Tuesday, June 23, 2015

RIP: James Horner

Some time ago a friend asked me if I had a copy of the score to the film Aliens. I answered in the affirmative: "Yes, I have a copy of the score to Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan." The joke (which he understood) was to note the similarities between the two scores, both written by James Horner. Evidently Horner had been in such a rush to complete Aliens on time that he recycled great swathes of Star Trek II in order to meet his deadline.

A month ago I happened to watch the film Wolfen, an unusual horror film which, for most of the run time, leads you into thinking you're watching a werewolf film (the antagonists turn out to be - 34 year old spoilers! - godlike wolf spirits). When the film would shift to show events from the viewpoint of the antagonists, I immediately recognized pieces of Khan's theme from Star Trek II; sure enough, Wolfen was a James Horner score, one which preceded Trek. I let my friend know about this.

Two days ago, my friend fired back by inviting me to listen to the score to Battle Beyond the Stars, which was Horner's second credited film score. Once again, you can hear arrangements which he later reused in Star Trek II! How neat!

James Horner died yesterday.

I cannot praise Horner's score to Star Trek II enough. Amusing as it is to hear pieces of that score in films he composed for either before or after that picture, it's such a perfect blend of music, from the bombastic opening titles to the menacing Khan/Reliant theme to the frantic combat music to the subdued closing. I consider Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan to be the finest Star Trek movie and Horner's music is an important, vital element in the makeup of that film.

I am also a tremendous fan of Avatar, which is not a fashionable thing to admit. Again, Horner delivered a terrific score there, without which I might not have enjoyed the film nearly as much. The soundtrack album to Avatar is the one of the most-frequently played scores in my house.

In addition to scoring some of my favourite movies, I was also very pleased to learn he and I were born on the same day of the year. No doubt that heightened my sense of affection for his art.

With Horner gone, who survives amongst Hollywood's great composers? Brian Tyler, Hans Zimmer, Ennio Morricone, Lalo Schifrin and John Carpenter, I suppose (and a tip of the hat to Daft Punk).

Horner has joined the greats - other favourites of mine who have passed on such as Jerry Goldsmith, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Max Steiner, Bernard Herrmann and Shirley Walker.

Rest in peace, Mr. Horner; your music remains vital to me.

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