It seems so unfair that randomness has such a huge bearing on life. Such is the manner in which the great film music composer James Horner passed from this world less than twenty-four hours ago. As the initial reports came in and started flashing up on my phone via Google Alerts and the Variety Breaking News alert that a plane registered to Horner had crashed, I hoped against hope that this was another Harrison ford type accident where Horner (if he was one of the occupants) walked away largely unscathed. Sadly, this was not to be... As I was taking off on my own flight (albeit as a passenger on a commercial flight between Melbourne and Sydney), there was still no confirmation that Horner was even in the aircraft when it crashed. Unfortunately, by the time I reached my destination and switched my phone back on, reports about the crash had become much clearer and that James Horner was both the pilot and sole occupant aboard the crashed plane. He did not survive the crash.
Horner's film music was unique. In the 1980s, when he first came to prominence, his scores were big, bombastic even. Horns and trumpets would swirl around the audience, but then he'd sneak in some kind change-up or change-down that went with the film's narrative to accentuate the pacing. Even though he sounded like Goldsmith; in that way he was more like John Williams than any other film music composer during that time. As he matured and his work became more varied, his scores became fuller, more layered and even more inclined to enhance a film's narrative. While the horns and trumpets remained, more stringed instruments featured in his scores as he developed his style and, like Jerry Goldsmith in his later years, Horner was not afraid to incorporate electronic elements into his scores.
Please take the time to listen to some of my favourite pieces of Horner's music and enjoy the talent that we, as movie-lovers, were privileged to hear every time he composed for a film.
Battle Beyond the Stars - A great score for a medicore movie ...
There's nothing like a Roger Corman production to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, and so it was with Battle Beyond the Stars - a low budget sci-fi rip-off of Kurosawa's Seven Samurai story. The film starred The Waltons' Richard Thomas, George Peppard, Robert Vaughan, Sybil Danning and John Saxon as the villainous Sador of the Malmori! Made for $2 million, Horner's score went a long way in helping the film's trailer sell it as a rousing action adventure film in much the same way as Star Wars.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was the score that brought James Horner to the attention of the broader entertainment industry. The story has it that Jerry Goldsmith was far too expensive to bring back for another feature film score, but the Director Nicholas Meyer and Producer Harve Bennett wanted someone who could emulate that sound for a fraction of the cost. Horner was commissioned and his work on both this film and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock brought him to the attention of Directors like Ron Howard and James Cameron, both of whom would go on to use him throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
Polar opposites: Commando and The Name of the Rose
Horner's versatility and ability to work on multiple projects at once made him very popular with Directors and Studios in the second half of the 1980s. If ever you wanted an example of how versatile Horner could be, check out the variation between his work on Commando and The Name of the Rose. It's interesting to note that he was able to incorporate a nationalistic theme into his music that captured the setting of the movie. In Commando, he uses a sound akin to a West Indian/South American steel drum to provide a musical motif that would culminate at the end of the movie, where the finale is played out on an island belonging to the Dictator of the fictional South American country of Val Verde!
Developing the nationalistic approach with Braveheart ...
Many Horner fans cite the Braveheart score as there favourite and there's no doubting that it's a great film score. What's really interesting about Braveheart is how Horner, yet again, created a musical motif for the film that made viewers think of Scotland, regardless of whether or not they had any understanding of Scottish music. It's a unique feat that Horner was able to pull-off time-and-again, where the music was not just background, orchestral noise, but boldly stepped forward into the scene to help accentuate and punctuate the actor's dialogue.
Horner's work on blockbuster projects had scaled back a little since the early 2000s, but one Director he developed a strong working relationship with was James Cameron and he invited the Composer to score his last film, Avatar. The most successful movie in history is no small claim and, once again, Horner's work on the film went a long towards creating a complete movie-going experience for the viewer. This final track I've selected is more low-key than most, but speaks volumes about how much Horner had matured over three decades composing film scores where his focus on creating musical nuance for a film's characters underlined why he was so successful.
2015 is nearly half-way over and it's a good time to reflect back and look at the movies that have made an impact in the first six months of the year. I always felt that 2015 would be a great year for genre films, especially science fiction and comic book based movies. The reality of where we stand as of today is less than I expected given the the number of films that have been released. There's been some disappointing movies, whose flawed stories and execution are difficult to understand given the talent associated with the production. There have been, however, some great 'cinema fantastique' ...
1. Ex Machina
By far the most powerful genre film to be released in Australia this year, Alex Garland's directing debut is a great piece of film-making that made me stop several times after seeing it and think about how people relate to the world in which they exist. The film challenges the viewer to consider the question: do we really ever know anybody? Outstanding performances from the three main cast members (Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson & Alicia Vikander) make for great viewing in this intimate character-driven film. Alex Garland, who to this point has been highly regarded for his writing, shows that he is also a visual story-teller of considerable skill and gives the film a Stanley Kubrick feel, with his very deliberately staged shots and slow-build story tension. This is a five star film that more people need to see immediately.
Read the Screen Fantastique review of Ex Machina
2. Mad Max - Fury Road
Thank goodness! An action movie that relies more on physical stunts and the skill of the live-action movie-makers than it does post-production CGI. Don't think I'm anti-CGI, but Mad Max: Fury Road came along like a breath of fresh air with its simple car chase plot, an emphasis on on-set action and an oddball cast that captured the best of all three previous Mad Max movies and repackaged it for the 21st Century. Charlize Theron is an absolute stand-out as Furiosa, creating an iconic character who, according to some, is slated to re-appear should Warner Bros proceed with another film in the franchise. Despite a long, troubled production process, Mad Max: Fury Road has been worth the wait and reaffirmed George Miller as Australia's most talented and inventive film-maker.
Read the Screen Fantastique review of Mad Max: Fury Road
3. Kingsman: The Secret Service
Matthew Vaughan did to Spy-Fi in 2015 what he did to comic book movies with Kick-Ass back in 2010, giving the genre a right royal reaming with his cutting satire about British society dressed up as an anti-Bond adventure. Colin Firth is great as Harry Hart, proving that there's no type of role to which he can't bring his unique brand of style and sophistication. Taron Egerton provides a solid account as Firth's protege 'Eggsy', but it's the supporting cast in Mark Strong, Michael Caine and Samuel L. Jackson that make Kingsman a stand-out piece of entertainment.
Read the Screen Fantastique review of Kingsman: The Secret Service
4. Fast & Furious 7
It's hard not to like Fast & Furious 7. It's a big, over-blown, ridiculous exercise in how far one franchise can take a set-piece action sequence, but it's a hell of a lot of fun. Despite Vin Diesel trying to ground the film in some sort of dramatic reality, his co-stars have other ideas as Dwayne Johnson, Kurt Russell and Jason Statham all recognize that a little bit of scenery-chewing is going to hurt anybody. None of the cast are going to be lining up in the Awards season, but as entertainment they don't come much bigger than this. The film also manages to pay a fitting tribute to the franchise's leading man Paul Walker, who, sadly, was killed in a car accident during while on a break from shooting the film.
Read the Screen Fantastique review of Fast & Furious 7
If there's an award for getting the most impact from the smallest budget, Director & Writer Shane Abbess would have to be right up there in contention for it. Abbess pays homage to the likes of Ridley Scott and John Carpenter in his sci-fi tale about an inter-planetary Rescue Team sent to bring home the sole survivor (Daniel MacPherson) of a failed mission. What they lack in resource, the cast and crew of Infini make up for with enthusiasm and intensity. MacPherson and co-star Luke Ford make sure things remain interesting right until the very end and, dependent upon its digital download performance, it would be great to see what a second Infini adventure could look like with a little bit more in the budget.
Read the Screen Fantastique review of Infini
Let's us know what you think. Do you agree with the Screen Fantastique Top 5 Movies for the first half of 2015?
There's also a lot we're looking forward to seeing in the second half of 2015, including Terminator Genisys, Ant-Man, Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, Fantastic Four, Hitman: Agent 47, Sinister 2, Maze Runner: Scorch Trials, The Martian, Crimson Peak, Spectre, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part Two and Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. It's a big second half of the year and it all culminates in one of the biggest, most anticipated follow-up movies in cinema history. Let's do this all again in six months time!
Welcome to the Screen Fantastique Film Blog!
In an effort to increase the integration between the Screen Fantastique website and the opinion pieces that I like to carry on about from time-to-time, I've decided to add the Weebly Blog feature to www.screenfantastique.com
In an effort to generate a level of user-interaction, I would encourage readers to post comments in response to comments that I make. The only request I make is that we all keep comments respectable and on topic. I am happy for people to venture an opinion, but it should be based on a reasonably well constructed line of critical thought. If you want to comment as to why something stinks, please make sure you can support it with a reason.
I look forward to inter-acting with fellow Science Fiction, Fantasy, Comic Book, Action and Horror film fans!