23 Jun RIP James Horner
My first introduction to James Horner was in 1982. Not like I met him then or anything, as I was living in Panama, thousands of miles away from Hollywood, with not even the slightest idea I would even tangentially be involved in Film Music.
So, if you are older than 12, you’ll know that for some reason, EVERYTHING you are exposed to around that age stays with you, in a very special place that no one can take away – nor should.
It was the time of ET, Poltergeist, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back, Blade Runner – some of the most iconic Films to this day – to say nothing of their scores.
Well, back in 1982, my father bought us a Betamax recorder (because it was supposed to be better than VHS), and Showtime was featuring Star Trek II, the Wrath of Khan. I cannot count how many times my brother and I saw the film. We even did an overdub of us speaking the parts using a Pioneer mic as input over the incoming Video signal from Showtime. We owned that film, every line of it.
And the music…it was marvelous. It was cinematic, and even at 12, with barely any musical education, I somehow knew what that meant, and how it felt.
Little did I know then that the main themes were adapted from the great Jerry Goldsmith. What I did know was that the music was special – it’s voice an original one. In this film you had the entire musical spectrum – from regal diatonicism to gorgeous dissonances – all coalescing to help tell the story.
If you have Netflix, do yourself a favor and watch the whole thing. Sure it looks old, but the story holds. OK, if you don’t want to watch the whole thing, skip to about 1 hour and 30 minutes, as Khan is setting the Genesis to detonate, hoping to finally annihilate Kirk and his crew.
Spock makes a decision that will cost his life. Notice how gorgeously Horner writes to the cuts, deftly juggling SO many themes, but staying on the story. (Plus you get to hear the awesome line by Bones to Spock “Are you out of your Vulcan mind?”) As Spock is attempting to fix the Main Engine (notice the flares that will eventually inspire JJ Abrams!), at about 1:33 and a half there is one of my favorite moments in music to picture, an awesome build of tension, as the camera pushes in on all crew members.
So Spock saves the day, at the cost of his own life, while Kirk is at this moment oblivious of the fact. And Horner is writing from Kirk’s perspective now. At 1:36, as Kirk slowly realizes something has gone wrong, the music focuses on the majesty of the new planet that Genesis is birthing, as well as Kirk’s anxiety while running to the Engine room. The cue ends with Spock’s theme.
Then there is no music, allowing the moment to play out between Spock and Kirk. After he says “Don’t grieve Admiral. It is logical,” Horner scores Spock’s final moments. Beautifully.
And I can’t help but grieve right now, as today was a big unexpected blow on the music world. Thank you for your work, and the many moments of my own childhood, adolescence, and adulthood you scored.
Rest In Peace, James Horner.
CLICK HERE TO WATCH STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN