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The Good, The Bad & The Badass: James Horner

06.29.2015
Last week, we took a look at the career of legendary bad ass Samuel L. Jackson. This week's subject is someone who made his living behind the scenes, but made a huge mark on some of the most important movies of the last thirty years...
James Horner

I was very sad to hear of James Horner's tragic death. Anyone who knows anything about music in film knows exactly who this guy is. Easily ranking alongside the greats like John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, and Hans Zimmer, Horner's responsible for the scores to dozens of bona-fide classics, being the composer of choice for directors like Ron Howard, James Cameron, Walter Hill, and many others. Not bad for a guy who started his career writing music for low-budget Roger Corman movies.

Arguably, STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN was the film that changed things for Horner. While it's celebrated as a classic now, THE WRATH OF KHAN was actually a fairly minor production for the time as many in Hollywood doubted it would work considering the middling reception the previous film had been met with. Horner's adventurous and emotional score was the perfect complement to such a dark, action-packed entry and from then on his career was on fire. While he initially found himself doing mostly action movies like 48 HRS and COMMANDO, in 1985 his score for COCOON drew raves, and in '86 his score for ALIENS landed him his first Oscar nomination. In the years following, he'd be nominated an additional nine times, winning two Oscars in '97 for his work on James Cameron's TITANIC – which included his writing the Celine Dion mega-hit 'My Heart Will Go On.'

Following that, Horner became arguably the hottest composer in town, renowned for his speed – having composed a last minute replacement score for TROY in four weeks. While Horner's career was marred slightly by critics who complained he often re-appropriated his own themes (he's hardly alone in that regard) the fact is despite his prolific career he never wrote a bad or even mediocre score.

His Best Work
 

This is a tough one. While I have to give the edge to THE WRATH OF KHAN just for the fact that it's one of the first musical scores I ever remember really noticing as a kid, strong cases could be made for his work on ALIENS or BRAVEHEART. That said, for me THE WRATH OF KHAN and THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK are two of the greatest sci-fi adventure scores ever. When I think of STAR TREK, I don't think of the original Alexander Courage theme or even Jerry Goldsmith's famous theme for THE MOTION PICTURE (later used for Star Trek: The Next Generation). Rather, I think of Horner's classic opening fanfare for THE WRATH OF KHAN or the spectacular “Genesis theme.”

His Most Underrated Work

Most of you reading this probably haven't seen BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS. A low-budget STAR WARS knock-off, it benefited from a larger-than-average budget for a Roger Corman production and actually went on to a successful theatrical release in 1980, and wound up becoming a kind of syndicated TV classic. A huge part of its appeal is James Horner's thrilling score, which was so good Corman re-used it something like half-a-dozen times, but also led to Horner getting his first big studio gigs, with the Albert Finney vehicle WOLFEN helping jump-start his career. Other great, unheralded scores include THE ROCKETEER,  KRULL and WILLOW.

His Most Overrated Work

I don't hate TITANIC – even though it sure was hip to around the time it came out. This was no doubt a reaction to the fact that it was omnipresent in late '97/98, dominating the pop culture. Yet, one thing about the film's success I could never fathom was why the soundtrack was so acclaimed. OK, so 'My Heart Will Go On” was a giant hit, the score itself was fine – but not a classic along the lines of BRAVEHEART. Still, people loved it to the degree that the album went eleven times platinum. Wow. His follow-up score for THE MASK OF ZORRO was significantly better.

His Most Memorable Scene

My favorite part of THE WRATH OF KHAN's score is the lead-up to Spock's death, where Horner masterfully ratchets up the tension as the Enterprise almost gets blown to bits by the Genesis torpedo, before getting achingly emotional and tragic as Kirk races to engineering to try and rescue his best friend, but alas – as Scotty says “sir, he's dead already.”

His Five Best Films

5. COCOON
4. THE ROCKETEER
3. BRAVEHEART
2. ALIENS
1. (Tie) STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN/ STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK

Up Next

Before passing away, Horner managed to complete a full-score to the upcoming Jake GyllenhaalAntoine FuquaKurt Sutter boxing melodrama SOUTHPAW. Hopefully it'll be a memorable one to send him out on. Rest in peace good sir.

Source: JoBlo.com

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