Spider-Man: No Way Home

Composed by Michael Giacchino

Spider-Man: No Way Home is the only Hollywood blockbuster this year to have actually made a solid profit. There are many factors, ranging from a Christmas-time release to the noticeable lack of unnecessary and sanctimonious political and social statements in cast and crew interviews. The largest factor, however, is the premise in which a tear in the multiverse allows Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Men, as well as many of their villains, to come in for a crossover extravaganza. This all comes about when Peter Parker (the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Tom Holland one), having been outed as Spider-Man by Mysterio, tries to convince Dr. Strange to cast a spell that will re-conceal his identity. This will help his friends and family, who are also struggling with the fallout of his identity reveal. Of course something goes wrong and various villains enter the universe. Now Spidey and pals need to gather the villains so they can be sent back to their proper universes. Things get even more complicated as events unfold. In the midst of a creatively floundering Marvel Cinematic Universe, this movie was a shining star. The film is full of logical head scratchers and some inconsistencies in how certain villains from the Garfield and Maguire movies are portrayed. But the end result corrects some of the issues with the latest Spider-Man iteration. No Way Home remembers that Spider-Man works best when Peter Parker’s non-superhero life suffers from his heroics.

The crossover nature of the film sparked much interest in Giacchino’s score. Many were hoping for references to Danny Elfman, James Horner, and perhaps Hans Zimmer’s contributions to the Spider-Man films. There are references to all three composers, but they are surprisingly sparse and several don’t make it onto album. Fortunately Giacchino is a master in his own right and brings several retuning and new themes to the table. This is perhaps the most consistent of the MCU scores in terms of linking to other films. First onto the old themes, which people were more excited to hear. “Shield of Pain” is the one that will generate the most nostalgia buzz. James Horner’s Spider-Man theme appears at the 1:12 mark while Danny Elfman’s Responsibility theme comes in right afterwards. Giacchino does not reference Elfman’s actual main Spider-Man theme, opting to use his Responsibility theme in the aforementioned moment and in one unreleased cue. It should be noted that many of Elfman’s mannerisms are carried over to Giacchino’s own Spider-Man theme. These include urban percussion and more gloriously the ascending choir that graced the final swinging scenes of the first two Sam Raimi films. Continue reading

Glory (1989)

Composed by James Horner

Edward Zwick’s 1989 historical drama Glory tells the story of the 54th Massachusetts, one of the first black regiments of the Civil War. It might be the best Civil War film out there, with the emotional hook of seeing blacks overcome prejudice by proving themselves men through military service. The battle scenes are among the most accurate in Civil War films (thanks to the director’s careful attempts to select extras and reenactors that look like actual soldiers). This film is also held up by some top-notch acting from the likes of Morgan Freeman, Matthew Broderick, and a wide range of talent. It definitely put a lot of eyes on Denzel Washington and got him an Academy Award. It’s not entirely accurate, as most of the characters are fictional. In fact the 54th Massachusetts was mostly made up of free Northern blacks, but the movie put in a lot of ex-slaves both for dramatic effect and to represent the wide spectrum of the 200,000 black Americans who fought in the war. Another strong aspect of the film is James Horner’s score.

James Horner’s music for Glory is both highly reverential and deeply emotional. The music is dominated by sweeping strings, military drumbeats, and bugles and trumpets for more dramatic military scenery. Of great importance to the score is the Boys Choir of Harlem. It was traditional for composers to seek out highly respected English boy choirs, but Horner believed this film should have an American one. The kids got a paid air ride to California to work on the music and reportedly their scoring sessions with Horner left many of the crew members (including director Zwick) in tears. Horner implements the choir frequently, usually to underscore the noble purpose of the 54th, but also to give “Charging Fort Wagner” a climatic, epic feel. Horner incorporates pieces of period music, usually in the form of fife-and-drum marches. Reviewers have pointed out, sometimes in an accusatory manner, that Horner borrowed classical pieces of music for this score. However, Horner infuses his recreations of classic music with so much of his voice and passion that they still stand out on their own merit. I’ll get to these as I run through the themes and album. The commercial album is a tight 42 minutes. There is some missing material, but most of it is source music and the original compositions are already well represented on album. There also isn’t much in the way of action music which is actually standard for many modern war films but is different for Horner, who would later give the likes of Windtalkers and Enemy at the Gates lengthy and melodramatic action pieces. Continue reading

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock


Composed by James Horner

The third installment of the Star Trek films and the second of the Khan trilogy is a direct sequel to Wrath of Khan. Leonard Nimoy, who planned to exit (spoiler) the franchise with his death in that film ironically found himself inspired to continue on after seeing how great said film was. However, he only returned on the condition that he would get to direct. Search for Spock deals with the fallout of Wrath of Khan. Spock planted some of his thoughts and identity into Dr. McCoy before dying. At the same time the Genesis device has recreated Spock’s body, starting him over as a child. Kirk and friends disobey orders to go to the Genesis planet and restore their friend. However the Klingons are also interested in the effects of the device, leading to some action sequences. For some reason fans listed (some still list) this film as one of the bad Trek films. I find it to actually be a very underrated movie and think it suffers from being sandwiched by Wrath of Khan and The Voyage Home, the two most highly regarded entries in the series.

Leonard Nimoy wanted his friend Leonard Rosenman to provide the score. Paramount did not allow this, insisting that James Horner return. This resulted in a score that had strong continuity with the previous entry, perhaps too much continuity. Horner doesn’t really create much in the way of new themes. The freshness of the score comes more from new orchestrations of his constructions from Wrath of Khan. Horner always had the uncanny ability to lift his themes and motifs from previous movies but somehow make them stand out in a new setting (he did something similar with the Zorro films). That being said there are portions of the Search for Spock that retread familiar ground. The biggest sinner in this regard is the end credits suite, which is an exact copy of Wrath of Khan’s. Continue reading