What is a circus? What is it to dream to be part of that magical world? It would be one thing to capture the essence of a circus by writing circus-like music. But whether you're young or old, the circus is more than just brassy circus music; it is the magic and wonder of the world, from the large elephants and the setting up of the tent, to the amazing flying acrobatics, the beautiful women in dazzling costumes and the painted clowns. A circus is a place of dreams and wonderment. Water for Elephants is more than just a circus, it is also a world of memories, hopes and dreams.
What James Newton Howard does with the sound track is create a world lost in the haze of time, clouded by the forgotten memories yet colored by the painful ones we wish we could forget. He also captures the beauty of memories the way we remember them, not how events actually took place, but shaded with who we are now. The sound track for the film Water for Elephants is thoroughly modern music, with glimpses of the past, from the wonderful flapper excerpt of "Button up your overcoat" to the swing tune of "I'm Confessin'." Mr Howard captures a sense of the immediate with the energetic, heart thumping "The Circus Sets Up" which is part Appalachian guitar riff, part symphonic hero music. The sound track also moves in a modern sound world with "Sanctuary" with long sustains over a melody that defies specific direction creating a sense of paused peace.
I've not seen the film yet. Often film music doesn't stand up on its own; it needs the story to be complete, the images to give meaning to the sounds we hear. This is not the case with the sound track for Water for Elephants. Maybe the specifics of the story aren't spelled out in the music, but there is clearly a sense of narrative, images created through the music that are rich and wonderful, filled with both a sense of pining "Did I miss it," and of dark regrets "I'm coming home."
This isn't just a CD for those who like the film. This is a CD for those who like music and story, particularly for those who like music with a narrative, music that captures emotions of a world of memories the way only music can.