The CD of Horner's score for the 1988 plodding sword and sorcery film,
Willow, has turned up in the shops again in the UK to present a good
starting point for this admittedly very brief and incomplete retrospective
assessment. Horner's well-crafted and splendidly orchestrated score is one
of the best elements about this muddled George Lucas production. It has
excitement, wit, drama and atmosphere. It lifts the weak screenplay and adds
some credibility to it. The opening cue "Elora Duran" immediately provides
an other-worldly fairy tale atmosphere with tremolando high strings, a sort
of quiet sea-lapping on-shore electronic effect and choral writing that
pre-echoes that of Alan Silvestri in his score for The Abyss (1989).
The lower bass figures that immediately follow are the seeds from which the
Legend theme from Legends of the Fall will grow. This first cue contains
very sinister and threatening material - the brass figures have real sting
and bite and the clangings and clashings remind one of the Nibelungs at work
in their subterranean caverns. Further on, there is comedy even trombone/tuba
buffoonery while more tender women's chorus music is associated with the
baby around which all the conflict rages. The most important and most memorable
theme is associated with the diminutive hero Willow which we hear first in
the second cue "Escape from the Tavern" which, as the title suggests, is
full of swashbuckling heroics which Horner provides in full-blooded measure
with steel hammering on duelling steel. A number of writers have criticised
Horner for having borrowed his Willow theme from Schumann's Rhenish Symphony
and it is true that there is a more than passing resemblance to the opening
theme of the first movement of that symphony, but Horner embellishes it and
quickens its tempo to change its character significantly. "Willow's Journey"
contains some bagpipe music that anticipates Braveheart and "Canyon
of Mazes" contains material which Horner will revisit and adapt for his
Titanic score as the big ship races towards disaster. The remainder
of this imaginative score has material very much as I have already described
but with some interesting variations.
Moving onto 1991 and The Rocketeer. It is very seldom that I am impelled
to immediately rush out to buy a soundtrack recording but I was so with The
Rocketeer! This is a tremendously exuberant and exciting score with Horner
really letting his hair down and entering into the spirit of this comic books
caper. The main theme is strong and memorable and it persisted in my head
for days afterwards. This theme is very well developed and embroidered throughout
the score Horner also has fun with his wryly comic, tongue-in-cheek villain
music as epitomised by Timothy Dalton escaping from his brief James Bond
career to play the Errol Flynn-like Nazi spy but its is also suitably darkly
sinister when required too. The romantic music nicely turned too; you even
get two ballads sung in the style of the late 1930s/early 1940s: Cole Porter's
"Begin the Beguine" and E. A. Swan's "When Your Lover Has Gone." Horner would
revisit his Rocketeer music when he assembled his score for Titanic.
In 1995 the soundtrack recording of Legends of the Fall was released.
The film itself divided the critics; many panned it others thought it to
be a classic western. It was forged on a grand scale. A retired US Colonel
(Anthony Hopkins) retires to build himself a new life on a Montana ranch
after leaving the army when he cannot stomach the way the Indians are being
treated. The story develops around his three sons -Brad Pitt and Aidon Quinn
playing the eldest two who are compelled to go off to battle in World War
II to protect their younger brother; and their rivalry over the woman (Julia
Ormond) who the youngest son had brought home to marry. The sprawling story
takes in bootlegging in the Prohibition era after the war and jungle exploration,
madness, sadism and much more. One critic aptly described it as a horse opera
with the emphasis on opera. Its broad sweep clearly struck a chord with Horner
for he seems to have been moved by the screenplay to create a score that
has dignity and sincerity. Take for instance, the highly evocative yet tastefully
sympathetic music he writes for the scenes in war-ravaged France. Horner
finds glorious music to describe the simple homestead set in the beautiful
Montana countryside, for the family Indian guardian, and all the screenplay's
emotional turbulence. But, above all, the main theme is excellent and again
it persists in the mind. It has a life of its own and stands proud away from
the context of the film. I remember the Academy Awards presentation, I think
it was in 1995 when Sigourney Weaver recalled for us the Hollywood greats
who had left us during the previous year. Horner's theme was used as we saw
images of the stars on-screen - it was a most moving tribute made exceptionally
poignant with the inclusion of this Horner theme. For me, Legends of the
Fall is Horner at his best.
In the same year as Legends of the Fall Horner was commissioned to
score Braveheart which won him an Oscar nomination. It certainly is
a powerful, rugged score. You can feel the cold, misty-laden atmosphere of
the glens; and there is a feeling of authenticity about the pipes-and- drum-led
folkmusic. Horner's music for the impressive battle scenes is quite stunning
in its raw impact, it has a tremendous impetus with brilliant writing for
brass and drums. There is a primitive savagery and violence that adds
tremendously to the excitement of these thrilling conflicts. The violence
is offset with one of Horner's best romantic cues, "For the Love of a Princess".
Poignancy and heroic defiance inform the final cues of the score and again
Horner impresses with his capabilities for pointing up drama and emotion.
Once more Horner mines deeply from this Braveheart score for his epic
Titanic music. But this CD is truly a sonic spectacular.
In conclusion and returning to the much vexed question of Horner's borrowings,
it is interesting to notice that Horner's is frequently borrowed from too.
I was forcibly reminded of this when I was listening to the music which scored
a TV dramatisation of Daphne Du Maurier's Frenchman's Creek lately. They
say imitation is the best form of flattery. It would be interesting to have
visitors views about these and other Horner scores. Why not drop us a line?
Legends of the Fall