I’m a big fan of movie scores and soundtracks. One of the first albums I ever had was the Ghostbusters soundtrack (on cassette tape, cutting edge in 1984). I really got into scores, however, when I picked up the Beetlejuice soundtrack and had my first taste of concentrated Danny Elfman. Elfman is still one of my favorite composers (and singers, as I’m a big fan of Oingo Boingo), but today I’d like to talk about James Horner.
Odds are you’ve not heard of Mr. Horner, but I’m sure you’ve heard his music. He’s written the score to dozens of movies, many of which were big hits, including one of the top movies of all time, Titanic. Honestly I hate Titanic (hint: the Titanic was only cool because for a long time no one knew where it was), but I do love some of the other movies Mr. Horner has scored. Among my favorites are Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (which has some of the best space battle scoring ever), Krull, The Name of the Rose, Aliens (another great sci-fi score), Willow, and Sneakers (an underrated movie if there ever was one). Oh, and he wrote the score to Avatar too. Maybe you’ve heard of that movie.
Like the great John Williams, Horner’s style is instantly recognizable if you know what to listen for. He has a habit of using French horns and brass sections, with an almost Souza-like marching beat. His music is sometimes derivative of his own or other composers’ work, but unlike some of his critics, I would never say he lifts pieces whole-cloth any more than other composers. As an example, listen to Williams’ score from Superman and Indiana Jones and tell me if they don’t sound exceedingly similar. Try the same with Elfman’s Batman and Beetlejuice.
James Horner is, to be honest, one of those composers who form the soundtrack to many of my stories. I can hear his subtle hooks and brassy introductions when I write. When I work on fantasy, the opening of Krull often sticks in my mind. Though many may not realize his contributions of some of the biggest movies in history, I recognize that Mr. Horner’s work has been an inspiration to me and others through the years, and I hope he continues to produce wonderful scores in the future.