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The Amazing Spider-Man
  • Composed by James Horner
  • Sony Classical / 2012 / 76:53

It seems that less and less time passes before the comic book franchises get rebooted these days.  It’s probably just my imagination, but I’m sure there are limited edition soundtrack releases that last longer than the gap between the openings of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and Sony’s new reboot, directed by the appropriately-named Marc Webb and starring Andrew Garfield.  I daresay that by the time the bananas I just bought have ripened, I’ll be writing a review of the next reboot (but unless my school friend Phil Arachnid directs it, it won’t have a more appropriately-named director than this one).

Since Danny Elfman’s wonderful scores for Raimi’s first two Spidey films, the world of scoring comic book characters has undergone a Hans Zimmer-inspired sea change.  Out have gone colourful themes, out has gone outward expression of musical emotion; in has come a lot of texture and a whole load of angst.  It seems that having a man dress in a colourful costume go round performing gravity-defying feats of crime-busting is absolutely fine, but accompanying him with any hint of melody while doing so – well, that would just sound silly.  It is therefore a huge surprise to find James Horner attached to The Amazing Spider-Man – quite apart from the fact that it’s a complete departure from his usual earnest Oscar-bait-but-no-Oscar fare (and according to one interview he took quite some convincing by his friend Webb to take the film on), the fact that he’s an old-school film composer – the kind that film critics just love to hate these days, daring to inject music that actually has something to say into films – it’s a surprise to find him here.

James Horner

As it turns out, Horner’s score is indeed very old-school – a throwback to those pre-Batman Begins days – so I imagine listeners will fall into one of two camps – some will punch the air in delight at the emergence of what they will see as “proper film music” getting a chance to shine in a film like this – others will shake their heads at how old-fashioned it all is.  Guess which camp I’m putting my tent up in.  (My shoulder’s come out of its socket, I’ve punched the air with such force.)  There’s something in this score that has been absent for so long from any of these films – a proper, rounded, developed character theme.  Its noble heraldry is a joy when first revealed over the opening credits, a joy when it blasts triumphantly from murkier passages in the action sequences, a joy when Horner uses it as the basis for several key dramatic set pieces but takes it off in unexpected directions.

One of those directions comes in the love theme – closely linked melodically and harmonically to the main theme, the piece – heard briefly in “Young Peter” at the start of the album, developed over the course of several cues until finally being revealed in full in the late “Rooftop Kiss” and allowed to soar over the end credits – it’s not like anything I’ve heard in one of these films before, so genuinely touching and loving, particularly in its solo piano form.  And so closely-linked are so many of the melodic lines in the score – even “The Equation” with its surprising, gentle guitar strumming – the whole thing feels so organic, one big well-thought-through whole rather than a series of individual pieces.

Needless to say, most of the score is straight orchestral, but there are electronics from time to time.  Horner actually tries to sound a bit Elfmanish at times with the electronics – he doesn’t pull it off as well as Elfman himself, but neither does he embarrass himself.  More surprising are some of the other effects – an odd feel of West Side Story emerges from the finger-cracking of the slightly misjudged comedy of “Playing Basketball”, a feeling that grows even stronger in the dance rhythms of “Rumble in the Subway”.  Something very strange beckons in the latter stages of “Ben’s Death”, with some hulky masculine chanting which I can only describe as sounding like the Village People – everybody is, indeed, kung fu fighting.  And I have to report that it is a little bit frightening.  Fortunately it doesn’t last long.

There isn’t much strange about the action music – and there’s a lot of it.  Powerful, brassy, it’s stirring stuff.  The swirling strings of “Metamorphosis” which lead into one of the grandest performances of the main theme certainly count as a highlight.  “The Bridge” introduces a hint or two of dissonance, along with some interesting vocal effects (no Village People in sight).  But the stars are the 14-minute trio of “Lizard at School”, “Saving New York” and “Oscorp Tower” which make up the explosive finale.  The way Horner ploughs such a dynamically fluid route through such a lengthy period of uninterrupted action without the attention even once threatening to wane is truly impressive; I doubt that an extended period of thrills like this has been heard for a while.  The music goes through a gamut of emotions – an ever-changing, carefully-managed mixture of light and dark, always with an acute sense of forward momentum – a mixture of hair-raising thrills with heartfelt feelings.  It’s the stuff of a master film composer at  work.  But – while it’s a great, all-too-rare treat to have a proper end titles cue at the end – the lengthy “I Can’t See You Any More” which separates it from the explosive action may be an impressive composition in its own right, but feels like it slows things down a little too much on album.

Any film composer who has notched up well over a hundred scores (as James Horner has) will almost inevitably offer up some familiar-sounding parts in any new work.  Because of his reputation, this particular film composer will of course come under greater scrutiny.  I am surprised – and pleased – to report that while there are a few recognisable faces from the past, the music here mostly sounds fresh and new.  The greatest surprise of all is that Horner resisted the temptation to depict the film’s villainy with his patented four-note “danger motif”.  This is in fact the first score of his in a very long time (that I can remember, in any case) that doesn’t feature that oh-so-familiar musical phrase at all.  (If you ask me, Horner should be given some sort of Special Achievement Oscar for managing to write a score without it.)

I predict a really mixed reaction to this one.  Those who have become completely attuned to the modern ways (or indeed never even knew the previous ones) will probably find it as strange that a film like The Amazing Spider-Man could contain music like this as I find it strange that a film like Iron Man could contain its laughable attempt at music.  I daresay various reviews of the film will direct predictably cretinous venom at Horner for putting such heart-on-sleeve music in a film in 2012.  If the film does well then perhaps – just perhaps – coupled with Alan Silvestri’s own admirably old-fashioned score for the phenomenally successful The Avengers – we might see a bit of a turning point.  I won’t hold my breath; instead I’ll offer the vacuous quip that Horner has spun a tantalising web here, one which doesn’t work absolutely throughout the gargantuan run time of the album, but which feels like a three-course-meal in a world mostly serving up McScores.  ****

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  1. Joel G (Reply) on Monday 11 June, 2012 at 22:24

    Great review, James, a blast to read, and nice to get a more extended treatment. Needless to say, this review just made my day (well, until I go see Prometheus tonight…). I always had high hopes for this assignment, but also some reasonable apprehension about how Horner’s usually set-in-stone styles might fit into this new genre in this day and age. The samples were promising, but also a bit confusing. Your words are very encouraging, and I can’t wait to hear the score in context of the fim!

  2. orion_mk3 (Reply) on Monday 11 June, 2012 at 22:32

    Good job getting an advance copy of the score! I’m glad to read that things worked out so well for the score, especially given how much pressure there must be in the industry to go the other way. Should we expect an Avengers review in the near term?

  3. Ligno Vitae (Reply) on Monday 11 June, 2012 at 22:41

    An excellent review; very funny yet also very insightful. I’m glad to see that this score is similar in quality to Elfman’s own superb efforts. I’m still not going to watch the film but I will definitely be buying this score.

  4. Craig Richard Lysy (Reply) on Monday 11 June, 2012 at 23:28

    A fine review James and just what I had hoped for! Now if we could only get a CD release for For Greater Glory I would be VERY happy!

    All the best!

  5. Matt C. (Reply) on Tuesday 12 June, 2012 at 04:53

    Awesome review! I am very pleased to hear that James Horner delivered. I thoroughly enjoyed “Black Gold” and I literally cannot wait to get my copy of “The Amazing Spiderman”!
    Like Craig, I also eagerly anticipate a CD album release for “For Greater Glory”. Have you heard any buzz about one? I have googled and checked every major record company’s website nearly every other day and still nothing…
    Thanks again!

  6. Kalman (Reply) on Tuesday 12 June, 2012 at 07:32

    It’s good to read that Horner delivered a great score. I’ve been hoping he would do so since I first heard about him scoring the film.
    But I have to tell you I’m just as much looking forward to Zimmer’s new Dark Knight score as I’m looking forward Horner’s Spidey score. While I agree with most of your comments about modern film scoring I feel that Zimmer’s – and Howard’s – effort on the two Batman movies was great.

  7. OB (Reply) on Tuesday 12 June, 2012 at 09:14

    I have not been a fan of Horner for years. With rare exception, his scores have been half-assed, mimicking repeats of his prior work… and in some cases, he didn’t even bother to mask the fact that he’s ripping himself off… bothering only to change a single note or perhaps a chord structure, as in his use of the 6 note refrain used initially in his score for “48 Hrs.,” and repeated note for note in later films like “Patriot Games” and “A Clear and Present Danger,” or his lifting of whole cues from “Thunderheart” and placing them haphazardly into “Legends of the Fall.” Hell, “Avatar” even uses those same notes as well as that of his previous collaboration with Cameron… “Titanic.” He reuses chunks of his score from “Aliens” in the Clancey films as well.

    So synonymous with hackery has he become, that he has worked less and less over the years. Look, I know that all great artists lift from those who inspire them… Whether it be a director, composer or a chef at a top notch restaurant, but there’s a huuuuge difference between mimicry as a form of flattery and outright repetition and theft… and it’s all the more egregious if you’re not even stealing from other great artist, but recycling your own work!!

    I give Horner all the credit in the world for “Sneakers” and “Field of Dreams.” Even “A Beautiful Mind” has flashes of brilliance, but too often, Horner is merely repeating himself… And so when I saw that he was scoring this, my excitement level tanked.

    Your review sounds interesting, and I’ll give it a spin, but my expectations are super-low as Horner is pretty much the biggest hack in the biz right now.


    • James Southall (Reply) on Tuesday 12 June, 2012 at 11:33

      ON – I wouldn’t even bother with Spider-Man if I were you!

  8. […] The Amazing Spider-Man Primera review del score completo **** The Amazing Spider-Man soundtrack review | James Horner | […]

  9. Kasper (Reply) on Tuesday 12 June, 2012 at 14:29

    I totally agree with ON: I as well don’t like James Horner at all for the reasons mentioned above. When the first promising news of The Amazing Spider-Man leaked, I got interested in the movie and was really looking forward to learn what composer would take on the job, but as soon as I heard Horner was attached, my expectations plummeted dramatically (I still consider him to be highly overrated).

    I’m very happy to read, though, that he – FINALLY! – doesn’t use his four-note danger motif this time. I was planning to give the score a try anyway, because I like everything else surrounding TASM; otherwise, I wouldn’t have bothered a bit. But I expect it to be underwhelming (even after reading this positive review); as a huge fan of Danny Elfman and his Spider-Man scores, I doubt Horner and his score will be a worthy successor.

  10. James Southall (Reply) on Tuesday 12 June, 2012 at 19:27

    @ Craig – I certainly hope there’s a CD release of For Greater Glory. But since nothing’s been announced already, I assume there isn’t going to be one. That’s very unusual for a Horner score (I wonder when the last one was that didn’t get a release?)

    @ orion_mk3 – I will indeed be writing a review of The Avengers. I think it’s a blast.

    @ OB and Kasper – I remember when Horner was the most controversial of film composers and your comments remind me of those days! I don’t think the fact that he works less and less has anything to do with his becoming “synonymous with hackery”, I suspect it’s because he’s a gazillionaire and just chooses not to.

  11. Mastadge (Reply) on Tuesday 12 June, 2012 at 19:46

    I don’t think The Boy in the Striped Pajamas got a CD proper CD release, and of course The Karate Kid is a CD-R on demand. So that’s twice since 2008.

    Seems to happen to Beltarmi a lot, too. I wonder if some composers are just less aggressive about pursuing releases of their music outside the movie?

  12. James Southall (Reply) on Tuesday 12 June, 2012 at 19:51

    At least those two got some form of release though. I’d take a download or CDR release of For Greater Glory over no release at all!

  13. Mastadge (Reply) on Tuesday 12 June, 2012 at 21:18

    Oh, for sure! I bet it’ll pop up on iTunes one of these days.

  14. Daniel (Reply) on Thursday 14 June, 2012 at 16:24

    You had me at no danger motif!! 🙂

  15. spielboy (Reply) on Thursday 14 June, 2012 at 18:20

    no danger motif… in the CD: We’ll see (or hear) in the film!

  16. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Thursday 14 June, 2012 at 19:00

    I’m always a bit confused by people whose opinion of a Horner score is either made or broken by the appearance, or lack, of the danger motif. Every composer with a distinctive voice (something that is to be welcomed, no?) has distinct orchestrational touches and the danger motif is really not a whole lot more than that. And if a brilliant score has it, and a terrible score doesn’t, I know which I’d prefer.

  17. A. Rubinstein (Reply) on Saturday 16 June, 2012 at 12:28

    I agree with Edmund. I’ve always looked at Horner’s danger motif as some sort of a personal autograph, and it doesn’t bother me at all as long as it appears tastefully and in reasonable dosage (in other words, as it’s used in Avatar, not as in Troy).

  18. Ethan Revere Smith (Reply) on Sunday 17 June, 2012 at 08:04

    I agree with what Edmund said. I mean, it shouldn’t be criticized when Horner uses it sparingly (try finding it in Land Before Time or Legends of the Fall!) Although when he takes it way too far (Troy, even Avatar) I can see why it irritates some people.


  19. Christopher (Reply) on Wednesday 20 June, 2012 at 05:42

    Fabulous review, James, and not just because I’m now very excited to hear the score. Your review was just very well written, your observations are all very astute and very well put. It’s a pleasure to read. Thanks!

  20. Byron Brassel (Reply) on Monday 25 June, 2012 at 19:33

    Hi, James.

    I remember coming here to read this after you posted the link on my ‘James Horner’ facebook group page. A lovely review.
    This score has now been uploaded on Youtube and I gave it a listen. It’s, fresh. (Don’t worry, I will order this, because here in South Africa, soundtracks are extremely ignored).
    I somehow get the impression that Horner had fun orchestrating some of this work. As a whole, it’s a powerhouse of a score matched with something usually missing from scores in this genre… intimacy.
    I love that he used his most intimate tool, the piano. I mean, piano solos in a superhero score? Brave? Stupid? No. Clever.
    Clearly his Ph.D in music composition has helped his career. He always displays to our ears, his technical skill, and when one listens in comparisons to most of what’s out there, besides the maestro John Williams, both these composers shame the others. I’m looking forward to seeing this ‘marriage’ as Horner likes to say, unfold on screen. If the score is this good on its own, I dare say it will be magical on screen with the picture because that his Horner’s greatest gift; making the film itself so much more than it is without his input.

    As for ‘For Greater Glory’. I tweeted the movie page on twitter and behold, they responded! I was indeed flattered. They said that they are working on it and it will get a release at some point soon. So, that’s good news. I think, a few months.

  21. David (Reply) on Thursday 5 July, 2012 at 14:25

    I just saw the movie yesterday, without having any idea of who the composer was. Within 10 seconds of the credits rolling, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Horner had composed it, since it had his familiar “sound”. Having said that, I am a big Horner fan, owning virtually every one of his scores, even the obscure ones like “House of Cards” and the various bootlegs that have sprung up for unreleased scores over the years. I was excited to hear the score for the movie then, once I realized that Horner was the composer, and I must say: he didn’t disappoint! I think his detractors, who loathe the self-repeating he does will still have plenty of ammo, as I found parts of the score (at least as heard in the film) to be very similar, if not identical at times, to some of his previous works. On the whole though, the music fit the movie well, and seemed to have a nice sound of it’s own. I will say there was one point in the movie the “danger motif” reared up, so the cue must not have made the score (it’s on it’s way to me now, so I haven’t heard it yet), but to me that’s not a big deal. All in all, it was a very different genre for Horner to tackle, and I think he did a great job of bringing some heart to the Superhero musical palate! Hopefully he stays on for the duration of the alleged three movies that will be a part of this new Spider-Man series!

  22. […] Movie-Wave Like this:LikeBe the first to like this. 5 Stars – Masterpiece!, James Horner 2012, Amazing Spiderman, James Horner, Spiderman, The Amazing Spider-Man ← The Hunger Games (James Newton Howard) […]

  23. Mark (Reply) on Wednesday 11 July, 2012 at 00:16

    I loved it. The film is good fun, but the score works wonderfully both on screen and on CD. Very classy yet entertaining.

    Is it my imagination, or does Horner sneak in a clever nod to Elfman at one point? There’s scene with the Lizard which features Doc Ock’s 8-note motif from Spider-man 2. On the CD you can hear it in track 16 ‘Lizard at School!’ at 2:21.

  24. Josh (Reply) on Saturday 14 July, 2012 at 07:29

    @Mark Yeah, I noticed the Doc Ock reference while watching the movie, too. Pretty cute.

  25. Mike (Reply) on Sunday 15 July, 2012 at 15:24

    Very good review, you really nailed it. I just listen to the score, the main theme is simply one of most memorable themes in the last years. Even Silvestri didn’t manage to create such a good theme for his big blockbuster Avengers.

    I’m really glad to see some kind of revival for the old-school composers in the big franchises. It seems that the directors and the studio execs finally see how well-crafted, melodic scores can enhance the overall emotional effect of a movie. The pendulum swings back !

    James Horner now have two very big franchises in his hand: Avatar and Spiderman. We can really expect some great Horner scores in the not so distant future.

  26. Duffy (Reply) on Tuesday 1 January, 2013 at 15:30

    Just discovered your site today and I’m already a huge fan. I had a particularly geeky debate at a New Year’s Eve party about the soundtracks to the Raimi and Webb films and I feel that, while both Elfman and Horner nailed it, they would have been better if their soundtracks were flipped to the other director’s film. The new Spiderman character is portrayed as more wise-crackerish, irreverent, and a occasionally loony – totally Elfman. And Toby McGuire was so great because he was lovable, emotional, and his rise to hero status was uplifting – more Horner’s style in my opinion. I mean, I know this is just whistling in the wind, because we have two great soundtracks and a decent movie franchise anyway, but in an ideal world …

  27. ANDRÉ - CAPE TOWN. (Reply) on Wednesday 18 December, 2013 at 13:51

    SCREEN RANT has confirmed that PHARREL WILLIAMS >veteran rapper, composer & producer< will collaborate with HANS ZIMMER on 'Amazing Spiderman- 2'. Apparently JAMES HORNER's score wasn't "bombastic" enough for a SUPERHERO such as Spiderman. "AMAZING" & "AWESOME" were repeated ad nauseum by ecstatic ZIMMER devotees, thrilled that their preferred composer is the only musician now to score a Trilogy of SUPERHEROES, namely BATMAN … SUPERMAN and SPIDERMAN. Incidentally, ZIMMER's collaborator [PHARREL WILLIAMS] had worked with him on MAN OF STEEL…he has also collaborated with JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE, MADONNA & SNOOPY – DOG. Maybe James, you'll reprise your "a master film composer {HORNER} at work" eulogy for SPIDERMAN 2's ZIMMER score when its released 2nd May 2014 ? Or am I being "delusional" about ZIMMER's creative ability? Oh, its been hinted that some of HORNER's stunning music from THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN will be reworked for the sequel.

  28. Dan (Reply) on Monday 6 January, 2014 at 07:24

    Such self-indulgent, masturbatory writing.

  29. ANDRÉ - CAPE TOWN. (Reply) on Tuesday 7 January, 2014 at 21:48

    Obviously those SUPERHEROES aroused U. Trust u had a good one! Instead of fixating on wanking, how about some illuminating viewpoints on the creative output of a few hot composers?

  30. orion_mk3 (Reply) on Saturday 21 June, 2014 at 23:53

    I revisited this one in the process of comparing it to TASM2 and, as objectively as I can, I have to hold to what I said over at FSM, that I’d rather hear Horner ripping himself off 100 times than Remote Control’s most original effort. It’s not perfect–what was up with those wailing vocals, and why no theme for the Lizard? But it holds up really well, I think, and sounds decidedly Elfmanesque at times–if Elfman and Horner ever meet in person, they should swap copies of TASM and Black Beauty to get off on the right foot. Full review if you’re curious:

  31. TDidz927 (Reply) on Tuesday 28 June, 2016 at 21:39

    Way late to the party on this, but I just found this cd, haven’t listened to it in a few years. Wow it’s great.

  32. ANDRÉ, Cape Town. (Reply) on Wednesday 29 June, 2016 at 11:08

    I revisited HORNER’S ‘Spiderman’ to read TDidz927’s comments, and noticed above his name a link to Best Original Scores…it featured ORION_MK3’s comparitive study of the HORNER/ELFMAN approach to their Spiderman scores AND an important snippet of info re HORNER’S rejected scores that I was unaware of. We know about ‘Romeo and Juliet’ being handed over to ABEL KORZENIOWSKI because JAMES was unavailable to re-design his score to fit a totally re-edited version of the film. But what is inconceivable is that HORNER’S music for the SciFi ‘Ender’s Game’ was rejected, and replaced with STEVE JABLONSKY’S disappointing and boring opus! This all happened in 2012/13, and hopefully INTRADA, VARESE SARABANDE, PROMETHEUS or KRITZERLAND will start prepping these two HORNER rejects for a 2017 release — if not sooner.

  33. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Thursday 30 June, 2016 at 09:50

    Andre, I don’t think Horner ever recorded anything for Ender’s Game, so I wouldn’t hold my breath.

  34. ANDRÉ, Cape Town. (Reply) on Saturday 2 July, 2016 at 18:43

    Edmund, I’m hoping that orion_mk3 will reveal his source of info! Here’s the quote from his article…”in addition to HORNER’S replacement by ZIMMER [for ‘The Amazing Spiderman 2’], his MUSIC was rejected from ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Ender’s Game’ in 2013…” // I havn’t given up on CHRISTOPHER YOUNG’S ‘Spider-Man 3’ score being released one of these days. Back in 2007, when the release of a CD never materialised, I phoned YOUNG’S agent whose curt response was: “Sony won’t release the score. Phone them.” That was all he would say. Maybe Intrada will negotiate with Sony and rescue that score from oblivion. Douglas Fake recently produced YOUNG’S marvellous ‘The Monkey King’, so there’s the possibility that he might consider releasing ‘Spider-Man 3’ on the Intrada label.

  35. TDidz927 (Reply) on Tuesday 5 July, 2016 at 20:45

    Really surprised that they never released Young’s score…the first two score albums must have made a profit. I haven’t seen that film in a while, I wonder how much of the score was his and how much was reused Elfman cues. I remember loving the music for when the Sandman was created.

  36. Vincent (Reply) on Sunday 3 September, 2017 at 23:17

    Wonderful review! I hope people like you will contribute to that much-needed turning point in the industry.

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