Composer: James Horner
Label: La La Land
Suggested Retail Price: $24.98
Composers like James Horner, not to mention the effects-driven movies that helped make him king of the scoring world, have come a long way from the pre-CGI days of stop motion animation, lumbering costumes and cornball scripts. Ok, let’s make that two out of three. But with all respect to the awesomeness that is AVATAR, just because you have “improved” visuals to work with doesn’t make today’s genre blockbuster films, or scores, are necessarily better than what you had during the 80’s fantasy heyday of films like 1983’s KRULL. And that’s especially true when it comes to that picture’s joyous sense of old-fashioned innocence, or the vibrancy of a composer going for broke.
For a more-than-talented musician furiously clawing his way out of Roger Corman land, Horner’s salad days on the likes of STAR TREK II, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES and BRAINSTORM have a special appeal to my certain generation. It’s the majestic sound of a new composing wave arriving on Hollywood shores, taking advantage of the time when you could still get a symphony to play even the smallest budget production. However, these young Turks were also bridging their style with the roaring, orchestral likes of Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Max Steiner. And while STAR TREK: THE WRATH OF KHAN might get the bigger musical (not to mention critical) accolades for Horner’s nautical, SEA HAWK-inspired music, it’s THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD-ish KRULL that just might stand as the most enjoyable, not to mention noteworthy entry in James Horner’s early, bigger-budgeted breakthroughs. With enough go-for-broke orchestral music to send a legion of men in tights from one fantasy kingdom’s parapet to the other, KRULL continues to stand as score of orgiastic melody, a soundtrack from the days when music wasn’t afraid to have a near-deafening voice.
That chorus of seeming hundreds sings louder than ever before, given KRULL’s new mastering by La La Land Records. Around in various guises since the dinosaur days of vinyl, KRULL’s last official appearance was twenty years ago in a bulky, but thankfully near-complete two-CD “gold” release on Southern Cross Records. La La expands this release by about ten minutes of bonus cues, packaging the music into a normal-sized CD with new, and always-excellent liner notes by Jeff Bond. What this sonic spit-shine reveals is a score that’s so pleasurable for its defiant old-fashioned qualities, especially in the service of a throwback film rushing headlong into the post STAR WARS sci-fi onslaught of effects pictures.
KRULL’s twist was imposing said sci-fi element of an extra-terrestrial “beast” on a typical fantasy world of noble knights and damsels in distress (the dragons didn’t make it in due to budget cuts). Assigned to direct was Peter Yates. Most famous for BULLITT, Yates had never made a fantasy film before it. But you could certainly tell he loved them, given the wonderfully artificial costume and set design (not to mention ever-noble character attitudes) that would’ve been right at home in an Alexander Korda picture, especially if the guy behind THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD had every gotten to make a film with Errol Flynn.
James Horner lets you know you’re in that world of accentuated make-believe right off the bat in his “Main Title,” with Arthurian trumpets and fantasy maiden voices segueing into the kind of lushly thematic, rousingly rhythmic music that promises spectacular adventure to come, circa Olde England. Except here you’ve got a heroic Cyclops, fire mares and evil changelings, with the most outré element being its guy-in-suit alien Beast. Horner introduces his sci-fi elements with whooshing synths, a groaning male chorus and Holstian suspense (a la “Mars”). Horner’s music then finds our love-struck prince and princess in awe-struck swoon for “The Slayers Attack,” the cue that brings in most of KRULL’s other big ideas. Their shimmering, star-struck tones are rudely interrupted by The Beast’s guttural and threatening music. Much symphonic thrilling and spilling ensue in the battle, with Horner’s talent for melodic action given a work out in ultimately futile, if no-less thrilling heroism.
With the princess snatched, the search is on. And Horner makes you feel the epic quality of in his preferred way of writing long, yet always interesting cues that positively luxuriate in their thematic work outs, from the heavenly voices and twinkling that locate the five-bladed Glaive (fantasy film’s answer to the Ninja’s Shuriken) to the otherworldly, TREK-like spectral synths of “The Walk to the Seer’s Cave.” Voices haunt “The Changeling,” with the tender, but determined love theme driving our band of fantasy brothers on in “Vella.” But Horner really kicks it up a notch with “The Window’s Web” and “The Widow’s Lullaby.” Perhaps no two cues reveal KRULL’s archaic charm, and wonder then this bit as wizened, ever-reliable character actor Freddie Jones (DUNE) has to literally beat the clock against a crystal spider to find the next location of The Beast’s floating fortress, encountering the old love who snuffed their child. Horner’s breathlessly beautiful score here runs every gamut of emotion from terror to wonder and fateful reconciliation with this gorgeous set piece that’s all about that fabled Sense of Wonder.
Just as he embodied the sands of time, Horner’s rollicking, galloping rhythms make us believe a horse can fly in “Ride of the Firemares” (a musical possibility he’d continue to new heights with the likes of THE ROCKETEER, APOLLO 13 and AVATAR). With evil dissonance and his Beast motifs taking us to the alien’s heart of darkness for “Inside the Black Fortress,” Horner gets to indulge in a mad succession of romantic action writing for the eight minutes and thirty seconds of “The Death of the Beast and The Destruction of the Black Fortress.” Once again, his swashbuckling musical storytelling is at the fore, at first conveying the desperation of its lovers in the face of seeming destruction before the brilliant use of organ combines their powers to save the surging day, with the glorious movie-movie sound of sweeping romance as its own Force. The with a rollick thematic reprise, Horner sends us out with a satisfied smile with his “Epilogue and End Title.”
While KRULL’s many charms weren’t lost on me for some its admitted clunkiness, the one element of this financial (but certainly not creative) bust that continues to stand the test of time is James Horner’s bravura score. If movies of this type were about the crusty old rulers handing off their powers to the next generation, Horner’s Korngoldian KRULL is one of the shining passings of the torch in film music history- a film that sings with the power of a composer’s full-throttle arrival. For in a picture full of derring do, KRULL’s unabashed sense of its own music might be the most daring stroke of all. Music’s next King of the World was on his way in style. And this ultimate, incredible-sounding issue of KRULL confirms Horner’s 80’s coronation in ever-vibrant style.
Throw the Glaive with Horner here
Composer: James Horner