Top 10 Favorite James Horner Scores22 Jun, 2015 By: John Latchem
A good musical score can give a lot of life to a movie, but a great score can transcend the boundaries of its film to stand as a powerful work on its own.For film music fans, knowing a certain composer is attached to a project can generate tremendous interest that otherwise might not exist.
James Horner, who died in a plane crash June 22, was one of the best film composers of his or any generation.
In a career that spanned nearly four decades, Horner’s talent rested in his ability to distill the essence of a project into musical form. His music could range from epic to haunting, as adept at sweeping fanfares as quiet statements of intimate drama.
He was certainly one of my favorites when I was growing up, as his soundtracks shared a treasured space on my shelf (and still do) alongside the likes of John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Hans Zimmer and Alan Silvestri.
Horner was never afraid to try new sounds and styles, yet his work was always distinctly his.
As one of the most prolific composers of the 1980s and 1990s, Horner worked with many of the biggest directors in Hollywood, including James Cameron, Ron Howard, Mel Gibson, Edward Zwick and Wolfgang Peterson. For Cameron, he created the music for the two biggest box office earners of all time, Avatar and Titanic.
In 1986, Horner worked with George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola to provide a rousing score for Captain EO, the famed Disney theme park attraction starring Michael Jackson. Disney revived the show in 2010 as a tribute to Jackson, but I think it can serve now as an equally effective tribute to Horner’s legacy as well.
As we take the time to reflect on his career and the great joy it brought so many of us, I wanted to share my own list of my top 10 favorite James Horner scores.
Apollo 13 (1995)
Horner’s music is a perfect fit for Ron Howard’s film version of the story of the ill-fated Apollo 13 moon mission. The score drifts between flourishes of patriotism and high tension to culminate in massively inspirational movements that, when paired with the images on the screen, will leave many a viewer hard pressed not to walk away with a tear in the corner of their eye.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) & Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)
I cheated a bit and linked these two together, since there is an obvious thematic link between them. Khan represents the pinnacle of Horner’s early years, highlighted by the exuberance of his youthful instincts contributing to a very nautical-sounding score that perfectly served the film’s outer space action, with dueling themes for Captain Kirk and his nemesis, Khan.
Horner rarely did sequels (he skipped The Amazing Spider-Man 2 but was set to take on the “Avatar” follow-ups), so it’s lucky he came on board to continue his contributions to the “Trek” canon. Here, Horner broke out a minor theme for Spock from Khan and made it a primary theme here, while adding new music for the Klingons.
For Mel Gibson’s re-creation of medieval Scotland, Horner used a lot of ethnically-appropriate instrumentation to craft a period-appropriate sound that emphasized the romance at the heart of the story.
Horner will forever be known as the composer of James Cameron’s depiction of the doomed ocean voyage, for several reasons. It’s one of the top-selling score albums ever, it won Horner his only two Oscars, and it gave Celine Dion her signature song, “My Heart Will Go On,” which Horner (and lyricist Will Jennings) wrote on an impulse and had to convince Cameron to use it in the movie. With its wide array of instrumentation and style, the score is the perfect embodiment of Horner’s career.
Horner partnered with director Ed Zwick for this drama about black soldiers fighting for the North in the Civil War.
Field of Dreams (1989)
One of Horner’s quieter scores provides a lot of the impact for the Kevin Costner baseball drama.
The Perfect Storm (2000)
Horner returned to the ocean with a conventional arrangement that nonetheless boasts a lovely main theme and an effective underscore.
Horner delves into the world of George Lucas with the Ron Howard-directed fantasy film.
Clear and Present Danger (1994)
Horner gave the adaptation of the Tom Clancy novel a very effective action score.
The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
Horner’s most notable contribution to the exploding superhero genre allowed him to establish an energetic main theme for the web-slinger to distinguish the reboot from the methodical tones written by Danny Elfman a decade earlier.