The Missing is another generously-filled (some might say over-generously filled) album. As an original take on Western Indian music in terms of colourful instrumentation with moments of real excitement and horror, this new James Horner score is above the average. But as a listening experience it is just the right side of repetitive and tedious.
The opening track 'New Mexico, 1885' places mournful Indian chants forestage against scoring that is too reminiscent of Horner's Titanic and Legends of the Fall. 'The Stranger' does introduce some interesting variations on Indian pipes music with some vibrato reeds and harp measures, horn and long-held high string music adding distant perspectives. This track also introduces more tender material concerned, I imagine, with the plight of the Cate Blanchett character (I am reviewing this album before the arrival of the film in UK theatres, but see the rather enigmatic plot synopsis at the end of this review). 'Dawn To Dusk' continues this mood with beguiling material that almost approaches the sublime quality of Horner's Legends of the Fall; there is more quite original scoring here, and frightening it is too. 'A dark and Restless World' continues the piping and chanting; more and more voices entering with the orchestra, so that the whole texture reaching a terrific crescendo.
'The Search Begins' is a plaintive, hymn-like piece with broad string tones counterpointing the pipes music that gains the ascendance. 'Lily's fate in these hands' has nobility and tenderness, with some affecting writing for harp and flute; and some interesting ethnic instrumentation that might suggest day-to-day encampment life. 'The Brujo's storm – A loss of innocence', is wildly evocative: shrieking gales, thunderous percussion; then a haunted cry of personal tragedy and pitiful resignation. 'Setting the trap – staying one step ahead', has more ethnic variations with more colourful instrumentation and exciting rhythms and crescendos.
'Curse of Ghosts' sends the music screaming into the realms of the eerie. 'A rescue is planned' begins with plaintive strings (in Copland 'middle-America' mode) before the music broadens out to encompass wide-open spaces and then returns to the Indian chanting, almost human-voiced pipings, and booming timps. The first part of 'Kayitah's death – the soaring hawk' brings Titanic back to mind in its atmosphere, pacing and orchestration; the remainder of this track continues the anguished vocals. 'Rescue and breakout' raises the dramatic tension and the tempi to provide 'hell-for-leather' excitement, while strings and woodwinds sound poignancy for 'Profound loss'. 'An insurmountable hurdle' is inconsolable ethnic music against persistent percussion, clapping-rhythms and a wail that is more Gaelic than Indian; once again those disorientating Titanic images come to mind. Finally the score ends with 'The long ride home' starting with plaintive woodwinds proclaiming loss before the Indian music intrudes and crushes all in a whirlwind of grand orchestral anger before noble chords sweep down the curtain.
This is not one of Horner's best scores, being somewhat derivative of his earlier successes, sometimes disconcertingly so; but its strength is in his original and colourful use of ethnic Indian music and there are some genuinely exciting and scary moments.
Reading off the official SONY Pictures synopsis … Cate Blanchett is Maggie, a young plainswoman raising her daughters in the desolate wilderness of New Mexico. When daughter Lily (Evan Rachel Wood, Thirteen) is snatched by a dark-hooded phantom with shape-shifting powers. Maggie's long-estranged father Oscar-winner Tommy Lee Jones appears suddenly, offering help. Though stunned by his return, Maggie knows she must swallow both hurt and pride if she is ever to see Lily again. Unaware of the frightening events that lurk in the distance, father and daughter set out to track down the fiend that took Lily. But lying in wait is horror so unspeakable it will change them forever.
Mark Hockley adds:
Director composer relationships are very important in the world of film making (as referenced in my review of Big Fish) and this is something that has become more and more prevalent over the last thirty years or so. Of course there have always been directors who have worked regularly with individual composers, but the old Hollywood system where the executives packaged together talent, mixing ingredients with the emphasis on commerce rather than art, often made it impossible for the kind of artistic choices available to directors these days. Ron Howard’s association with James Horner began with the truly wonderful score for Coccon in 1985 and although Howard has worked with a number of other composers (Hans Zimmer - Backdraft (1991), John Williams - Far and Away (1992) etc.) it is Horner to whom he has always returned and now seems to have formed a definite alliance with. While the composer himself has a somewhat uneven reputation among film music admirers, this particular score for Howard’s Western drama The Missing is difficult to fault, even allowing for all of the usual self-plagiarism criticism that dogs any new Horner soundtrack. Cues such as ‘Dawn to Dusk; The Riderless Horse’ features a typically beautiful, melodic theme and some dramatic suspense work, all in the recognised Horner style (something that for me is a plus), while the American Indian chanting on tracks like ‘The Brujo’s Storm - A Loss of Innocence’ and ‘A Curse of Ghosts’ adds some effective if predictable colour. And this sets the tone for the score as a whole, with a great deal of thoughtful string work punctuated by occasional bursts of rhythmic suspense (‘An Insurmountable Hurdle’ etc.), the work remaining consistently evocative and involving.
If there is anything negative to said about this score it would only be that it has a familiar ring to it and rarely explores anything that could be seen as new territory. But what could we really expect? This is a traditional, expansive orchestral score, composed with skill and feeling that can’t fail to elicit an emotional response. Of course, those who enjoy playing the ‘which score is he self-referencing’ game will be able to pick up on moments that echo the composer’s previous work, but critiques of this kind are rather redundant. Horner is not the only composer guilty of this questionable sin but he is one of the most obvious, perhaps because he has such a recognisable bag of tricks. What we must not forget though is that they are his bag of tricks and are part of his attraction for those who admire him.
While by no means a work of great originality this is nonetheless a pleasing, accomplished score that remains intelligent throughout and is certainly good enough to deserve at least a small nod of approval.