Jun 23, 2015

R.I.P. James Horner

The Hollywood Reporter reports that film composer extraordinaire James Horner died yesterday in a plane crash. This is tragic news. Horner was among that dying breed of great orchestral composers who wrote grand, hummable themes, in an industry that seems to be relying more and more on non-distinctive electronic compositions that blend together. Horner seemed to score everything in the 1990s, and that included the decade's biggest spy franchise, based on Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan character. Horner scored both of Harrison Ford's outings as Ryan, Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger (a score that defines the Nineties spy sound for me). He also provided the jazzy score for another Nineties spy classic, Sneakers, and added great suspense with his music to the paranoid spy chases in A Beautiful Mind.

But the Nineties weren't a decade especially known for spy movies, nor was Horner a composer readily associated with that genre. He's probably best known for his epics like Titanic (still one of the bestselling soundtrack albums of all time, propelled by the Celine Dion song "My Heart Will Go On" for which Horner won an Oscar), Braveheart, Glory, Field of Dreams, and my personal favorite, Legends of the Fall. Composed in the same year as Clear and Present Danger, Legends of the Fall is one of the all-time great film scores. That music still moves me whenever I hear it, and that album very clearly formed the soundtrack of my junior year of high school along with (and every bit as much as) Tom Petty's Wildflowers and the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. Other favorite Horner scores of mine include Disney's rollicking comic book blast The Rocketeer (with Timothy Dalton), and his fantasy scores for Krull, Willow and Battle Beyond the Stars, though I think of the latter more for the other New Concorde movies Roger Corman reused it in, like Barbarian Queen, Wizards of the Lost Kingdom and Deathstalker IV. And, speaking of Battle Beyond the Stars, there's no denying the huge impact Horner had on science fiction, with unforgettable scores for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Aliens and Avatar. More recently he'd become choosier about his work and consequently less prolific, but still created memorable, distinctive music for films like The Amazing Spider-man and the forthcoming Wolf Totem and Southpaw.

It's a real shame we never got a chance to hear Horner's take on a Bond score. He was reportedly offered Never Say Never Again, but turned it down, perhaps for fear of displeasing potential future employers at EON.

But what music he did create! James Horner leaves behind a body of work that will continue to move film fans for generations to come. Now I'm going to go put on Legends of the Fall and be transported to the fading West,WWI, and Prohibition... and simultaneously to another time in my own life. Thank you, Mr. Horner, for the memories.

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