The Rocketeer is one of James Horner’s finest, featuring a stunningly gorgeous main theme, expertly-crafted action sequences and some of the most iconic cues that the late great composer ever created.
Ah, the soothing sound of The Rocketeer. James Horner has composed many a great soundtrack in his time, but I’ve always felt that this was his most…elegant. Take the opening cue of the long-awaited Intrada expansion for example – Main Title. Here we are introduced to the soaring main theme of the album (and one of Horner’s finest motifs, I might add), and the methodology by which he does it is simply sublime. Light, near magical-sounding percussion opens the piece, establishing an incredibly relaxing atmosphere just within the first few seconds of the cue before a rather exquisitely-played piano arrives, greeting us with the first rendition of the main Rocketeer theme. It’s quite a complex piece yet it sticks in your head almost immediately, and is less superhero-y as it is more…aeronautical. It feels much more like a theme for flying as it does for the titular hero, which makes sense given Horner’s well-known enthusiasm for the subject. Strings then arrive to flesh out the new theme for a few more almost ethereal rounds, before rapid brass and percussion break through to give the first few hints towards action until the strings then take over once again in the back half to play through the epic main theme just once more. Overall, Main Title truly is one of the composer’s best, and would have been the standout cue if not for the slightly more enjoyable End Credits – but we’ll get to that later.
Slow, thoughtful strings then open The Gizmo, first playing the opening notes of the main theme before then seguing off into a lighthearted and rather jazzy setting (with jazz instruments joining the fray). The main theme then appears off and on in short, uncertain bursts throughout the rest of the piece, before rumbling percussion and menacing brass arrive at the end to introduce the villain theme. It’s a memorable piece (though not as standout of the main one) and it certainly sticks with you after this particularly sinister-sounding introduction. Neville And Eddie brings in Horner’s widely-known four-note theme for danger – one that he utilised in pretty much every score that required it, hence its fame. I would however question its necessity here given that we’ve just been introduced to a perfectly good villain theme that would work just fine for danger representation, but hey ho. Light strings then start off Testing The Rocket, with the main theme being hinted at pretty much straight away – first on said strings and then later on subtle brass. Percussive instruments hint once again towards action in the cue’s back half, until things slow right down at the end for a few rather upbeat thematic notions. The villain theme gets another short playthrough in Lothar Gets Wilmer before The Helmet cuts in with a poignantly beautiful main theme on strings (though sadly, a similarly short appearance). Excitement then practically bursts into frame with The Laughing Bandit, where loud brass and incredibly dramatic percussion make for one of the best musical moments on the entire album, though sadly much like with the previous cues – also quite a short-lived one.
Neville Eavesdrops then premieres the latest of The Rocketeer‘s motifs; the love theme. Much like with the main one, this new theme sits happily in slow, strings-based romantic territory, and though it doesn’t get much of a fleshing out here, its various performances later on in the score (for me, anyway) cement it as another of Horner’s truly beautiful compositions. The album’s standout action setpiece is up next; The Flying Circus. Fast-paced brass and near frantic percussion start things off, with the main theme arriving moments later to deliver a quietly hopeful thematic sequence before the action then kicks right back in afterwards. It doesn’t take long however for the main theme to return, initially in marching, determined form before then quite literally rocketing back into the fray for its boldest, most heroic performance yet. Overall – to put it simply, it’s musical moments like this cue that practically bring a tear to the eye. I really miss James Horner, and The Flying Circus is a shining example of just how much talent he had.
A soft, gentle rendition of the main theme on strings opens A Hero Is Born/Bye Bye Bigelow, before rumbling brass then interjects with a somewhat ominous-sounding appearance by the villain theme. Pitches then drop, and the tone begins to fade into darker territory with slow, creepy strings and sinister brass. The two aforementioned motifs then intersperse later on in the cue, even mixing on short occasion. Jenny’s Rescue brings a little lightheartedness back into frame with the main theme on upbeat, higher-pitched brass, before then playing a quiet rendition of the love theme that works as a pretty seamless introduction to subsequent cue Love Theme. Here, for five happily lengthy minutes the aforementioned motif gets a gentle, sweeping and primarily strings-based fleshing out, and all-in it’s quite simply a joy to listen to. The serenity doesn’t last for long past this however as frantic brass then bursts in with the forty-five-second Cliff To The Club, teasing action score that then arrives fully in South Seas Send Up. Quiet yet hurried brass opens the piece before the main theme then arrives, firstly anxious and a little unsure of itself but then loud and brilliantly epic towards the end of the track. Things get pretty sinister with the six minute Neville Sinclair’s House, with the villain theme taking centre stage for much of said runtime on low, uneasy strings. The love motif also appears infrequently, quietly to start off with but then getting increasingly hopeful as the cue continues – and joined later on by a short yet upbeat cameo from the main theme.
Cliff Caught opens with tense percussion before later slowing down with low, threatening brass playing the villain theme followed rapidly by a quietly optimistic main theme. Rendezvous At Observatory then picks up where it leaves off, keeping the volume low but tensions high with several cautious renditions of the main theme and a couple rather sinister appearances from the more villainous one. Things then really start to pick up in the cue’s back half, with loud brass building in the background accompanied by frantic strings. Towards the end hope then begins to rise in the orchestra, slowly at first but then getting faster and faster until the main Rocketeer theme practically bursts in with a thunderously heroic playthrough. The Zeppelin is the album’s final action setpiece, featuring many a bold appearance by the rousing main theme as well as several typically malevolent ones by the villain theme. To cap off this absolutely wonderful score the composer then has one final treat in store; standout cue End Credits. In essence, it’s a superbly-crafted suite featuring loud and ecstatically lengthy final displays of the main and love motifs – and a great way to bring the adventure to a close.
Overall, James Horner’s The Rocketeer is utterly magical. The main theme quite literally soars across the album, and you can really hear the composer’s love for flying throughout its various wonderful presentations. The secondary love and villain motifs are also great, with the former receiving a particularly enjoyable (and happily lengthy) cue of its own in Love Theme. The action sequences are superbly crafted – see The Flying Circus for absolute proof of just how talented a composer Horner was. All-in, The Rocketeer is one of his best, and if you haven’t listened to it already then you’re missing out on something truly special.
So sit back, relax, hit play – and let the music lift you up into the clouds.
Standout Cue: 23. End Title/End Credits