So anyway, I've taken on the task of answering the James Horner portion of Reed’s question posed on Brad’s facebook page the other day. If you need a refresher (and after Brad’s ginormous fucking post on Jerry Goldsmith, you really shouldn't you no-short-term-memory-bastard), the question was:
“A question for those concerned: what, in your opinion, is Goldsmith’s best Fantasy score? What is his best sci-fi score? What is his best score not in those two genres? Same question for James Horner? Same question for one film composer of your choosing.”
…and with all that out of the way – on with the show…
Finding Horner’s best Fantasy score is actually quite simple; you literally can count on one hand how many Fantasy films he’s composed for. There are five. Just five. Of those, two are pure fantasy, three qualify as quasi-real fantasy. And the obvious choice is, well…obvious. Krull. Talk about a classic case of blowing your creative load early! It could be argued that Basil Poledouris had the same problem with Conan the Barbarian. It’s a fair argument that Krull is not only Horner’s best Fantasy score, but perhaps one of the (if not the) greatest achievements of his career. If you’re wondering, the other pure fantasy score was
His contributions to Sci-Fi film music are a little bit harder to sift through – but not much. For those who are interested, here’s a list of Horner’s complete Sci-Fi output, in chronological order (beginning with his first “larger budget” feature):
Battle Beyond the Stars, Star Trek II, Brainstorm, Star Trek III, Cocoon, Aliens, *Batteries Not Included, Cocoon II, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, The Rocketeer, Deep Impact, and Avatar.
Not a bad resume of Sci-Fi really. I was really surprised how few there actually were. As I researched his filmography, it struck me how many dramas, action films, and epics (modern and historical) he’s done. Of the twelve scores on that list, I realized I have eleven. I never picked up Deep Impact, it was a little too Horner-y (read: lazy) for me. If I were to pick a favorite from that list, it would have to come down to either one of the Star Trek films or Aliens. Don’t ask me to pick just one; I don’t think I could do it. The score for Star Trek II has been argued as being the best of the entire film series – and for good reason. Aside from brilliant writing, it single-handedly changed the tone of the entire Star Trek musical universe going forward. I've always had a soft spot for III, why I don’t know – there’s just something about it that always stood out for me. Aliens is notable not only for its brilliant combination of atmospheric horror and kinetic action scoring, but also the speed in which such an inspired score was produced. There’s an interesting divergence that happens with The Rocketeer. The Rocketeer was 1991, after which, Horner (with the two listed exceptions) completely stayed away from Science Fiction. Brad also made a fascinating observation to me the other day that The Rocketeer was also the last time Horner wrote a truly large, orchestral, original, non-gimmicky, non-ethnic, non-epic score. Maybe that’s why it’s one of my favorites of his – regardless of genre.
If you want to know a lot about James Horner the composer, you’d do well to concentrate on his 1980’s output. Beginning with Battle Beyond the Stars going all the way to The Rocketeer, the 80’s represents a truly masterful period of Horner’s compositional and creative output. That’s not to say that anything he did post 1991 wasn't good, even damned good – hell, brilliant even. But there’s something so…new and fresh about 1980’s James Horner. The scores to Apollo 13, Braveheart, Titanic, Avatar, Legends of the Fall, the Zorro films – are all excellent, and highly entertaining. They’re true highlights of his output in the last 20 years and deserving of whatever accolades one sees fit to apply to them. But I think they lack that certain something, that spark that came with the best of what Horner gave us in the 80’s. Amongst the films I've already listed, we also have Glory, The Land Before Time, An American Tale, Red Heat, Commando, 48 hrs., Where the River Runs Black, The Journey of Natty Gann, Uncommon Valor, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and In the Name of the Rose. Of course in between those, you also have films like Streets of Fire,
Maybe I’m just waxing nostalgically because I grew up with so many of these films – they’re important to me. Maybe I’m just struggling because I haven’t written “fuck” since the beginning of this post. I’m having “fuck” withdrawal – it starts with the shakes, followed by profuse sweating, and then paranoia. Eventually sufferers de-evolve into a primitive state, flinging their poo at people and masturbating uncontrollably. So...par for the course for me. Who knows?! At any rate, I hope this helps, sorry if it dragged on a paragraph or twelve too long!