Tag Archives: James Horner

48 Hrs. (1982, Walter Hill)

About seventy minutes into 48 Hrs., Nick Nolte apologizes to Eddie Murphy for the racial slurs he’s been calling him since Murphy showed up in the movie. Nolte’s just doing his job, he explains, “keeping him down,” which is an unintentionally honest moment about cops and Black men. Murphy nods to it, but says, “that doesn’t explain all of it,” and Nolte sadly agrees. He’s just a racist White cop. There’s only so much he can do.

At this point in the film, Nolte and Murphy are buddies. 48 Hrs. is an eighties buddy cop movie after all. Even if the first act is a bad but mildly amusing riff on a Dirty Harry movie, introducing hard-living rogue copper Nolte, who just happens to have a sophisticated girlfriend, Annette O’Toole. O’Toole’s pointless in the film, which ends up being fine because the movie’s literally got nothing for her. She gets maybe one good line—which isn’t bad for the supporting cast; outside Nolte and Murphy, not many good lines in the film… you’d think with four screenwriters on it and at least three of them desperate to be iconic, there’d be some good lines thrown around.

Not really. In fact, when O’Toole gets hers’, it’s a surprise because it’s on the end of a bad conversation. The writing on O’Toole and Nolte is awful. Somehow they’re likable together, but not because of anything in the dialogue. Or maybe the scene where much shorter than Nolte O’Toole follows him down the hallway and it’s cute is an accident. 48 Hrs. is not successfully directed, so it’s hard to give Hill much credit other than keeping the trains running on time. Even if it does start really dragging at the end of the first hour, after Nolte and Murphy have just had a fistfight to kill time, followed by the threat of another fistfight.

So the movie opens with Sonny Landham breaking James Remar out of prison. He’s on a chain gang. Hill gets to pretend it’s Cool Hand Luke for a shot or two and the James Horner music is really, really good, but then things start to fall apart once Remar escapes and leaves a guard behind to call it in. The calling it in is a bunch of expository nonsense; 48 Hrs. frequently reminds of plot points in the first hour. It’s like the screenwriters were leaving notes for each other where to pick up. Not a smooth script. Not good dialogue script, not a smoothly paced script. Thank goodness for Eddie Murphy and Horner and cinematographer Ric Waite.

Nolte tags along on a routine call with Jonathan Banks, who’s great and sets a way too high standard for the cop acting in the movie, only they’re not prepared for Remar and Landham and Remar ends up with Nolte’s gun. So Nolte has to go get Eddie Murphy out of jail—Murphy and Remar used to do jobs together—so Murphy can help Nolte find Remar. That sequence of the film, outside Murphy’s introduction, isn’t good. It’s way too perfunctory and doesn’t do anything to transition affable tough jerk Nolte from the opening to the cruel racist who’s going to be berating Murphy for the next thirty or so minutes. If the film had just stuck to its convictions and had Nolte be as vocally racist as he appeared… it’d be taking a position on something. But those are questions for non-buddy cop movies so you get the laughs you can. The first turn for Nolte comes during Murphy’s big set piece in a redneck bar. It makes it seem like 48 Hrs. has its set pieces down… but then the fistfight in the streets because the guys are tired is a few scenes later and it’s clear the movie’s got no idea.

The second act ends with a bad chase sequence in a subway station, but at least Hill’s got to try because there’s so much going on, followed by a song montage with Murphy dancing with a girl and Nolte driving through San Francisco to meet him to kick off the third act, which quickly leads to a stole bus sequence, then there’s the big Chinatown finale. So much action. And all of it middling or worse.

During the Chinatown chase sequence, it’s obviously not the three editors’ fault—though earlier some things are definitely their faults—it’s Hill not knowing how to direct the sequence.

Hill’s… a peculiar director for the film. He’s humorless, he’s got terrible instincts with performances: Nolte’s never good, just more mediocre at times than bad, Remar’s disappointing, David Patrick Kelly’s annoying, Brion James’s annoying–Frank McRae’s yelling police captain is worth walking out of the movie on—other than Murphy… nobody’s actually good. McRae and James aren’t in the movie very much and shouldn’t able to mess it up, but they do. Banks and O’Toole get off easy with “too small” roles.

The James Horner score keeps it interesting for the first forty or so minutes, until the way the movie positions Murphy and Nolte gets a little more tolerable, Ric Waite’s photography is good enough in the first act you wonder what happened later on. There are a lot of obvious insert shots in 48 Hrs.—McRae doesn’t even appear to be in the same room with the other actors in his big scene—and they never match. Technically, 48 Hrs. asks for a lot of indulgence. The music’s not good enough to cover it all.

I mean, the San Francisco scenery does do quite a bit of the lifting. I’m not sure the movie could get away being so thin anywhere else.

It’s ostensibly a Nolte vehicle, which starts as a fine one, turns into a terrible one, but then turns into an adequate one for Murphy. Not all of Murphy’s scenes are good. Maybe a quarter of them fail. But the successful ones are big hits.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Walter Hill; written by Roger Spottiswoode, Hill, Larry Gross, and Steven E. de Souza; director of photography, Ric Waite; edited by Freeman A. Davies, Mark Warner, and Billy Weber; music by James Horner; production designer, John Vallone; costume designer, Marilyn Vance; produced by Lawrence Gordon and Joel Silver; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Nick Nolte (Jack Cates), Eddie Murphy (Reggie Hammond), James Remar (Ganz), Sonny Landham (Billy Bear), Annette O’Toole (Elaine), Olivia Brown (Candy), David Patrick Kelly (Luther), Brion James (Kehoe), Jonathan Banks (Algren), James Keane (Vanzant), and Frank McRae (Haden).


Sum Up | Clearing Moorings: James Horner and the Wrath of Khan

It’s impossible to imagine Wrath of Khan without the James Horner score. When Star Trek II came out in 1982, it was the third of the late seventies, early eighties sci-fi franchises. Star Wars and Superman were both looking forward to their third films in 1982, while Trek was recovering from its troubled 1979 Star Trek: The Motion Picture. In addition to age (as movies, anyway), Star Wars and Superman also shared the John Williams “sound” (though Superman II had Ken Thorne imitating Williams). The Motion Picture’s score was from Jerry Goldsmith, who came up with some great music, but it didn’t seem to compare—in the public mind—to Williams’s space-based scores.

Well, outside the Goldsmith’s new Star Trek theme. That piece announced a bold new beginning for the franchise (and later became the “Next Generation” theme). And Star Trek II announced a bold new direction too….

1982 Atlantic 7″ Single

The literal first thing composer James Horner does in Khan is bring back the original “Star Trek” theme. Just enough to establish, along with the titles, it’s Star Trek. And then the music starts going in new directions, mostly focusing on the “adventure theme.”

The Khan score, or so some quick Internet searching says, has three recognized themes. Kirk’s theme, Khan’s theme, and Spock’s theme. Spock’s theme is the only one to get broken out on the soundtrack album—though it’s just called “Spock.” It’s the mystical one. Khan’s is the foreboding one. Kirk’s is the adventurous one. I’m not eager to name the themes, outside Spock’s, just because it doesn’t leave room for the Genesis theme, which is separate from the others. The music, like everything in Khan, is exquisitely layered, exquisitely complex.

Soundtrack score album affection is a sometimes difficult one to explain. Especially as I’ve noticed I feel different about it now than I did in the late eighties and early nineties. Basically, it’s a “you had to be there.” Listening to a soundtrack score is not like watching the movie, but from the right angle—for me anyway—it can tickle the same hairs and produce some of the same feels. The Star Trek II soundtrack is very good at tickling said hairs. Both because Horner does such a fantastic job with the score and because the film, directed by Nicholas Meyer, uses it so well. Horner’s score, with its reused themes and its various echoes, stays in the active imagination even when it isn’t heard.

1982 Atlantic LP / 1990 GNP Crescendo CD

Khan (the movie) has a surprise open—it’s the Enterprise, but it’s got a female Vulcan in command (Kirstie Alley). Spock’s there, but he’s at his science officer station. It’s Enterprise versus Klingons and there’s no music, which is very different from when the previous film had its Klingon scene—even Khan reuses that footage. Goldsmith had a whole Klingon theme in The Motion Picture. Horner and Meyer let them act without accompaniment. Horner’s themes are specific (which is why calling it the Khan theme doesn’t make sense to me—it’s the Reliant theme); they can’t be broadly applied. Horner’s score tells the story of the film. The title music has some hints of what’s to come, the end credit music literally recaps what’s come before. The end credit music is some of the most complex in the score—though the action sequences are also exceedingly complex, just in a different way. The action sequences don’t use recall in the same way; when Horner uses the established themes during an action scene, it’s still moving at a clip. End credits it’s about inviting recollection, taking time to think back. The score’s very active with its audience and separate from the movie action. Though tied so close the film’s cut to the music.

And all the story and all the emotion come through on the soundtrack album too. I don’t think I had the album on LP. I know I had the CD, from GNP Crescendo (came out in 1990). The early nineties were the peak of my soundtrack enthusiasm. It didn’t survive high school. Though I also started watching a lot more movies then (instead of the same ones over and over); maybe it was a combination of things. I didn’t really have a handle on what I liked about soundtrack albums back then… not to mention I had… collecting problems. Have collecting problems.

2009 Film Score Monthly CD

In 2009, Film Score Monthly put out a “Newly Expanded” edition of the Star Trek II soundtrack with more than twice as many tracks as the original soundtrack release. The expanded edition’s track order matches the film’s order of events, remastered from the film mixes. It’s all the music from the film, not just select arrangements.

But if I’m listening to Star Trek II and not watching Star Trek II… I don’t want to hear all the music. I don’t want short tracks, I want the long ones produced for the soundtrack album. Horner’s able to tell the story of Khan in nine tracks, forty-five minutes. Sure, it’s mostly the action and it leaves out Kirk’s (great) old mope arc, but it’s also grand adventure. The grandest adventure.

I had no idea how to write about James Horner’s Khan score so I watched the movie scenes cut to the original nine soundtrack album tracks (and the album’s jumbled order). I’ve seen film so many times I could still “hear” the now silent dialogue. The experience did not provide a profound new version of Khan. Instead, it was Khan; abbreviated but amplified.

2016 Mondo LP

The original, nine track Wrath of Khan soundtrack is available through music streaming services. The expanded version, which also came out on LP from Mondo, is out of print.

There’s not much like Horner’s Star Trek II score. It’s an integral part of the film’s success, it’s a success on its own, it’s superlative both on its own and as part of the film.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture might have begun “the human adventure” in 1979, but Khan—in no small part thanks to James Horner—guaranteed the Star Trek film adventure would keep going.


The Amazing Spider-Man (2012, Marc Webb)

The Amazing Spider-Man is melodramatic trifle, but not in any sort of bad way. I mean, it doesn’t succeed but it does try a lot. Director Webb really goes for a high school romance, with such saccharine effectiveness it probably ought to be an ominous foreshadowing for leads Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone’s burgeoning romance. Except, although Webb’s going for the melodrama and there’s a sappy, though heroic, and familiar in many parts James Horner score, John Schwartzman’s photography is super flat. It’s unclear if Webb’s messing it up or Schwartzman or some combination; I lean more towards Webb, if only because Schwartzman knows how to light J. Michael Riva’s early seventies style sets and Webb doesn’t know how to shoot them.

If The Amazing Spider-Man were a period piece set in the late sixties, with a lot more for Denis Leary to do in the first half of the film, it could’ve been something. Instead, it’s this weird mushing together of various ideas, from Spider-Man comics, from popular movies, from unpopular movies, probably something from a TV show. Webb and screenwriters James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves throw just about everything in. The heart shows. The film’s enthusiastically sappy.

And it usually works, because the good performances weather occasional weak scenes and subplots and manage to sell the sap. Martin Sheen can sell the sap, so can Denis Leary. It’d help if Rhys Ifans’s could sell it too, but he’s pretty terrible as the de facto villain. The writing on the villain stuff is terrible throughout, but Ifans still isn’t any good in the part. Sheen, Leary, and Ifans make up Garfield’s surrogate father trinity in the film, which should be important but isn’t.

Instead of continuing anything the first act threatens with daddy issues, as soon as the delayed second act is underway, the film quickly veers into mostly unrelated territory. The familiar Spider-Man origin has frequent, small tweaks. Usually so director Webb can avoid the action, but not the Spider-Man in New York stuff. Webb likes that stuff.

But the fighting? Webb’s fumbles it. Even when the special effects are good–which is never with Ifans’s CGI alter ego–Webb doesn’t know what he’s doing. Someone–either Webb, the screenwriters, or just the plain old studio–sets up action scenes ripe for video game realization. The action in the third act is almost like the target demographic is Spider-Man gamers. With the gaudy Horner music and Schwartzman’s flat, “realistic” phtoography, the sequences even amuse. The Amazing Spider-Man goes all out when it’s got an idea, good or bad.

It goes for it for over two hours. It goes for it to the point the narrative has two or three major shifts where previous subplots just get dropped. At some point, the film decides it just wants to set up Garfield as a pretty cool Spider-Man. And then everything builds towards it, sometimes with stupid stuff like C. Thomas Howell inexplicably having an extended cameo, like Tobey Maguire or Nicholas Hammond wouldn’t have been far better.

Great Stan Lee cameo though, during the one time the effects all come together and Webb goes along with it and it all works out. It’s a big high school fight sequence between Garfield’s CGI stand-in and Ifans’s CGI stand-in. It’s just fun, but with some danger. Amazing Spider-Man’s balance of danger to fun is one of its strengths.

The greatest strength, however, is Garfield. He’s socially obtuse and pensive, sympathetic without being lovable, occasionally justified in his insensitivity. And instead of losing his place once he and Stone get involved, Garfield just gets better. The fun flirting just informs later serious concern and chastely suggestive sequences. Especially one where Stone and Leary have this awkward family moment and it’s almost good enough, but Webb fumbles it. Stone and Leary try hard enough they get it to pass… but it should be better.

Like Stone. Stone’s underutilized. More Stone would make it better. But the script’s too busy. There are too many characters crowding Garfield. Stone’s just another one of them; after setting her up for her own character development time and again, the film just keeps cutting her off. It’s got no idea what weight to give to what character. Garfield’s just haphazardly visiting people who should have good subplots, but then they never do.

Despite it having nothing to do with anything, it’s got a pretty good ending. As far as melodramatic trifle goes. With the exception of Ifans and a little Leary, Webb’s good with actors. He relies on Garfield and Stone heavily throughout the film and the epilogue’s got some acknowledgement (even if not enough for Stone.

The Amazing Spider-Man has some heart to it, which helps it immeasurably.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Marc Webb; screenplay by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves, based on a story by Vanderbilt and the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; director of photography, John Schwartzman; edited by Alan Edward Bell, Michael McCusker, and Pietro Scalia; music by James Horner; production designer, J. Michael Riva; produced by Avi Arad, Matt Tolmach, and Laura Ziskin; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Andrew Garfield (Peter Parker), Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy), Sally Field (Aunt May), Rhys Ifans (Dr. Curt Connors), Denis Leary (Captain Stacy), Martin Sheen (Uncle Ben), Irrfan Khan (Rajit Ratha), Chris Zylka (Flash Thompson), and C. Thomas Howell (Jack’s Father).


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Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983, Jack Clayton)

Nothing connects with Something Wicked This Way Comes, though Jonathan Pryce’s performance is probably the closest thing to a complete success. Jason Robards is often quite good, but he’s both protagonist and subject of the film, which neither director Clayton nor writer Ray Bradbury (adapting his own novel) really seem to know how to transition between. Ostensibly, the leads of the film are young teens Vidal Peterson and Shawn Carson, who find their small town threatened by Pryce’s demonic carnival owner. But they’re just in distress; it’s up to Robards to save them.

Along the way–Something Wicked runs a long ninety-some minutes–strange things happen to the other townsfolk, at least the ones the film has time to introduce in the talky first act. Clayton’s direction is never scary enough, Stephen H. Burum’s photography is never atmospheric enough, and Argyle Nelson Jr. and Barry Mark Gordon’s editing is always problematic. Something Wicked’s target audience is teen boys but the script is about a fifty-something man coming to terms with waiting too long to have a child. If Clayton just went for creepy, it might have all worked out better.

Especially considering all the special effects until the finale are weak. The finale’s special effects are fantastic. They’re not on screen long enough–that editing is always problematic, like I said–but they’re fantastic.

Also unimpressive is James Horner’s score, which occasionally makes the film seem longer, even though it’s not bad. It just doesn’t work. Nothing in Something Wicked works. Except the aforementioned Jonathan Pryce.

The main supporting cast–Mary Grace Canfield, Richard Davalos, Jake Dengel, James Stacy–don’t help things. They’re too obviously contrived, too obviously pragmatic (except Canfield, all of them have shops in a row so it’s easy to introduce them all to both Peterson and Robards). Bradbury’s script treats everyone as a caricature, except maybe Peterson and Robards. Peterson’s performance isn’t good enough–he’s annoying–and Robards gets some lame material. Poor Diane Ladd has nothing to do, except go from being a tragic abandoned wife to a succubus, entertaining men while son Carson sleeps unawares upstairs.

Pam Grier shows up as one of Pryce’s minions and makes an impression thanks to some solid costumes and terrible special effects, but her few lines aren’t memorable. Same goes for Ellen Geer’s character, mother to Peterson, wife to Robards. Something Wicked’s characters ought to have some interesting backstory, but they just don’t. It doesn’t help whenever Bradbury tries to bring it up, he just goes with blocks of expository dialogue.

The film suffered studio tinkering, but it’s hard to imagine they broke things too much. Something Wicked’s pieces simply don’t add up to anything. It’s a shame, because the production values are great and there’s excellent potential for Robards’s performance. And Pryce’s good, regardless.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Clayton; screenplay by Ray Bradbury, based on his novel; director of photography, Stephen H. Burum; edited by Argyle Nelson Jr. and Barry Mark Gordon; music by James Horner; production designer, Richard Macdonald; produced by Peter Douglas; released by Buena Vista Distribution Company.

Starring Vidal Peterson (Will Halloway), Shawn Carson (Jim Nightshade), Jason Robards (Charles Halloway), Jonathan Pryce (Mr. Dark), Ellen Geer (Mrs. Halloway), Diane Ladd (Mrs. Nightshade), Royal Dano (Tom Fury), Mary Grace Canfield (Miss Foley), Richard Davalos (Mr. Crosetti), Jake Dengel (Mr. Tetley), James Stacy (Ed) and Pam Grier (The Dust Witch).


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