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FLIGHTPLAN – James Horner

September 23, 2005 Leave a comment Go to comments

flightplanOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Up until now, James Horner has had a quiet 2005: with no films since the forgettable The Forgotten last September, he’s done what he invariably tends to do and done nothing, then ended up having six films come out at the end of the year in the space of three months. Discounting the low-budget independent The Chumscrubber, the first of these is Flightplan, a high-concept action thriller set on a sophisticated aeroplane, directed by German debutant Robert Schwentke. The film stars Jodie Foster as Kyle Pratt, an aeronautics engineer who is traveling from Berlin to New York with her young daughter Julia (Marlene Lawston) on a state-of-the-art airliner she helped design. Shortly after takeoff, Kyle drifts into a deep sleep, and when she awakens three hours later, the plane is over the Atlantic Ocean, and Julia is missing. Kyle begins searching – calmly at first, then with increasing anxiety – and enlists the help of several members of the flight crew, including sky marshal Peter Saarsgard and captain Sean Bean, to help find her daughter. However, as time goes on and Julia is not found, it becomes a possibility that the girl’s presence on the flight is a figment of Kyle’s imagination. No-one on board remembers seeing the girl, and no record of her being there exists…

Flightplan is an interesting score because, on first glance, it sounds like a prototypical Horner thriller score, in very much the same mould as recent works such as The Missing, Windtalkers, Enemy at the Gates, and others. The familiar dense orchestrations are there, the usual combination of crashing pianos and heavy percussion and bass-heavy strings, the moments of hearty discord. To dismiss it as a rehash would be very easy – but in actual fact there is a great deal of intelligence and inventiveness at work down in the depths; it’s just rather difficult to sit down and enjoy listening to it in a traditional sense.

As usual, Horner’s cues are long, allowing time for development and a sense of closure. Too many composers working today write in 120-second bursts, never giving their music time to breathe, or to expand upon the ideas they bring before they are off, moving on to the next one. Horner regularly writes cue which last up to 10 minutes, and as such he give his listeners the opportunity to experience his music almost organically, as it evolves naturally from its starting point to its natural conclusion. It’s one his strongest points as a composer, and Flightplan is a prime example of this.

The opening, “Leaving Berlin”, is generally soft and unprepossessing, making use of gently bubbling percussion elements and an almost ethereal string wash. Oboes play around with the familiar “intelligence” motif heard in A Beautiful Mind and others, before the introduction of the first melodic idea, a bittersweet theme performed on solo piano. Pianos play a big part in Flightplan – an amazing eight pianists are listed in the music credits, as well as two harps and various ethnic woodwinds – and they begin their assault during the second cue, “Missing Child”, which begins hesitantly, almost apologetically, with increasingly nervous-sounding harps and anxious tick-tock percussion. When “The Search” hits its stride the music emerges into a ferocious, almost panicky, action sequence to accompany Jodie Foster’s increasingly frantic actions looking for her daughter. The fearsome ‘crashing piano’ is one of Horner’s most clever musical inventions, having been used to superb effect in scores such as The Pelican Brief in 1993, probably the score which Flightplan most closely resembles. It’s effectiveness in creating a mood of breaking-point tension is undeniable here. Also worth mentioning is the peculiar thudding noise in the percussion section under this cue, which sounds like a someone striking a piano key which is not attached to the strings inside the casing.

The first hints of the cathartic main theme appears during “So Vulnerable”, but the emotional release is delayed by the intrusion of the wonderfully chaotic and dissonant “Creating Panic”, which makes use of Tony Hinnigan’s whispery pan-pipes, a great deal of metallic percussion, yet more of Horner’s thunderous piano work, and some devilishly complicated orchestral carnage. The main theme is finally brought to the fore during “Opening the Casket” and in the satisfying finale “Mother and Child”, which again carries similarities to the finale of The Pelican Brief by presenting a defiantly un-schmaltzy but nevertheless emotionally positive melody full of sweeping strings and subdued crescendos.

However, for all its obvious intelligence and compositional superiority, it nevertheless remains a difficult score to enjoy. It’s not something you can listen to while multi-tasking, while cleaning the house, or while in any way distracted; it would become background noise, and not especially pleasant background noise at that. Flightplan is an involving score of complex thoughts and musical ideas, and the fun comes when you actually sit down and listen to the detail, the little motifs that barely peek through, that you only notice when you immerse yourself in the experience. For casual listeners, I can easily imagine that Flightplan would be dismissed as over-familiar Horner noise, but for those with the willingness to devote time and effort, there is much to be discovered.

Rating: ***½

Track Listing:

  • Leaving Berlin (8:24)
  • Missing Child (6:20)
  • The Search (9:41)
  • So Vulnerable (4:01)
  • Creating Panic (7:05)
  • Opening the Casket (3:13)
  • Carlson’s Plan (6:51)
  • Mother and Child (5:10)

Running Time: 50 minutes 39 seconds

Hollywood 2061-62553-2 (2005)

Music composed and conducted by James Horner. Orchestrations by James Horner, Randy Kerber, Jon Kull, Conrad Pope and Kevlin Kliesch. Recorded and mixed by Simon Rhodes. Edited by Dick Bernstein. Album produced by James Horner and Simon Rhodes.

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