- Composed by James Horner
- La-La Land Records / 2010 / 100m
Spare a thought for the six-year-old James Southall. (If you don’t know who James Southall is, don’t worry – it’s not too important – but at the same time, go boil your head.) In his second year of school, it’s the Christmas holiday, and his dad has taken him to the cinema for what is undoubtedly the most exciting thing that’s ever happened – it’s time to see Return of the Jedi, bound to be simply magnificence, a cinematic experience – indeed, a life experience – with few parallels. The car – a pale green Vauxhall Cavalier, since you asked – is parked. Little James pulls at his dad’s hand, eager to get to the cinema as quickly as possible to get the best seat. “No need to rush, it doesn’t start for another ninety minutes,” reassures dad. They turn the corner… and see the queue leading out from the cinema door, going round the corner next to Mr Singh’s shop, stretching further into the distance – it looks like it goes down just past the fish and chip shop, The Fish Plaice, and then double-backs on itself! This must be the largest gathering of people the town of Walsall has ever seen. At least 300,000 people are standing in this queue. The cinema manager walks outside to have a look for himself. Dad asks him what showing he thinks we’ll see if we join the back of the queue. “Well, the first one’s at 12, then there’s 3, then 6 – they’ll all be full – you might get in at nine o’clock.” James emits what can only be described as a meek whimper before looking down at his shoes and trying to fight off the tears. “Don’t worry, we can see something else today and come back another day for Return of the Jedi.” Dad turns to the manager again. “What’s on Screen 2?” “Krull.” “Don’t tell me, there’s a four-hour wait to see that as well?” “No, actually it’s starting in a couple of minutes and nobody’s bought a ticket yet.” “Sounds great! Come on James, I’m sure it will be just as good as Return of the Jedi.”
James may have only been six but he was still sceptical when he heard that remark. Still, the open-mindedness which would become such a lauded trait later in life was already in force, so he was willing to give it a go – especially since someone else was paying. A few minutes after the film began, it became rather clear to the discerning young filmgoer that Krull was not, in fact, just as good as Return of the Jedi was bound to be. Neither father nor son considered the film likely to trouble the compilers of books about great films of 1983, though James did think that if someone compiled a book about films released during 1983 beginning with the letter K and featuring a bloke throwing a rotating star, it might get in there. This memory is in fact the first memory James Southall has of going to the cinema – so traumatic, it has stuck – and I can now reveal that the James Southall of this story is none other than the James Southall writing this review, thirty years later. Coincidence or what?
James Horner was thrust straight to the film music A-list in 1982 with his spectacular score for Star Trek II, so when Columbia Pictures came along and made Krull – an incredibly odd, badly-acted meld of action, science fiction, fantasy and even a little horror – he was the natural choice to score it, particularly since he was presumably a lot cheaper than John Williams or Jerry Goldsmith at the time. And from somewhere, Horner watched this wretched film and it inspired him to write what remains after all this time one of his most extraordinary works, one of the most wonderful film scores of its or any other time.
The score’s centrepiece is the unbelievable, sensational “Ride of the Firemares” – a cue which instantly explodes into life, presenting the score’s main theme – incredibly long-lined, incredibly fluid – in spectacular style, going through sweeping strings, clarion calls from the trumpets, building to a rousing fanfare introduces a passage of darker action, darting string runs combined with ridiculously florid brass figures, then a nobler horn figure emerges to close the piece. Film music has rarely got so exciting.
“The Slayers Attack” introduces a secondary theme, a love theme which is as sweeping as they come, a simply outstanding melody which swoops and swoons in equal measure, interrupted suddenly after a couple of minutes by a sudden jolt of excitement as our romantic heroes’ wedding is rudely interrupted by invading aliens (that old story again!) Horner heralds their arrival with some descending synth figures over some brassy action that’s clearly evoking Korngold, reflecting director Peter Yates’s attempts to make the film as if it’s an outer-space Adventures of Robin Hood or something. These two styles continue to battle one another over the course of the lengthy (nine-minute) cue, the love theme taking on a grand, epic quality when the composer adds a pipe organ just as you think it couldn’t possibly be beefed up any more than it already was. You even get to hear the Wolfen/Klingon/Aliens motif, briefly, but it’s built so well into the flow of the action you might not even notice. Indeed, the way Horner navigates between the romance and the action, building the piece up to a spectacularly dark conclusion, with disturbing male choral effects, highlights just how strongly structured his music is – there’s a flow to it that’s so natural as he very forcefully drags the film along from one place to another, it’s just a joy to hear such strong technique.
“The Widow’s Web” takes a diversion away from the melodic territory. Quicker than you can say “Khan’s Pets”, an array of fairly subtle orchestral dissonance is replaced by far-from-subtle cacophonous outbursts from both orchestra and choir, the pipe organ back again to add to the grandeur as the dastardly giant spider is revealed. It’s fantastical, evocative, ultimately soaring music that once again offers an unending parade of thrills. “Colwyn and Lyssa”, recorded just for the album, extends the glorious love theme heard earlier in “The Slayers Attack” into a full concert piece. It’s beautiful. “Battle on the Parapets” is another exciting piece of action, a briefer one this time, that offers more brassy heroic versions of the main theme’s fanfare. Another major theme is introduced in “The Widow’s Lullaby”, harmonically related to the main love theme but going off in a different direction, particularly with the unusually high-register female choir is heard; then Horner cleverly blends the themes together, the familiar love theme eventually soaring forth in rapturous fashion.
The absolute action highlight is the astonishing finale, the grandly-titled “The Death of the Beast and the Destruction of the Black Fortress”, eight-and-a-half minutes of film music bliss which sees Horner go on one of his balletic flights of through-composed fancy, brassy outbursts stridently leading the way with colour from the choir, energetic runs from the soaring strings and evocative flurries from the winds. Again, it’s the structural might of the cue that impresses most – very few film composers could pull off such a lengthy action sequence and make it sound like concert music (leave your snarky Prokofiev comments to one side, please) – it’s just brilliance from start to finish. And you don’t even have chance to catch your breath before there’s another chance to hear the glorious main theme in the end titles piece.
Krull has received several CD releases over the years. In 1987, Southern Cross issued the 45-minute LP programme; the same label expanded that to 79 minutes in a 1992 release. Then in 1998, Super Tracks remastered it and released the complete score on a 93-minute double album. Finally (so far), La-La Land added a couple of bonus cues for their 100-minute 2010 release. The whole score is wonderful but for my money you can’t beat the original programme, so I’ve taken the pristine sound of the La-La release and edited it down to the original running order (which is what I’ve described in my commentary above). In truth, the complete score doesn’t feature a dull moment itself, but the gargantuan length precludes such frequent listens as music like this deserves (unless you have an unusual amount of time available, of course). Still – however you listen – I say with the straightest of faces that Krull must be considered as one of the most invigorating, breathlessly exciting experiences in film music history. It stands alongside Star Trek II at the pinnacle of James Horner’s achievements – a work of borderline genius which demands a place in any film music collection. It encapsulates what is, for me, what film music is all about – emotion, excitement, adventure, dramatic and emotional thrust – and does it in the most spectacularly accomplished compositional way, aided by the constant sense of youthful vigour (Horner was, incredibly, still in his 20s when he stood in front of the London Symphony Orchestra conducting this music). A masterpiece.