the slightly more playful back half. Metallica then return once again in Nothing Else Matters (Jungle Cruise Version Part 2), with the orchestration from the first part swelling and vocals giving it their all alongside an enthusiastically upbeat electric guitar, all together making for their loudest and most emphatically instrumental performance of the titular song yet. The short I Built A Boat then brings James Newton Howard back into the fray, with the gentle middle motif from the suite playing briefly on quiet strings and mellow piano notes. Amazonian-esque woodwinds and percussion then take over in La Luna Rota, together with some quietly ominous brass notes which do then get a little more hopeful in the cue’s back half, playing alongside a few subtle orchestral nods towards the main theme before Underwater Puzzle then reignites the action fire. Tense strings open the track, with the instrumentation then swirling ominously as dramatic vocals and bursts of increasingly malevolent-sounding brass push the pace skyward for several particularly tense, fast-paced minutes.
As the score starts to near its end, Petal Negotiations sets a rather moody atmosphere in its opening minute, with slow, downtrodden strings and wistful woodwinds then reprising the ever-mysterious motif from towards the end of the opening suite. The sombre mood however slowly improves as the cue continues, with brass building and percussion rising until a loudly grandiose crescendo crashes through at around the three minute mark; one complete with dramatically epic brass and enthusiastic vocals. Conquistadors Arrive then signals the start of the album’s action finale, with several rollicking notes from the main theme thundering through on light-hearted strings and powerful brass, with many a frequent crash of roaring percussion only emphasizing the already excellently-crafted action. One Last Cruise then turns things tense for a minute or two as ominous strings and bursts of worrisome brass take the forefront, before I Want You To Rest Now then slows things right down to a gentle, romantic crawl. Here, tranquil strings and slow, pensive brass notes take centre stage for the most part, with the orchestra holding off a dashingly heroic rendition of the main theme until literally the last few seconds where it’s then finally allowed to blast through. Absolutely Exhausting then brings the album full circle, with the orchestra rallying behind adventurous strings for one last, brilliantly upbeat though sadly short playthrough of that excellent main theme.
Overall, James Newton Howard’s roaring, adventurous score for Jungle Cruise is quite simply outstanding. The orchestral style is exquisitely rich, incredibly well-crafted and very reminiscent of those classic ’80s action adventure movies that we all love dearly, not to mention being an absolute joy to listen to pretty much from start to finish. The main theme then takes this style and just runs with it; the motif itself is memorable, versatile and as dashingly heroic as you could possibly hope for, and the way it and the orchestra go seamlessly hand-in-hand is pretty much the highlight of the score. I do feel though that the theme could have perhaps appeared just a little bit more; it’s a great piece after all, and there were one or two action cues that I felt could’ve done with just a little more grandiosity to them, just a little more theme, you know? Still, the motif does feature fairly prominently throughout the album, with its boldly heroic and happily lengthy appearance in standout cue Jungle Cruise Suite being of particular highlight. In short then; James Newton Howard has done an absolutely phenomenal job here, and the aforementioned suite in particular is a stellar piece of film music that I for one will be listening to for a long time to come.
Standout Cue: 1. Jungle Cruise Suite
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