- Composed by James Horner
- Varèse Sarabande / 2012 / 78:25
Famed visual effects supremo Dean Wright’s directorial début For Greater Glory tells of the struggle of Catholics in Mexico in the early decades of the 20th century against attempts by the state to combat the influence of the religion in Mexican life. With some familiar faces in the cast (including Andy Garcia and Eva Longoria, and the legendary Peter O’Toole) it was probably hoped to be a kind of sleeper hit; but it wasn’t, with mixed reviews and very little box office to speak of outside Mexico itself.
For the music, James Horner continued his recent habit of scoring only films that really appeal to him rather than just scoring the kind of blockbusters that dominated his filmography a few years ago. This type of film seems right up his street – the opportunity to score sweeping drama, write big themes, bring ethnic touches – and his score is just what you might expect, with long-lined themes put through advanced levels of development, an emphasis always on emotion, the orchestra joined by guitars and ethnic flutes. But the worst of Horner is here too – there is widespread repetition of music from earlier scores. I often find myself defending Horner against these charges – by and large he is no worse than any other major film composer and indeed rather better than some – but every now and again he pulls one of these scores out of the bag and frankly it’s hard to say much in his defence. Your enjoyment of the score will likely depend almost entirely on your tolerance for the musical recycling – I’ve read many people, even staunch Horner fans, express their dismay at this score and say they just can’t enjoy it. On the other hand, few could deny the actual quality of the music itself. So – you have been warned.
The score opens with the portentous “Entre La Luz y El Pecado”, notable for its vocal performances (a distinguishing feature of the score); at first the theme is heard in a vocal version (with lyrics) sung by Clara Sanabras before later being taken up by children’s choir. It’s an enjoyable theme, the vocal arrangements are something new for Horner (as is the melody). The second main theme is introduced in “We’re Cristeros Now”, full of hispanic flair thanks to its guitars, flamenco trumpet and some ethnic winds; there’s a playful air to it and again it’s delightful. The third main theme is the one that will have people groaning – Horner introduces it in “Goro and Tula”. It’s romantic, sweeping, with that epic lyricism that the composer does so well. It’s quite ravishingly attractive; and it’s also the main theme to The Four Feathers. Ah well.
The second track, “The Death of Padre Christopher”, represents Horner at his absolute best, ten minutes of sweep and power and emotion. And the four-note danger motif. Horner’s calling card is in fact out in full force throughout this score, playing its part in almost every track and being a cornerstone of the considerable amount of action music. To be honest I don’t mind the frequent reuse of that motif so much; it’s only a little melodic fragment and it works very effectively. You could find chord progressions from Miklós Rózsa or Alfred Newman used just as frequently by those composers in their scores and few have a bad word to say about that (and while we’re on the subject, Newman in particular was not above using the same thematic material in multiple scores either). Perhaps less successful is the three-note descending phrase laden with doom and used almost as frequently throughout this score; it’s a bit too clichéd and often sounds somehow too murky, particularly when played against the fresh-sounding choral music.
Perhaps what attracts me most to Horner’s music is his ability to infuse it with such a massive scope; despite the familiarity of the melodic material, the epic sweep of “Men Will Fire Bullets, But God Decides Where They Land” is immense, so much so that I find myself drawn towards it fully in the knowledge that there are various people out there who would take one listen to it and reel off the list of previous Horner scores it draws from. (If you’re in that camp, do not even think of buying this album!) The epic feeling continues into much of the action music – the use of choir in “Ambush” is brilliant, ditto the guitar. It’s a piece as full of flavour as it is thrills. The pomp continues in “A Bullet on the Floor”, which has echoes of the composer’s action scores of the 1990s (and a large hint of The Missing). Snares carry the score’s main theme forward in continued sweeping style in the wonderful “Jose’s Martyrdom”. Probably the pick of the action comes in the eight-minute “Cristeros”, thrilling from start to finish; and as usual Horner brings his main themes together brilliantly in the lengthy end title cue.
Even if you can get over all the familiar music – and as well as that already mentioned, there are passages here either minor or major from Avatar, Braveheart, Glory and The Legend of Zorro, and quite possibly others too – there’s about twenty minutes of music in the central section of the album which adds very little and prevents it from being near the level of Horner’s previous two scores, the superb Black Gold and The Amazing Spider-Man. And, of course, there’s no getting away from the fact that I’ve named a long list of previous scores that can be heard in some way or other in this one. So it’s fairly sheepishly that I must say that I can still derive so much pleasure from this album – the composer’s sense of drama is so acute, the quality of composition so high. You’ll know where you fit on the “Horner forgiveness” scale; and that should be the driving force behind any purchasing decision.
Rating: *** 1/2