Showing posts with label james horner. Show all posts
Showing posts with label james horner. Show all posts

Thursday, 12 January 2023

Titanic returns to the big screen in 4K 3D



As Avatar: The Way of Water continues to dominate the box office, James Cameron’s Titanic is returning to cinemas this February to celebrate its 25th anniversary.



In the years before its release, I avidly followed reports of Titanic's troubled production, which suggested Twentieth Century Fox had a box office disaster comparable to Cleopatra. As the budget ballooned, Paramount Pictures stepped in to distribute the movie in the US.

At the time of Titanic’s original release in the UK, I wrote that the film had transcended my (admittedly) low expectations in the wake of a preview screening on my birthday.

In a sold-out Odeon Exeter Screen 1, I got swept away by this sepia-toned ghost story based on an infamous real-life tragedy. Nothing could've prepared the audience for the audacious spectacle and sheer grandeur that leapt from the great expanse of widescreen before us.

Cameron is indeed a master magician of montage and emotion. His craft would be further honed for Avatar.

The self-proclaimed king of the world had come of age with his Oscar-winning epic romance, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, underscored by composer James Horner’s haunting orchestrations - filled with Easter Eggs from an illustrious career cut too soon. Incidentally, I owned the original soundtrack on CD and MiniDisc. Now I can stream alternate versions on Apple Music, how times and technology have changed.

Ultimately, Titanic conquered the box office and was the first film to reach a billion dollars. The moral of the story is to never bet against Cameron.

Like Avatar, Titanic has been remastered in 4K 3D. However, I'll wait to see it on Disney+. It will be available on Paramount+ in the US.

What are your memories of watching Titanic? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday, 2 January 2023

Star Tracks: The Search for Spock



Happy New Year to all our readers! 2023 marks the 60th anniversary of Doctor Who, the 40th anniversary of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi and, for many Star Wars fans (myself included) living outside London, the 45th anniversary of Star Wars! We'll be celebrating all this and much more over the coming months.

For Christmas, I was gifted Bandai's excellent electronic USS Enterprise NCC-1701 and what better way to begin than with an edition of Star Tracks featuring James Horner's soundtrack for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

Nick Smith, our resident US-based media maverick, follows up his adventures with Willow by stealing the Enterprise with help from the fine folks at Intrada.

Guest post by Nick Smith

It’s hard for me to listen to any James Horner music without memories of the Star Trek movies flooding Nick’s Brain! Horner’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan score helped make the film an unforgettable experience, accentuating the plot twists and emotional moments with just the right amount of pomp.

Horner was still in his twenties when he submitted a demo tape and got selected by The Wrath of Khan’s director and producers to score a big-screen love letter to the TV show. Despite – or partly due to – the death of a major character, the movie was a huge hit, making almost $100 million at the box office.

‘For me not to do [Star Trek III: The Search for Spock], I’d have to be in a bad accident or get killed!’ Horner joked to Starlog magazine. But The Search for Spock presented different challenges, not least of which was the need to give an epic quality to a film with a simpler story, essentially a bookend to Khan. ‘Star Trek III got formulated somewhere along the end while we were doing [Star Trek II],’ said Horner. ‘I had to change the end of Star Trek II musically and they changed the cut so that it merged into the beginning of Star Trek III and it actually held me in very good stead.’

III’s themes are an extension of the Khan music (Horner called it a ‘reweaving’), just as the film itself continues the narrative. The eerie Spock tune is developed along with II’s main theme and its exciting battle music. Horner has a chance to go bigger and better the second time around; the sounds are deeper and more profound.

‘…The score for Star Trek III is just so much vastly better than Star Trek II,’ Horner told CinemaScore. ‘It's just a much more interesting score and, for me, a much more beautiful and emotional score than Star Trek II.’

Intrada’s 2-CD release does justice to this special music. Disc 1 has the original, full score from the film, remixed from the three-track mixes printed from Sony 3324 24-track masters. Disc 2 has the 1984 Capitol Records music that contemporary fans grew up with, complete with a disco-pop version of the main theme.

The first track on Disc 1, Prologue and Main Title, begins abruptly; it’s heavy on celli, building a sense of grief and disillusionment. Not only is Spock gone but the iconic starship Enterprise is in a bad state after its fight with Khan. The emotions of the surviving crew come across wholeheartedly through the music.

Spock Endures Pon Farr also has a wistful edge, subsumed with little blasts of Alexander Courage’s TV theme, followed by Horner’s excellent, atonal Klingon battle music with percussion: bamboo ang-klungs, rhythm logs, boobams, an anvil, cluster chimes, tam-tams, a thunder sheet, timbales and drums are all used to encapsulate the warrior race.

These primal beats are counterpointed by plenty of humorous moments and sheer joyfulness. Stealing the Enterprise is as fun to listen to now as it ever was, accompanying the sequence in the film where Kirk and his crew break the rules, hotwire their beloved ship and escape into space.

Disc 2 includes four alternate tracks and a shiny new version of the Capitol release. Here, the Prologue and Main Title sound slow and majestic. The menacing second track, Klingons, references the original horn trills of the TV show and echoes tunes like Surprise Attack from The Wrath of Khan. Bird of Prey Decloaks channels Holst’s Mars, the Bringer of War, and the End Title is fast, sweeping and exhilarating.

While the complete score sounds fresh and exciting, I prefer the thicker orchestration of the album score. Maybe it’s because I used to play a promo album on repeat as a teenager while I wrote, looking forward to the fun, grooved-up jazz rock of Group 87, who covered The Search for Spock on a 12” disc that was included in my gatefold copy. Although that version sounds archaic now, in step with the same year’s The Neverending Story, it’s a real treat to have an extended edition of the score, an augmented version of the vinyl album and the Group 87 jam all in one package.

Treks II through IV were a saga all their own that cemented the films as worthy successors to their TV ancestor. However, The Search for Spock was Horner’s last score for the series. He said that he was invited to compose more but he wanted to do different projects. His swan song is a high note that he was justifiably proud of.

‘I think that Star Trek III is the best of all the Star Trek [movies],’ said Horner in CinemaScore. ‘It's made with the most amount of feeling, in a certain sense, of all of them. It's made by someone who knows the characters of Star Trek so much more intimately than anybody else involved, except maybe Gene Roddenberry. The fact that Leonard Nimoy directed this film gives it a whole interesting light that it would never have had with anyone else. It was fascinating to work with him.’

The franchise and this soundtrack are all the better since The Search for Spock helped the filmmakers, including Nimoy and Horner, discover what made Star Trek tick. While both men have sadly passed away, they will always be linked to this very human adventure.

Special thanks to Roger Feigelson at Intrada for providing a copy for review.

Monday, 5 September 2022

Star Tracks: Willow



Willow returns with Warwick Davis (Star Wars) reprising the titular role this holiday season on Disney+.

In anticipation, Hollywood composer James Horner's original Willow soundtrack gets the Star Tracks treatment. Like John Williams (Jaws) and Jerry Goldsmith (Alien), Horner was integral to my formative soundtrack education as I underwent rehabilitation for a life-changing neurological injury.

Nick Smith, our resident US-based media maverick, goes on an epic fantasy adventure courtesy of the fine folks at Intrada.

Guest post by Nick Smith

With a Willow trailer previewed and a panel discussion at this year’s Star Wars Celebration, it’s the perfect time to visit the original movie and its evocative soundtrack by the late Hollywood composer, James Horner.

A new Intrada release shines a deserved spotlight on the score, with over half an hour of previously unreleased cues, all mastered from original digital stereo mixes. All told, we get over 100 minutes of music, making the original album seem brownie-sized in comparison.

Willow was released in 1988 to great fanfare. However, it lacked the same universal appeal as Executive Producer George Lucas’ other brainchildren, Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

Taking some of its inspiration from The Lord of the Rings and Arthurian myth, this one was for lovers of epic fantasy, the Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) crowd, families and special effects junkies, hiring 650 extras and filming in numerous international locations.

In the thick of it, was the diminutive Willow. Per film writer Marcus Hearn, Lucas has said, ‘a lot of my movies are about a little guy against the system, and this was just a more literal interpretation of that idea.’

Director Ron Howard, on a high after Splash (1984) and Cocoon (1985), had just the correct sensibilities for an adventure film with wide appeal. Willow was a hit, with a worldwide box office of almost $138 million. But it wasn’t the megahit MGM/United Artists hoped for.

Three decades later, Willow is still fun to watch, mainly thanks to the confident performances by the 18-year-old Warwick Davis (Willow Ufgood), Val Kilmer (Madmartigan), Joanne Whalley (Sorsha) and Jean ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ Marsh, who plays the deliciously wicked sorceress Bavmorda.

Willow is even more fun to listen to, with a score as lavish as the accompanying images. Dozens of instruments and several distinct melodies collide as the film builds to its climax.

What does an exotic fantasy world sound like? Acoustic instruments? Heavy drumbeats? Magical synth twinkles? Horner melded all of the above on a gig that in many ways was a composer’s dream. He had a sizeable budget and few constraints to stick by. He wasn’t depicting ‘30s New Orleans or ‘80s LA. He was able to help build a brand new world with his score, with a heavy dose of light-heartedness, strong character themes and a fast pace.

This wasn’t Horner’s first unicorn rodeo. He’d created the distinctive music for Krull (1983) with far fewer resources at his disposal. With Willow, Horner was able to go for broke. ‘I am… a doctor of music,’ Horner said, according to Jean-Baptiste Martin who runs the James Horner Film Music website. ‘I listened to, studied and analysed a lot of music. I also enjoy metaphors, the art of quoting and of cycles. The harmonic draft of the Willow score, and most particularly its spiritual side, came from such a cycle, from such mythology and music history that I was taught, and that I myself convey with my own emotions and compositions.’

Horner pulls from a Slavic liturgy, Mozart’s Requiem, a Bulgarian peasant song, Bartok, Holst, Prokoviev, Schuman and Edvard Grieg. The musicologist’s gleeful research pays off in tracks like Airk’s Army and Elora Danan, which introduce many of the soundtrack’s major themes. There’s a potent sense of society and tradition, especially in The Nelwyns and The Nelwyns No. 2 – imagine The Dark Crystal’s Podlings dancing to an African beat, diamonds on the soles of their tiny shoes, and you’ll get a good idea of how that sequence sounds.

To further the sense that we were trotting through a weird new world, Horner turned to quaint instruments and objects like an Irish bodhran drum, a Chinese opera gong, an ocarina, conch shells, bagpipes, pan pipes (which are particularly distinct in a track called The Island) and even a plastic cup.

There are also hints of Horner’s previous scores – strings soar in Escape From The Tavern, sounding a lot like Stealing the Enterprise from Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (also available from Intrada).

Other cues, particularly Tir Asleen, evoke trademark Lucasfilm moments; you can imagine Lucas saying to Horner, ‘I want this to be John Williamsy. Can you make this Williamsy?’

Despite some intentionally discordant bits, for all its elements this ambitious score is remarkably cohesive and it sounds gorgeous in its new 2-CD form. After listening, we feel like we have been on an emotionally satisfying journey through a believable world, where there are consequences to each of the characters’ actions, highlighted in the music.

When the sonic adventure is over, I miss its charm and imagination, the way it depicts the triumph of light over darkness. Fortunately, it’s almost time to visit Willow’s land again in Lucasfilm’s forthcoming series on Disney+, heralded by Horner’s majestic theme tune.

Special thanks to Roger Feigelson at Intrada for providing a copy for review.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Oscar-winning composer James Horner dies in plane crash



Deeply saddened by the news of Hollywood film composer James Horner's death in a plane crash. The first I heard of this was, as is now often the case, on social media.

It's not hyperbole to suggest James Horner, alongside John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith, scored the soundtrack to my life.

From Battle Beyond the Stars to Krull and Captain EO to Willow. Horner's golden age in the 1980s informed and enriched films, childhood playtimes, lively teenage academic debates and countless hours in darkened edit suites.

Here's my top ten James Horner film scores (in no particular order):

Aliens
Avatar
Titanic
Braveheart
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Krull
Willow
An American Tale
The Amazing Spider-Man
Field of Dreams

In this clip James Horner discusses his creative process for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.



Thank you for the timeless musical odysseys. RIP James Horner.