While many will remember the late James Horner for his work on Titanic, Avatar, Braveheart and other major Hollywood blockbusters, my own memories of the man’s work go back to his 80’s output when a few of his scores stood out and made me seek out their soundtrack albums, which back then were sometimes available weeks before a film was released. Amusingly enough, I hadn’t realized he’d done the score for the icky schlock-fest Humanoids From The Deep until I re-watched the film for a recent blogathon.
(Thanks, Shout Factory!)
The first score I really noticed of his was 1980’s Battle Beyond the Stars, the Star Wars meets Seven Samurai sci-fi flick that made great use if its low budget visual effects and some fun casting choices. Horner’s score gently lifted bits of Jerry Goldsmith’s work on Patton, as well as touches of John Williams and a dash of Bernard Herrmann for good effective measure. I rather liked that the man wore his influences on his sleeve and made the film flow even more thanks to his music.
(Thanks, Warner Bros.!)
Horner was a busy man in 1981, composing four film scores to movies of varying degrees of quality. Oliver Stone’s debut flick, The Hand was a weird horror film about a comic strip artist who loses his hand only to have it implicate him in a few murders. The movie wasn’t great at all, but the score was effective and unsettling. Michael Wadleigh’s unusual horror film Wolfen was up next. Here, Horner went for an interesting and intentional aural assault using strings and brass extremely well. If I’m not mistaken, music from The Hand was also used in this one. Hey, I saw that Oliver Stone clunker three times just to get a look at the beautiful Barry Windsor-Smith artwork that was very underused in the film, so part of that score was stuck in my head for a while afterwards.
Another horror film, Deadly Blessing was up next. One of director Wes Craven’s best flicks (in my opinion) and it got a solid score to match the events on screen. I’ve only seen The Pursuit of D. B. Cooper once and wasn’t a fan of it, so I can’t really recall much of Horner’s work on it. I guess a revisit is due at some point, as it’s often the case where a film gets a second viewing a few years or decades later and things get a good deal more acceptable.
(Thanks, Paramount Movies!)
In 1982, Horner finally broke into the big time with his stellar and memorable score for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The score has plenty of great moments and the composer’s choice to use a nautical theme for the sequel made the music vastly different than Jerry Goldsmith’s work on the first Star Trek film. Horner also lifted a classic cue from Bernard Herrmann’s main title theme to Mysterious Island, making a powerful scene all the more effective. I can recall myself and two other soundtrack hounds practically flying out of out seats when those familiar notes blasted out of the theater speakers. It turns out we weren’t the only ones geeking out on that bit of genre nostalgia as I recall a few people afterwards discussing the music and its influences later in a nearby coffee shop.
Hey, there was NO internet or social media back then, so it was a common thing to hang out somewhere after a great film and discuss and debate what was liked or disliked. Granted, that still happens now, but I’d say it was more interesting interacting with total strangers up close and personal for a few brief minutes rather than dealing with today’s more incessant opinion-driven crowd that doesn’t quite know when to end an otherwise decent conversation. But that’s a whole different topic for another time.