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JAMES HORNER FILM MUSIC | November 29, 2020 |

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THE LAND BEFORE TIME EXPANDED EDITION: OUR EXCLUSIVE REVIEW

THE LAND BEFORE TIME EXPANDED EDITION: OUR EXCLUSIVE REVIEW
Kjell Neckebroeck
With their expanded 74-minute edition of The Land Before Time (1988), the diligent folks at Intrada bring back into the spotlights one of the absolute masterpieces of James Horner’s long and distinguished career. The music sounds as punchy and clear as ever, showcasing the flawless playing by the London Symphony Orchestra. The sound quality of the new edition is really incredible: we really feel like we are sitting next to the orchestra, privy to the slightest sound and little gasps of breath coming from the musicians. It feels like discovering the music all over again.This was necessary for this sumptuous music that James Horner wrote and recorded under difficult conditions.We refer you to the interview with Don Bluth and Gary Goldman for a behind-the-scenes look at the score. This interview is also quoted by Frank K. DeWald, who wrote the elaborate liner notes of the new edition’s beautiful booklet.
Producer Douglass Fake’s notes provide additional and interesting information about the recording sessions and help us understand why they were so long and exhausting. Moreover, the new album presents over fifteen minutes of unreleased material that develops the score’s various themes beyond what was previously available – and crucially, beyond even what is in the film. Some of the material, especially in the story’s somewhat unfocused second act, was cut or dialed out, but the new album finally allows Horner fans to discover this previously missing material.In the book on James Horner that we are currently writing, new information will shed light on the cuts in the film’s last act and the differences between the album and film versions of some cues.
 

The movie
 
The Land Before Time was a labor of love but also a troubled production. Initially, producers Steven Spielberg and George Lucas (with Amblin Entertainment and Universal Pictures in tow) wanted to do a feature-length animation film that contained no dialogue, a bit like the Rite of Spring section from Fantasia (1940). When it was feared that this would alienate the target audience, a more conventional approach was settled on.
Spielberg asked Bluth to deliver Land for a 1987 release but told him not to start work before 1986’s An American Tail was released, leaving Bluth with barely a year to complete the dinosaur movie (in animation, that’s more than rushing things). Moreover, Don Bluth was in the midst of moving to Ireland, where he had decided to join forces with Morris Sullivan and create Sullivan Bluth Studios in 1985. The move to Dublin happened during production of The Land Before Time, and this caused the release date to be pushed back to 1988.
To make matters worse, Spielberg was so busy developing and shooting both Always and Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade (both released in 1989) that Bluth found his producer mostly unavailable. On top of that, animators had to be paid even though the script was not yet finished. In a somewhat desperate move, Bluth had them draw the opening scene of dinosaurs roaming a barren landscape, with nothing in the way of traditional storytelling for them to hold on to. Finally, a considerable amount of footage was deemed too frightening or traumatizing for the intended young audience and eleven minutes’ worth of footage was left on the cutting floor. As a result, The Land Before Time clocks in at a meager 66 minutes – on my DVD, the end credits start rolling nine seconds before the one-hour mark. Bluth fought to keep at least some of the material in, but he did not prevail. Although Spielberg and Bluth had made a three-picture deal, the two of them would not work together again.
With over 600 backgrounds and a total of one million drawings, The Land Before Time was a sizable undertaking for its time, and on this technical level at least, the movie got mostly positive reviews. Bluth must also have taken some comfort in knowing he bested Disney’s Oliver and Company, which was also released on 18 November 1988 but was narrowly defeated at the worldwide box office by Bluth’s dinosaurs.
While critics applauded the look of the film, they were less forgiving about the meandering storyline. The first half hour does a decent job setting up characters (although Petrie and especially Spike are introduced rather late in the game), but the storyline becomes stagnant for the next twenty-two minutes before getting a much-needed jolt during an all too short finale. As a result, the story is somewhat on the dull side and it lacks a truly engaging protagonist with a solid transformation arc.
Towards the end of their reign on earth, the dinosaurs are left with an increasingly inhospitable habitat and undertake a long and perilous journey to the fabled Great Valley, which is said to boast an endless supply of lush greenery that will ensure their survival. Along the way, baby dinosaurs are born left and right: Littlefoot, a Longneck (Apatosaurus), Cera, a Three-Horn (Triceratops), Ducky, a Bigmouth (Parasaurolophus), Spike, a Spiketail (Stegosaurus) and Petrie, a Flyer (Pteranodon). After Littlefoot’s mother dies, the young longneck finds solace in the company of his friends and the five dinosaurs set out to find the Great Valley on their own. They are pursued repeatedly by the fearsome Sharptooth (Tyrannosaurus Rex) and learn a few valuable life lessons along the way. The movie touches on such themes as coming to terms with the death of a parent, race-based discrimination and the need to work together as a team (hence If We Hold On Together, the end title song performed by Diana Ross).
 
The music
One aspect of the production that was mercifully free from compromise was James Horner’s score. The music budget afforded the very best: the London Symphony Orchestra, the King’s College Choir of Wimbledon and a prime recording venue, London’s famed Abbey Road Studio 1.
1988 was a high-water mark in Horner’s distinguished career: on top of Cocoon The Return, Vibes and Red Heat, he composed The Land Before Time and Willow, two scores that cemented his reputation as one of film music’s giants. While both scores were well-represented on album at the time of their release, Intrada’s new edition of Land finally reveals the entirety of this brilliant and timeless masterpiece. James Horner comments on the score:
These were all Steven’s movies, Steven Spielberg. I did a whole slew of Steven Spielberg animated movies and they were all animated in the old Disney style by Don Bluth who was a classic animator – not the current style of animation you see from Disney and Pixar, of course. Though animation, I treat it seriously. Animation is unique. It’s all continuous music. There’s very little of the movie that works without music and it all has to be very tightly timed to what the characters are doing. It has to be very exact, and in this story, even though it’s animated, it had to have emotions in it. It had to do all the cinema things that I have to do in every movie. It was designed for kids but I wanted it to appeal to a wider audience. People still come up to me and say, ‘You know one of my favorite scores is The Land Before Time?’ and I can’t believe that they even saw it, but they did. There were some really nice scenes in that. I don’t respond to animation quite like I do live action. It doesn’t hit me the same way. There’s a suspension of reality. Writing for something real and writing for something that’s not real and pretending is a little different.
The last part of the quote reminds us of the extent to which animation allows and even invites composers to come up with larger-than-life music, but what Horner pulled off for this score is something quite unique. The subject matter (and especially the amount of footage that was discarded) precluded the opportunity to churn out the sustained action set pieces that made the Willow score so epic, but this lyrical companion score showcases Horner’s attention to detail and the depth of his orchestrations. Above all, it reminds us that film music can be effective in its requisite synchronism and still maintain a sense of sheer musicality.
It’s truly music that Horner was after in The Land Before Time, even if it meant having to bend or break specific scoring rules such as clear theme attribution. Before going into the score’s themes and melodies, I need to point out some similarities between The Land Before Time and Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter And The Wolf, if only because Horner emphatically quotes the Wolf theme. Especially in its concluding third act, Land echoes Prokofiev’s storyline: the characters team up against a villain and pull off an elaborate ruse that will bring about the downfall of the Wolf / T-Rex. These similarities were not wasted on Horner, who always relished an opportunity to establish lines of intertextuality between his own scores and the classical repertoire – in fact, it was his very conscious and deliberate way of keeping the classics alive and relevant to a modern audience.
Among other things, Peter and the Wolf has become a famous tool for teaching young people the concepts of themes and motifs: every character has its own specific identity, down to the orchestrations (the clarinet for the cat, the flute for the bird and so on). It tells us something about Horner’s scoring methodology that the quoted Peter And The Wolf because it was appropriate within the context of the project, but once he had established the quote, he moved on and constructed his own musical tapestry.
Like Prokofiev, Horner composed a wealth of themes for The Land Before Time but unlike Prokofiev, he is surprisingly undogmatic in their application to characters and concepts. During The Great Migration, which plays like a fully-developed overture, Horner scores Littlefoot’s birth with a tender flute theme. However, after this cue, the flute theme barely resurfaces and Horner attributes a new playful theme to Littlefoot which will accompany the character right up to the end credits. In the album liner notes, Frank K. DeWald calls this Cera’s theme, and while it is true that its first appearance is linked to the eager Triceratops (early in Sharptooth and The Earthquake), it continues when Littlefoot joins her playful antics. More importantly, the melody is the thematic cornerstone of the two big confrontations with the T-Rex, where it underscores the heroics of all the protagonists. Since the melody is not linked exclusively to one character and since it occurs most frequently in contexts of rambunctious playfulness, we’ll call this the adventure theme. Its marked presence during the ferocious confrontations with Sharptooth take some of the edge off the violence inherent in these scenes, and that may not be a bad choice considering the target audience. From a psychological point of view, Horner seems to say that from the perspective of the young dinosaurs, even the wildest action scenes are still, in some way, a game.
Horner quoted other works of classical music in this score (among them Béla Bartók’s The Wooden Prince, the Interlude from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, Victory from Prokofiev’s Cantata For The 20th Anniversary Of The October Revolution) and some of these quotes cannot be justified dramatically or musically – at least not to the best of my knowledge. This perennial paradox in Horner’s oeuvre constantly exposed him to criticism, and it is easy to understand why. Surely this was a composer who had repeatedly proven his technical credentials, so why would the decision to use other composers’ themes and regurgitate some of his own not be a sign of, well, laziness? It’s an issue that even I as an enthusiastic Horner fan have a hard time coming to grips with. There are some good arguments in Horner’s defense: his desire to acknowledge explicitly the classical legacy and his desire to tie individual scores together in the ever-expanding patchwork of his overarching oeuvre. However, this does not excuse arbitrary quotes that have no immediate dramatic justification.
It would be pointless to try and intellectualize Horner’s methodology to the point of coming up with a reason for each and every single quote he ever indulged in. Basically, not all of them can be justified and even the staunchest Horner fan should accept this fact. However, while it is not possible to absolve Horner entirely of plagiarism, we can at least try to explain this tendency. The answer can probably be found in the way Horner approached composition, which increasingly became a process of free association. Horner was a learned musician with a vast musical background, and often, he would give in to his own stream of consciousness and allow himself to surf on the waves of his musical role models as well as his own output. Sometimes, there is no reason for musical influences, it’s just that when they popped into his head, James Horner did not resist them. (Or rather, he resisted them less than his colleagues.) This inclination towards free association and stream-of-consciousness was also very much in evidence in the concert works Pas De Deux and Collage, and who knows where it would have led Horner had he still been alive.
If you will allow a brief digression, there’s another point worth making about the issue of plagiarism in James Horner’s oeuvre. When he was asked about exactly how fertile he thought his score for Sneakers (1992) was, Horner replied:
Sneakers is a score that is not complete, not literally but because of the evolution of colors that originated in this very score. To be clear, when I study an image or a sequence, I don't pretend to get the best out of it the first time around. Sometimes you have to make mistakes to achieve a greater goal. If you take a color sketched in Sneakers, and you see what it became in Apollo 13, Deep Impact and (…) Bicentennial Man, you will notice a whole evolution. You see, a color on Bicentennial Man may seem very simple and successful to you. You may then wonder why I did not use it that right from the start. Before finding the right combination, I had to do countless tests. Then, when you think you have made the right combination, another color comes along and you’re back to the drawing board. It shows you the mistakes and it forces you to go on experimenting.”
Horner went on to say:
It is important not to confuse thematic and harmonic colors. The ear lingers on a theme, a movement and what you heard in Sneakers can indeed come from a previous score. But the theme is only one element of the structure of the music! The best example was the Al Bathra cue from Courage Under Fire, which made its way into Titanic. James Cameron loved the atmosphere of the cue. He therefore asked me to reproduce a cue of similar harmony in order to recreate the same mood. We made several drafts and finally we opted for something very close to the original. Laziness or pastiche did not dictate our decision. Simply, my experiments had led us too far from what he had heard and I had to go back to something more recognizable. This example is important because it shows that a cue from one film can be integrated into another film, whereas musically it is a longer journey. In fact, seeds from Al Bathra can be traced back to Sneakers, but you probably didn't pay any attention to it. You focused on themes being similar in Titanic and Courage Under Fire, not harmony! This means that the connections you see between Sneakers and other previous scores are probably far too much based on themes. If you do a true harmonic analysis, you will see that all the connections you thought of always revolve around the same handful of fertile scores.
And on The Land Before Time specifically, Horner said:
When the opportunity arises to apply a choral element from Sergei Prokofiev's Cantata for the 20th Anniversary Of The October Revolution to Red Heat, I will take it. That this choir piece was written thirty years before Prokofiev by Rimsky-Korsakov is not part of my selection criteria. The repertoire as a whole is in itself an area of fertility that I avail myself of like Prokofiev did, or any other composer. Richard Strauss thought of himself as someone who "passed the baton", that’s a telling phrase, I think. You know, who today would accuse Béla Bartók of plagiarism or of having looted Hungarian folklore, when in fact, his genius was all about incorporating that folklore into his work?! When you hear strains of Bartók in The Land Before Time or in Jerry Goldsmith's Legend, I think we are torch bearers, and the music you will hear tomorrow, in ten years or in a century, will have taken another form. Film music has a certain structure that allows the repertoire to evolve. You know, I have always seen our profession as a contemporary metaphor of the times when Bach and Haydn wrote scores for kings or for liturgical events on commission. As a composer, I offer my methodology and my contribution to the history of music. Of course, there will always be a debate about who was inspired by whom. The learned minds of Haydn's time accused him of stealing from his father, Joseph. In Mozart's time, everything that he wrote was considered to be crap, because every note was compared to the Austrian composer. With the benefit of hindsight, we can appreciate the qualities of these individuals, their contribution and their importance to music history. What would Mozart be without the education of his father, himself influenced by Bach's genius? I have never hidden my admiration for classical music because that was I was taught.
But let’s return to the notion of free association. It takes two forms in The Land Before Time. One is the aforementioned tendency to borrow from nineteenth-century Romanticism, the other is the conspicuously loose way in which Horner applies his themes. While most of the individual characters have their own musical identity, Horner is not very rigorous in their attribution. It’s as if this time around, the composer worried more about preserving the musicality of the score than about keeping track of the characters along strict leitmotif lines. And that was not such a bad idea given that this particular script works with a set of rather thinly-drawn characters. (When the protagonist was more fleshed out, like in Balto (1995), Horner would follow them far more closely.)
Horner works with six frequently recurring building stones: a sweet and vaguely Arabian-sounding melody for Ducky, a boisterous theme for Cera, a playful theme for Littlefoot / the element of adventure, a three-note motif for Spike, a proud dinosaur / journey theme and a theme of (motherly) love that is the emotional heart of the score. This final theme has three distinct parts, and all of them get plenty of air time. There’s also a choir motif that represents the Tree Star, a green leaf that symbolizes the promise of a better life and the lingering memory of Littlefoot’s mother. All these ideas are complemented by a theme of comedy that appears just once, in Foraging For Food, and a guest appearance of the four-note motif of doom, this quintessential Horner device that also became general Kael’s theme in Willow.
James Horner scored The Land Before Time wall-to-wall and the resulting score plays like a rapturous tone poem. It displays sufficient synchronism to qualify as a conventional film score, but at the same time, it so subtly and superbly evokes moods, feelings and concepts that it loses none of its impact when listened to separately as a standalone piece of music, especially since the body of the score contains just seven cues, or rather, movements. In fact, the album is where the incredible level of compositional detail is truly revealed in all its shining glory.
The following is our customary cue-by-cue analysis of the score, but for reasons stated above, it is not as detailed as usual. Unless otherwise stated, the timings mentioned are as in the film, not as on any of the albums.
 
1 – The Great Migration
The start of the cue is an almost straight lift from Béla Bartók’s The Wooden Prince.
 
Bela Bartok The Wooden Prince 
 
Where Bartók uses percussion to create a sense of anticipation, Horner relies on a sustained low string note to symbolize the slowly evolving early stages of life in the oceans. Like Bartók, Horner builds and builds, but at the top of the crescendo, he leaves Bartók and moves to the Interlude from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, which you can listen to here.
 
Sergueï Prokofiev – Interlude from Romeo and Juliet
The influences are completely clear and obvious, and Horner probably used them because they are such a wonderful fit for the underwater prologue, in which we follow the adventures of a small prehistoric amphibian as it explores the waters and is threatened by other underwater creatures. The filmmakers clearly wanted this scene to evoke the primordial soup and they cleverly slipped in a strand of DNA – watch out for the double helix forming in the water bubbles around the one-minute mark. Would Horner have been able to score this scene with music of his own? Of course he would have, but the fact is, he chose to use Bartók and some barely adapted Prokofiev. It’s his way of announcing the score’s identity: this is music which belongs to and flows from the romantic tradition. Note also that Horner does not break the tone of the prologue when the amphibian is chased by a crocodile. Again, musicality is paramount here.
Once the musical origins are clear, Horner starts spinning his own narrative. He keeps the Prokofiev rhythm but develops the horns beyond Prokofiev’s original. The resulting proud horn line is a theme for the dinosaurs in general and yet, in another example of Horner not sticking too closely to the leitmotif concept, the theme is introduced over graciously swimming turtles. It is their movement that clearly suggested to Horner the theme’s particular flow. The film music critic Christian Clemmensen notes:
The theme itself is an intelligent combination of both prowess of strength and the clumsiness of size; the first three-quarters of its progression are particularly bold, and yet Horner tacks on four rather lazy notes after a natural conclusion that perfectly embody the lumbering movement of a large animal (along with some rolling timpani, which always helps).
The lengthy presentation of the dinosaur theme ends with a horn solo as we close in on one family that has eggs hatching. After a short transition for tingling triangle, Ducky is born and Horner introduces her playful theme. When Horner also uses the theme for Cera’s birth half a minute later, you might be forgiven for thinking the idea is really a broader theme for baby dinosaurs. Again, Horner is not very dogmatic about his leitmotifs here.
A little later, Horner introduces the Tree Star motif (with its distinctive choir orchestration and rising two-note head) and yet there’s no leaf around yet. In fact, the theme of life plays under a rainstorm here, and water is in increasingly short supply.
 
 
After a short but violent interlude (a Velociraptor trying to steal an Apatosaurus egg), Horner brings in his flute theme for Littlefoot’s birth – he augments it with delicate woodwinds playing in counterpoint. Meanwhile, we’ve heard snippets of the theme of love as Mother watches over her newborn son.
The cue ends with a formal three-fold cadenza. It dutifully scores Littlefoot going to sleep but it is also an admirably musical statement, as it brings a satisfying close to the score’s Overture.
 
2 – Sharptooth And The Earthquake
Now that Littlefoot is a bit older, he asks for more food. His mother explains that the land is changing, which is why they must walk as far as they can each day to reach the Great Valley. Emotionally neutral but pleasantly tonal music plays until at 8:14, the Tree Star appears for the first time. Instead of the theme of hope which Horner will go on to use almost exclusively for the leaf, a complete statement of the love theme is heard. Littlefoot asks Mother how she can be sure that the Great Valley exists at all. A toe-curlingly sentimental moment occurs as Mother turns to him and says: “Some things you see with your eyes, others you see with your heart.” Of course, the line sets up the drama that is about to unfold and it will help Littlefoot remember his mother after she is gone, but the moment is a little too saccharine for its own good. Horner does not shy away from the sentimentality and scores the scene with swelling strings (but no theme).
Cera really only gets her theme here, when she starts playing around and hitting stuff with her horns. She confronts Littlefoot and he takes on the challenge, at which point the theme starts to speak to playfulness rather than to any one character. However, a great Triceratops comes between the playing children and tells Cera she must stay with her own kind. The idea of segregation is imprinted in these decidedly anthropomorphized dinosaurs at a very tender age and overcoming it is one of the hurdles the five young friends will have to take. Littlefoot and Cera are separated and the theme of playfulness disintegrates as it echoes through different sections of the orchestra. During the next minute, Horner goes on developing the theme, this time in the flutes, not because it is necessarily the best theme for this particular moment, but because it makes musical sense to do so. Littlefoot wonders why he cannot play with Cera and Mother answers that it’s always been this way. Horner then returns to the proud dinosaur theme, which now also comments on the rigid nature of tradition but also starts to act as something of a journey theme.
At night, Littlefoot and Cera meet again but the adventure theme is subverted by an undercurrent of dark strings as they find themselves sliding into a cave. There, they encounter Sharptooth. When the T-Rex charges, Horner provides the first quote of Peter And The Wolf. Listen to Prokofiev’s original here:
 
Peter and the Wolf – 1:12 – 1:43
 
Surprisingly, the short quote is all Horner affords Sharptooth, because just about every action cue in this score revolves around the adventure theme, even Mother’s heroic intervention and subsequent sacrifice. The incredibly forceful variation on the theme around the fifteen-minute mark is not to be missed.
The two minutes underscoring Sharptooth’s relentless attack on Cera and Littlefoot sound markedly different in the movie than on the MCA and Intrada albums – the film version contains significantly more brass.
Mother uses her long tail to knock Sharptooth over a ledge and down a slope, but when the enemy is temporarily defeated the earth starts to shake. For the cataclysmic earthquake, Horner resorts to appropriately churning rhythms. The earth splits and out of the cracks, large chunks of rock rise up. The music Mickey-mouses these violent events with wild orchestral accents that deliberately break the flow of the music. After a devastating climax, the churning earthquake rhythm slows down and the cue ends.
 

3 – Whispering Winds
The most consistently lyrical and emotional cue of the score begins with strains of music heard in movement 7 (Victory) from Prokofiev’s Cantata for the 20th Anniversary Of The October Revolution. Listen to Prokofiev’s original here:
 
Prokofiev’s Cantata
 
After doing battle with Sharptooth, Mother is mortally wounded. She says goodbye to her son and reminds him once more of the markers on the road that leads to the Great Valley. The filmmakers realized that this was going to a very painful moment and they decided to submit the scene to a child psychologist. It was suggested they create a “dinosaur therapist” to help Littlefoot and the youngest members of the audience to come to terms with the idea of losing a parent. The result was Rooter, voiced by Pat Hingle, who also did the narration – you might remember him as Horace the bartender in Sam Raimi’s The Quick and the Dead (1995). It was left to James Horner to provide the target audience with some kind of emotional direction, and in this respect, Whispering Winds is the crowning achievement of the score.
The cue works so well on so many levels: there’s nearly nine minutes of heartbreaking yet tastefully restrained statements of the theme of love, which acts as a kind of ointment for the soul; there’s the playful interlude with the birds which acts as a much-needed break from all the suffering; there’s the choir theme of life that makes a conspicuous and brilliantly-timed appearance during a therapeutic conversation about death; there’s the Prokofiev quote that seamlessly connects this cue with the classical repertoire; there’s the unobtrusive wind effects that lend the cue an aura of mysticism, and it’s all so delicately performed by the London Symphony Orchestra and the King’s College Choir of Wimbledon. If it is true that all film music is manipulation, Horner truly takes this notion to new heights of warmth, consolation and humanity in this masterful cue.
A sorrowful oboe intones the theme of love, which Horner spends the near entirety of this cue developing with tastefully restrained woodwinds and strings. Horner uses Prokofiev’s gentle rhythm to great effect. In fact, he turns it into a perpetuum mobile that represents the circle of life. During the moment of Mother’s passing, Horner strips away the themes and pares the orchestration down to just this gentle rhythm. It is a subdued and therefore unsentimental moment and a respectful adieu to the protagonist’s mother.
 
 
The interlude with the birds may very well be inspired by a similar moment in An American Tail (Reunited, 1:04 – 1:22), but Horner makes the idea far more complex here: there’s a flute for each of the three birds that fight for the berry and pretty quickly, the scoring is as complex as it is light-hearted. (The brassy fortissimo ending to the interlude was cut from the film.)
Mother’s passing is just one of the blows dealt to young Littlefoot. When he tries to connect with another living creature, Cera rejects his company and the young longneck is left all alone. A final statement of the theme of love leads to a sorrowful coda and a beautiful cadenza.
 
4 – Foraging For Food
This is where things starts getting a bit messy. In the next 22 minutes, two new characters are introduced and pretty much nothing happens: Cera and Littlefoot fight, make up and fight some more, the three other characters are mere bystanders, there’s an all-too short run-in with Sharptooth (19 seconds’ worth of action music) and the story loses momentum. The obvious idea was to show how a team can fall prey to internal struggles, but the resulting material is really a little on the boring side. James Horner at least provided intelligent and wonderfully composed musical accompaniment, but for reasons passing understanding, parts of the next three cues were dialed out of the film while some clumsy editing left the remaining music scarred. Jarring cuts extend to an awkward tonal shift at the 31-minute mark, as the music goes from threatening to playful while Ducky and Littlefoot are hiding from a lizard-like dinosaur. Since the next two cues were previously unreleased, it makes sense to comment on a selection of musical highlights.
 
 
One of these occurs when Horner introduces a new playful theme under a conversational scene between Ducky and Littlefoot. The idea takes its cue from Ducky’s cheerful humming, but really, you need the album to really appreciate the beauty of the theme. And it only appears just this once in the score, bookended by beautiful statements of Ducky’s playful theme. I mentioned the vaguely Arabian nature of the theme (might just be me), and its dance-like motion pays off in spades here, as Ducky and Littlefoot dance their way to the horizon. By the way, if one means to say that Ducky, Cera and Littlefoot all have their individual themes, this is the cue to back up that statement: nowhere else in the score does Horner identify themes more consistently with characters. But of course, when Cera charges the presumably dead Sharptooth, we hear the adventure theme.
 
5 – Journey Of The Dinosaurs (previously unreleased)
Flutes enter as Ducky’s attention is drawn to another egg hatching in a bush. Out comes Spike, and Intrada’s new album finally makes his three-note tuba theme available to soundtrack collectors. Of particular note is the moment where Spike’s motif is contrapuntally combined with Ducky’s theme.
 
 
Dark variations on the adventure theme are heard when a patch of greenery is discovered and (out of nowhere) a bunch of dinosaurs move in to feast on it until it’s all gone.
Horner pulls off especially nice and intimate music for the long scene where the five friends bed down. At first, everyone chooses to huddle around Cera, but in the end, even Cera moves over to Littlefoot’s side. Horner makes use of all his character themes as well as the theme of love.
A little later, Littlefoot discovers the rock that looks like a longneck and Horner returns to the choir theme of life.
The unabridged and uncut version of the cue, fully reflective of the composer’s intentions and now rescued thanks to Intrada’s new album, once again reveals the intricate and wonderful orchestrations, the delicate playing by the venerable London ensemble and the imaginative thematic interplay – especially between the adventure theme and Spike’s theme during its first two minutes or so. In my opinion, it’s an unmissable cue because it gently rotates between nearly all of the major themes and because it is another wonderfully musical movement rather than a cue, right down to the satisfying and peaceful cadenza. Finally, fans will want to keep an eye, or rather an ear, open for a short quote from Cocoon (7:03-7:20 on the album).
 
6 – Separate Paths (previously unreleased)
There’s some wonderful thematic interplay when Cera and Littlefoot face off against each other – again. A crescendo of hope turns sour as the five friends climb a ledge that looks out to barren land instead of the Great Valley. Cera decides to take the easy route and tells the group she is leaving. Ducky, Spike and Petrie fall in with her and Littlefoot is on his own.
In the movie, little more than half of this seven-minute cue survives. The first two minutes present a wholly new thematic setting, Horner combining parts of the theme of motherly love with the adventure theme now linked to Littlefoot. It makes for two minutes which are wonderfully understated and ravishingly beautiful. Between them, the two previously unreleased cues show that in the hands of a truly great artist, there is simply no limit to how many cycles of variation any given musical building stone can be put through – the fifteen minutes of previously unheard material present themes in new and imaginative guises, making them sound as fresh as when I discovered the score thirty-two years ago. Watch out for a quick reference to the main titles from Something Wicked This Way Comes, between 2:40 and 3:00 on the album. In the 1983 movie, the churning rhythm, rolling woodwinds and rumbling piano played over a shot of the train rolling into town. Here, the idea, fully recognizable and yet a touch different, provides the build-up to the aforementioned short confrontation with Sharptooth. It is sure to bring a big old smile to your face.
 
7 – Rescue / Discovery of the Great Valley
Horner’s four-note motif makes a cameo at the start of this cue, which is set in a forbidding volcanic landscape. After another jarring cut, Cera jumps across a broken bridge and Horner accents the moment with a brief flash of action. Petrie falls down into what looks like petroleum and Spike and Ducky find themselves isolated on a rock surrounded by lava. Littlefoot rushes to the rescue but the four of them go down. We cut to Cera, who is outnumbered and attacked by evil dinosaurs. Around the 50-minute mark, a Giant Mouse of Minsk moment occurs when the four other heroes appear to have made it out of the volcanic lake. Dressed up as a monstrous tree and cloaked in pitch-black oil, their grotesque appearance scares the living daylights out of the evil dinosaurs.
 
 
Horner composes music very much in the vein of the Great Mouse of Minsk scene from An American Tail: the same kind of frenzied chaos and wild, exuberant orchestrations, with the adventure theme holding all the mayhem together. Cera is scared too and made fun of by her friends, and what’s more, she is too proud to admit that she did in fact go the wrong way. So she retreats into a cave.
Petrie spots Sharptooth high above them and Littlefoot decides it is time to deal with the T-Rex once and for all. His plan is to drop a rock on Sharptooth's head when the monster is over the deepest part of the lake.
 
 
Since Sharptooth cannot swim, it is hoped that he will drown. Littlefoot and Spike will get above Sharptooth, and Petrie is to tell them when the beast is over the deepest part. Ducky is left for the bait. This is as good a time as any for Horner to bring in Peter and The Wolf, because Littlefoot’s trap mirrors the characters in Prokofiev’s story. Littlefoot is Peter (who comes up with the plan), Spike is the cat, Ducky is the duck, Petrie is the bird, and T-Rex is the wolf. (There is a small difference: the bird/Petrie is the one that is supposed to lure T-Rex into the water, not Duckie.) The Prokofiev quote returns, but again, it’s a short outburst and Horner quickly returns to the adventure theme as a way to keep the wild action climax together. Petrie falls towards Sharptooth flapping his wings desperately. The monster roars and the blast lifts Petrie higher. The young Pteranodon continues to rise suddenly, discovering he can now fly. When the T-Rex jumps onto the rock that Littlefoot and Spike were going to drop on him, Cera comes to the rescue and they push the rock with Sharptooth on it into the deep. However, the T-Rex catches Petrie between his teeth as he goes down. The adventure theme plays in a sorrowful string variation as the four friends mourn Petrie’s loss. When Petrie climbs back up on the ledge, the film version of the cue differs from the one featured on the MCA and Intrada albums: we hear the theme of love, but the moment sounds like it was tracked in from Whispering Winds.
Littlefoot sees the contours of his mother forming in the clouds and he follows them. At this point, Horner brings in an electronic effect from Cocoon (1986) to underscore the mystical appearance in the sky (not on any of the albums). Littlefoot hears his mother calling and he tells her he has tried, but it's just too hard. The clouds begin to blow away and Littlefoot runs after them. They blow though an opening in the mountains and Littlefoot comes out on the other side. A beam of sunlight pierces through the cloud that represents Mother’s chest and spreads out to reveal the Great Valley.
 
 
The choir theme of hope climaxes into an exuberant statement of the theme of love. The remainder of the cue presents alternating statements of the themes of hope and love as we see a brief recap of Littlefoot’s life, after which Horner brings it all to a mesmerizing close.
 
8 – If we Hold on Together / End Titles
 
After the Diana Ross song, a short version of James Horner’s elaborate end titles is heard, essentially just the adventure theme (in an American Tail-like arrangement that starts the cue) and the triumphant last statement of the theme of love, after which the end titles conclude with a minute of delicate contemplation. Interestingly, Horner times the ending so that the penultimate note (the high cadenza) coincides with a leaf falling on a red-colored water surface that morphs into “A Don Bluth Film” and the final note (the low cadenza) coincides with the Amblin Entertainment logo.
 
Last words
 
And that brings us back to the point I have been trying to make about the Land Before Time score. The high and low cadenzas and the silence in between are a clear case of synchronism, since they are tailored to the visuals with great precision (remember, this is the credit crawl!). On the albums, however, divorced from the studio logos, they take on a purely musical meaning and the effect, while fundamentally different, is just as impressive. If so many fans think The Land Before Time represents the pinnacle of Horner’s career, it’s because the score can be perceived as belonging to two radically different worlds and feeling equally comfortable in both. As a film score, it delivers the right accents in the right places (even though the themes are often applied very loosely). As a standalone listening experience, it is overwhelming proof of James Horner’s musical genius. The conversational cues in the middle of the movie might not be able to remedy the messy storyline (especially since the cues are often truncated or dialed out for no reason at all), but separated from the film, they display a vivid interaction between the score’s different themes and building stones that completely makes sense from a musical point of view. During these cues and on a level of musical abstraction, The Land Before Time does become Horner’s version of Peter And The Wolf, but once you look past the musical quotes, you realize that when all is said and done, this story is wholly and entirely his own.
James Horner said he fell in love with film music when he realized how marvelous the interaction between images and musical notes could be. The Land Before Time is the very rare case of a fully functional score that is also a superlative and timeless piece of music. Do not miss out on this one.
 
Sources:

Huge thanks to Roger Feigelson

Comments

  1. Excellent review! A truly detailed breakdown of a great symphony by a masterful composer. Please provide sources for the quotes used in the article, thank you.

    • Jean-Baptiste Martin

      Thank you for your comment. The sources are indicated at the bottom of the article.

  2. Jeremy R

    Never ordered an album more quickly.

    If we’re pointing out classical references, the Flyers and Cherries part is likely based on a segment from Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra

  3. Freddy Pereira

    Absolutely awesome review from this masterpiece made by the great James Horner!!!
    Wonderful!!!!!

  4. Ken Wiggins

    Congratulations Kjell on a peerless review of one of the peaks of James Horner’s career. As your commentary reveals, ‘Land Before Time’ and the epic ‘Willow’ produced the same year bring into focus the question of how musical ideas from the classical repertoire infiltrated and fuelled Horner’s compositional genius.
    Drawing inspiration from the composers who exerted the greatest influence on him was something that came naturally to James Horner. His talent certainly was not compromised by a propensity for plagiarism–the musicians of the London Symphony Orchestra who performed the scores of the two films were familiar with the works being quoted and appreciated the logic and purpose behind Horner’s thinking. They definitely would not have taken Horner’s erudite handling of such material as evidence for lack of creativity on his part.
    Although the classical music culture to which James Horner was affiliated seems far removed from the world of Mississippi blues, it is worth considering for a moment the recorded output of Robert Johnson, ‘king of the delta blues singers’, dating from a series of sessions in 1936-7. Johnson is righty revered as a genius of the idiom, but analysis of his recordings shows he was strongly influenced by older musicians living in the Mississippi region at that time, such as Son House, Charley Patton and Willie Brown. Johnson was a master at taking existing musical ideas and adding his own personal spark to produce a body of work undeniably greater than the sum of its parts. In 1969 the Rolling Stones famously recorded ‘Love in Vain’ on the ‘Let It Bleed’ album as a tribute to Johnson, but in fact Johnson’s inspiration for the song came from the record ‘When The Sun Goes Down’ by Leroy Carr, released in 1935. Chuck Berry was another genius who had a transformative impact on music of the twentieth century. His most famous record, ‘Johnny B. Goode’, features a two-note guitar lick that is universally recognised as his trademark. Yet Berry’s source for the idea was T-Bone Walker’s guitar solo on ‘I Got a Break, Baby’, released in 1945.
    The point is that music, whether found in a stack of blues 78rpm records or contained in volumes of formally composed symphonies, is not a static art form–it’s a river that constantly seeks to flow in new directions. Musicians of rare talent are adept at opening new channels by creatively reimagining established ideas, in the process bringing forth memorable work that is rooted in what went before but transformed into something bearing their own stamp. Music has been moved further along the map by legends such as Robert Johnson and Chuck Berry, and James Horner, although a man on a very different musical path, belongs in that elite company. The composers whom he admired most inspired him to reach his full creative potential, never more clearly demonstrated than on ‘Land Before Time’. The result is a high point in film music composition of the 1980s that remains a marvel more than thirty years on, and from which those who aspire to master the art of putting music to film can learn a great deal.
    Remembering Pamela Read. RIP.

  5. Desmeon

    Very good review of a legendary and bewitching soundtrack by James Horner. I bought a copy, I also own the original. This remaster is a beautiful tribute to the composer, R.I.P James Horner.

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