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James Horner Compilation Showdown









Composer James HornerAn in-depth comparison of three 
James Horner Compilation Compact Discs

Originally published November 1999

With the overwhelming success of James Horner's score to Cameron's epic Titanic three major film score labels jumped to get a compilation disc out containing his music.   The three currently available, not including bootlegs, are in some ways similar and in others "different worlds."  Here, I will compare three of the latest compilations released and see which one gives the listener the best experience.  Of the three official releases, I will compare several facets: song selection; recording quality; length; packaging; track order; orchestra performance. 


The Contenders

Heart of the Ocean: The Film Music of James Horner

Titanic:  The Essential James Horner Film Music Collection Titanic and Other Film Scores of James Horner
Heart of the Ocean:
The Film Music
of James Horner
Titanic:  The Essential James Horner Film Music Collection Titanic and
Other Film Scores
of James Horner
Heart of the Ocean: The Film Music of James Horner Titanic:  The Essential James Horner Film Music Collection Titanic and Other Film Scores of James Horner


Since, we tend to see the CD, cover, case, etc. prior to anything else, Iíll start my comparison there. I realize this has nothing to do with the actual music, but good packaging can sometimes be an indicator of the producers time and quality investment! A pretty face never hurt anybody.

The first of the three that I picked up was HEART OF THE OCEAN, produced by Sonic Images. Itís striking blue package will catch just about anyoneís eye. The art contained on the slip cover, not to mention the title, make direct reference to the huge, blue diamond called, "The Heart of the Ocean" in the movie TITANIC. There is something special about those compact disc releases that have the thin paper sleeves covering the jewel box. The Star Wars re-releases, The Big Picture, and Alien Invasion are a prime example of the effectiveness of this in marketing. Such slip covers say, "Hey! Look at me! Iím a special release! If you like what you see, youíll love what you hear!" HEART OF THE OCEAN is greatly benefited by this. The face of the compact disc is a striking white with silver lettering utilizing the same fonts as the slip cover and liner-notes cover. The liner-notes cover echoes the slip cover art. The actual liner notes are fairly informative with a paragraph or two on each track.

TITANIC AND OTHER FILM SCORES OF JAMES HORNER. Subtle hues of orange, red, and sienna, is the color motif of this Varese Sarabande release. The artwork seems to be a bit abstract for the subject matter. I donít see a direct link to Titanic or any other James Horner score. It is a little blah and wouldn't normally attract my attention. The liner notes here are brief. They give a little history and commentary on Horner and the works represented on the disc. Varese didn't spend a whole lot on this end of the CD, but, as we'll see later, they wouldn't need to.

TITANIC: THE ESSENTIAL JAMES HORNER FILM MUSIC COLLECTION. Hereís a bit of interesting packaging. It took me quite a long time to decipher that the cover art was the arm of a conductorÖwell, conducting. I first saw the cover art as little jpeg images on various websites and, for the life of me, all I could see was a twisted and contorted Titanic sinking to the bottom of the "green?" north Atlantic. Even after I found it in the store, it took me a couple seconds to make heads or tails of what the blob or color in the midst of the algae-green water was. I canít describe my joy when I glanced at it once and all of a sudden I understood what it was! Still, I was disappointed with the art, until I saw Silvaís next compilation release The Omen: The Film Music of Jerry Goldsmith. It is the same cover only with a blood-red background. "Oh!" I thought to myself. "It is a conductor series sort of thing." With a 2 CD compilation on their hands, Silva had plenty to fill their liner notes with. They went the traditional route with a blurb on the composer followed by blurbs on each of the tracks contained on the discs. Of course, inserted in the jewel box was the jolly little return device to get more information from Silva.

Track Selection

As the CD enters the player, my eyes are busily scanning the liner notes containing the track listing. I donít like to be shocked by or surprised by some obscure track inclusion! Here, I am not talking about the performances of the tracks, but the producers actual choice to include the the specific pieces of music.

Heart of the Ocean has a fair mix of Hornerís older synthesized style and his newer orchestral styles. There are several cuts that are not easily accessible, if not impossible, on CD such as Commando. Of course, since the title of this compilation is playing on the success of the the movie Titanic, there is some obligation to include at least one track from the movie. Sonic Imageís choice is the popular solo piano version of the main theme. Other than this, there is no elusion to the Titanic theme. I was most pleased to see a piece from "Where the River Runs Black conducted by the master himself. Two other good choices are the electronic E-wok piece from Vibes and Wolfen. As good as Star Trek II is, I have to admit that I was disappointed with its inclusion simply due to the fact that it has been done some many times before. Overall, the tracks contained on this compact disc are adequate but not outstanding.

Varese Sarabande truly outdid themselves on this one. Titanic and Other Film Scores of James Horner is a masterpiece of track selection and "flow." First of all, they launch the experience with a full suite from the CDís namesake. Next, they include several tracks that have yet to be placed onto any compilation CDís such as: Casper and Brainstorm. Given the RSNO, John Debney, Joel McNeely, and James Horner, himself, and a full choir, they stay away from most of Hornerís earlier synthesized works. While this might seem like a detriment to an accurate representation of Mr. Hornerís repertoire, as I will discuss in the next section, it makes for a very listenable compact disc. Again, the only draw back is the inclusion of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn. Yes, it is great. Yes, it is vintage Horner, but I would have preferred a selection from Humanoids from the Deep or Battle Beyond the Stars.

Double your pleasure and double your fun! Silva Screen Records throws out two CDís of most everyoneís Horner favorites. With two discs to fill there are representations of almost every Horner style. Two tracks represent the projects title, Titanic. The opening track and final track sandwich a great gob of other Horner cuts in between them. If one listens to the two discs consecutively, youíll be pretty full of Horner by the end! Argh!  The Wrath of Kahn shows itself again! This is excusable given there is well over 100 minutes of music represented here. I was pleased with Silva's selections from Glory, The Land Before Time, and The Man Without a Face. The other two compilations neglect these classic Horner scores.


Each track is rated utilizing the four-star method for the overall performance of the track.

Film Heart of the Ocean (Sonic Screen) Titanic and other Film Scores of James Horner (Varese) Titanic:  The Essential James Horner Film Collection (Silva)
Titanic Track 1 ** Track 1 **** Disc 1 - Track 1 *** / Disc 2 - Track 11 ***
The Rocketeer Track 2 ** NA Disc 1 - Track 10 ***
Commando Track 3 ** NA Disc 2 - Track 9 **
Legends of the Fall Track 4 *** NA Disc 1 - Track 5 ***
Apollo 13 Track 5 *** Track 2 **** Disc 2 - Track 1 ***
Name of the Rose Track 7 *** NA Disc 2 - Track 8 ***
Cocoon Track 10 *** Track 6 ***
"The Return"
Disc 2 - Track 2 ***
Field of Dreams Track 11 *** NA Disc 2 - Track 6 **
Braveheart Track 12 **** Track 10 *** Disc 2 - Track 11 *
Star Trek II Track 13 **** Track 7 **** Disc 1 - Track 4 ***

Track Flow

It's all about the flow!

Upon first listen, I always take a peak at the track listing, to get a feel for how the disc is laid out for the listener. Sometimes obvious conflicts like placing, say, a Horner track from Unlawful Entry after a track from Braveheart, can prepare you for the shock of listening to such a harsh transition.

Silva Screen Records usually do a good job of track flow on their compilation discs. Their tribute to James Horner is a fair example. With 22 tracks to deal with the flow of the tracks could become a problem. Disc 1 begins with a serious/adventurous/dramatic note with selections from Titanic, Glory, Star Trek II, and Legends of the Fall. These all work well with one another in just about any order. The first change in atmosphere occurs when two pieces from Horner's animated film scores are inserted: The Land Before Time and next We're Back: A Dinosaur Story. Here a much more "playful" tone is taken. After this rest from the dramatic, Ransom and Red Heat bring the listener back to the dramatic. Russian Streets from Red Heat seems a little out of place as it gives way to two of Horner's most heroic pieces, The Rocketeer and finally Braveheart. The second disc begins with the heroic motif with Apollo 13 and moves to the touching Cocoon theme. The listener is bounced back to the heroic with Battle Beyond the Stars preparing the listener for a break with Horner's emotional, The Man without a Face following. Yet again, the tone is switched to the heroics of Willow. At this point it seems there is a loss of continuity going from Field of Dreams to Patriot Games to The Name of the Rose. Even though the end titles from The Name of the Rose is primarily synth, the all synth Commando makes a horrible next track. The theme from Commando is as out of place as Red Heat.  It would have been best if Red Heat and Commando were put together somewhere towards the end of disc one. Deep Impact and the symphonic version of My Heart will Go On complete the compilation. Wrapping up this project with a return to the Titanic gives a little further credence to the title of Silva's Horner album.

Heart of the Ocean probably demonstrates the worst track flow of the three. Justification to the title of the compilation is given with the solo piano piece of My Heart will Go On. This is roughly followed up by main themes from The Rocketeer. After this, the all synth Commando makes an appearance but seems less out of place here, in comparison to Silva Screens placement, since no particular motif has been set up by the first two tracks.  Legends of the Fall continues this miscellaneous ordering and still no real flow is established. With Apollo 13 following Legends...the first welcomed transition is made only to have the flow ruined by the eerie Where the River Runs Black. Actually, Where the River...and the three following tracks make a good grouping of some of Horner's most unique works. The three following tracks are the epilogue from The Name of the Rose and The Journey Begins from Vibes and the Finale from Wolfen. From this point we return to the more familiar Horner-sound of Cocoon, Braveheart and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn. A suite from Field of Dreams is found between Cocoon and Braveheart, but would have fit in better with the grouping just prior to Cocoon.

The best of the flow is found in Varese Sarabande's James Horner tribute CD. It starts off with the brilliant Titanic suite with choir full blast and moves right into The Launch from Apollo 13. Together the listener experiences over 25 minutes of some of the best of Horner's music. This is followed by the not-often-mentioned-or-heard Casper's Lullaby which is soft and pretty and fits in nicely before the theme from Courage Under Fire slowly marches in. Horner's work for Once Around comes in and continues in the slightly somber tone started in track 3, Casper. Like the other two compilations, Cocoon made its way onto this CD and here brings a nice conclusion to the "slow and pretty" section. Following come Star Trek II, Aliens, Brainstorm and Braveheart. Brainstorm serves as a break in the intensity developed in Aliens and prepares the listener for the finale of the triumphant Braveheart.


Leave 'em wanting more or given them the flood treatment? It is always good to get the most music for the money. Many times more means better, but not always...

Silva's release, Heart of the Ocean, comes in at about 69 minutes, which is a fair amount of music. It falls in the category of "just enough."

Varese's Horner compilation is the shortest of the lot, but is also in the "just enough" category, by a hair. It leaves you with the feeling of, "Man, I can stand a little more of this good stuff."

Finally, Silva Screens entry takes the cake when it comes to the amount of Horner music compiled. Two full CDs of music is more than the heartiest Horner-fan could ever ask for. CD 1 has 61:52 worth of Horner compositions, while CD 2 gives us an additional 52:45. That's almost 135 minutes all together! The only problem with having a two CD compilation is that after listening to one CD the time for a change in genre or style has come and so one CD fails to be listened to.

Recording Quality

If it doesn't sound good, who cares what's on it?

Clear and clean is the bullseye every producer is seeking to hit. Without a good recording many of the subtle nuances of the composition and its performance can be lost.

Heart of the Ocean demonstrates good consistent recording quality except for the opening track of My Heart will Go On. This track is very muffled and doesn't set the rest of the CD well. The flip side of the coin is that the rest of the CD is delightfully clean.

Varese's Titanic and Other Film Scores of James Horner is virtually perfect. From the first note of the first track to the last of the last, the recording quality of this release is top notch. The recording is crisp, clear, and consistent from start to finish allowing one to enjoy the music without being distracted by hiss or other extraneous sounds. 

Silva Screen's Titanic: The Essential James Horner Film Music Collection is decent. It doesn't have the same brightness as Varese's but there are no glaring faults in the recording either. The recording is good enough to not be a distraction while not good enough to make the release stand out.

Track to Track Comparison


Heart of the Ocean


Titanic (Varese)


Titanic (Silva)


Titanic (Silva)

        Disk 1   Disk 2  
Titanic- Solo Piano Main Theme Mark Northham Titanic Suite John Debney/
Titanic- Take Her to Sea, Mr. Murdoch Nic Raine/COPO Apollo 13- Main Title Nic Raine/COPO
The Rocketeer- Main Theme Bill Broughton/
Apollo 13 - The Launch Joel McNeely
Glory- Charging Ft. Wagner Nic Raine/COPO Cocoon - Theme Nic Raine/COPO
Commando- main Theme John Beal Casper - Casper's Lullaby Joel McNeely
Glory - End Credits Nic Raine/COPO Battle Beyond the Stars - Theme Nic Raine/COPO
Legends of the Fall- Main Theme Bill Broughton/ OA Courage Under Fire - Theme Joel McNeely/
Star Trek II - Overture Nic Raine/COPO The Man Without a Face - Lookout Point/ End Titles Nic Raine/COPO
Apollo 13- Re-entry / Splashdown Erich Kunzel/ CPO Once Around - A Passage of Time James Horner Legends of the Fall - The Ludlows Nic Raine/COPO Willow - Willow's Theme Paul Bateman/
Where the River Turns Black James Horner Cocoon: The Return - Returning Home James Horner The Land Before Time - End Credits Nic Raine/COPO Field of Dreams - Deciding to Build the Field Mark Ayres
The Name of the Rose John Beal Star Trek II - End Credits Cliff Eidelman
We're Back- A Special Visitor Nic Raine/COPO Patriot Games - Electronic Battlefiled Paul Bateman/
Vibes John Beal Aliens - Futile Escape Cliff Eidelman/
Ransom - End Credits Nic Raine/COPO The Name of the Rose - End Title Mark Ayres
Wolfen William Motzing/
Brainstorm - Michael's Gift to Karen James Horner/
Red Heat - Russian Streets Mark Ayres Commando - Theme Mark Ayres
Cocoon Erich Kunzel/CPO Braveheart - End Credits Joel McNeely/
The Rocketeer- To the Rescue/ End Title Nic Raine/COPO Deep Impact - The Wedding Paul Bateman/
Field of Dreams- Suite Goetz Steeger/
Gunther Laudahn
    Braveheart - End Title Paul Bateman/
Titanic - My Heart Will Go On Paul Bateman/
Braveheart- end Credits Erich Kunzel/CPO            

OA - Orchestra of the Americas; COPO- City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra;  CPO - Cincinnati Pops Orchestra; RSNO - Royal Scottish National Orchestra; LSO - London Symphony Orchestra; SSO - Seattle Symphony Orchestra

Orchestra Performance - A one and a two and a...

Where there is an actual orchestra on Heart of the Ocean, aside from Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, there is mediocre to fair performances of Horner's music. Many of the tracks are too slow in tempo for my taste, but that lies upon the shoulders of the conductor more than the orchestra itself. The Orchestra of the Americas are so-so when compared to the Cincinnati Pops under the directing arm of Erich Kunzel. Apollo 13, Braveheart, Star Trek II, are all taken from previously released material of Telarc. Kunzel and company always do a score justice in their interpretations and times even being a it better! The rendition of Braveheart found on Heart of the Ocean (originally found on The Big Picture) is the best out there, next to the original. There is great deal of synth on this compilation and these tracks are played well by Mr. John Beal. As already stated the opening track of My Heart will go On played on solo piano by Mark Northham sounds horrid simply because of the recording. The actual performance is fair.

Varese Sarabande dazzles the ears and the soul with at the hands of John Debney, Joel McNeely and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, James Horner and the London Symphony Orchestra, Cliff Eidelman with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. These are some of today's top composers/conductors with some of today's top orchestras. What more could one ask? The live choir does wonders for pieces that I've heard dozens of times before: Titanic and Apollo 13 are prime examples. This particular compilation stayed away from the "all synth" compositions of Horner, which seem to not fit well in the midst of his fully orchestra material.

Silva again employs the work of the City of Prague Orchestra, who can be "hit and miss." Such is the case here. On this compilation "The Man without a Face, and Battle Beyond the Stars would exemplify their brilliance. At the same time, both cuts from one of Horner's best, Glory, are great departures from the original and, while performed fairly well, fail to make the same emotional impact. The City of Prague under the conducting of Nic Raine tend to play some well known themes at a slower tempo than the original. This is by no means unique to them, but most of the time it detracts from the listening experience. I find myself trying to "hurry them up" and not just listening.

The Final Score



Heart of the Ocean  Titanic The Essential James Horner Collection Titanic and Other Film Scores of James Horner
Length 10 7 7 7
Recording Quality 10 7 8 10
Song Selection 10 6 6 10
Packaging 10 8 7 8
Track "Flow" 10 6 8 10
Orchestra Performance 10 7 6 9
Final Score 60 41 44 57


The tremendous success of James Horner's Titanic score shocked many. It was recently named Billboards album for the year of 1998. No doubt anything with the name Titanic sold well in '98. Sonic Images, Silva Screen Records, and Varese Sarabande all made the most of the opportunity in releasing their own compilation tributes to one of Hollywood's most prolific film composers. Each release has its virtues - from Heart of the Ocean's superior packaging, to Silva's double disc release, to Varese's sharp performances and recording. After the head-to-head comparison, it is Varese Sarabande's Titanic and Other Film Scores of James Horner that comes out on top and is any film music lovers time and investment.

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