Sean Wilson remembers one of film music’s great dramatists James Horner with his instrumentally varied and beautiful disaster movie score…
Chilean mining drama The 33 may have generated mixed reviews, not least for its oddly international cast including Spain’s Antonio Banderas, France’s Juliette Binoche and Ireland’s Gabriel Byrne. However, it’s notable for being one of the final films scored by late, great composer James Horner. Here are five tracks reinforcing the loss a singularly brilliant musical talent.
1) The Atacama Desert
Horner’s flair with ethnic and regionally specific textures becomes immediately apparent in this exotic opening track, one that establishes the movie’s physical landscape with his customary finesse. Subdued strings, woodwinds and electronics anticipate the disaster to come whilst striking pan flutes possess a suitably earthy and authentic air. It’s a reminder not only of his acclaimed works like Legends of the Fall but also more underrated scores such as Thunderheart.
2) The Collapse
Befitting the movie’s subject matter, Horner also knows how to crank up the musical tension when necessary. Memories of his brutally exciting, Oscar nominated 1986 classic Aliens resound through this crucial piece, frantic strings and percussion going full bore and ramping up the terror of the movie’s cave-in sequence brilliantly.
3) Drilling, The Sweetest Sound!
Amidst The 33‘s tapestry of darkness and light, anguish and hope, this track stands as one of the most beautiful, an unexpectedly joyful piece utilising a traditional Andean instrument known as the quena (a form of flute that, in places, has an unexpectedly Celtic tone about it). The vibrant melody is reminiscent of innumerable Horner classics including Titanic.
4) First Ascent
Horner was formidably adept at forming mini narratives within each of his tracks and this climactic piece showcases his skill perfectly. As the rescue operation begins, the music proceeds from tentative optimism to full-blooded hope, mirroring the emotional progression of the movie’s characters as they undertake the incredibly dangerous operation to escape the collapsed mine once and for all.
In typical Horner fashion, all the prior build-up, all the steady application of atmosphere and mood is fully unleashed in this stirring finale, one that acts as the musical equivalent of an outpouring of breath. Continually rooted in the musical textures of the region, thereby never losing sight of the people at the heart of the drama, Horner’s blend of the grandiose and the intimate is a powerful reminder of his talent.
Sean Wilson is a film reviewer, soundtrack enthusiast and avid tea drinker. If all three can be combined at the same time, all is good with the world.