The Perfect Storm
SONY SK 89282
Yes, we are holding over our coverage of this latest Horner score because
(a) we Film Music on the Web reviewers in the UK have only just received
our review copies from Sony and Jeffrey Wheelers review prompted some
irate correspondence from James Horner fans. His review is reproduced again
Now I am not a Horner basher. I cheer when I notice a new score from him
hoping for the quality of The Rocketeer or Legends of the Fall
or Willow but I have to agree with Jeffrey Wheeler in that The
Perfect Storm is anything but Horners perfect Score. I would also
make a plea to Sony that every note of their A-list film composers scores
is not sacrosanct and that 79 minutes of music of this quality is tedious
in the extreme some sort of control over producers to bring in an
album of about 60 minutes might do composers like Horner more of a service.
An example -- the opening cue Coming Home from the Sea which
is some nine minutes long. Although introducing too many clichés at
the outset, it has enough interest to want you to battle forth through the
other 70 minutes; yet at about 5 minutes in there is some very ugly rock/heavy
metal material that is intrusive and incongruous. I cannot imagine this
one-minute horror satisfying anyone, neither those who worship this type
of music, nor the classicist who will abhor the intrusion.
I waited in vain for a theme to make me sit up. Time after time one is either
let down by a sense of Ive heard that before or by the
banality of anything that is remotely new. Once again, one finds oneself
playing the game of where has he nicked that bit from?
Britten, Copland, Stravinsky and Tiomkin to name but a few as well as much
self-quotation. I cannot even agree with Jeffrey that there are many moments
of excellence, there are too few. For a man of Horners knowledge and
experience, The Perfect Storms craftsmanship disappoints both
in harmony and orchestration. His usual high standards and imagination and
innovation are slipping. I keenly looked forward to the big wave music but
I was disappointed; the climaxes do not hang together as well as they should
and surely the terror of a 120-mph gale and 10-storey high wave should create
a much bigger musical impact. We should have been absolutely gob-smacked.
To be fair, he creates a moment where you feel the lashing and shrieking
of the gale but the odd on-board? noises he creates to counterpoint
this howling are incongruous. All they do is jar and dilute the effect (I
guess this is a bad sound balancing judgement). For effective storm music
Horner might like to refer to Frank Bridge (The Sea) or Kurt Atterberg
(West Coast Pictures Symphony No. 3). Then again perhaps not,
Horners borrowings might put one off those excellent works.
Tedious and disappointing
Jeffrey Wheeler said:-
The opening track begins with uncreative music, full of roomy clichés
and lacking any protean application, but almost two minutes in there is the
musical symbolism of impending danger, a dark roll of low strings, timpani,
cymbal and brass -- gathering storm clouds and thunder that made me
remember how great Horner can be. That first magnificent moment is hardly
new compositionally (raise your hand if you've heard Hovhaness' Symphony
No. 2), it is even old symbolically (Beethoven's Symphony No. 6; and you
can put your hand down now), but like the whole of what is contentiously
Horner's best score, "Brainstorm," it slices through complaints of undue
referrals with at least the illusion of individuality. Horner's craftsmanship
shines, if not his artistry. The moment raises hope.
You know the expression "Hope floats." Well, "The Perfect Storm" ultimately
I spent many of my younger days 'bashing' Horner, using terms that were at
best brutally accurate and at worst indicative of teenage stupidity. Usually
there were combinations of both. However, the basic dilemma remains for us
to argue: James Horner is habitually not at his best.
Few listeners will be startled by the general lack of innovation. Some could
thank Horner for compiling enough of "Apollo 13" and "Mighty Joe Young" that
they can sell them for more shelf space. I would keep Mark Mancina's exceptional
"Twister" score, though, as the quality of Horner's electric guitar use is
questionable... Of course, all composers repeat themselves and others, but
there is repetition that enhances, that is redundant, that plagiarizes, and
there is that which doesn't bear repeating.
Interesting, then, how his soundtracks can be well acquainted, yet peculiarly
inconsistent. There are more excellent moments than the one I fondly mentioned
above awaiting brave adventurers, but "The Perfect Storm" basically panders
to shallow musical standards. Let us start with the main theme. James Horner
is the master of the complaining melody. It starts flatly in the middle range,
moves up the scale to state a truly obnoxious phrase, returns to the tonal
center, and then repeats its "I want! I want! I want!" styled refrain. It
is a juvenile motif overused by track five (a patchwork cue virtually guaranteed
to have those knowledgeable of classical music screaming, by the way), yet
the orchestration shimmers! Shortly thereafter Horner introduces a secondary
theme where it is the orchestration that dries and shrivels. He strips it
down to the string section, accented horribly by arpeggios awkwardly played
on piano. The action/tension music is uniformly exciting but ludicrously
derivative... to the point of abstraction. Quiet moments and a handful of
symphonic lightening bolts are what provide the core interest. Thus between
a stormy sense of deja vu and the infrequency of themes meeting
variations, the successes within the recording attract attention to just
how washed-up it is overall.
Oh, and John Mellencamp sings the theme song.
Gary S. Dalkin adds:-
There's something strange going on this summer. The blockbusters are out
in force as usual and one after another they actually are, or promise to
be, good if not excellent films. Gladiator, Chicken Run, Mission: Impossible
2, The Patriot, X-Men. Where, one wants to know, is the complete and
utter rubbish? Add to this catalogue of unexpectedly welcome celluloid, Wolfgang
Peterson's The Perfect Storm, by all accounts a return to quality
film-making following the supremely silly Airforce One. The Perfect
Storm and The Patriot (directed by Roland Emmerich) opened
simultaneously in America, pitting the only two German directors to currently
be making Hollywood blockbusters directly against each other, not only that,
but pitting the two most currently successful film composers against each
other. The Patriot is scored by John Williams (see my review elsewhere
on FMOTW), while The Perfect Storm has music by James Horner, which
coming after Titanic seems like the perfect typecasting.
Clearly Mr Horner thinks so, adopting a 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'
approach to this latest true story of deadly peril on the Atlantic. This
being a James Horner album, there are certain things to expect. A running
time longer than some movies, in this case a remarkable 79:10. No one could
ever accuse James Horner of skimping on the quantity, whatever one thinks
of the quality. Long cues: there are only 10 tracks, giving an average running
length of close to 8 minutes. This is really unusual in the often bitty world
of film soundtrack albums, the long cues lending a welcome symphonic feel
to the disc. An appallingly clichéd and populist end-title song designed
to sell lots of singles. The song here, 'Yours Forever', is as bad as usual,
but at least the arrangement and performance (by John Mellencamp) are more
tolerable than the offering which ruined the last few minutes of
As for the score itself, James Horner has forsaken the inappropriate 'Oirish
musical affectations of Titanic. Even so, a yearning folksiness
remains in the principle melody, which although not as memorable, is along
the lines of his main theme from Legends of the Fall. While the quieter
moments often feel like variations on tender moments from both the aforementioned
scores. If, like me, you actually like Titanic, despite a nagging
feeling that the score shouldn't really work, and regard Legends of the
Fall as Horner's very best work, then you may find you enjoy The Perfect
Storm rather more than some reviews have suggested it should be enjoyed.
That said, other than the addition of an electric guitar and the deletion
of Horner's trademark shakuhachi, this album does sound very familiar. Some
of the big, full storm ahead music, featuring the percussion imitating the
pulse of the ship's engine could almost come straight out of Titanic.
The end result, an enjoyable if repetitive album which offers nothing new.
Time I think for Mr Horner to move on.
Gary S. Dalkin