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WHERE THE RIVER RUNS BLACK
Peculiar, atmospheric early score from Horner
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 1986 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
A barely-remembered, very strange film, 1986's Where the River Runs Black tells the story of a young boy in the Amazon who witnesses a murder and later sees the murderer, a politician, when he is taken into an orphanage. Meanwhile, his mother has the ability to change from human into dolphin. Same old story, I guess. Director Christopher Cain has not done much high-profile since (with the dubious exception of Young Guns) and this marked his only time working with then-still-relative-newcomer James Horner.
Cain must have been tremendously excited to be working with one of the freshest and brightest talents in film music, the man who fashioned brilliantly exciting orchestral music for the likes of (by that time) Star Trek II, Krull, Brainstorm, Cocoon and Aliens. I wonder how he reacted when he heard the score! (I'm being a bit facetious here, since no doubt he knew exactly what he was going to get.) In fact the score shares more in common with another Horner score from 1986, The Name of the Rose.
It's an atmospheric synthesised score for the most part, with one or two live ethnic instruments (well, I think they're live) and a couple of voices. Some parts are extremely effective, not least the dreamlike opening piece which is synthesiser scoring at its best; but other parts are like low-key Under Fire rip-offs performed by a 1986 digital watch ("The Orphanage" has the cheapest, tackiest synth noises you'll ever heard - at least until it segues into the Under Fire-style synth pan pipes! - but develops into something almost mesmerisingly hypnotic).
Then there's the playful, dancelike music which crops up occasionally - "Underwater Ballet", "The Dolphins" which is again reasonably engaging, but the sort of thing you would instantly switch off if anyone walked into the room, lest they should hear you listening to something quite so embarrassing. (Lord help you if you were 14 years old and also masturbating - you wouldn't know what to do first - hide the family jewels, or switch the stereo down - but I digress. I hasten to add, I don't speak from personal experience.)
This is really quite imaginative music, very new agey, quite relaxing, soothing. It is not without its faults, and is resolutely dated to its time, but if you can find a copy (good luck!) then it shows off a completely different side to James Horner. It's one of those scores which I find easy to praise, but quite difficult to like, if you know what I mean - it's got plenty of impressive elements, but is not likely to make me want to listen to it very often. One moment I am left impressed by Horner's creativity, impressed by him creating a genuinely unique sonic environment; and the next I just want to stick Under Fire on instead. Worth hearing.