Gone Too Soon: James Horner

Word began to get around yesterday afternoon that a small aircraft registered to composer James Horner had crashed in the mountains near Santa Barbara. And my heart sank. Not long after came the confirmation that Horner, an avid pilot, had indeed perished in the crash. He was only 61.

As a moviegoing kid coming of age in the era of summer blockbusters, movie soundtracks were always a big deal to me, and the first name I noticed after John Williams (because how could you miss the quadruple whammy of Jaws, Star Wars, Superman and Raiders of the Lost Ark?) was that of James Horner, when I saw Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in 1982. A perfect fit for Nicholas Meyer’s more nautical take on the TREK franchise, Horner’s score was big, bombastic and stirring.

Horner also had a delicate touch even in this, one of his earliest scores, as evidenced in Ricardo Montalban’s opening monologue as the bitter exile Khan Noonian Singh, when he reminisces about being a king on Earth so many years ago, and the far-off sound of distant trumpets can be heard on the score.

It really is an amazing score, careening as it does from the brash and pulse-pounding underscore to the Enterprise’s battle with Khan’s Reliant

…to the delicate way he weaves in Alexander Courage’s original Star Trek theme during Spock’s heartbreaking goodbye to Kirk:

Horner returned for the next Trek film, The Search for Spock, and delivered another outstanding score, with my favorite passage being this sequence when Kirk and company steal the Enterprise from Spacedock. Horner’s music ratchets up the tension marvelously, then ends on a triumphant note as the Enterprise makes her escape.

James Horner scored over 150 films, including classics such as ALIENS, AVATAR, TITANIC, FIELD OF DREAMS, APOLLO 13, JUMANJI, THE MASK OF ZORRO and so many more. But for me, his best, most beautiful soundtrack appeared on Joe Johnston’s THE ROCKETEER:

It’s a wistful, nostalgic score, yet one that still gets the blood pumping when the action hits the skies. What can I say? Every time I hear it, it makes me happy.

An astounding body of work from a great musician, and even with the hundreds of hours of music to enjoy, it simply wasn’t enough. Sixty-one is far too young to be leaving us. But we can all be grateful for the legacy he left.

If the mark of a life is leaving the world in some way better than you found it, there’s no argument that James Horner did exactly that.


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