composer spotlight: JAMES HORNER

It’s been quite a while since the first two outings of this series, Thomas Newman and Randy Newman, so I thought it was high time to return.  I’m a big fan of soundtracks – to a fault, really.  My iTunes are dominated by them probably 2-to-1.  So in honor of how many great soundtracks there are out there, why not feature one of the most prolific working ones in the third spotlight?  He’s been known to do three, four, or more scores in one year.  So, though I couldn’t possibly feature all of the dozens of works he’s put together, here are some of my favorites…

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) – Sure, times have changed, and everyone’s all about the new, edgy J.J. Abrams Star Trek, but what of the originals?  Sure, the first one is sort of a joke now, but isn’t Khan still one of the most-loved outings of Kirk and Co.?

Testament (1983) – Sure, I’m new to the bandwagon of this underrated, low-budget drama, but the score really was interesting.  It’s some of Horner’s earlier work in mainstream films, and he manages to transcend typical ’80s tropes.

Cocoon (1985) – The flick about elderly folks finding the fountain of youth in a retirement village pool overtaken by pod people from outer space is surprisingly poignant, something mostly buoyed by the Horner original.

Aliens (1986) – It’s no easy feat to top an original in a second time around, but most agree this is the case with Aliens.  And James Horner’s rousing action score sure helps.  How do we feel about it compared to the 1978 original?

The Land Before Time (1988) – Let’s all just forget about the 20-odd sequels they’ve spawned since and think just about the classically endearing original.  It really is a perfect example of a non-Disney animated success in the ’80s.

Field of Dreams (1989) – Possibly the most tolerable Kevin Costner has ever been, Field of Dreams was driven by excellent plotting and a mellow, lovely score to match the subtle Iowa backdrop.

Honey I Shrunk the Kids (1989) – Am I the only one who grew up loving this movie?  It’s assuredly a defining one for me, and the music is great fun.  The themes during the lawnmower and ant-meeting scenes are terribly exciting.

The Rocketeer (1991) – Here’s another one that perplexes me.  Such a fun movie, and yet it didn’t really connect with a lasting effect.  And gosh, this is probably arguably my favorite Horner score.

An American Tail: Fievel Goes West (1991) – Now don’t judge me – this one is still hilarious to me as an adult, so I know I’m not crazy.  Sure, a traditional Western score can be overly simple, but it’s Copeland stylings are too much fun.

Sneakers (1992) – Horner’s no stranger to little-seen gems.  If you haven’t seen this incredibly cast thriller yet, please do.  And thanks to Branford Marsalis’s instrumental stylings, it’s jazzy and… well… sneaky.

Casper (1995) – I know this got panned by critics, but it has its moments.  Okay fine – I was a child of the ’90s.  Forgive me if I love Christina Ricci through and through.  Oh, and Horner’s score is quirky and lovable.

Jumanji (1995) – This adaptation was surely flawed, but Bonnie Hunt’s performance was pure gold.  As was the eerie and often lush background music.  Sure, it’s got a lot of similarity to the 2001 film later on this list, but still love it.

Titanic (1997) – Arguably his most famous score.  (Although working with James Cameron again may’ve outdone it in 2009.)  It made synthesizers prestigious again.  Plus it helped give the world DiCaprio and Winslet… so yeah.

The Mask of Zorro (1998) – Not unlike the Western genre, this Latino adventure firm can rely very heavily on typical themes, but Mask seamlessly combined them with Horner’s penchant for low, heavy-handed brass.

A Beautiful Mind (2001) – Sure, it didn’t really deserve Best Picture and all that, but it’s probably the clearest example of everything Horner does best.  “Kaleidoscope…” is such a great track it’s been used in trailers all over.

Avatar (2009) – His last major effort (surprising he’s held for a few years, eh?) Avatar must’ve been quite the undertaking.  It’s a big departure from what we’re used to hearing from him, but it totally pays off in the sweeping epic.

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