Movie soundtrack lovers have just been stunned by the tragic news that James Horner, one of Hollywood’s premiere film composers with pictures such as Aliens, Avatar, Braveheart and the biggest ever selling orchestral soundtrack album Titanic to his name, died yesterday at 61 years of age when the plane which he was flying crashed into the Los Padres National Forest in southern California. He was the sole occupant of the aircraft. Initially it was just reported that a plane had crashed with no identity given to the pilot, but it was later reported by Sylvia Patrycja, his assistant, on her Facebook page:
“We have lost an amazing person with a huge heart and unbelievable talent. He died doing what he loved. Thank you for all your support.”
A child prodigy who began playing the piano when he was five years old, Horner first made a name for himself working for Roger Corman on low budget pictures like Battle Beyond The Stars and Humanoids From The Deep, where he became adept and making a small orchestra sound much larger. The often unusual orchestration of these early scores makes them some of Horner’s most interesting work to my ears. His ability to work quickly and his talent soon got him notice in Hollywood, his first big movie being Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and from then on he remained one of the most much sought after of film composers. Major ’80’s successes include Commando with its odd steel drums, the pounding action scoring of Aliens, the old-style big band leanings of Batteries Not Included and the extraordinarily dense and complex Willow, though of this period I’m especially fond of his evocative animated movie scores like An American Tail and The Land Before Time.
His collaboration with director Ron Howard began in 1987 with Cocoon and went on to include A Beautiful Mind and Apollo 13, then it was 1997 which saw his greatest commercial success with Titanic, though I personally much prefer his other Oscar winning score Braveheart, his incredibly moving music for the film’s finale really helping to bring on the tears. Other personal favourites of a very diverse career include The Mask Of Zorro and its sequel with their Spanish stylings, the beautiful The New World, the both playful and touching Casper, and the much more recent The Karate Kid and The Amazing Spiderman. Horner was able to move from genre to genre and was always able to craft a decent theme [something that either doesn’t seem to be required of many modern movie composers or they aren’t able to write them], often of a sentimental, but always appropriate, nature.
With Horner now gone, John Williams and Ennio Morricone are now the only two giants of the older generation of scoring.
RIP Mr Horner, your music will go on.