James Horner: an Un-Forgettable Legacy

It starts off with a hint of subtle menace, the music ominously slow. On the screen the characters are tense, sweating, their sense of dread palpable. The tempo builds in pitch, becoming louder and louder until the threat our heroes are facing is inescapable and the score screams. The next part involves baby worms biting their way into people’s ears…

The tempo builds in pitch, becoming louder and louder until the threat our heroes are facing is inescapable and the score screams.

That’s how we meet Khan in Star Trek II, the music that heralds his appearance part of a fantastic score that gave James Horner his big break as a film composer. Horner had already composed several scores by that point, but it was the score that he composed for the second Star Trek film, The Wrath of Khan, with its sweeping tale of revenge and sacrifice helped to make his name.

That style would be repeated in many of the other films, over a hundred in total, that Horner contributed to through his music. Spreading his talents across more genres than just Science Fiction, Horner came to work with some of the biggest directors in Hollywood including James Cameron, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard, who are just some of the famous names to pay tribute to him since his passing.

Strangely Horner didn’t win the Oscar he deserved for Apollo 13, but for Titanic.

From cult classics like Willow, Batteries Not Included and The Name of the Rose to blockbusters such as Aliens, Titanic and Avatar through dramas such as A Beautiful Mind via sweeping historical epics in the form of Braveheart or comedies such as Red Heat– Horner’s music always kept pace with the action without losing any of the feeling behind the story. A fantastic example of this is the launch scene in Apollo 13. For all that the music marks the incredible endeavour of men going to the moon, it doesn’t lose touch with the one man, Gary Sinise’s Ken Mattingly, left behind due to a possible Measles infection. Just as the score marks out the hope and wonder behind space flight, it also signifies one man’s lack of solace as he is left behind.

Apollo-13-13

Strangely Horner didn’t win the Oscar he deserved for Apollo 13, but for Titanic instead, the love theme of Jack and Rose an instant hit that also saw him pick up a Grammy and a Golden Globe. Such honours were sadly fleeting and eight years later, despite five separate nominations, Horner’s scores failed to make the American Film Institute’s top twenty-five. For all his lack of commercial success however, Horner’s work and legacy is immortalised in the special cinematic moments his music created.

Each and every film he scored, he brought out its humanity.

Film music is always about setting the scene, but Horner’s compositions went beyond mere imagery. They made the character’s emotions something tangible for the audience, allowing them to connect with the characters on a far deeper level. It was as true for Kirk and Spock as it was for Jack and Rose. Each and every film he scored, he brought out its humanity regardless of the nature of that film. Such a legacy will not be forgotten.

By Gareth Wood

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