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.
Though you may first think of his work in lyrical music – namely his multiple Oscar-nominated songs or his ’70s career as singer of “Short People” – in the past few decades, Randy Newman has lent his hand to many film projects, from scoring a host of Pixar animated efforts to producing some iconic sports movie music. So for this Composer Spotlight, I’m going to take a listen back on the best movie music of Mr. Newman since 1984’s The Natural.
Chances are if you’ve ever watched an Oscar ceremony (at least in the past couple decades) or looked closer at your soundtrack’s credit list, you’ve at least seen the name Thomas Newman one time or another. As a 10-time Oscar nominee (and remarkably zero-time winner, considering the breadth of his work), he’s a bit ubiquitous in the film composing world. Thanks to a friend of mine going a little gaga over the Little Women soundtrack last night, I figured it was high time I highlight one of my favorite aspects of filmdom, starting with one of today’s hardest working cogs. I’m bound to miss quite a few of his works as I go through and analyze my favorites here, but I’ll do my best to give him his due. So, let’s go chronological here, which brings us back to 1985…
Scoring the star vehicle for the legendary music artist Madonna is probably no easy feat for an up-and-comer. But in this Golden Globe-nominated comedy, where lonely Rosanna Arquette lives out her fantasy of real-life excitement by snooping on a personal ad relationship, Newman does what he’s supposed to. Though there are no big revelations to be found in his score, he fits to the ’80s comedy mold by including plenty of synthesizer. It is interesting how you can already start to hear his musical voice in these tracks, though – there’s definitely some bits of Lemony Snicket hidden in the “Battery Park/Amnesia” selection. [Link]
He got his fill of teen comedies in the time between Desperately Seeking and this, an action comedy starring a relatively new Whoopi Goldberg as a banker who gets caught up in a KGB money-laundering scandal. His two contributions that are available on the soundtrack recording are starkly different. One, in typical ’80s comedy fashion, utilizes heavy saxophone and snippets of light jazz, while the other is Newman what he would later rely heavily on for Revolutionary Road, simple piano melodies. Again, this is hardly earth-shaking work, but it’s welcome and fitting for the task at hand. [Link]