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THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES – James Horner

February 15, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Clark Douglas

Once upon a time, James Horner was considered one of the kings of fantasy film music. Brassy, exciting efforts from the early part of Horner’s career included “Krull”, “Aliens”, “Brainstorm”, “Cocoon”, and two “Star Trek” films. Around the mid-1990’s, Horner seemingly dropped the fantasy genre (and indeed, many other genres) to focus pretty much exclusively on prestigious dramatic efforts. With rare lighthearted exceptions like the “Zorro” films and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, Horner’s writing has been quite serious and introspective. While this certainly isn’t a bad thing, many wondered when the composer would return to something more fanciful.

Well kids, James Horner is back with his first fantasy score since “Jumanji”. The assignment is “The Spiderwick Chronicles”, based on the popular children’s book of the same name. The film is about two young children (played by Freddie Highmore and Sarah Bolger) who discover an alternate universe full of all sorts of strange and frightening creatures. The film features a solid supporting cast that includes Mary Louise-Parker, David Strathairn, Martin Short, and the voice talents of Nick Nolte and Seth Rogen.

In the opening cue, “Writing the Chronicles”, Horner introduces the (perhaps obligatory) sense of magic and mystery via eerie strings and atmospheric synthesizers. The segues into more energetic material of a spooky nature, along the lines of the material Horner wrote for “Casper”. Indeed, “Casper” seems to be the primary influence on this score, serving as a thematic and stylistic base for much the writing presented on this album. The (also obligatory) “awe and wonder” fantasy score aspects are presented in “So Many New Worlds Revealed”, which offers some solid Horner string writing colored with the more ethereal ideas of the first cue. The mysterious ideas continue in “Thimbletack and the Goblins”, before giving way to some rather Mickey Mouse-ish writing in “Hogsqueal’s Warning of a Bargain with Mulgarath” (Horner has such a knack for terrible track titles, doesn’t he?).

An appropriately semi-spooky feeling of discovery guides “Discovering Spiderwick’s Secret Workshop”, before the first full-blown action cue appears in the form of “Dark Armies From the Forest Attack”. It’s exciting and somewhat intense material, if not very much like the soaring 1980’s fanfares many Horner fans may have been hoping for. Nonetheless, it’s good to hear the composer break out some noisy stuff, if any composer could stand to speak up boldly a little more often, it’s Horner. “Burning the Book” is exciting in a different way, moving from racing strings to prancing harpsichord to dark orchestral rumblings. Horner resurrects the ever-popular “Aliens” militaristic percussion in “A Desperate Run Through the Tunnels”, a derivative but still very enjoyable piece of writing.

The music is mostly quite gentle and wispy through much of “Lucinda’s Story”, with more atmospheric synths adding welcome dashes of color here and there. The score’s most popular cue might very well wind up being “The Flight of the Griffin”, as any score cue with the word “flight” tends to be. Indeed, we get a wonderful piece of action-adventure music that (pardon the cliché) soars majestically. For these six minutes, we get a fine slice of the James Horner that brought us “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan” and “The Rocketeer”. It’s splendid writing for full orchestra that offers a performance of the score’s romantic main theme in all it’s glory. We actually get some more of this in “Escape from the Glade”, also wonderful but not quite as sustained.

Orchestral chaos enters the picture in the frantic “The Protective Circle is Broken!”, and Horner even brings in some of those big anvil clanks. “Jared and Mulgareth Fight for the Chronicles” might just be the most flat-out exciting cue of the score, with some very strong brass statements (and more anvil clanks!) amid the fray. Horner slowly allows the score to melt into a warm, satisfying close with the final two cues, the wistful “Coming Home” (aided by a mysteriously lovely synth choir) and the lengthy “Closing Credits”. True to Horner’s style, he begins with sweeping string statements and then allows the score to drift away with increasingly quiet and subtle tones.

While “The Spiderwick Chronicles” will probably never be considered a classic on the level of Horner’s best fantasy work, and while it may be a disappointment to those seeking pure action-adventure-fantasy thrills… I like the album very much. These days, you can’t tell many fantasy scores apart… as nice as things like “Stardust” and “Bridge to Terabithia” are, they simply don’t feel very distinct. Horner continues to have a unique, uncompromised voice, and the quality of his writing is far and away better than that of the average composer. It’s unlikely that this album will be considered one the year’s best, but it is a rewarding experience that will reveal numerous layers upon repeat listens, and is easily recommended to Horner fans out there.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Writing the Chronicles (3:03)
  • So Many New Worlds Revealed (5:12)
  • Thimbletack and the Goblins (5:15)
  • Hogsqueal’s Warning of a Bargain With Mulgarath (5:16)
  • Discovering Spiderwick’s Secret Workshop (3:24)
  • Dark Armies from the Forest Attack (3:06)
  • Burning the Book (2:43)
  • A Desperate Run Through the Tunnels (4:47)
  • Lucinda’s Story (6:01)
  • The Flight of the Griffin (6:55)
  • Escape from the Glade (4:44)
  • The Protective Circle Is Broken…! (2:07)
  • Jared and Mulgarath Fight for the Chronicles (4:17)
  • Coming Home (6:17)
  • Closing Credits (8:23)

Running Time: 71 minutes 30 seconds

Lakeshore LKS-339802 (2008)

Music composed and conducted by James Horner. Orchestrations by J.A.C. Redford, Steven R. Bernstein, Carl Johnson, Eddie Karam and Gary K. Thomas. Recorded and mixed by Simon Rhodes. Edited by Jim Henrikson and Dick Bernstein. Album produced by James Horner and Simon Rhodes.

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