Tag Archives: James Horner

BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS.

 

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When you think about it and take into account the style, sound and actual scale of score that James Horner composed for BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS it was a pre-cursor for what we were about to experience two years later in STAR TREK ll THE WRATH OF KHAN, and in fact it was also the forerunner and blueprint for many of Horner’s early film scores as in ALIENS, WILLOW, COCOON, KRULL and to a degree THE ROCKETEER. He was a composer that was no stranger to experimentation with orchestration and the utilisation of certain instruments that were of the unusual kind. BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS was in effect a remake of THE MAGNIFICENT 7 but set in space and although at times the effects were not that realistic, and the performances could be less than convincing, it is a film that I return to regularly just for the sheer adventure, thrill and escapism that it can create.

BattleBeyondTheStars_maintitleThe movie was released in 1980 by NEW WORLD PICTURES which was a company established by well known film maker Roger Corman, it was Corman who produced the movie and gave Horner a chance to write the score, as with many of the composers early works it was a large-scale score in proportion to the budget of the movie. But, Horner would do this on several his early assignments often funding the orchestra himself when the music budget did not stretch to it. When you listen to the score for BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS it obviously pays homage to the style of Jerry Goldsmith and in certain moments is very evocative of his score for STAR TREK THE MOTION PICTURE, and at times utilising the echoing trumpet flourishes which Goldsmith employed in his memorable theme for PATTON -LUST FOR GLORY.

 

Plus, there is the Goldsmith trademark melancholy woodwind and strings in the scores quieter moments. But. Listen closer to Horner’s at times complex writing, and his intense and unrelenting tense atmosphere that he creates via strings, percussion and brass, which are at times underpinned or embellished by electronic support. For a composer who was not at that time 30 years of age this is a score of immense maturity. The film was also a milestone for filmmaker James Cameron who was responsible for designing the FX on the movie, of course Cameron and Horner’s paths would cross more than once in the not too distant future, most notably on TITANIC in 1997.

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The movie had quite an impressive cast line up, which included Richard Thomas, Robert Vaughn, George Peppard, John Saxon and Sybil Danning. The films budget was quite merger for a Hollywood production the total cost of production being just $2,000,000. It re-cooped $ 7.5 Million at the box office. So not a huge success but nonetheless it did not lose money. Many say that the best thing about the movie was its score by James Horner, and although I do agree the score was outstanding for such a low budget film, I would also have to add that I think the movie is entertaining.

 


The distant Planet of Akir is under threat from and evil warlord Sador played by John Saxon, this unsavoury power crazed individual is the ruler of the fearsome and mystical Maimori Empire, he has told the people of Akir to surrender to him or face the consequences, which are to be blasted into pieces by his STELLA CONVERTOR (shades of the death star). The oldest and wisest of the Akira Corsairs, Zed, suggests that they should hire mercenaries to help them. Akir is a planet that is not wealthy but has ample food and shelter to offer those who will help them. Zed is too old to go himself, so he does the next best thing and offers his spaceship for the task, all they must do is find a pilot that can fly it. The ship is a formidable craft complete with Ai Navigation/tactical Navigation, but even with all its advanced technology it is unable to defeat the combined strength of Sador and the Maimori Empire.

 

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Enter then, Shad a young man played by Richard Thomas, Shad has flown the ship before and is known to the on-board computer called Nell. Shad decides to volunteer for the job and thus the adventure begins and what an adventure, BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS is certainly one of those movies that allows the audience to be whisked off to other worlds, although highly unlikely and total over the top it’s a good yarn with a wonderfully expansive and thematic score to suit. I think the first time I saw the movie it was on video and I had the soundtrack in my collection already, but I think that’s a thing we soundtrack collectors do at times we don’t actually go see a movie and think I like that score, we buy on name or reputation or on what the composers last score was like, don’t we? But I got to thinking how did I buy BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS by the reputation of the composer?

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I did not have anything else by Horner, in fact was anything else released at that time, I don’t know? If not, I know I snapped up things like GORKY PARK, BRAINSTORM etc when I saw them in the racks at the local record shop after hearing BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS. At times I did get a soundtrack because I liked the look of the art work, so maybe that’s how I ended up with the LP record in my possession. Anyway, for a low budget affair BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS was very entertaining and it also introduced us to the magical, mystical, romantic, anthemic and dramatic theme laden style of a composer we all miss so much. James Horner.

 

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KRULL.

 

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I suppose at the time of its release KRULL was a kid’s dream or fantasy come true, a real swashbuckler which had definite influences from the story of THE KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE and heavily influenced by Greek mythology and tales of a galaxy far far away. There are also borrowed themes and scenarios that we all know are the work of Tolkien, but hey, did we or do we really care, did we embrace it, believe it and love it, yep we did. Ok let’s go back 35 years now remember this is pre-internet, in fact pre-almost everything that we today take for granted. I know as well as you all do that KRULL was probably not the best movie ever made, but it had its moments of excitement, magic and romance, at the centre of the story there was the love and romance between a prince and princess, who were being kept apart by an evil and what we thought was an unstoppable evil.

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The similarities between it and STAR WARS is today even more evident, simply because we as a cinema going public are all familiar with the themes that are within the STAR WARS saga. KRULL begins in a similar way to the original STAR WARS movie, with what could be a gigantic space ship floating through the darkness of space, this ominous looking sight sets the scene for what is to follow and the movie which is filled with Knights, Slayers, Heroes, Villains, Large Spiders and Evil Tyrants. Yes, there were several films made after the success of STAR WARS that attempted to cash in on the popularity of the movie, STARCRASH for example, (a bad example, but nevertheless an example). The reason KRULL was just a little bit more impressive was partly due to the director Peter Yates, he after all was a seasoned filmmaker and in the hands of anyone less KRULL probably would have sunk without trace.

 

 

But, it was not just STAR WARS that KRULL borrowed from, the story was a combination of many storylines, tales and movies that had gone before. It not only included the age-old battle between good and evil, but there was the mystical and the mythology, the movie including FIRE MARES and a CYCLOPS. The opening which shows the approach of what we at first think is a space ship, is in fact a Black and powerful tower, a castle of sorts where an evil beast like ruler resides with his army of slayers, who are not a million miles away from storm troopers when you think about it.

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The black tower settles on the planet of KRULL, and this is when the battle between light and darkness commences. The lead in the movie is played by Ken Marshall who portrays Colwyn, he is a hero in the true style of Hollywood, by this I mean if the movie had been made back in the 1940’s this would have been role for the likes of Tyrone Power or even Errol Flynn. Colwyn is about to become the husband of the beautiful Princess Lyssa played by Lysette Anthony, but the Beast sends his army of slayers to attack the castle where the wedding is to take place and after some resistance the slayers capture the Princess and whisk her off to the black tower where she is held captive by the Beast. Colwyn vows to rescue his love and thus the quest and the action begins. Colwyn is joined by a wise man Ynvr played by the excellent Freddie Jones, together they set off to rescue the Princess and hopefully to rid KRULL of the Beast and his black Slayers.

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Along the way they begin to collect a rag bag collection of friends and mercenaries who are willing to follow them. Among these are, a magician who struggles to get his tricks right and even manages to turn himself into a goose at one point, Ergo the Magnificent is wonderfully portrayed by David Battley. Then we have the Cyclops, who is gentle and laid back played by veteran actor Bernard Bresslaw in some convincing make up and a million miles away from his performances in the Carry-on movies where he would normally play a somewhat dim individual. Also joining the good guys is Liam Neeson, a very fresh-faced Liam plays one of the criminals that Colwyn convinces to join him, KRULL was Neeson’s third movie, and this was a very small part for the actor, but as they say the mighty oak from tiny acorns does grow. Two more familiar faces in the line up are Todd Carty of East Enders fame, but Carty had been selected for his popular role of Tucker in Grange Hill by the producers of KRULL, maybe as a way of getting a younger audience interested in the movie.

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Robbie Coltrane also appears, but his Scottish accent proved to be a problem so for KRULL his voice was dubbed by actor Michael Elphick. Another star of the film was not a human but an armament, in the form of a Glaive weapon, which Colwyn plucks from the hot and fiery lava. The Slayers laser spears too are impressive as were the slayers themselves, the ominous looking armour being enough to strike terror into the hearts and souls of anyone that they were hunting. They were even more threatening and unsettling because they were mute and made no sound unless they were dying, when they let out an ear-piercing scream as a snake like form is spewed from their body.
In fact when you look at it, there are a number of harrowing and impressive moments of horror within the movie, the giant spider sequence for example, and the scene where a seer is possessed by an evil shape shifting entity which has black eyes. The set designs on the movie were also impressive, especially the interiors of the Black Tower, complete with moving walls, floors that swallow up people and walls that also suddenly become filled with spikes.

 


Inside the Black Tower we see our band of brave hero’s falling one by one as they strive to rescue the Princess in distress, and maybe we see too many of the good guys fall, it is a harsh and surprising end to a tale of heroism as many of the band of brave mercenaries are dispatched by the forces of evil. It all ends well, and normality and light are restored as Colwyn and his love are re-united.

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One of the movies most outstanding attributes was the rousing score composed by James Horner, he was just 30 years of age when he scored the movie, and his score is magnificent, the cue the RIDING OF THE FIRE MARES is outstanding as is his LOVE THEME for the movie, and when you think that he scored this as well as BRAINSTORM and GORKY PARK in the same year it something of a major feat for a composer who was so young. At the start of his career Horner would score low budget movies with large symphonic soundtracks and this practise put him good stead for films such as KRULL, WILLOW and The STAR TREK films he scored. His first big break came in 1980 when he wrote a stirring score for Roger Cormans BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS, which was the soundtrack that made collectors, critics and producers sit up and take notice. He followed this with THE HAND and WOLFEN his atmospheric score for the latter replacing music that had already been submitted by composer Craig Safan.

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Horner was in my opinion a rare talent and was involved with many of the big blockbusters that hit the screens during the 1980’s at times his music being more memorable than the films it was intended to support. The soundtrack album for KRULL was initially released on a French label which also contained dialogue from the movie in French, the soundtrack was then issued on a long-playing album, and eventually made onto CD and later was released in its full score form by LA LA LAND records in the United States.

 

 
It is without a doubt one of the composers most popular works and in many ways one of his most complex, and to this day remains a firm favourite with film music devotees around the world.

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (2016).

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I think everyone in the world of film music is still in a state of shock on hearing of the death of composer James Horner. They have also been waiting with baited breath for his score to the western THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN to be released, well the wait is over and the score is here. Yes of course many will be comparing both the movie and the score with the original but this I think is not the right way to go about it and I hope that I can review it without saying where is the original theme, sorry just said it but you know what I mean, I think we have to listen to the new score with open minds and fresh ears although there is a hint of that famous theme in track number four VOLCANO SPRINGS, I say a hint because Horner resists the temptation of going into a full rendition or arrangement of it, he teases us a little with a short burst of strings then dilutes the theme into something that is similar but also at the same time different. I love the way Horner and co-composer Simon Franglen have made use of various percussive elements and also an inventive inclusion of a pan pipe sound which at times is calming but then alters direction become more sinister and aggressive, these sounds are fused with soprano voice giving the work something of a connection with the spaghetti western score, al’ a composers such as Morricone, Nicolai and Baclov, but I have to say because of the pan pipes it is also somewhat reminiscent of Horner’s WILLOW and at times Goldsmith’s UNDER FIRE. The soprano is heard from the offset of proceedings in track number one, ROSE CREEK OPRESSION this opens with Horner’s trademark echoing trumpet flourishes which are embellished by both percussion and strings, with pipes being added as the track progresses, with two soprano voices performing in unison. This deployment of instrumentation is heard more prominently and in a sustained outing in track number five, STREET SLAUGHTER where Horner and Franglen successfully create a powerful and also a melodic piece that evokes both Italian and American westerns scores of days past, mixing a grand sound with a more unconventional approach to scoring a western. Track number two SEVEN ANGELS OF VENGEANCE, is a powerful addictive listen, driving strings are punctuated and supported by brass and percussion, with horns returning and taking on a core theme but soon being overwhelmed by percussion that is interspersed with bells, pan pipe stabs a wailing if but fleeting harmonica and then eventually the strings which give a short but effective rendition of the theme originally introduced by the horns, it is an interesting cue that also includes strident sounding guitar strumming and Hispanic sounding nuances. At times when listening to the score one forgets that this is a western, but there again define what music is western etc., it’s what works for the movie in the end, in my opinion this works well away from the movie.

I found it enjoyable and yes I admit to listening out for similarities between it and Elmer Bernstein’s scores for the MAGNIFICENT SEVEN cycle of movies, but I was not disappointed when it did not explode at every opportunity into arrangements or different takes on those scores and their central and secondary themes. This is an original score no doubt of that as in the way it is orchestrated, it contains some surprises and also a number of moments when one could say Oh yes typical James Horner, but is that a bad thing. For the many devoted fans of the original films score there is a snippet at the end of the compact disc in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN and its credited to Mr Bernstein, but this is the only direct reference to Bernstein’s slice of classic sounding Americana, and even this is different it’s a more subdued version or arrangement but one that still hits the spot. One of the highlights for me is track number, twenty-one, FARADAYS RIDE, this is a full working of what can I suppose be called the scores central theme, complete with vocal backing and those proud sounding horns that are carried along by strings and supported by timpani and strumming guitars, its proud, hopeful and anthem like and a compulsive listen, by this I mean as soon as cue finishes you want to go back and listen again. Overall a good score and entertaining listen and another reason to mourn the loss of such a gifted composer. Just go buy it……….
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JAMES HORNER 1953-2015.

Composer James Horner has died after being involved in a plane crash.
He died when his single engine Tucano plane crashed in the Los Padres National Forest in California.

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James Roy Horner, was born in Los Angeles in the August of 1953. His Father Harry Horner was an Academy Award nominated production designer who worked in Hollywood, and at times would direct movies. James went to school in California and Arizona. He spent his early years in London where he studied at the Royal College of Music in Kensington. He continued to study music and completed his PHD at UCLA in the States. He was involved in the scoring of a number of shorts for the American Film Institute which he worked on during the mid to late 1970’s. His first film score proper was for the 1979 movie THE LADY IN RED, after this he began to write scores for a number of low budget movies that were produced by Roger Corman’s NEW WORLD PICTURES, which included one of his milestone scores for the sci-fi picture BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS in 1980.

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It is probably true to say that it was this movie that gained the composer recognition amongst film music collectors and also a number of producers and directors. It was also on this assignment that Horner first came into contact with James Cameron and Gale Ann Hurd who he would work with late in his career. It was in 1982 when Horner scored the sequel to STAR TREK THE MOTION PICTURE, STAR TREK ll~ THE WRATH OF KHAN that he established himself as an A list film composer and became much in demand. It was the way in which he scored movies in his early days that would endear him to many fans and peers alike, at times scoring low budget movies with grand symphonic works that overflowed with melodies and themes and it was this style of scoring that was to establish him further as one of Hollywood’s greatest composers.

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The 1980,s and 1990,s were particularly fruitful for Horner, the composer creating emotive, exciting and dramatic soundtracks for movies such as FIELD OF DREAMS,GLORY, RED HEAT, BRAINSTORM, GORKY PARK, 48 HOURS, HONEY I SHRUNK THE KIDS, THE PELICAN BREIF, AN AMERICAN TAIL, APOLLO 13,KRULL,THE ROCKETEER, COCOON, BRAVEHEART,LEGENDS OF THE FALL, ALIENS, WILLOW and his double Oscar winning music and song for TITANIC to name but a few. The latter still remaining one of the biggest selling film soundtracks of all time. In recent years Horner has scored his fair share of box office hits, THE PERFECT STORM, THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN, THE KARATE KID, A BEAUTIFUL MIND,HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS, and AVATAR. The composer was nominated ten times for an Oscar, and also was the winner of two Golden Globe awards and six Grammy awards.
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Horner’s musical skills were not confined to film and he also wrote a number of classical pieces as well as providing hits for artists such as Diana Ross, Charlotte Church, Linda Ronstadt, Faith Hill and Tina Arena. His other passion away from music was flying and he combined his love of both music and flying by composing a piece for THE HORSEMAN P51 Aerobatic Team of which he was a member. Horner gained a reputation for being a perfectionist and chameleon like in his approach to scoring movies, being able to adapt and create a unique style and sound for the many films he scored. He worked with a number of directors these included, Ron Howard, Walter hill, Jean Jacques Annaud, Mel Gibson, Joe Johnston, Wes Craven, Oliver Stone, Roger Spottiswood, Nicholas Meyer, Douglas Trumbull, Michael Apted, Leonard Nimoy, Don Bluth, Norman Jewison, and James Cameron. He worked on 150 movies, his final offering being SOUTHPAW which will be released in July 2015. James Horner’s contribution to the world of film music is immense, staggering, enormous and enriching, beautiful and emotive. He will be missed so much, rest in peace Maestro.

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PATRIOT GAMES.

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When PATRIOT GAMES was released composer James Horner was in effect already an A list composer and had scored a number of big box office blockbusters. 1992 was also one of Horner’s most fruitful years he also scored SNEAKERS,THUNDERHEART and provided a dark and tense soundtrack for UNLAWFUL ENTRY. PATRIOT GAMES, can I suppose be referred to as a typical Horner score from this period, as many collectors were beginning to loose a little of the attraction that they had felt for the composers work, simply because it seemed to be no longer as original and fresh as it had been previously, in the days when he worked on KRULL, WILLOW, WOLFEN and WRATH OF KHAN etc, but as we all know in film music it is not just about creating a great theme or a hit song or an outstanding cue, it is all about supporting the scenarios that are being unfolded up on the screen. In PATRIOT GAMES I think Horner accomplished this and some. There are of course many of the stock musical trademarks that we readily associate with the composer present, and at times it is possible to catch snatches of his past works for the cinema ie; ALIENS and GORKY PARK, RED HEAT etc, but it does not mean that this is not a good score, it services the film well and along the way the composer does come up with a handful of haunting and infectious pieces that play on the listeners mind. This is quite a sparse or sparingly used score Horner utilizes various Irish or Gaelic sounding instrumentation throughout the score which include penny whistle, fiddle and also a particularly haunting female vocal courtesy of Maggie Boyle, who’s distinct voice adds the required atmosphere and mood to the proceedings, Track 1,MAIN TITLE, sets the scene perfectly, Gaelic vocals are ushered in via the use of Irish drum or Bodhran that is underlined by synth, as the vocal progresses the strategically placed drum beats are joined augmented and supported by a second vocalist and the composer also introduces pan pipes, harmonica and subtle use of harp to create an attractive but at the same time anxious ambiance, penny whistle is also introduced and takes on the main role within the composition performing a bittersweet theme that is punctuated and also underlined with brooding strings and synths that although are low key still create a dark and apprehensive mood. Horner successfully combines the synthetic and electronic elements of the orchestra with the more conventional instrumentation and is able to fuse them together to produce taut and at times harrowing moments within the work. He also utilizes synthetic elements without symphonic support and this type of scoring is prominent within track number 6, STRANGE CARGO, where there is no real musical content or melody just a threatening and somewhat edgy sound that drones without changing direction or pace.
Track number 8, THE HIT, is for me one of the score outstanding tracks, it is a musical lesson on how to build tension, but keep it interesting and also vaguely melodic, oscillating pan pipes lay down a tense backing that is punctuated by lone beats from percussion and dark synthesizer chords, with penny whistle interspersed with anvil strikes keeping the Irish connection alive, this is a highly effective cue within the movie and Horner builds the anxiety wonderfully by adding more musical components and sounds to the proceedings, giving it more weight and a fraught sense of impending doom. This is a great release from LA LA LAND RECORDS, the double compact disc contains, nearly 90 mins of music, which include 19 previously unreleased cues, a handful of source cues, and also CLANNAD,S classic performance of HARRYS GAME. So all in all it’s a release worth checking out. Limited to 3000 copies the release is presented and packaged to the now normal high standards of LA LA LAND, and contains numerous stills from the movie and interesting liner notes. Recommended.