By now, we in the film scoring community will have helplessly, quietly acknowledged the untimely passing of James Roy Horner. The effect his soulful, thematic, grandiose style of melodramatic writing left on us is an impression of immense weight.
The first score of his that brought my attention was 2009’s Avatar. The film was easy to de-construct for me, with its plot borrowed from a multitude of films, and was yet another example of James Cameron’s compensation of style through visual effects over substance. However, the greatest decision Cameron made, was to ultimately reunite with Horner, 12 years after their stupendous Titanic. Horner added a voice to the film that Cameron could not have imagined, nor we as the audience could contemplate. The gorgeous, intimate yet simplistic, stirring theme was the first to raise my heart and give it the simulation of soaring. The intricate layers of fusion percussion, coupled with chanting and serenading woodwinds was everything that solidified my respect for the film as a whole. Even after 6 years, it remains a favourite.
Then, there’s the other recent commercial effort to contend with:The Amazing Spider Man. I had to applaud Horner for bringing back the 90s feel to a superhero film set in contemporary times, and admired how his romantic, thematic sensibilities embodied the eponymous webslinger’s return to the big screen. After many years, I could connect with the emotional side of a superhero again, and it flooded me with nostalgia. As much as I like the masculinity of Zimmer, the intimacy of Horner served as a truly refreshing change, a wonderful deviation for the norm.
Other examples that captivated me are A Beautiful Mind (‘A Kaleidoscope Of Mathematics‘ is without a shadow of a doubt one of the most beautiful cues written), Apollo 13, Glory and so forth. One of the most powerful capabilities that a composer has at his fingertips is to transcend the film itself and envelop the audience within the music, in an attempt to mask the overall product’s flaws. Someone like James Horner was a man that wrote deep, melodic spells with that power. He created soulful, memorable themes (no better example of this is the infamous Titanic), but a more intelligent example would be his stunning, lush theme for Legends Of The Fall– a film that came before my time, but one that I could grow to appreciate because of the stirring motifs.
Others will have personal favourites that differ to my own, and I respect that- it’s those differences that set apart that layers to a piece of music, and convey to a lesser extent the multiple angles from which it can be adored. Sadly, Wolf Totem was his last release before death, but also his return to the industry after a somewhat quiet period, two posthumous offerings in the form of Southpaw and The 33 yet to come and captivate us once more. We all miss his voice, but will treasure his scores for the years to come. There’s no denying he has earned his place among the greats (Rozsa, Rota, Hermann, Goldsmith, etc), but we have a legacy to remember him by.
Thank you, Sir. For all the memories.
James Roy Horner
August 14th 1953- June 22nd 2015