I was sad to hear last night about the death of composer and musician James Horner who died as a result of the crash of solo plane he was flying. Despite being only 61 years of age, James Horner has a grand back catalogue of music to his name. It’s fair to say that he is likely my second favourite film composer after the legendary John Barry. Whilst to me nothing quite compares to the soaring and majestic tunes of John Barry, James Horner comes close, albeit with a markedly different musical style.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
48 Hrs. (1982)
Captain EO (1986)
An American Tale (1986)
The Land Before Time (1988)
Field of Dreams (1989)
The Rocketeer (1991)
Searching for Bobby Fisher (1993)
Legends of the Fall (1994)
Apollo 13 (1995)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
The Perfect Storm (2000)
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
House of Sand and Fog (2003)
The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
It can’t be a co-incidence that some of his scores are to the soundtracks of some of my very favourite films. Like his father, James Horner won two Oscars for his soundtracks though he was nominated for 10 in total. He also won six Grammy awards.
I first learned of James Horner for his stand-out soundtrack to Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan which went on to influence not just the Star Trek franchise but a lot of Sci-fi in general. You can hear one of the highlights of Star Trek 2 here The Battle in the Mutara Nebula perfectly encapsulates the cat and mouse battle between Kirk’s Enterprise and the Reliant under the command of the genius superhuman tyrant, Khan. I love the way the music increases the natural feeling of the action on the screen. My favourite moment is the panic like blaring tones of the brass instruments when the Reliant emerges out of the gas cloud right in front of the Enterprise and then the Genesis countdown a few minutes later. Surely the individual best space battle of all time and one of the most tactical set-pieces of any movie. If you want to see the action as well as listen to the music then you can watch this sequence and listen to the awesome music below and watch out for a great performance from Ricardo Montalbano in particular.
Of course James Horner went on to score soundtracks for many other great films including Field of Dreams, Apollo 13 and The Perfect Storm, not forgetting the blockbusting Avatar. Of those The Perfect Storm is by far my personal favourite, telling the true story of a fishing crew who all in a days work battle through a terrible storm and make it through the night only to be confronted by a Rogue Wave that stands between them and survival.
Aside from Star Trek however it was probably his work on Braveheart which gave his work a wider audience. A hauntingly Celtic themed piece following the life and death of William Wallace and this just have certainly inspired the composer when he wrote the soundtrack to not just to what was the biggest blockbusting film of all time in Titanic but also a soundtrack that sold over 27 million copies around the world.
If you listen to the Titanic score you’ll no doubt pick up on a few repeated themes from Braveheart and it fuses more mainstream film music with some achingly beautiful Scottish inspired score. Of course to Star Trek fans like myself you may also pick up on elements in Titanic from Star Trek 2. From when the look-out shouts “Iceberg right ahead” to when RMS Titanic disappears under the icy cold waters of the Atlantic as well as being a great pice of music in its own right, it always reminds be of the battle in the nebula and Spock sacrificing his life to shave his friends which if you think of it the Enterprise is the majestic Titanic, the iceberg an the Reliant both come out of nowhere to pretty much destroy the ships and both Spock and Jack sacrifice themselves to save the people they love.
Every time I watch this bit of the movie I always marvel at how disciplined and ordered the officers and crew were and cross my fingers that they will miss the iceberg. Two minutes minutes of agonising when you see how close they were to making it. Incidentally when I worked at Marconi I knew the grandson of the chap on the crows nest of Titanic who spotted the iceberg.
My favourite piece from Titanic is “Rose” which is hinted at throughout the film but is best heard and seen from the famous and beautiful to look at “I’m Flying scene”. Incidentally I must say, Kate Winslet looked amazing in this film and definitely deserved an Oscar above the eventual winner who had a much less demanding and physically challenging role
Aside from music, James Horner was also a keen aviator and a licence pilot. Sadly on Monday morning local time, his plane crashed and he died doing what he loved. As incredible as all of the above movies are, I think they wouldn’t be the same without his wonderful and often beautiful scores. They are probably the soundtrack to my 90’s life and I hope this post encourages to go back and re-listen to some of his works or maybe even introduce some new fans to his music and incredible body of film-work.