- 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.
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. ****