James Horner takes us on a dramatic adventure through space with his wonderful score to Apollo 13, an album that despite being composed in 1995 is only just now getting its well deserved commercial release. Better late than never though, so many thanks to Intrada for finally getting this amazing soundtrack off the ground.
Now before we begin, I should admit that I am a massive fan of James Horner. I firmly believe that he is one of if not the best film composer of all time, and I’ll stand by those words for as long as I believe them. It’s practically a crime against humanity that Horner was taken from us in 2015, as I feel that there was so much more that he could have done. The Avatar sequels, more disaster movies, maybe even another superhero score or two (his music for The Amazing Spider-Man got a 10 on this site after all) – I think that he had such potential for the future, and it is a massive shame that he sadly died when he did. That being said though, we were still incredibly lucky to get the beautiful scores that Horner did compose throughout his life; The Rocketeer, Titanic, Avatar, Braveheart, Wrath Of Khan – these are just a few of Horner’s amazing musical compositions that I simply couldn’t live without. Diving deeper into my rather lengthy list, I find that two soundtracks rise above the rest, and for me they will always be James Horner at his best. These are of course, The Amazing Spider-Man – and Apollo 13.
So you can probably imagine how over the moon (haha) I was when Intrada announced a few weeks ago that Apollo 13 was finally getting the expanded and remastered release that it so absolutely deserved. It also rather interestingly would be the first commercial release of the score, as for some bizarre reason Horner’s fantastic music for the film didn’t get officially released back in 1995 (not properly anyway – I don’t count the dialogue and song-heavy MCA release, for obvious reasons). The only way to hear the full score was to obtain the rather rare Oscar promo CD, and they weren’t exactly cheap or easy to come by. Thankfully though, twenty four years after the movie released, James Horner’s Apollo 13 was finally getting its launch.
Intrada’s album opens with Main Title (Film Version), and Horner sets the tone near immediately – a dramatic mixture of patriotism and heroism fills the room as somewhat militaristic-sounding percussion and salute-inducing brass sound out the first rendition of Apollo 13‘s main theme. Rather solemn strings then join the fray at about the one minute mark, playing the B-phrase of the main theme together with the established instruments. With the main theme’s rather dramatic introduction wrapped up, the track then ends. As opening tracks go, Main Title is a pretty great one, and easily one of Horner’s best. The awe-inspiring main theme for the film gets a superb debut, and overall the piece does a very good job of establishing the score’s tone and atmosphere.
Lunar Dreams then takes a softer and more strings-based approach to the main theme, playing it in a much more cheerful and upbeat manner for the first minute or so of the track. The tone then switches back to the more solemn and patriotic setting for the piece’s final few seconds, with brass sweeping in briefly for a particularly short rendition of the main theme.
Things then really start to kick off with All Systems Go/The Launch, as Horner opens with rapid and dramatic percussion that then quickly switches up into a rather heroic and brass-based rendition of the now pretty well established main theme. Still keeping the fast pace, the music then ups the tension slightly – adding strings and more percussion, with the occasional loud-and-proud appearance of that main leitmotif we know so well. The tension continues to slowly creep upwards as the music plays, with swift strings appearing at the five minute mark that combine rather expertly with the percussion to create a truly heart-racing minute or two. Vocals then make their more than welcome introduction to the score, although their appearance is short-lived as heroic brass then takes the forefront once again before exploding into a rather climatic presentation of the main theme. As the rocket reaches space and the epic musical elements then fade away, the vocals appear once more for a rather pensive finale to the spectacular launch track. If not for the end credits suite, this would have been the standout cue.
The tone then switches from drama to danger in Master Alarm (Film Version), a brisk and piano-heavy piece that does a fantastic job of illustrating just how badly things have gone wrong aboard the Apollo 13 rocket. If there’s one thing that James Horner does incredibly well as a score composer, it’s expertly convey the raw emotion of dramatic moments in film, and his talent for this really shines here. He achieves a similar feat in The Dark Side Of The Moon, though this time conveying a real sense of awe and wonder rather than crisis. Vocals set and maintain the new tone throughout the track with several gentle and solemn appearances, and this combined with low percussion, pensive strings and the occasional hopeful and brass-based rendition of the main theme make this piece of music one of the more standout cues of this already amazing score.
Danger returns in Carbon Dioxide, with percussion and strings taking the fast-paced forefront almost immediately. Rather interestingly, this track in particular is filled with musical references from Horner’s other scores. I noticed a familiar set of notes in the opening seconds of the track – the danger motif for The Amazing Spider-Man (though I would imagine he borrowed said theme from Apollo 13 as Spider-Man came quite a bit later). The percussive styles throughout the cue are also very reminiscent of the more action-oriented side of Aliens, but despite that they actually work quite well here in Apollo 13. Additionally, James Horner always was known for reusing elements of his own music in a great many of his scores, so I suppose it should come as no surprise that the same has been done here.
The main theme then returns in I.E.M. Jettison, a short piece that serves as a heroic and rather striking introduction to one of the best cues on the score; Re-Entry And Splashdown (Film Version). Percussion kicks off this particular track, and after a few seconds we are treated to a very dramatic vocal and brass combination that does a fantastic job of setting the very tense yet somewhat courageous tone that takes up much of the lengthy nine minute runtime. Things then slow down slightly as solemn strings take centre stage for a few nervous and rather nerve-racking minutes, with brass making the occasional patriotic appearance to remind us that everything’s going to be all right. Everything thankfully then is as splashdown is finally achieved, with brass and percussion taking over from the strings for a long, loud and very victorious playthrough of that glorious main theme. This lengthy thematic treat takes us right up to the end of the track, and leaves us right as the standout cue begins.
Here it is then, ladies and gentlemen – the standout cue of Apollo 13; End Credits (Film Version). It opens with a primarily vocal and frankly beautiful rendition of the main theme, one that lasts for a highly enjoyable and welcome two minute runtime. As the vocals have been building up both in intensity and frequency throughout the entire score, having them here in all their dramatic glory makes for a fitting and rather fantastic-sounding conclusion to the album. Brass then takes over briefly, continuing the same triumphant tone established in the back half of Re-Entry before vocals then make their return with encouraging strings, this time combining with the brass for a few more heroic run throughs of the main theme before the track (and the score) then comes to a slow, dramatic and rather patriotic finale.
Overall, James Horner’s score to Apollo 13 is nothing short of “out of this world”. His expert use of instrumentation and vocals make the score the perfect accompaniment to the film, and his near masterful use of tone and emotion is what gets the music to truly stand out from the crowd. The main theme is fantastic, setting an appropriately heroic and patriotic tone for the score while at the same time keeping up tension and drama when they are needed. I do feel that the motif is perhaps a tad overused at times, which makes its appearances at critical moments in the film somewhat less impactful than they should be, but honestly this is a nitpick more than anything else.
All-in, Apollo 13 is another truly amazing score from one of the best film composers of all time. We miss you, Mr. Horner.
Standout Cue: 16. End Credits (Film Version)