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The Amazing Spider-Man by James Horner

The Amazing Spider-Man

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The Amazing Spider-Man (Soundtrack) by James Horner

The Amazing Spider-Man
Composed by James Horner
Sony Classical (2012)

Rating: 8/10

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Something Amazing...I Guess.
Review by The Tracksounds Gang

10 years ago, Sam Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN sparked a Hollywood revolution - one that has lead to Earth’s mightiest heroes dominating the world’s theatres every summer. Had Tobey Maguire’s portrayal of Peter Parker failed to ignite the box-office, where would we be now? Would Nolan’s Batman have ever faced-off with The Joker? Would The Avenger’s assembly have just remained a pipe dream? Perhaps superhumanity’s cinematic assault was inevitable, but the impact of the likes of X-Men and Spider-Man cannot be understated given the current climate of Hollywood.

Was it necessary? Well, that depends on who you ask. The box-office returns would suggest that it was, and with two sequels in the pipeline, Spidey is back in swingin’ form as if he’d never left the big screen.

Spider-Man introduced a new generation to DANNY ELFMAN, and perhaps THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN is Hollywood’s roundabout way of reminding the world of JAMES HORNER’s many talents. HORNER was a surprise choice to many, given his back-catalogue being almost entirely devoid of anything like Marc Webb’s superhero adventure. It wouldn’t be the first time that JAMES HORNER has been written off, only to prove the doubters wrong, but how would he fare with New York’s greatest hero?

The Tracksounds gang swing in to provide judgment in this gang-tackle review of JAMES HORNER’s THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN.


Marius says...

" is fascinating to hear James Horner's considerable skills applied to a modern superhero score without the expected sacrifice to contemporary scoring tactics."

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN is my favourite Horner score in recent memory. Like the film it accompanies, it surprised me with its dynamic range, its sophistication, and its ability to pull in elements of previous works without sacrificing an individual identity. Right from the opening cue, a huge variety of sounds are on offer, along with a compelling set of thematic ideas. This is a throwback to finer days in Horner land.

The score I'm most reminded of from his past catalogue — with its core of delicate ideas upon which grander things are wrought — is Deep Impact. Like that disaster score, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN leans heavily on piano both as a gentle instrument (in the main theme and cues such as 'Hunting for Information') and as a more violent one (as in the tumultuous 'Saving New York'). Tracks like 'Becoming Spider-Man' evoke an almost startling sense of magic that might seem out of place but feels sincere; likewise, the dorky antics of 'Playing Basketball' are supremely effective on screen and bring a dimension of lightness to the album experience.

If nothing else, it is fascinating to hear James Horner's considerable skills applied to a modern superhero score without the expected sacrifice to contemporary scoring tactics. If only more of the greats were given such an opportunity.

Marius' Rating: 8/10



Edmund says...

"All in all, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN is extremely solid entertainment throughout, and it’s great to hear a veteran like HORNER provide such a fresh score with such a bold theme for a big Hollywood movie."

Despite the usual cries of idea-bankruptcy and hackery, the appropriately-named MARC WEBB’s AMAZING SPIDER-MAN turned out surprisingly well, a somewhat darker and more mature take on the character that ditches some of the campier elements of RAIMI’s trilogy without sacrificing moments of humor. Causing equal parts raised eyebrows and optimism in the film score community was the composer choice, JAMES HORNER, who seems lately to be alternating between Hollywood blockbusters and foreign-made historical epics.

In many ways, parallels can be drawn between HORNER’s score here and PATRICK DOYLE’s effort for THOR the previous year; in both cases a strictly orchestral, “old-fashioned” composer has chosen (or been forced) to “update” their style for the 21st century, adding light electronics, string ostinatos and other generally ZIMMERish embellishments to their respective superhero scores. Both did so successfully, but HORNER perhaps slightly more so, maintaining a bit more fidelity to his own voice. Leading his SPIDER-MAN score is a bold, heroic theme (“Main Title/Young Peter” (1), 0:32), easier to pin down than ELFMAN’s had been for the RAIMI films and used liberally throughout – humorous tuba hints in “Playing Basketball” (3), a heroic burst at the end of “Metamorphosis” (11), tender piano a minute into “Promises/End Titles” (20). The theme rises and falls in swings, climbing downwards before soaring back upwards again, cleverly mimicking the web-slinging movement of the hero.

Listeners expecting an action-packed brass-fest along the lines of HORNER’s other superhero effort, THE ROCKETEER, will likely be disappointed, though HORNER does quote that score’s finale in “Becoming Spider-Man” (2) at 3:42 – other than that, self-references are refreshingly absent, as is the infamous four-note motif of doom. The mysterious and rather slow first third of the score is actually more reminiscent of A BEAUTIFUL MIND, with a three-note repeating piano motif omnipresent throughout (it’s probably the most piano-heavy superhero score of all time). The action does crank up towards the end, particularly an extremely enjoyable sequence from cues 16-18, but you’ll find yourself more reminded of AVATAR than THE ROCKETEER – the climate of superhero music has changed significantly since 1991. A love theme for Gwen Stacy is introduced in “Rooftop Kiss” (12) and is pretty, but relatively average in HORNER’s career – and its extremely lengthy development in “I Can’t See You Anymore” is overkill.

All in all, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN is extremely solid entertainment throughout, and it’s great to hear a veteran like HORNER provide such a fresh score with such a bold theme for a big Hollywood movie. The lengthy album can be taxing at times, especially the penultimate cue and portions of the first half, but the score’s positives easily outweigh that – it isn’t as ambitious, perhaps, as AVATAR, but it’s also a good deal less derivative, and it is easily one of the best superhero scores of recent years.

Edmund's Rating: 8/10



Richard says...

"In the end, a character’s story is what makes a movie, and HORNER’s music is full of character."

Danny Elfman’s scores for Spider-Man 1 and 2 created a great divide in my mind. On the one hand it had a thrilling main theme that conjures images of the legendary comic book hero gliding across New York with an almost mythical grace. On the other hand, it was a score that offered nothing in the way of interpreting Spider-Man’s true self - Peter Parker. Upon learning that JAMES HORNER would be the latest composer to find himself entangled in Parker’s hectic double life, I felt that an opportunity to really flesh out the character of Peter Parker was at hand. HORNER’s music rarely fails to trigger my emotions, but Spider-Man is an altogether different prospect when contrasted with HORNER’s typical film projects.

There’s no doubt that this is a JAMES HORNER score through and through, but there’s something a little different this time. Gone is the sometimes distracting tendency to fall back on works of the past, but the delicacy HORNER projects so well remains. Where ELFMAN’s theme for Spider-Man was hectic and often brilliantly disorienting, HORNER’s is more measured. It is in this measure that a level of emotion unheard in ELFMAN’s theme sweeps in. “Promises - Spider-Man End titles” (20) is a spectacular main theme, and the theme Spider-Man deserves. It begins as a slow descent, climbing to a peak before a dashing descent of orchestral marvel that culminates in what makes Spider-Man such an attractive character - his humanity. Peter Parker may lack the suave arrogance of Tony Stark, the All-American hero’s poise of Clark Kent, and the raw drive of Bruce Wayne, but he feels real and that shines through in HORNER’s score.

HORNER is able to dial up the intensity on numerous occasions, “”The Bridge” (13) and “Lizard at School!” (16) for example, but his music rarely loses sight of the character it was born to serve. The only instances in which the score falters are in the instances where a lack of real musical direction can be found. “Playing Basketball” (3) and “Making a Silk Trap” (15) ultimately sound gimmicky and add nothing of real value to the soundtrack.

For many, SAM RAIMI’s Spider-Man films are the definitive adventures, and therefore ELFMAN’s scores are the definitive accompaniments. As an extension of Spider-Man’s characters, the titular character in particular, HORNER’s score has the edge: the humanity factor. In the end, a character’s story is what makes a movie, and HORNER’s music is full of character.

Richard's Rating: 8/10



Thomas says...

"HORNER has crafted a fresh and iconic sound with THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, and I already count this score among the superhero greats. "

A few years ago Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy ended. Obviously now is the perfect time for a reboot! Right? Right!? Well, who am I to complain - I adored THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN.

I did grow rather fond of DANNY ELFMAN’s score for Raimi’s Spider-Man, and I admit that (at first) I missed ELFMAN’s themes in THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. But it didn’t take me long to develop an appreciation for this hip new Spidey.

It is interesting how different the film and the soundtrack are. On the one hand you have HORNER’s careful, calculated score. On the other you have the film: contemporary, stuffed with digital effects and marketed towards a generation brought up on video games. What astounds me is how well these two jigsaw pieces mesh together into an iconic production. The modern visuals are balanced by the traditional nature of the soundtrack. It may be a jarring combination for some, but it worked for me.

The themes in THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN are remarkable for their romantic simplicity. HORNER disregards the seduction of crafting complicated themes with dozens of levels, opting instead for pieces led by simple piano and brass. The main motif (introduced in “Main Theme - Young Peter” (1) and repeated throughout the score) is a stroke of thematic genius. It rises and tumbles in a cute rhythm of notes which seem to imitate Spider-Man himself, as he swings from building to building through the streets of New York, tumbling precariously then soaring into the air for a heroic note of triumph. I can see this unique motif becoming iconic to both casual fans and soundtrack enthusiasts alike.

As another superhero movie set mostly at night, it’s interesting that HORNER has crafted a score which is on the whole light in tone. “Playing Basketball” (3) playfully emulates the merry nature of a marching band for one of the more “comic” (pun slightly intended) beats of the film. The big finale comes together in “Saving New York” (17), in which a moment of suspense is encapsulated by the interesting and fairly creative use of sharp piano stabs.

Overall this score certainly distances itself from the overpowering and electronic sounds of ZIMMER’s Batman (for example), and finds its place as an understated orchestral caper. Although it never escalates into the “amazing” (none of the tracks garnered more than 4 stars from me), HORNER’s efforts are not wasted, and this is a consistent, high-grade album (no tracks dipped below 3 stars either). HORNER has crafted a fresh and iconic sound with THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, and I already count this score among the superhero greats. I am excited to hear how this franchise evolves in the obligatory sequel.

Thomas' Rating: 8/10



Christopher says...

"...aside from it’s two foundational themes: the title theme and the love theme, there simply isn’t much 'musical webbing' to grab hold of here."

James Horner’s original score for this latest incarnation of Spider-Man is one of the most difficult reviews I’ve experienced in 2012. While the film, overall, bested last decade’s trilogy, it was not without its faults. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN hits most of the well-worn beats of the super-hero formula and the same could be said of this Horner score. It functions well-enough for the slightly-above-mediocre film that THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN is, but aside from it’s two foundational themes: the title theme and the love theme, there simply isn’t much “musical webbing” to grab hold of here.

Sony's soundtrack release does not do the score any favors either. After an intriguing first track, “Main Title - Young Peter,” the soundtrack devolves into a rather disjointed and unappealing listen. That is until we reach the final quarter of tracks. This time out it seems JAMES HORNER was intent on combining elements of his classic-nineties-sound, with his more contemporary-Avatar-sound, and finally with electronic elements that have never dawned one of projects before.  The final result is a odd-brew that might look appealing in the test-tube, but is a little rough going down.

The quick-tempoed, electronic clattering heard in tracks such as “Becoming Spider-Man,” or “Ben’s Death,” just doesn’t sit very well amidst the typical Horner instrumentation and feels as though the ghost of Danny Elfman must have paid Mr. Horner a visit on some dark and stormy night as he composed. There's also a surprising use of finger-snaps from time to time, but they pale in comparison to, say, the taps of flamenco-dancing found in The Mask of Zorro. You’ll find it getting all snappy in the comedic track, “Playing Basketball,” which itself is a rather surprisingly playful piece that would be more at home in a Thomas Newman score than here.

Aside from the notable exception of “Rooftop Kiss” where we finally get our love theme (something Horner is always adept at creating), the first three quarters of this soundtrack feels about as disjointed as I can recall a Horner score ever feeling. The shifts in tone from track to track or even within a single track are unforgivably  jarring. It's not until we reach the concluding tracks, where we finally get to the meat of the score and some semblance of listenability. 

“Saving New York” (17) is the longest piece (at almost 8 minutes) and along with track 18, “Oscorp Tower” offers up the most coherent action sequences of the release. The final two tracks, “I Can’t See You Anymore” (19) and “Promises - Spider-Man End Titles” (20) bring the soundtrack to as satisfying of a close as possible. In them, we find an abundance languishing strings and reflective piano, which are descriptions that have made their way into countless Horner scores of yesteryear, but, for this score, only finally deliver some true heart and extended emotion. Yes.  There are pockets of such to be found elsewhere on this soundtrack, but only pockets.  When push comes to shove, these final four tracks deliver all we need to know and experience of the score.

I would like to give JAMES HORNER kudos for experimenting with new instrumentation (electronic as they may be) and new styles, but I find it next to impossible as the overall experience of the score on CD is entirely too convoluted. In the end, it’s the things that Horner is well-known for that make this a soundtrack (at least a portion of it) worth having: his ability to craft memorable, heroic anthems, and heart-wrenching love themes.  He delivers both in THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, but they are sadly trapped in a sticky-web of some musical experiment gone awry.

Christopher's Rating: 6/10


Rating: 8/10



Track Title Track Time Thomas Edmund Marius Richard Chris  Ave Rating
1 Main Title - Young Peter 4:54  ****  *****  *****  *****  ***  ****
2 Becoming Spider-Man 4:16  ****  *****  *****  ****  ***  ****
3 Playing Basketball 1:22  ***  ***  ***  **  ***  ***
4 Hunting for Information 2:07  ***  ****  ****  ***  ***  ***
5 The Briefcase 3:14  ***  ***  ***  ***  ***  ***
6 The Spider Room - Rumble in the Subway 3:20  ***  ***  ****  ****  ***  ***
7 Secrets 2:30  ****  ***  ****  ***  ***  ***
8 The Equation 4:22  ****  ***  ****  ***  ***  ***
9 The Ganali Device 2:28  ****  ****  *****  ****  ***  ****
10 Ben's Death 5:41  ****  ****  ****  ***  ***  ****
11 Metamorphosis 3:04  ****  *****  *****  ****  ***  ****
12 Rooftop Kiss 2:34  ****  ****  ****  ****  ****  ****
13 The Bridge 5:15  ****  ****  *****  ****  ***  ****
14 Peter's Suspicions 3:01  ***   ***  ****  ***  ***  ***
15 Making a Silk Trap 2:52  ***  ***  ***  ***  ***  ***
16 Lizard at School 2:57  ***  ****  ***  *****  ***  ****
17 Saving New York 7:52  ****  *****  ***  ****  ****  ****
18 Oscorp Tower 3:22  ****  *****  ****  ****  ****  ****
19 "I Can't See You Anymore" 6:50  ****  ***  ****  ****  ****  ****
20 Promises - Spider-man End Titles 4:52  ****  *****  *****  *****  ****  *****
    Final Rating 8/10 6/10 8/10 8/10 6/10  
  Total Running Time (approx) 77 minutes            


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