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*batteries not included
  • Composed by James Horner
  • MCA Records / 1987 / 46m

The brief old-people-and-aliens craze that swept Hollywood in the mid 1980s saw Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn stake their claim on the genre with great force, *batteries not included appearing in 1987 sandwiched between Cocoon and its sequel.  It wasn’t as good as Ron Howard’s movie – but at least was better than the sequel.  Steven Spielberg produced it and it was made very much in his style, clearly not approaching the heights of his own movies of the time but certainly not without its charms.

Just as Tandy and Cronyn were the actors in common between the film, James Horner was the composer of choice and (not unsurprisingly) he took a similar approach to each of them, with his charming and heartwarming orchestral music mixed with big band swing.  Cocoon is one of his very best scores and *batteries not included is not in that league, but it has an endearing quality to it and makes for an entertaining and engaging album.

James Horner

James Horner

It begins with swing music for the main title.  As noted, Horner had already done that for Cocoon and he would go on to do it in not just in Cocoon: The Return but also Once Around and Swing Kids.  Most of the swing music in the latter was actually recordings of old standards and I have to say that the tracks credited to Horner on this score (and the others) sound so authentic – complete with arrangement by the legendary Billy May – that I wonder if these are actually original pieces.  It wouldn’t be a surprise if not, but in any case they’re very enjoyable and this main title is no exception.  Interestingly, it segues seamlessly into (and later out of) some orchestral underscore within the same cue, which has a slightly spooky quality to it, much more tentative than the outright wonder that blessed Cocoon until the closing bars of the piece, when magic suddenly appears in the air.

“Night Visitors” is the score’s longest track at almost nine minutes and also one of the most impressive.  Very gentle music for winds and piano dominates the opening section, strings tip-toeing in and out, before orchestral effects (and very subtle electronics) are used for the mysterious visitors, playfully but quietly dancing around.  There’s a theme (more a little motif, really) for the aliens heard in smatterings through the piece which is very lovely.

“Hamburger Rhumba” opens with a delightfully playful melody for strings before going into the rhumba itself.  And if you’re not familiar with the melody from the composer’s later use of it as the main theme for The Land Before Time then perhaps you’ll be familiar with it since it’s actually by Prokofiev, but as ever Horner makes it sound very much his own.  “New Babies” is a lovely piece (again wearing its inspiration rather openly), with the first real heartwarming music in the score, sentimental and quite delightfully playful.

“Cafe Swing” is another wonderful Glenn Miller impersonation before the score gets going again in “Times Square and Farewell”, which offers a chance for Horner to explore the score’s main material in a bit more depth, and offer some of the most sweeping moments, but it does go off all over the place, very unusually for this composer, ideas coming and going so fast that a little focus feels missing.  The cues moves through some lilting, heartwarming melodies but there’s also a bit of action and right at the end, a blast of dissonance so unexpected it’s actually rather shocking.  That leads into “Arson”, a long and interesting piece, which goes through moments of genuine darkness but along the way there is warmth too, a tangible sense of mystery, and even one or two moments of swing.

The album ends with another long cue, “New Family”, the highlight of which is the lengthiest presentation of the warm main theme, where it comes closest to the magic of Cocoon.  Like much of the rest of the score, there is a lot going on, lots of little moments which Horner does his best to join coherently – and while it serves the film of course, on album it does seem a pity that he wasn’t able to just play some of them out for a bit longer.  That lowers the whole thing down a notch or two, but it’s still very nice music.  The CD was extremely rare for a long time (and still is) but the album has now been released digitally in the usual places so the music is very easy to come by.

Rating: *** 1/2 | |

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  1. connor (Reply) on Thursday 23 July, 2015 at 22:29

    It’s an ok little score but it’s hard to listen to once you’ve heard the material he took here and reused elsewhere. The jazzy theme was modified for Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, the theme for the aliens (appearing at 4:20 in “Night Visitors”) is used almost verbatim as a theme in Once Upon a Forest, and the “Cafe Swing” is translated to “Basketball Swing” in Cocoon: The Return

    I love Horner and forgive him a lot of his borrowings but this score is a frustrating collection of pieces to come

  2. Cindylover1969 (Reply) on Friday 24 July, 2015 at 05:53

    “As noted, Horner had already done that for Cocoon and he would go on to do it in not just in Cocoon: The Return but also Once Around and Swing Kids”

    If Horner did write any original swing music for “Swing Kids,” none of it is on the soundtrack album.

  3. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Friday 24 July, 2015 at 08:17

    Connor, it hardly seems to make sense to get frustrated with this score on the grounds that later scores borrow from it…wouldn’t it make more sense to get frustrated with the later scores?

  4. Luc Van der Eeken (Reply) on Sunday 21 October, 2018 at 10:33

    I think you should re-review this one, James. The 2-Cd-set from Intrada finally gives this score the credit it deserves. It’s a beauty.

  5. jerrygo (Reply) on Saturday 16 February, 2019 at 09:28

    „batteries not included“ was one of the best score’s of James Horner. The music and sound quality of the 2CD’s Intrada producing is outstanding. Absolutely a 5 stars rating!