Home > Reviews > ANOTHER 48 HRS. – James Horner

ANOTHER 48 HRS. – James Horner

THROWBACK THIRTY

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The 1980s buddy-cop movie trend arguably began in 1982 with the film 48 Hrs., which paired gruff homicide detective Jack Cates (played by Nick Nolte) with smart-mouthed street criminal Reggie Hammond (played by Eddie Murphy, making his big screen debut). The mismatched duo had two days to find the men responsible for the murder of two of Jack’s colleagues – hence the title of the film – and the confrontational dynamic between the two leads led to box office gold; the film grossed almost $80 million in the US, launched Eddie Murphy’s movie career, and paved the way for future movies in the buddy-cop genre, notably Lethal Weapon. Nine years later Nolte and Murphy re-teamed with director Walter Hill for Another 48 Hrs., a somewhat belated sequel. In this story, Jack is accused of murder after killing a suspect while trying to capture ‘The Iceman,’ a vicious San Francisco drug lord. Meanwhile, Reggie is due to be released from prison, but discovers that the Iceman has put a bounty on his head, although Reggie doesn’t know why. To solve their mutual problems with the Iceman, Jack teams up with Reggie once more – to save Reggie’s life, and to clear Jack’s name and prove his innocence.

One of the other notable things about the original 48 Hrs. was the fact that it was one of the first major box office successes of James Horner’s career. None of his previous theatrical movies – The Lady in Red, Humanoids from the Deep, Battle Beyond the Stars, The Hand, Wolfen, Deadly Blessing, The Pursuit of D. B. Cooper – grossed much more than $10 million, but his double whammy in 1982, with that score and Star Trek II, catapulted him into the film music A-list, where he would stay for the rest of his life. The other thing that 48 Hrs. did was introduce the style of music that Horner called ‘fusion jazz,’ a highly eclectic blend of jazz, funk, and electronic music that also featured unique combinations of unusual instruments. The ‘fusion jazz’ style was one of the most polarizing elements of his career, and the other scores that featured it strongly (Gorky Park, Commando, Where the River Runs Black, Red Heat, among others) are some of the ones which receive the least praise and acclaim.

With the exception of a couple of cues here and there, Another 48 Hrs. was the last time Horner wrote a complete fusion jazz score, so it’s worth at least acknowledging that here. Unfortunately the soundtrack situation for Another 48 Hrs. is somewhat disappointing, in that the album itself contains just four Horner cues totaling 19 minutes 48 seconds, with the rest of the album featuring original songs, the majority of which are performed by the Motown R&B band Curio and written by the Oscar-nominated songwriter Lamont Dozier.

The score on album focuses almost entirely on the film’s action sequences, but does manage to weave in several of the recurring themes from the original score, all of which are reprised in the first cue, “The Courthouse”. The jazzy flutter of the saxophone theme is almost the very first thing one hears at the beginning of the track, and it is followed by the 15-note steel drum riff at 0:36 of the same cue, and then the more laid-back electronic piano groove theme which kicks in at 1:20. It’s never been entirely clear what these different ideas represent – there’s no specific identity for Jack, no specific identity for Reggie, and in this score no specific identity for the Iceman – so Horner just uses them fairly indiscriminately, each representing the entire score as a whole.

Beyond these identifiable thematic ideas, the most interesting thing about this score is the instrumentation. Horner uses a fairly decently sized orchestra with a prominent piano, but then adds in a wholly unique and unusual palette on top of it, comprising numerous different types of saxophones, steel drums, shakuhachi wood flutes, electric guitars and basses, synthesizers, and percussion elements, both live and sampled. When you see it written down this seems like it would be a mess, but it actually comes together in very interesting ways. Horner was a master at taking what would ordinarily seem to be instrumental madness and making something fascinating out of it, and Another 48 Hrs. is a prime example of that. It also helps – for a Horner fan – that the whole thing is littered with little performance techniques and flourishes that earmark it as a Horner score; some of the orchestral writing in “The Courthouse” foreshadows things he would do later in scores like Sneakers and Apollo 13, while the soothing electronic tones that come in towards the end of the “Main Title” are reminiscent of later scores like Class Action, Thunderheart, and Unlawful Entry. Everything in those first two cues feels a little dirty and funky, and at times it becomes quite abstract and atonal, while the recurring unusual muted brass effect sometimes gives it the vibe of a spaghetti western.

The two big action set pieces are “King Mei Shootout” and “Birdcage Battle,” and are on the whole much more bold and energetic. They follow the same sound palette as the rest of the score, but I do find some of the little touches quite fascinating. For example, in “King Mei Shootout,” I appreciate the way the underpinning beat constantly jumps from live percussion to synth percussion to metal, which stops the piece from stagnating from a rhythmic point of view. I also like a lot of what’s going on in the second half of the cue, especially the action/suspense writing after the 4:00 mark, which uses Horner’s trademarked crashing pianos, slapped percussion, and steel drums to great effect. The orchestral writing here also has some wonderfully nostalgic throwbacks to scores like Krull in the brass and in the descending electronic phrases, and Humanoids from the Deep in the strings. There is also some terrifically clever back-and-forth writing for two saxophones during the last minute or so, in which they pass the recurring motif between them over and over. Similarly, “Birdcage Battle” picks up the 15-note steel drum motif and runs with it, and actually it becomes quite intense as it develops. The saxophones become jazzier, the trombones come in to play in strong counterpoint, and some of the rhythmic ideas are very bold and punchy, and pick up quite a momentous groove. More Krull-like brass, shakuhachi explosions, and rampant piano figures, lead up to a bombastic finale.

Horner’s fusion-jazz scores have always been an acquired taste, and I have to admit that it took me quite a long time to acquire it. The two 48 Hrs. scores have, for a long time, sat languishing near the bottom of my list of favorite Horner scores, but I have to say that as I have become more and more accustomed to hearing more challenging film scores, especially those with a 1970s jazz flavor, I have come to appreciate them much more. It takes a composer with a lot of self-confidence to pitch a score like this to a studio exec, and even more to actually pull it off and essentially create a little mini-genre within one’s own filmography. I know these scores won’t be for everyone; you have to be able to tolerate some jazz, some rock, some funk, 80s electronics, squeaky saxophones, bizarre ethnic instrumentation that combines Japan with the Caribbean, and some quite dissonant orchestral action writing, often simultaneously – and that’s not easy under any circumstances. But for those who enjoy exploring the more unconventional corners of James Horner’s back catalogue , and who enjoy putting together the compositional links and technical patterns in Horner’s work – and if you can find a copy of the album for a reasonable price – then Another 48 Hrs. is a fun way to spend 20 minutes.

Buy the Another 48 Hrs. soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • The Boys Are Back in Town (written by Brian O’Neal, performed by Jesse Johnson) (4:01)
  • Give It All You Got (written by Michael Williams, performed by Curio) (4:36)
  • I Just Can’t Let It End (written by Lamont Dozier, performed by Curio) (3:51)
  • I’ve Got My Eye On You (written by Lamont Dozier, performed by Curio) (3:41)
  • The Courthouse (3:18)
  • Main Title from Another 48 Hrs. (4:11)
  • King Mei Shootout (7:35)
  • Birdcage Battle (4:42)
  • I’ll Never Get You Out Of This World Alive (written by Hank Williams and Fred Rose, performed by Michael Stanton) (2:23)

Running Time: 38 minutes 23 seconds

Scotti Bros. Records 5205-2-SB (1990)

Music composed and conducted by James Horner. Orchestrations by Greig McRitchie. Recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy. Edited by Jim Henrikson. Album produced by Nigel Rick and James Horner.

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