Classic Movie Themes: Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan
James Horner was a prolific, yet consistently good composer with a broad range of styles. Consider his score for 48 Hrs with its Jazz under currents and then compare it to his grand swashbuckling approach to Krull. They are radically different soundtracks, but both are extremely effective in embellishing their respective motion pictures. That was James Horner great talent. He knew when to be theatrical and bombastic but could also dial it back and be subtle, gentle and delicate. It made his body of work very diverse and memorable.
James Horner, although possessing a very broad and eclectic musical range, was in many respects a very traditional composer. He was certainly au fait with works of such giants as Miklós Rózsa, Korngold and Bernard Herrmann and it often manifested itself in his music through his use of the leitmotif. Perhaps the reason James Horner was so consistently good and crafted so many outstanding pieces of music, is because he never saw his profession as just a means to an end. As he said in an interview once, “I don’t look at this as just a job. I see music as art”.
James Horner was very much part of my cinematic youth, having written the soundtracks for many of my favourite movies. I first encountered his work when I saw Battle Beyond the Stars and was immediately captivated by its bold and brass driven title theme. It was this particular soundtrack that brought him to the attention of Paramount Studios and led to him composing his seminal score for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan with its graceful nautical themes. The film's director Nicholas Meyer famously quipped that Horner had been hired because the studio couldn't afford to use the first film's composer Jerry Goldsmith again. By the time Meyer returned to the franchise with Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, the director found that he couldn't afford Horner either.