Since they had worked so closely together over many years on the Lord of the Rings films, it surprised many people when Howard Shore left the King Kong project after reported "creative differences" with Peter Jackson. Certainly pre-publicity posters in cinemas in November still mentioned Howard Shore in the small print. So no-one was sure what to expect when James Newton Howard stepped with only a few weeks in which to fashion a soundtrack for the movie. But like a true professional, James Newton Howard put together something in the region of 2 hours of music for the film and the core of it has been captured on this album. The first third of the film and the soundtrack is concerned with scene setting. It establishes all the characters and their motivations, and why they end up visiting the mysterious island. The initial feeling imparted by the music is that something awaits around every corner. But once they reach the island and meet King Kong, it is clearly the relationship between Kong and the heroine which is central to this story. Although the action scenes are wonderfully realised and a feast for the eyes, it is the quieter moments which bring out the best in the soundtrack.
King Kong is a short main title track which introduces the "Mysterious Island" theme. A Fateful Meeting is a delicately scored track with piano, harp, woodwind and strings as Ann Darrow gets a job. Defeat is Always Momentary is one of the best tracks using some offbeat comedy to drive forward the story and introduce a short vaudeville theme on clarinet which will return later. It's in the Subtext, Two Grand and The Venture Departs continue with occasional touches of comedy as the key characters get embroiled in the adventure, and the film crew meet the ship's mottley crew. With Last Blank Space on the Map drums seem to herald a strange new world ending with some atmospheric sound design. It's Deserted is full of suspense using the mysterious island theme before the presence and intentions of the scary human tribe become clear. Something Monstrous ... Neither Beast nor Man is of course the first sight of Kong with some deep and heavy brass. Head towards the Animals and Tooth and Claw are action tracks, while Beautiful has a solo flute, joined by strings, harp and oboe as Kong and his love interest admire the setting sun from a high vantage point on the island - a scene which will be mirrored later with a touch of sadness high above the New York skyline. That's all there is ... brings back the vaudeville routine as Beauty attempts to entertain the Beast. Central Park is another magical moment of peace in a snowy setting and The Empire State Building is sad and peaceful ending to the main part of the story. The final five tracks labelled Beauty and the Beast could be thought of as a suite comprising music from the movie, with number 4 in particular moving into romantic territory towards the close with a sad vocal part (perhaps suggesting a Howard Shore moment from Lord of the Rings).
Soundtrack fans have two other reasons to enjoy seeing the movie. One, you will briefly see Howard Shore conducting the orchestra in front of the stage where Kong is exhibited for the New York audience. And two, just before Kong breaks free of his bounds the orchestra plays the opening from Max Steiner's music for the original King Kong film back in 1933. More information about the soundtrack CD can be found at these links: Amazon.co.uk in the UK, and Amazon.com in the US.