Tag Archives: James Horner

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Note: This film was the main topic of discussion on Episode 2 of my podcast, The Cinescope Podcast. Give it a listen for a more in-depth discussion!

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My experience with Star Trek is limited, especially in regards to Classic Trek. In fact, JJ Abrams’ 2009 reboot was my introduction to the franchise in any way, and it wasn’t until a few years later that I saw any Classic Trek at all. So when my friend TJ told me that he wanted to talk about Wrath of Khan when I asked him to be on my podcast, I did a tiny bit of research and preparation, but my goal was to view this as a non-Trekkie to see if it was not only a great Trek film but also, and more importantly, a great film as well, and whaddya know? It certainly is.

Following the events of the 1967 Star Trek: The Original Series episode “Space Seed”, in which Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) maroons Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalbán) and the remainder of his people on a planet as punishment for the attempted takeover of the USS EnterpriseWrath of Khan features an older, dissatisfied Kirk – now Admiral – joining his former crew on the Enterprise once again for a routine training mission. However, things become anything but routine when Khan is revealed to have returned, angrier than ever and prepared to do whatever it takes to seek vengeance against Admiral Kirk. Faced with a new adventure and tasked with protecting the lives of his crew, Kirk and company must find a way to defeat Khan before he unleashes a technology with the capability of destroying all life on any planet he chooses.

*mild spoilers ahead*

Even with my limited experience in the classic Trek universe, what I’ve found that I love about it most is that the sci-fi/adventure aspect is almost an afterthought; yes, there are cool spaceships and futuristic technologies, but the main focus in everything I’ve seen so far has been humans (or aliens) having human moments with each other while going through human experiences. The setting is merely a setting – the situations are universal. This movie deals with themes such as mortality, youth, sacrifice, and love vs. hate, and it deals with these themes better than many non-sci-fi movies.

That being said, the character with whom we identify the most is Admiral Kirk himself. He is profoundly human in that he is flawed. He features strong charisma and leadership capabilities, and his love and duty for his friends and crew are apparent, but he, like all of us, is often emotional and reactionary, which leads to mistakes. Thankfully, he learns from his mistakes throughout the course of the film through self-evaluation and through listening to the advice of his friends, and by the end he is a better man because of it. Spock, played by the iconic Leonard Nimoy, is merely the other side of the coin. To contrast with Kirk’s emotions, Spock makes decisions through logic and necessity, but he shows by the end of the film that logic is not always the antithesis of emotion – that sometimes the two go hand in hand because the logical thing to do is to make sacrifices for the ones you love.

Khan, on the other hand, features a personality similar to Kirk’s in that he is driven by emotion, but his emotions blind and deafen him to the warnings of his crew. Montalbán gives a great performance here – you can see the calculating look in his eyes as he decides what his next course of action will be, and his fits of passion are just as powerful as the moments when he menacingly whispers, showing his ability to control a situation when he has the advantage. He’s a fantastic villain in the sense that you know why he is doing what he’s doing, which is what you want when it comes to the antagonist – believable motivation.

Storytelling and characters aside, this is a sci-fi film, and those elements are done extremely well. For a film made in 1982, the graphics hold up surprisingly well, with a particular CGI sequence made by an early iteration of Pixar being a definite highlight. Another element of note is the space combat, with the idea by director Nicholas Meyer to approach it like a submarine battle proving to be an effective action sequence. And I can’t praise the score enough; composed by a young James Horner, the music switches from horror to sci-fi/adventure to drama with apparent ease, and the main theme is such an earworm (pun intended if you’ve seen the film) that I was whistling it for 20 minutes after watching for the first time because I couldn’t get it out of my head.

I could go on and on about this movie because it really is so much more than just a sci-fi flick, and the whole crew gives outstanding performances – including a young Kirstie Alley in her first feature film role. There are moments of pure joy as well as scenes that are sure to guarantee tears, and all the while it feels firmly like Star Trek. With strong themes and solid characters, The Wrath of Khan is a prime example of how prioritizing story and characters is the key to success in filmmaking, no matter the subject material at hand.

-Chad

RECOMMEND!

MPAA: PG – for violence and language

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Titanic (1997)

Despite the fact that the wreck of the RMS Titanic fascinated me as a child, James Cameron’s Titanic is a movie that I never bothered to see. My parents never spoke of it, we didn’t own it, and we never watched it when it came on TV, but I read about the Titanic itself at every opportunity I got; I recently found a book about the discovery of the wreck that I had bought at a book fair back in elementary school. In case you didn’t know, the 100th anniversary of the disaster was on April 14/15 of this year (2012), and James Cameron re-released Titanic in 3D to commemorate the anniversary. I decided that it was about time that I finally saw it, so I watched it for the first time 100 years to the day after the sinking of the ship…and I was astounded at how good it was.

While most of the talk about this film focuses on Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet), where Titanic succeeds the most is in its historical context and accurate (at the time it was made) representation of the disaster. Cameron even recreated famous pictures onscreen, such as the following picture of a boy playing with a spinning top and the subsequent still from the movie:

It’s little details like this that make me so appreciative a film that is otherwise considered a romance. Cameron does a fantastic job with highlighting the contempt between social classes on board, both before the disaster and during the sinking. We witness both the best and the worst of the rich, with some, such as Cal Hockley, assuming that his social status endows him with certain privileges, and others, such as Isador and Ida Strauss, dying together in bed so that they may stay with each other and so that others may take their spots in the lifeboats. We see the remorse that Thomas Andrews feels because he “didn’t build…a stronger ship,” and the regret felt by Captain Edward Smith at not having been more cautious. The most poignant moment in the film is when the musicians play “Nearer My God to Thee” as we see destruction, hopelessness, and death occurring in the ship’s final moments.

I know that some may argue that Jack and Rose are the focus of this film, and I won’t disagree that their story is key to its success. Leonardo DiCaprio’s charisma as Jack is engrossing, and it’s his performance that drives much of the film. I sympathize with Rose in her situation with her mother and her fiance, and by the end of the film I am emotionally invested in the relationship between her and Jack. Through this unlikely pair we are given several life lessons: to “make each day count” and that love transcends money and social classes.

This is a film that I fully expected to dislike, but seeing it on the big screen for the first time is an experience that I will never forget. It’s an engaging historical drama and a passionate romance film, mixed with outstanding visuals and a gorgeous score by James Horner. Judge me all you want, but Titanic is one of my all-time favorites.

-Chad

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for disaster related peril and violence, nudity, sensuality and brief language


The Help (2011) – Thomas Newman

I saw The Help in theaters back in September ’11 and really enjoyed it, so I decided to read the book that it was based on earlier this summer, by Kathryn Stockett. I also purchased Thomas Newman’s score to the film to listen to as I read. In addition to being good reading music, it’s a really great film score.

Thomas Newman is the master of small, light, and fun film scores, and The Help, despite being a film about a serious subject, is all of these; though I’m a huge fan of John Williams, James Horner, and Michael Giacchino, who all use really big orchestral sounds in their scores, it’s refreshing to inject yourself with some Thomas Newman every once in a while. “Upside-Down Cake” and “Deviled Eggs” are light and playful, “Them Fools” and “Amen” are light and beautiful, and “Celia Digs” and “Ain’t You Tired (End Title)” are light and emotional.

Of course, you could argue that every single track on this album is emotionalEach track twangs on the heartstrings of the listener, which is no small feat for small orchestration. Tracks like “Jim Crow”, which features an aggressive acoustic guitar riff, blend in to the setting of the film, giving everything a Southern vibe that brings the message all too close to home.

I own several Thomas Newman scores, and none of them disappoint, including The Help. Newman’s score should have been at least nominated for an Academy Award, but, since it is less-theme based (though there are a few beautiful themes floating around throughout), it didn’t stand a chance against Williams, Shore, and Bource. That being said, if you’re at all a Thomas Newman fan, you should buy this. Also, if you’re not a Thomas Newman fan, you should buy this.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

1. “Aibilene”      3:07
2. “Them Fools”      2:49
3. “Upside-Down Cake”      1:22
4. “Mississippi”      3:49
5. “Heart Palpitations”      1:43
6. “The Help”     2:18
7. “Jim Crow”      1:45
8. “Skeeter”      1:03
9. “Miss Hilly”      1:13
10. “Write That Down”      1:37
11. “Bottom Of The List”      3:23
12. “Deviled Eggs”      2:03
13. “First White Baby”      2:00
14. “Celia Digs”      2:06
15. “November 22”      1:11
16. “Not To Die”      1:28
17. “My Son”      2:50
18. “Trash On The Road”      1:37
19. “The Terrible Awful”      2:56
20. “Constantine”      4:08
21. “Gripping Testimonials”      1:32
22. “Sugar”      1:49
23. “Amen”      3:06
24. “Mile High Meringue”      2:00
25. “Ain’t You Tired (End Title)”      6:29

Total Length: app. 60 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad


The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) – James Horner

I bought this soundtrack last night before the midnight premiere but didn’t start listening to it until I got home after the movie had ended, and I’ve been listening to it on and off throughout today.

You’ll recall that last week I bought and listened to Danny Elfman’s scores for the first two Spider-Manfilms and was slightly disappointed with their lack of originality and similarities to Elfman’s previous Batmanscores, minus the Main Theme, of course, which is fantastic. I was hoping that James Horner’s score to the newly-released reboot film The Amazing Spider-Man would be much better, more original, and just overall better than Elfman’s, and, for the most part, it is.

I have to be honest right off the bat: Elfman’s Spider-Man theme is the better of the two. That’s not to say that Horner’s isn’t great, but it just doesn’t have the same sort of underlying excitement to it. However, in almost every other respect, Horner’s score runs laps around Elfman’s.

****EDIT****

I’ve been listening to the soundtrack as I’ve typed this…Horner’s theme is growing on me more and more. I’m not sure if I like one more than the other, but I’m starting to see the two on a more even level now, and Horner’s may soon become my favorite of the two…give them both a listen and see what you think!

************

You might have realized by now that it bothers me when a composer’s score to one film sounds too similar to another score that he composed. I listened intently to Horner’s score, listening for hints of Titanic or Avatar…admittedly, those are the only two previous James Horner scores that I have exposure to. Fortunately, I didn’t hear either of those in The Amazing Spider-Man…with the exception of one or two moments. For example, about 31 seconds in to “The Ganali Device” sounds a bit similar to excerpts from Horner’s score to Avatar, but it’s not as similar as a Zimmer or Elfman score would be, so it’s forgivable.

I read somewhere online where Marc Webb chose Horner to compose for The Amazing Spider-Man because he wanted something with “both grandeur and intimacy” [found here]. The more I listen, the more I feel that that is the perfect description for this soundtrack. There are plenty of big moment that are fitting of the character, such as in “Saving New York” and “Oscorp Tower”, but there are also the smaller, more personal moments between Peter and family/Gwen/himself, as heard in “Secrets”, “Rooftop Kiss”, and “I Can’t See You Anymore”. Whereas Elfman’s score would often go for excitement over emotion, Horner’s has a pleasant mix of both that better captures the darker, more relationship-based world that director Marc Webb has envisioned for The Amazing Spider-Man.

Overall, Horner’s score is a score more appropriate for a Spider-Man film than Elfman’s. It enhances the world that Marc Webb created for our webbed hero in blue and red, and it does this all while sounding distinctly original and independent, something that is always refreshing in this market dominated by composers like Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman. For something different and exciting, check out James Horner’s score to The Amazing Spider-Man.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

1.”Main Title – Young Peter”  4:54

2. “Becoming Spider-Man”  4:16

3. “Playing Basketball”  1:22

4. “Hunting for Information”  2:07

5. “The Briefcase”  3:14

6. “The Spider Room – Rumble in the Subway”  3:20

7. “Secrets”  2:30

8. “The Equation”  4:22

9. “The Ganali Device”  2:28

10. “Ben’s Death”  5:41

11. “Metamorphosis”  3:04

12. “Rooftop Kiss”  2:34

13. “The Bridge”  5:15

14. “Peter’s Suspicions”  3:01

15. “Making a Silk Trap”  2:52

16. “Lizard at School!”  2:57

17. “Saving New York”  7:52

18. “Oscorp Tower”  3:22

19. “I Can’t See You Anymore”  6:50

20. ”Promises – End Titles” 4:52

Total Length – app. 78 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad

P.S. – Read my review of the film here!