Friday, June 26, 2015

James Horner: A Look Back


Looking way back to when I first started this Blog Site, one of my very first posts was a tribute to the late Jerry Goldsmith, one of my favorite movie music composers of all time. As of Summer 2015 we’ve lost yet another very talented movie music composer named James Horner who absolutely elevated the quality of film with is timeless music tracks. Something about his music was very distinct and memorable, they could be beautiful, exciting, romantic and downright touching. Ever sense I was a child I’ve been captivated by his music, and now that he’s gone, I feel that the world of cinema lost something really special, so I wanted to take a moment to look back on some of his most popular music scores, my personal favorites and of course his original songs.

Let’s start by looking at some of the animated children’s movies that he supplied the music to, because this is how I personally was introduced to James Horner and why I have so much sentimental attachment to his craft. The 1986 Don Bluth classic “An American Tail” was the big one that got the ball rolling for his music in animated movies as he captured both the whimsical charm, and heart touching moments just beautifully. He also wrote the main song of the film “Somewhere Out There” which latter won a Grammy award for best original song of the year. He also returned to do the score for its sequel “An American Tail: Fival Goes West”, and his original song in that film titled “Dreams to Dream” earned him another Grammy nomination. As far as his animated movies were concerned, I always felt like I could identify his music style even at a young age, as they all carry similar melodies and that same nostalgic charm, but they could also stand apart from one another too. Other note worthy scores would be incorporated in animated films like “The Pagemaster” (1994) and “Balto” (1995), which had terrific original songs titled “Whatever You Imagine” and “Reach for the Light”. One other animated movie that disserves mention is the 1993 picture “Once Upon a Forest”, which featured the original song “Once Upon a Time With Me”. Personally, I think this was his most nostalgic original song as it just embodied the magic and joy of childhood and times long past. 

     Of course he had his fare share of providing the music to live action family films as well, including “The Rocketeer” (1991), “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” (1989), “Jumanji” (1996) and “Willow” (1988). I will admit that while James Horner could compose some terrific whimsical music for his live action family films, they also sounded a little interchangeable at times. Perhaps the most underrated of all was the 1987 family Sci-Fi “*batteries not included”. By the way, who else remembers that film, that was such a sweet movie that more people need to discover, or re-discover. Some of my favorite holiday movies like “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, “Casper” and “Hocus Pocus” also got the James Horner stamp of quality, as the guy definitely knew how to compose music that captured the spirit and tone of each season.

      As I grew up I started to take note of his different styles and strengths in other big films of the 80’s and 90’s like “Braveheart” (1995), “Commando” (1985), “Field of dreams” (1989), “Apollo 13” (1995) and “Aliens” (1986) which got him his very first academy award nomination for best original score. His first theatrical score and launching pad of his carrier came in the form of “Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan” (1982), and of course being a long time “Star Trek” fan, I immediately gained respect for him after hearing that classic score. His score for the 2001 picture “A Beautiful Mind” helped introduce him to modern movie going audiences. Now of course James Honers resume is about a mile long, and I’m not going to list every single score he ever composed over the decades, but to properly close out this post, here’s a quick list of my top 5 personal favorite James Horner movie scores that in my opinion highlights him at his best.  

#5 His soundtrack to “Glory” (1989)

For whatever it’s worth, “Glory” is one of my favorite, maybe even my absolute favorite war movie of all time as it told the story of the Union Armies first African American unit of the Civil war. As you’d expect, the film already supplies a heavy dose of emotion, which is all enhanced through James Honors music. It’s a score that hits all the dramatic moments, and triumphant notes perfectly without going too over the top, something that many other films get carried away with.   

#4 His music track for “Titanic” (1997)

Naturally James Horner’s score for “Titanic” is his most famous and popular. This is the score that got him worldwide recognition, it’s the one that won countless awards and 2 Oscars, one for best original score and another for the best original song “My Heart Will Go On”, which was performed by Celine Dion. Like I need to say any more, it’s the score from “Titanic”, it’s one of the phew instrumental CD’s I listen to and it still holds up as a beautiful, intense, exciting and uplifting collection of music, but there’s still three more James Horner tracks that I prefer.  

#3 His music track for “Avatar” (2009)

While this wasn’t his last musical score, I feel like this was his last big one from a landmark motion picture, like his big send off score. This was the third music track he composed for a James Cameron film and it was one of the most challenging tasks of his carrier, as his music was supposed to represent the tone and feel of an alien species that was also an ancient culture. Thankfully he nailed everything perfectly as his music added to the atmosphere of the planet and enhanced all the epic battle scenes. His original song for the movie titled “I See You” belongs right up there with some of his best original songs, top 3 easy.


#2 His music track for “The Mask of Zorro” (1999)

James Horner was no stranger to composing music for action movies, but this was his first big swashbuckling adventure score which brought everything in this film to life on a huge scale. If there was a riveting sword fight or horse chase, there was sensational action music behind it. If there was a dance scene between two characters, the dance music would be grand and upbeat. Personally, I think his theme song for this movie titled “I Want to Spend My Lifetime Loving You”, is his absolute best original song, it’s so good I’m going to use it as the main dance song at my wedding.

#1 His music track for “The Land Before Time” (1988)

Of all the classic scores composed by James Horner, it’s his track for the 1988 children’s classic “The Land Before Time” that has always stood out as my personal favorite of his. This score is so beautiful and so moving that it just warms me up inside every time I hear it. Seriously, it’s impossible for me not to get a little terry eyed whenever I hear this score. It’s his final track at the end of the film that really stands out, whenever I think of James Horner, it’s always those last five closing musical notes that always come to mind first. It’s touching, it’s emotional, it’s peaceful, it’s simply one of my favorite movie scores of all time. Oh, and his main song for the movie titled “If We Hold On Together” performed by Diana Ross is nothing short of sensational, it’s one of his most touching original songs and personally I think it’s even better then Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”, yeah I said that, it’s just my honest opinion.

      To sum things up, James Horner was an artist like no other, and his passing is a tragic one that will have a lasting impact on us movie goers for years to come. If you’ve never hared of James Horner before, I hope this little tribute came off as informative, interesting and hopefully it peaked your interest in some of his music and original songs. Personally, I feel very blessed to have grown up listening to so many of his wholesome musical scores and as someone who loves music, he’s been a real inspiration to me. May he rest in peace and may his music continue to touch the hearts and souls of anyone who listens to his work.

                                                    James Horner (Born 1953 – Died 2015)   

My Top 10 Worst Movie Sequels

Sometimes Hollywood just can’t leave well enough alone, they want their money, so they crank out movie sequel after movie sequel. Now to be fair, I honestly believe that the majority of movie sequels are really good, even the ones that aren’t as good as the first can still be good in their own right. But every once in a while, you get a sequel that just sucks the life right out of a beloved franchise, and for this list I’ll be counting down my personal top 10 least favorite movies sequels. Now I do have to set some ground rules, in order to make this list they have to be sequels to movies or franchises that I love, which means you won’t be seeing any “Twilight”, “Saw” or “Transformers” sequels on my list because I already hated those films to begin with. Also, this isn’t a list of popular bad sequels like “Batman and Robin” or “Star Wars 1: The Phantom Menace”, these are just the sequels that I personally can’t stand.  

#10 - Shrek the Third 

What started with two of the most beloved animated comedies that were on top of their game crashed and burned with this uninspired sequel. With its generic plot, tasteless hummer, ugly color scheme, and overly frantic tone, “Shrek the Third” is one sequel that just didn’t need to exist and it’s a more then shameful follow-up to “Shrek 2”, which I still think is one of the greatest animated movies ever made. I’m sure some people out there don’t mind “Shrek the Third” but I for me, I can’t stand this film, it’s a giant step backwards for the series, the weakest film to come from DreamWorks studios and honestly, I think it’s the worst animated sequel I’ve ever seen.

#9 - Blade Trinity 

I’ll admit, I’m not the biggest fan of Blade, but I did enjoy his films, especially “Blade 2” which was an awesome vampire action flick. Then it was a case of one sequel to many when “Blade Trinity” came along. It’s actually kind of hard to describe what makes this film so bad, it’s just really hard to watch. It’s so lifeless, boring, generic and forgettable that it just comes off like a waste of time and probably the worst Marvel comic based sequel I’ve ever seen. 


#8 - Son of the Mask 

Oh, I love the original 1994 Jim Carry classic “The Mask”. It’s still one of my favorite comedies of all time and a highlight in Jim Carries carrier. So what went wrong with the sequel titled “Son of the Mask”, well first of all it doesn’t feature Jim Carry or Cameron Diaz, the comedy is painfully un-funny, the tone is overly frantic and all the creative visuals of the original are replaced with some really ugly and even disturbing imagery. It’s just a nasty film all around, with questionable content, and absolutely none of the charm that made the original so captivating. 


#7 - Jaws: The Revenge 

To be honest, all the “Jaws” sequels were unnecessary follow-ups to a classic monster movie, but the fourth installment titled “Jaws: The Revenge” sinks to a new low. With a brainless plot involving a shark hell bent on revenge against a single family, terrible monster effects, laughably silly climax, boring passes and no shortage of obvious mistakes (like a dry shirt, after someone fell in the ocean) this horror sequel is likely to scare audiences away and for all the wrong reasons. I don’t even know what else I need to say about this one, it’s just a lazy sequel that has nothing scary to offer and is beyond shameful when compared to the original classic that still stands as one of Hollywood’s greatest horror movies.   


#6 - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3 

Good old Ninja Turtles, and yes, I freely admit that none of the films were cinematic marvels, but I still like them dang it! “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie” especially holds up as a nostalgic time capsule of a film and one of the best comic book movies of the 90’s. Then came the third film that was stupid and unwatchable even by Ninja Turtle standards. With a tired time travel plot that takes the turtles out of their element and effects that were surprisingly worse than any of their predecessors, this was already a dude on a rival. But things only got worse from there, none of the classic villains were present, there were hardly any fights and the jokes were beyond painful. If you have any fondness for the Ninja Turtles, do yourself a favor and skip this film all together. 

#5 - Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones 

What began as an effective haunted house series with great atmosphere and subtle scares went way over the top in their fifth installment involving portal jumping, super powers, time travel and communicating with the dead through an electronic Simon game, it’s about as silly as it sounds. I once thought of the Paranormal Activity series as one of the greatest, if not the greatest long running horror series of all time, but “The Marked Ones” took such a huge step backwards that I might just have to take that comment back. With little scares, zero connection to the other films and a more then predictable plot make this a tired and dispensable sequel to a mostly cool horror franchise.

#4 - The Neverending Story 3: Escape from Fantasia 

If you never saw the original fantasy epic “The Neverending Story”, here’s what you missed ... a clever, imaginative, captivating and surprisingly mature fantasy adventure that still holds up today. If you watch the sequel titled “The Neverending Story 3: Escape from Fantasia”, here’s what you were stuck with ... a childishly immature fantasy film that captured none of the originals magic or drama and replaced it with potty humor, bad effects, a week script that’s set in the human world as opposed to its fantasy setting and a downright nasty tone.

#3 - The Sandlot 2 

The 1993 coming of age sports comedy titled “The Sandlot” is one of my childhood favorites that still holds up today as a nostalgic classic. The un-wanted and un-needed sequel titled “The Sandlot 2” is about as shameful as sequels get, except even worse because it mostly just recreates every character, every plot line and every joke from the original, just in a very stupid and obvious way.  Seriously, there’s hardly any difference between this sequel and the original, except it’s done much dumber, with characters that are all cardboard cut outs of the cast we loved from the first, and more bad sequels followed. Bottom line, if I wanted to watch “The Sandlot”, I’d go ahead and watch it, not this pore mans sequel.  


#2 - Alien 3

In 1986, there was a little film called “Aliens”, one of the greatest Sci-Fi sequels of all time and a flawless conclusion to the alien franchise. But Hollywood wanted to milk the series by releasing a completely pointless sequel many years later called “Alien 3”. Instead of building on the last film, it repeat the same boring setup of the first “Alien”, except with a depressing prison drama over tone, predictable scares, and the outstanding cast from the last film gets shamefully killed off in the first 30 seconds of the film just to make way for a dispensable new cast. While the movie does have an admittedly good ending, it still doesn’t save this film from being a pointless sequel that was a pore and unwanted continuation of a great series that had such a perfect finally to begin with.   


Before I reveal my absolute worst sequel, here are my Dishonorable Mentions:

Terminator Salvation
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes
 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Robocop 2
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
The Hobbit Trilogy 
The Majority of direct to video Disney sequels

#1 - The Legend of Zorro 
The original 1998 action adventure titled “The Mask of Zorro” is easily one of my favorite summer Blockbusters of all time, and one that demonstrates how awesome an action adventure can be with practical stunts and no over the top special effects. Unfortunately, there was a sequel in 2005 titled “The Legend of Zorro”, and this my friends is personally the most offensive sequel I’ve ever seen. Gone is the drama, gone is the charming chemistry between its two leads, gone is the excitement and gone is ... well, basically everything that made the first so great. Instead it's a sequel with a long line of silly jokes that are even too cartoonishly over the top for a Zorro Parody, we have a once proud hero reduced to a drunken buffoon with no redeeming qualities, and the once awesome relation between the two leads is the equivalent of a bad teen date flick. It’s just an atrocious sequel on all grounds, an insulting follow up to a great action epic and while you could probably find worse movie sequels out there, this is my personal least favorite.      

#0 - A Christmas Story 2 

I actually haven’t seen this movie, I refuse too, but I think it’s safe to say that it belongs on my list and is probably a dismal follow up to one of my favorite holiday comedy movie of all time.