As can be seen from the collective outpouring of sadness at the sudden, shocking passing of James Horner, there can be no underestimating the impact that 36 years of scoring has had on movie fans the world over. Even when beginning with the entertaining, Roger Corman-produced likes of “The Lady in Red,” “Humanoids from the Deep” and “Battle Beyond the Stars,” this musically-inclined son of a Hollywood production designer showed a keen understanding of thematic melody, and a sheer joy of unbridled scoring well beyond his years – a sound no budget at the time could contain. The genre-fueled likes of “Wolfen” and “Deadly Blessing” gave James Horner his first real breakthrough at the age of 25 with “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” – a seminal sci-fi movie whose nautical feel introduced the themes of friendship, death, resurrection and the joy of flight that would not only distinguish an astonishingly diverse, Oscar-winning career filled with the likes of “Titanic,” “Glory,” “Legends of the Fall,” “Apollo 13,” “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” and “Jumanji,” but also become motifs for the composer’s life itself – one that ended in the jetting into the sky he so much loved at the age of 61.
If Jerry Goldsmith proved to be the Mozart who sucked me whole-heartedly into the wonder and imagination of film scoring, then James Horner was certainly my Beethoven, picking up that thematic torch with old school passion. I was lucky enough to interview Horner on occasion throughout his career, beginning with his gloriously soaring score for “The Rocketeer.” This beloved cult-film-to-be not only enabled me to attend a scoring session, but to visit the composer’s home where I marveled at his antique toy collection – showing me just how many varied interests that Horner had beyond music. Generous and inviting to his supporters, I next talked to Horner for “Titanic,” a particular highlight being in tow behind his conducting podium as the scoring ship left Southampton. I’d also talk to Horner for “Avatar,” while covering him for liner notes to “House of Cards,” “Jade” and the compilation album “Passions and Achievements” that featured such noteworthy collaborations as “Cocoon” and “Ransom” with Ron Howard.
But undoubtedly the most popular interview I’d do with James Horner (let alone any composer) was for On the Score in 2006 to primarily discuss his massive, tragically dramatic score to “All the King’s Men” – a movie whose score was the definite highlight. At this point in his own rise to studio royalty, Horner was unsparingly candid, especially when it came to his opinion of working with Terrence Malick on “The New World” or being called in to do a replacement score for “Troy.” When most composers understandably have to mask their real opinions, Horner wasn’t about to be coy, resulting in an often funny, and perceptive phone conversation – which we now present as a tribute to his wit and energy.
I’ll truly miss the unassuming kindness that James Horner had during my coverage of him though the years. But like us all, I’ll miss his music most. Yet if our love of the form is in the imagination it inspires within us, listening to the numerous, and wondrous scores in James Horner’s repertoire will only let us soar as we hear the many scores that could have been, while continuing to influence the art form he loved so much.
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