For Greater Glory (James Horner)

Final Musings: Much of how you feel towards Horner’s self-borrowing tendencies will determine how you feel towards this score. Pulling pages directly from past works like The Four Feathers, Avatar, The Missing, Braveheart and Titanic, it will be tempting for some to throw the score out the window. But despite its lack of originality, Horner shows once again how capable the composer is of putting together great music. With an intelligent execution of musical colours, thematic development and emotional resonance that is expected of the man when it comes to projects like this, listeners may find it hard to not enjoy this work. For what this score lacks in originality, it makes up for in sheer gratification.

Old fashioned Hollywood style epics like El Cid and Lawrence of Arabia are just not made anymore. They had to back down to make way for the heights of today’s CGI giants. But every now and then, some foreign production will try to relive the glory days of the once beloved genre of film, sometimes with great success. For Greater Glory is such an attempt, although perhaps without the success it aspired to achieve. The film is the directorial debut of veteran visual effects supervisor Dean Wright, a man whose name is attached to gargantuan blockbusters like Titanic and The Lord of the Rings. Set it in Mexico, the narrative sheds light on the unsung rebellion that came of the Mexican government’s persecution of the Catholic Church; also known as the Cristero War. Having signed on stars like Peter O’Toole and Andy Garcia, Wright certainly hoped to have quite a lavish production laid before him. And while the picture was praised for its ambitious scope, it was ultimately bogged down by paper-thin characters, a poorly written screenplay and overbearing pro-Catholic overtones, consequently passing into relative obscurity without making much of a splash. 

On the bright side, the film gave composer James Horner the chance to score yet another grand scale ethnic drama, which is always a welcomed affair. Now, anyone who’s rather familiar with Horner’s body of work should be aware of his aggravating “self-borrowing” tendencies. One can’t help but wonder how the composer thinks he can get away with so many rip-offs of his classics over the years, but he seems to be fine with it. Accordingly, there seems to be two major schools of thought that Horner fans have assembled themselves into. One consists of those who have become tired of Horner’s recycling and seeing no end in sight, they’ve dismissed him as a talentless hack who’s trying to relive the glory days of his career. On the other hand, we have those who have chosen to accept the man’s flaws and embrace his reuse habits as if his selective group of motifs and themes are being developed throughout his career as an ever evolving symphony. Where you lie in the matter more or less dictates how you’ll feel about this score.

Read the rest of this entry »


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. Read the rest of this entry »


Black Gold (James Horner)

Final Musings: James Horner delivers an epic that is worthy to sit amongst his classic predecessors’ ventures into the deserts of Arabia. With a soaring theme of great grandeur that sings the song of the sandy plains almost as well as Jarre did with Lawrence of Arabia, this score will impress in its most glorious moments. The haunting vocals add an incredibly rich sense of authenticity that is to be commended. Yet the score is largely an intimate one and while the subtlety of the score may not be for everyone, Horner strikes gold with this excellent balance of emotion and majesty. A  triumph of 2011.

The 2011 film Black Gold was a project close to director Jean-Jacques Annaud’s heart. The ambitious epic was a throwback to the flair of the big films of the 50s and 60s with its stunning production values, and having a strong cast that includes prominent actors such as Mark Strong, Antonio Banderas and the rising star, Freida Pinto, films like this are just not seen in the industry anymore. And it’s a shame that Black Gold did not receive greater attention for films of such scope are sadly rare to witness and relish these days. The movie is based on the novel, The Great Thirst, which tells a tale of two warring leaders that agree to a truce to leave the desert lands of the Yellow Belt as neutral territory. In order to maintain loyalty, one of the clan leaders is forced to forfeit his two sons as hostages so that conflict would not be provoked. Years later, it is found to be that there are massive of deposits of oil found in this unmanned land, and now the idea of the potential fortune threatens both clans with war. The film brings up the important issue of black gold while addressing the history of Arab revolts in the Middle East.

To go on, the stunning cinematography of the film and its gorgeous visuals often pay homage to the infamous desert film, Lawrence of Arabia. And a film of such great scope would need an equally inspired score that would attempt to reach for the success of Maurice Jarre’s score, which became an instant classic upon its release. Film composing veteran, James Horner was signed on for the task. This would be the third collaboration between the director and the composer; their past works including The Name of the Rose and Enemy at the Gates. It has been said that director Jean-Jacques Annaud went to L.A. seeking a composer only to find himself showing the film to James. Unfortunately, the budget for the film couldn’t make room for an A-list composer like Horner. Yet Horner was apparently so impressed with the film and its potential that he decreased his fees so that he could make it on with the project. Often following up on the director whenever he could, it was clear that Horner approached this film with a sense of genuine passion. Read the rest of this entry »