The score for 'The Shawshank Redemption' was the first Thomas Newman score I ever heard, and it remains one of my favorites now, many years later.
I remember seeing the movie (I was one of the few who saw it in the theatre on its original run), and early on when the first aerial shots of Shawshank Prison appear onscreen, accompanied by the 'Stoic Theme' from the score, I felt that the movie had found its voice. As much as Morgan Freeman's melodious narration drives the story of the film, Newman's music drive the emotional heart from beginning to end.
The music is beautiful to listen to by itself -- haunting and majestic where it needs to be, but also more intimate and soft in its quieter moments. It never goes over the top with its sentimentality or dramatic tone, relying on subtle cues to convey menace, or friendship, or danger, and in the end, hope.
Like all good music for film should (a goal rarely realized), Newman's score conveys the message of the movie perfectly. It accompanies the events on screen, but it also enhances them, adds just the right tone, and really brings it to the heart of the viewer. It is safe to say that the film would not have been the same without such an accomplished and thoughtful score. In this case, it is even more true than usual -- the score is what helps to make the film so great, and with different music, the film itself would be lessened.
Thomas Newman has built a career out of creating music that is unique and moving, somehow always putting his signature on it without ever regurgitating themes or reusing the same ideas for different films. Even in such a distinguished body of work, filled with great music that moves the soul, Newman's score for 'The Shawshank Redemption' remains, fittingly, a shining moment.
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