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ScoreKeeper Previews James Horner's Score for THE KARATE KID!

Greetings! ScoreKeeper here at the big party looking around and...Hey!...Is that little James Horner sat there in the corner? Get away from that puddin' pie and come join us! Where the hell have you been all these years!?! James Horner is a difficult composer to get a pulse on. He has composed some of the greatest dramatic underscores in cinematic history yet manages to consistently segregate fans with his bewildering penchant for recycling material (both original and borrowed) and a seemingly lackadaisical approach to some of his scores. I'm not a Horner apologist but you do have to count me amongst his admirers. He has written too many spectacular scores to discount. In the past decade or so I've been less enthusiastic about his work. He's certainly composed some nice music with a few exceptional efforts peppered in there; however, he hasn't quite been able to recapture the depth and breath of his signature dramatic sensibility which I believed peaked in 1994 or 1995. So when I heard that he was scoring the upcoming THE KARATE KID (2010) remake I was as ambivalent about it as I was the film. Perhaps another middling score to add to the pile? Hold on to your kung-fu! This is not the same Horner score that we've come to expect in the last fifteen years. This is something quite different...yet, strangely familiar. Not because there are particular motives or themes that we've heard dozens of times but because it breathes that signature Horner sensibility. Here's the track listing for the album:
01. Leaving Detroit (02:54) 02. Looking For Mr. Han (01:29) 03. Kung Fu Heaven (01:19) 04. "I Want To Go Home" / The Forbidden City (04:29) 05. The Lunchroom (02:29) 06. Backstreet Beating (03:34) 07. Han's Kung Fu (01:39) 08. Ancient Chinese Medicine (01:25) 09. Beijing Valentine (01:34) 10. Mei Ying's Kiss (03:22) 11. Jacket On, Jacket Off (02:32) 12. Journey To The Spiritual Mountain (08:49) 13. Hard Training (01:20) 14. All Work And No Play (01:40) 15. From Master To Student To Master (10:33) 16. Dre's Gift And Apology (03:07) 17. Tournament Time (05:09) 18. Final Contest (06:47)
There are definitely Asian influences spotted throughout but it doesn't saturate the score. Even the few utterances of the shakuhachi is a welcome throwback to classic 90s era Horner. Surprisingly enough, it doesn't feel cliched or forced. There is also a delicate reliance upon electronic textures, mostly in the form of loops, during some of the action cues. The real showpieces of the score are, without a doubt, the dramatic sequences ("Kung Fu Heaven," "I Want to Go Home - The Forbidden City," and "Dre's Gift and Apology" are a few of the standouts). "Journey to the Spiritual Mountain" and "From Master to Student to Master" are two exemplary cues which tap in to the essence of this score and reveal that vintage Horner I've been referring to. They exhibit the same eloquence and tenderness that Horner had been known for: long and strong melodies, inevitable harmonies, and a broad dynamic range that feeding the emotional beasts within us. What's absent from this score, as far as I can tell, are the ubiquitous Horner cliches that seem to rear their heads in every score he's done in the past two decades. It may be one of the most original Horner works I've heard in a long while (although the first track does open up with an almost direct quote of the finale theme from THE FIREBIRD by Stravinsky, what's that about?). It sounds like quintessential Horner without opening up a bag of old magician's tricks. If you're a Horner fan and always have been, look out for this one. I believe this one will hit you right where it feels best. If you're a former Horner fan, this may be the one you've been waiting to reunite you with this seasoned master dramatist. I don't often review scores without experiencing it within the context of the film so I reserve the right to change my initial opinion once I have done so. I'm jumping the gun here because my radar for great dramatic Horner scores has been a little quiet in the past fifteen years and it's wholly refreshing to hear what I'm hearing from the score alone. Is it as good as some of his classic scores of the 80s and 90s? I'm not sure and won't know for sure without seeing the film. I can say that it single handedly will put me in the theater opening weekend to see this movie. If the drama on-screen can come close to the drama Horner captured off-screen with his music, we may be in for a truly remarkable ride.

THE KARATE KID is scheduled for a digital only release and will be available for download on iTunes on June 15, 2010.


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