The Amazing Spider-Man (James Horner)

Final Musings: Horner delivers big time with his masterfully crafted web of musical ideas. A bold theme, enticing action and a creative musical atmosphere are tightly woven together by the meticulous spider that is Horner. The product? One of the best super-hero scores to come out in a while. Prepare to be taken on a fun adventure back to old-school comic book film scoring.

 With nearly every successful franchise receiving either a reboot or an endless course of needless sequels, it seems like Hollywood might be running out ideas for their usual cash-in blockbuster flicks. Marvel’s latest, The Amazing Spider-man might just be the most pointless of them all. Having only been released 5 years after the conclusion Sam Raimi’s own successful Spider-man trilogy, the need to reboot a remarkably recent, well-appreciated franchise was baffling. The film ended up being an enjoyable effort however. Critics praised director Marc Webb’s capable directing and the gratifying ensemble cast. Although even in its success, the film couldn’t escape its inevitable complaints of redundancy in its already-done origin concept. Now, with the path that film music in the comic book universe has taken, James Horner was certainly the last person anyone would have expected to get this assignment. So it shouldn’t be too surprising to hear that it took some begging from the director to get the famed titan of industry to sign on. The veteran composer has only made one venture into the superhero genre with his exuberantly heroic score for The Rocketeer. But with a career like his, expectations were pretty high for this score. On the other hand, fans were also worried and waited in fear to see if Horner too had fallen victim to the modern scoring methodology; a contagion that seems to have caught the best of composers in the genre.

So what do we get in the end? One word is all you need to describe the score. Refreshing. That’s it. This score, in every sense of the word is refreshing. It’s a wonderful breath of fresh air after a tiring line of texture-based, ostinato-driven, Zimmer-style scores for our beloved heroes in their ever colourful tights. Horner’s score is explicitly old-fashioned in its nature. With a helluva bold main theme (something you don’t hear much these days in summer movies), the composer guarantees his score a prominent presence in film. And contrary to the naysayers of the striking scores of yesteryear, Horner’s music works remarkably well to aid the film (to the point where even film critics found themselves in admiration of the music). There is a lot to like here.

Considering Horner’s notorious reputation for self-plagiarism (amongst other forms), it’s a surprise to hear that The Amazing Spider-man is one of the composer’s most original efforts in quite a while. In fact, its originality goes to the extent that the famed “danger motif” is notably absent (an amusingly remarkable feat for the composer).  Of course it’s ridiculous to expect an entirely original score because the man’s well-known “Hornerisms” are aplenty here (you’ll hear hints of many scores like Aliens, The Rokceteer, Titanic, etc). They’re simply not as conspicuous as they have been in the composer’s past works. On that note, Horner chooses to build his score with the intent of evocating a consistent sense of wonder. For this purpose, much of the music is inspired by the constructs of A Beautiful Mind to a certain degree, as heard in cues like “The Ganali Device”.

The score’s greatest strength arguably lies in its incredibly unique soundscape. It’s simply stunning to hear how Horner brings a meticulously diverse array of colourful elements to form an incredibly organic musical atmosphere. The electronics are the most obvious of these components. They are understandably added for stylistic purposes and it takes after much of Elfman’s own electronic synth work for Raimi’s films. Horner surprisingly employs them quite well, often making their inclusion great fun. To go on, the synth choirs are also effectively used to emulate the aforementioned sense of wonder as heard in cues like “Saving New York”. The boy soprano heard in “Main Title – Young Peter” and “The Birdge” is a lovely touch as well. Several other bits add on to the musical environment but the more curious decision is the inclusion of certain ethnic vocals. As can be heard in the opening cue, “Ben’s Death” and “Making a Silk Trap”, Horner chooses to incorporate the middle-eastern male vocal work he explored extensively in Black Gold and The Four Feathers in his detailed soundscape. Although its contextual purpose remains ambiguous, it unexpectedly works in film; a sure sign that Horner truly is a master when it comes to musically mirroring what’s on screen.

Thematically, Horner chooses to address the duality of the character by giving him two themes. Peter Parker’s theme is an intimate, often-piano led melody first heard at 4:09 in “Main Title – Young Peter”.  To some level of disappointment, it’s actually a very simple tune in its construct although its romantic interludes in cues like “Rooftop Kiss” and “The Bridge” are enjoyable for its warmth. The true highlight however is Spider-man’s theme, a heroic theme built off of staggering ascending and descending phrases to represent the swinging action of the character. It’s a wonderfully bold musical identity that listeners will find themselves relishing. To go on, Horner also assigns a small action motif for the Lizard as heard in full form at 0:50 in “The Bridge” and at 2:38 in “Oscorp Tower”. It is rather disappointing to hear a lack of a much bolder villainous identity for the Lizard. But Horner’s approach of focusing on a singular major memorable theme is understandable, though regrettable.  Comparisons between this new Spider-man theme and Elfman’s own classic theme are bound to come to mind. In that regard, Horner’s theme does fall a bit short as Elfman’s theme continues to stand as the perfect musical embodiment of the character (its one hard theme to beat). But that shouldn’t detract listeners from truly enjoying Horner’s work. After all, this score has got remarkable personality (yet another one of its assets). Aside from the persistent music of wonder (some might daresay overbearing at points), Horner makes sure to add a lot of fun and playful attitude to the music in cues like “Playing Basketball”, “The Spider Room – Rumble in the Subway” and “Ben’s Death”. Although that last cue does feature a strange chanting interlude at 4:27. One could assume its Horner having fun with his experimentation. Besides, that portion is largely harmless in the big picture. On that note, the action music is also incredibly exhilarating stuff. This is some of Horner’s strongest action material in a while and it’s wonderful to hear it in this setting. “Lizard at School”, “Saving New York” and “Oscrop Tower” acts as a great sequence of grand action fare for all listeners to enjoy.

Muse on These:

–          Main Title – Young Peter

–          The Bridge

–          Saving New York

–          Oscorp Tower

–          Promises – Spider-man End Titles

Ultimately, The Amazing Spider-man is an impressive feat by veteran composer James Horner. A wonderful blend of a great musical atmosphere, exciting action material and a bold theme gives us one the year’s best scores. In fact, this is the best super-hero score to have come out in a long while. Horner’s score is a wonderful treat in a largely disappointing year. So don’t be surprised if you find your spidey senses tingling for what Horner will come up with for the inevitable sequels to come.

Rating:  * * * * 


8 Comments on “The Amazing Spider-Man (James Horner)”

  1. Beyond El Mar says:

    KK, have I ever told you I love you? No? Well, I do!

    Great review, as usual. I loved the film, so we differ on that, but what a score!

    I do have to mention that I loved Horners use of piano in this. He so talented with that instrument, but I’m still in awe of it.

  2. Best superhero score since…. since Spider-Man!

  3. U.N. Owen says:

    ” A bold theme, enticing action and a creative musical atmosphere are tightly woven together by the meticulous spider that is Horner. ”

    You should know spider’s aren’t composers, they’re arachnids! 😛

    Seriously tho, on the film itself I agree with a modifed version of Willam Dafoe’s epic challenge to Spider-man.

    “Green Goblin: This is why only fools are marvel fans… because you never know when some lunatic will come along with a sadistic choice. Let die the old franchise principles you love… or suffer the new? Make your choice, and see how a fan is rewarded.”

    All I have to say on the score itself (more specifically the cue “Ben’s Death”) is that Horner must have a morbid sense of humor… After all generally a man being shot isn’t particularily fun, or playful at any time. Although perhaps that’s just me.

    Review was passable anyways, if a little unenthusiastic on super-hero films for my taste. 😉

    • kalaisan says:

      The end of “Ben’s Death” is a fight sequence and there was some modern attitude in the music which was fun to listen to.

      And you seem to mistakenly believe I hated this new film. I didn’t as it was a decent film on its own but it’s plot was redundant.

      And I like superhero films as much as the next guy, it’s just these last few ones from Marvel have been terribly formulaic and dull.

  4. Craig Richard Lysy says:

    Outstanding review. Your perception of the ebb and flow of the Spider-man theme affirms your talent! Horner’s reworking of his mentation motif from A Beautiful Mind was fresh and perfectly attenuated. I just loved this score for all the reasons you cited and also rated it 4.5.

    All the best!

  5. anthonye1778 says:

    Great review and I do by and large agree with you. You’re juuuuust shy of giving it a perfect 5 stars which I did! Really, though, I agree with you that this score is a breath of fresh air. I remember my initial exhilaration when I first heard samples. In fact, that Horner’s score actually survived test screening is really encouraging for the future of scores for films like these. Hopefully this will start a trend.

  6. anthonye1778 says:

    Oh and btw I’ve linked to your review in my own blog. 🙂 Maybe I’ll be successful in referring at least one visitor.

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