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Artwork copyright (c) 2004 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2004 James Southall



Horner does Homer


By far the most controversial scoring assignment in years, the story is now well-known - but, true to form, I will re-tell it.  Gabriel Yared was a surprising but refreshingly different choice by director Wolfgang Peterson to score his mega-budget epic Troy, and he spent a year toiling away, echoing the length of time Miklós Rózsa and Alex North had for Ben-Hur and Spartacus, respectively, movies whose spirit Troy is inescapably trying to capture.  All connected with the movie seemed to love the score, with Peterson certainly telling Yared as such, but then came the test screenings.  All of a sudden, things didn't seem so rosy: audiences found the music "too old-fashioned" and, just like that, it was tossed out of the film and it was very much a case of "if at first you don't succeed, Troy again" (ho, ho, ho!) as James Horner was given the near-impossible task of writing a replacement score in less than two weeks. 

Now, given these circumstances, it is only natural that fans' anger was vented towards Peterson, Warner Bros., Horner and others.  However, I must take a step back and play devil's advocate here.  While the whole concept of test screenings seems to go against any feeling that movies should be created for artistic reasons, with the director allowed to create what he wants to create, it is dangerous to instantly dismiss the views of those in the test screenings as irrelevant, which is what many film music fans have done.  These are, after all, the people who will be expected to spend their money on watching the movie - so why not give them what they want?  The implication that the views of the majority are somehow less valid than the views of the film music-loving minority is an uncomfortable one (even if many of them would more readily associate Homer with donuts than "The Iliad").  

Yared was a brave but unusual choice to score the picture, and I am forced to wonder just how many of the people who are currently declaring his music (some of which is available to download from his website at the time of writing) to be one of the finest scores ever written would even have bothered to listen to it had it not been rejected, and indeed how many of these people were the same ones who were bitching and moaning on internet forums that Yared had been hired instead of some other composer (Shore, Zimmer, Williams, Horner... take your pick) over the preceding year or so.  Of course, having said all that, I personally think Yared's music is particularly impressive and I hope some day it gets the album release it deserves, and I do think it's ridiculous that having worked on the movie for so long his music could be discarded so abruptly, and I think it's ridiculous to expect anyone to write a two-hour film score in under two weeks - but at the same time, it's important to put the decision in a little context.

Now, onto Horner's replacement score.  Cynics may say that Horner is the ideal composer to come up with such a big score in such a short period of time since he could just pull a few of his old scores out of the cabinet, but of course I am no such cynic.  And, as it happens, Horner has done nothing of the sort, much to the annoyance of his detractors (who continue to insist that he has done, regardless of the facts before them).  His music - ironically, the one aspect of the film most commonly attacked by mainstream movie critics - is actually rather impressive, grand and appropriately imposing.  Given the time restraints placed upon Horner it was never going to be a masterpiece, but it seems far better than many have painted it out to be, and is certainly towards the top of the roster of Horner scores of the last decade or so.  It is certainly regrettable that Horner chose to use the same vocal soloists as Yared (talk about rubbing salt in the wound), but many people's judgements about his score seem to have been irrevocably damaged by preconceptions.

That said, the album does not open particularly well.  "3200 Years Ago" is a somewhat anonymous piece with ethnic wailing by Tanja Tzarovska; many have compared it with Gladiator, but it's a considerably murkier, darker sound here.  Things get going properly in the titular second track, which introduces the terrific main theme, an heroic and noble piece for brass.  "Achilles Leads the Myrmidons" is arguably the standout action track.  Its excessive use of Horner's four-note calling card, present in virtually all of his scores, actually works rather well, considerably better than in the turgid Enemy at the Gates (the only other score in which the composer has used it quite so frequently).  

"The Greek Army and its Defeat" showcases Horner's probably unique preference for very lengthy, drawn-out pieces.  Its a dark piece, reminiscent in some ways of Dracula by Wojciech Kilar, at least in tone, and while it may take a few listens to get the most out of it, it is ample demonstration of Horner's skill of writing longer pieces which actually move from one point to another.  "The Trojans Attack" is another first-rate piece, featuring another new heroic theme (and midway through, a little fanfare which will knock fans of John Barry's The Black Hole out of their seats).  It is not the kind of pulse-pounding action music one may have expected Horner to write, but rather more considered fare, and to be honest is none the worse for it.

"Hector's Death" opens with some impressive writing for an array of percussion instruments before the vocals of Tzarovska take centre-stage for their most impressive appearance in the score.  "The Wooden Horse and the Sacking of Troy" is a powerhouse ten minutes of music.  There is some grand, epic music, quintessential Horner.  This is the Horner of Star Trek II and Willow, painting in enormous strokes, writing vibrant and exciting music that can stand alongside the best of them.  Next up is the thirteen-minute finale, "Through the Fires, Achilles... and Immortality", a grand, sweeping, exciting end to the score, presenting another new theme, a love theme which - as many have pointed out - inescapably resembles David Arnold's Stargate theme.  The last track is Horner's one big mistake, the song "Remember" sung (or, rather, screeched) by Josh Groban, which is a nice catchy rendition of the main theme, but horribly produced and completely inappropriate.  Still, I suppose it will add an extra zero to the end of the album sales.

Is Troy a great score?  No, probably not, but it's an ambitious one full of great music, and it's a miracle that Horner managed to put something so good together so quickly.  It's the only 75-minute Horner album I can think of that actually doesn't outstay its welcome, with virtually every new track bringing some new ideas and these ideas then being given a lengthy development.  It is both entertaining and impressive and unquestionably one of the year's finest so far - and it's Horner's best score in many years.

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  1. 3200 Years Ago (3:36)
  2. Troy (5:01)
  3. Achilles Leads the Myrmidons (8:30)
  4. The Temple of Poseidon (3:28)
  5. The Night Before (3:28)
  6. The Greek Army and its Defeat (9:38)
  7. Briseis and Achilles (5:19)
  8. The Trojans Attack (5:01)
  9. Hector's Death (3:27)
  10. The Wooden Horse and the Sacking of Troy (10:02)
  11. Through the Fires, Achilles... and Immortality (13:27)
  12. Remember Josh Groban (4:18)