Sunday, February 06, 2005

Exploring the CD Collection, #10

Field of Dreams
Original score by James Horner

James Horner is, as ever, a troublesome topic for film music lovers. To me, he's pretty much fallen off the radar in recent years. I'm told by the Horner fans that his recent work -- the actual score to Troy, which replaced Gabriel Yared's rejected (and brilliant) score, A Beautiful Mind, and so on -- is still beautiful, well-constructed, and so on. But cursory listens to sample tracks have led me to conclude that I've pretty much heard all from Horner that I'm ever going to hear. That's a pity, because he once showed evidence of being a very compelling voice in film music, as opposed to merely being the poster-child for slick competence in film music.


Field of Dreams, which tends to alternate with Bull Durham as my favorite baseball film, came out in 1989, so its score has been around a bit. To my ears, it marks the point where the up-and-coming Horner of the 1980s, who wrote big scores to films like Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Aliens, and Willow, began yielding to the Horner of the 1990s, who tended to write more introspective music, dominated by strings and low winds, long and dreamy melodies, safer harmonies, and occasional flirtations with Americana. (To Horner's detractors, this may also mark the point at which Horner finally reached the point where he had enough of a body of work that he could begin recycling his own material, as opposed to rather liberally borrowing from classical masters. Anyone who would decry John Williams as being a heavy borrower from classical masters only does so because they haven't explored James Horner too closely. See Alex Ross for details.)

For Field of Dreams, though, Horner writes a score of genuine beauty. A hushed rendition of the main theme, played by a solo horn, accompanies the film's opening credits, which then gives way to a bit of piano solo (played, I think, by Horner himself) that to my ears is as sepia-toned as the still-photos that flash by, slide-show style, to Ray Kinsella's (Kevin Costner's) narration.

Interestingly -- to me, anyway -- is how Horner keeps everything pretty understated until the film's final scene. There's some dark material along the way: sad musical meditations for Ray Kinsella's meditations on his childhood, and fairly dark and mysterious material accompanying pretty much the entire Moonlight Graham subplot (dark material which gives way to more gentle material when young Archie takes the final step to becoming Doc Graham, and then back to some very sad music indeed as Ray realizes the sacrifice Doc has just made on his behalf). But it's only in the very last scene, as dusk is settling and all of the film's conflicts are settled save one, that Horner uncorks his main theme in full force. It's a pretty obvious compositional trick, and there's nothing earth-shaking in the music itself, and yet somehow it always makes me tear up, just a little.

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