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Cocoon: The Return
  • Composed by James Horner
  • Varèse Sarabande / 2016 / 71m

Ron Howard’s Cocoon was an unexpected runaway success in 1985, its simple story about a group of elderly residents (Don Ameche, Wilfrid Brimley, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy et al) of a care home being given a new lease of life and vigour by some visiting aliens really capturing audiences’ attentions.  A sequel appeared three years later, with Daniel Petrie in the director’s chair and the first film’s characters returning home from their trip away with the aliens and agonising over whether to stay or go.  The film was much more a character piece and wasn’t nearly as successful.

James Horner wrote one of his most wonderful scores for the first film.  He combined some elements of the science fiction scores with which he really made his name in the years beforehand with a beautifully-judged sense of magic and wonder and perhaps for the first time he wrote the kind of score with which he will be forever associated, a succession of lengthy through-composed cues with one thing in mind – tugging at the heart-strings.  And tug they most certainly did, with great success.  He once stated that he considered it his finest score and it’s easy to understand why – I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s surely his warmest and most magical.

James Horner

James Horner

For Cocoon: The Return the composer found himself scoring a sequel to one of his own films for only the second time.  On his second Star Trek movie he had developed and further explored his first score, adding plenty of new material, but his approach here was essentially simply to adapt his first Cocoon score and make it fit the new film, offering very little truly new material.  Given how magical that score was, inevitably that results in a score (and album) that taken on its own terms is terrific – but it does lose just a little of the effortlessly natural fluidity that graced its predecessor and it’s hard to imagine that anyone would think this is anything other than something that’s almost as good as the first score but not quite.

Three outstanding themes graced Cocoon and of course each returns here, often playing off each other and after one another as they did then (the first score’s “Theme from Cocoon” put them together so well and is an essential member of any Horner playlist).  Whimsical, graceful, beautiful, shamelessly (and gloriously) manipulative, the melodic content is just sublime.  There’s a playful side too, though that’s dialled down a bit for the sequel – even so, a cue like “First Break-In” (which is new to this deluxe edition) is great fun.  “Growing Old” is just gorgeous, so wistful; and “Joe’s Gift” probably the pick of the arrangements of the first score’s music, the themes being interwoven so delicately, the nostalgic feel so warm and fuzzy, especially when the lilting acoustic guitar kicks in.  There’s some gentle big band music in a few cues, most notably “Basketball Swing”, the legendary Billy May’s arrangement making it sound like a standard (in fact the melody is so familiar-sounding, perhaps it is a standard).

The lovely “The Ascension” cue here is even longer than the first score’s at eleven minutes (one of many lengthy cues on the album) and is as lovely as anything and the finale “Returning Home” is a variant on “Theme from Cocoon” which is of course also great.  Cocoon: The Return is really lovely music, but you really have heard it all before – one of those rare cases of a sequel score being so similar to its predecessor that it’s hard to really know whether it’s worth having or not, good though it undoubtedly is.  Taken purely in isolation (which of course in practice it can’t be) it really is great but is anyone who has the first score in their collection really going to listen to this instead?  The expanded edition adds about twenty minutes of extra music, all of which is just as good as what was already there.

Rating: ****

Also see: Cocoon James Horner | |

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  1. connor (Reply) on Thursday 7 April, 2016 at 04:26

    “Basketball Swing” is identical to “Cafe Swing” from betteries not included, but other than that I found the original material here to be pretty warm and listenable! The reused material is a bit underwhelming for me though