From a very young age, as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved movies. I loved being transported to another world and experiencing the plight, drama, tension, horror and exultation of the characters that I saw onscreen. While others admired the acting, the dialogue, the cinematography or special effects, I paid close attention the music. I was seven years old when I first heard John Barry’s score on King Kong (1976) and The Deep (1977). These were the first two movies that I ever saw in America with my mom and my brother. Despite the performances, direction or special effects, it was the music that did it for me. I didn’t know it then but it was the soundtrack that made the emotional connection between myself, sitting in a darkened theatre and the images and story onscreen. I was hooked for life.
During the four decades of my movie-viewing past time, I’ve learned the names and scores of Oscar-winning legends. John Williams instantly became my favorite composer when Star Wars hit the world like no other movie (and previously with Close Encounters of the Third Kind). By the time Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T: The Extra Terrestrial hit the screens (I bought all his soundtracks on vinyl!), he was cemented in my mind as a composing legend.
John Barry still remained one of my favorites, especially with his run on the James Bond films and The Black Hole. John Carpenter despite being a phenomenal director was a pretty decent composer with his eerie Halloween and The Thing scores. Jerry Goldsmith was on par with John Williams with his work on The Omen (“Ave Satani The Omen Theme” still freaks me out!) and Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
I also love Hans Zimmer’s work as well as former Oingo Boingo frontman, Danny Elfman (he’s freakin’ awesome), Alan Silvestri, Steve Jablonsky and recently Michael Giacchino.
But despite all these names, it was James Horner who I REALLY loved. Three years after Star Wars, my best friend Hector and I sat and watched a movie called Battle Beyond the Stars. It was a Roger Corman flick so it definitely didn’t have the high production values of the likes of Star Wars BUT the soundtrack was really good. The opening title of the movie was so… operatic. It was so grandeur. A big score for a low-budget, B-movie. It wasn’t until two years later that I truly appreciated this composer’s talent and learned his name. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, in my opinion put James Horner on everyone’s radar.
Star Trek II was so much better than the previous release but replacing Jerry Goldsmith as composer? That was going to be a tough sell. Well, not only did he nailed it, I believe he did a much better job than what Mr. Goldsmith would’ve accomplished. “Surprise Attack” and “Battle in the Mutara Nebula” were standout scores and I became a hardcore fan of Mr. Horner ever since then. An interesting side-note, he played an uncredited Enterprise crewman in the film according to IMDB.
Obscure movies like Humanoids from the Deep, Wolfen, Something Wicked This Way Comes and Krull were made much larger than life with Horner’s score. But it was another sci-fi hit that endeared me to his work even further: Aliens. Once again, following Jerry Goldsmith’s work on Alien, James Horner delivered another exciting soundtrack. Close to an hour before you see the first alien, Horner (and Cameron of course) kept you on the edge of your seat. When all hell breaks loose as Ripley crashes through to save the marines, it’s Horner’s score that keeps your adrenaline pumping. “Ripley’s Rescue” on that soundtrack is still a pleasure to listen to even without seeing the movie!
James Horner continued to score other films (another favorite Glory, and Oscar-nominated score of Braveheart) but it wasn’t until he teamed up again with James Cameron that he hit Hollywood gold in the form of TWO Oscars for his work on Titanic – Best Music, Original Song and Best Music, Original Dramatic Score.
I could go on and on listing the various soundtracks to his other movies, shorts, documentaries and TV series he worked on. He left behind a prodigious body of fantastic work (Southpaw is currently in theaters and The 33‘s soundtrack was his last work). Hollywood lost a true legend and I personally was really saddened by his death. I never knew Mr. Horner. I can only say that I knew him through his beautiful music. His mastery of the medium really moved me as well as millions of other fans around the world.
What makes a great composer? His uncanny ability to make us connect with the characters onscreen on a consistent level and the ability to draw you in and make you feel is what made James Horner great. It’s not enough to watch something on screen, hear the words or the music as background sound. Truly great composers know how to make you feel invincible when the heroine takes action or make you swell with emotion during a tender moment. But a truly great composer knows how to make you cry when there are no words uttered onscreen.
James Horner was one of the greats.
He had a very distinct ear and cinematic sound. There will never be another composer like him. He was no doubt a decent, giving and loving human being and my heart goes out to his family and friends. James Horner will be missed terribly. For selfish reasons I wish he had been around a little while longer, if only to hear what other great works he would’ve dreamed of and then made into reality on the silver screen.
Rest in Peace and thank you, James Horner.