In 2013 we have definitely been spoiled by Intrada, with three James Horner albums: after the vibrant and unpublished In Country, the valiant and percussive Clear and Present Danger, here is the emotional and sensitive Cocoon. This is the perfect opportunity to revisit this outstanding music composed at the beginning of the Maestro's career, and look at the new elements of this edition.
"There is a before and an after Cocoon because Steven Spielberg loved this film and my music. My career really took off with Cocoon and An American Tail. I walked into the Hollywood tradition at that time " 1
Originally, the sci-fi movie Cocoon was to be directed by Robert Zemeckis, but he was called by Steven Spielberg to work on Back to the Future, and thus was replaced by Ron Howard, who had just finished Splash, starring Tom Hanks. This is the first of seven films bringing together the director and James Horner. Their partnership would subsequently lead to significant scores such as Willow, Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind. Their latest common project, the excellent The Missing, dates back to 2003. Ron Howard has since then turned to Hans Zimmer for the music of his films.
The story of Cocoon follows three residents of a retirement home who suddenly realize that they have recovered a new youth after a swim in a local pool, in which extraterrestrial eggs have been secretly stored. A delicate mix of emotion and science fiction, the film was a public success and therefore had a sequel, which was far less successful: Cocoon: The Return.
Ron Howard chose James Horner because he had "found the emotion and sensitivity" 2 in the artist's first works, qualities that the story needed. He also saw in this composer the image of a great symphonist proven by Krull and Brainstorm. The score for Cocoon must be decidedly "very moving" 2 and therefore both intimate and symphonic.
"Cocoon has changed something in me, triggered something, some kind of passion and emotion (…) guitar, harp and piano are enough in themselves. I love this score." 1
The score opens with a magical theme (Through The Window), slowly performed by a xylophone to create an atmosphere that combines mystery and enchantment. This theme will embody the wonderful, the supernatural, throughout the film–for example, in a dynamic form at the beginning of the sumptuous Returning To Sea, or hovering in the middle of the opulent The Ascension (2'43).
The central part of the album is dominated by a deeply moving theme, whose secret only James Horner could possess. The composer recently said (see our article) that he wants to look for melancholic colors echoing the past with certain instruments that are the key to unlocking the heart. Cocoon was then the perfect project to develop these colors adequately with the story’s subjects: lost youth, getting old, disease, relationships between grandparents and grandchildren, or love until death.
Thanks to delicate simplicity in orchestration, James Horner was able to set these themes into music, offering us truly moving passages related in particular, to the loss of a loved one: a guitar and a piano join to depict the death of a resident (Rose's Death), an oboe and a horn accompany an extraterrestrial’s final moments (First Tears), and return with strings during the goodbyes between a father and his young son (Sad goodbyes). Just like Testament (1983) and Brainstorm (1983), which preceded it, Cocoon is a poem of love and death where the composer's sensitivity is fully expressed.
A final majestic and brassy theme also stands out in the score. First announced by powerful trumpet notes during the arrival of Antarians on Earth (Through The Window at 1:04), it returns in Returning To The Sea at 3:29 when the extraterrestrials propose that the humans accompany them. Then it fully deploys during the final scenes, which announce the departure from Earth into space (The Chase, The Ascension).
However, this rich score can’t be represented by solely these three themes, as it has multiple motifs notably performed by horn and it is full of little details that encourage one to listen to the score or watch the movie again to understand their meaning.
Beyond the theme and the orchestrations, we should also mention another pleasant side of the score: the jazz/swing of the '30s/'40s. This music symbolizes the youth regained by the three retired men because it echoes the period of time gone, when they were dashing, virile, and in full possession of their faculties. A judicious anachronism that perfectly fits the atmosphere of the movie. These passages were orchestrated by Billy May, a specialist in this field, having arranged some Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald songs, and also a trumpeter for Glenn Miller. Note that this jazzy ambience will be further developed in Cocoon: The Return.
The 1985 Polydor release, whose latest reissue was in 1997, includes the main parts of the score but nevertheless has the drawbacks of imposing the song Gravity in the middle of the listening, and of presenting the tracks in a grand mess. For example, the second track (The Lovemaking) is a scene in the middle of the film, the third track (The Chase) is a part of the finale… Only the introduction Through The Window and the last two tracks The Ascension and Theme From Cocoon are properly placed on the disc.
The experience put forth by this new edition is completely new: listening to all the music in the chronological order of the film produces a coherent and moving progression of emotions. Thus, after a jazzy and innocent first third of the album, the aforementioned poem of love and death spans between A Relapse and Sad Goobyes and provides a quarter of an hour of moving, melancholic music that overcomes the listener. Then the final twirling, brassy and majestic twenty minutes start with the thrilling David Runs To The Boat. A simple and obvious observation can be made while listening to the last notes of the magnificent finale Theme From Cocoon: this new edition, besides presenting one of the most touching scores of its author, is a new concrete proof of his narrative genius.
In total, 16 never-before released minutes are presented to us:
After the introductory track, Through The Window, the album develops first five new cues:
Going To The Pool opens with a delicate orchestration based on harps. Joe, one of the residents, is sick but does not dare tell his two friends about it. Like Michael's Gift to Karen (Brainstorm), the fragility of existence is represented in this small fraction of music. The three companions go to the pool in the uninhabited neighboring residence. The jazz / swing atmosphere begins and symbolizes the mischief reclaimed by these elderly people during this break-in. Then harps come back to conclude the track as one of the intruders rests on an air mattress in the middle of the pool and enjoys the moment. The simplicity of the orchestration again perfectly illustrates this small moment of life.
In Pool Is Closed, the harps, the bass and the saxophone seem to want to reiterate the mood of the previous track, as the retirees go again to the pool. But here the jazzy musical phrase is stopped in its tracks at 0:33. The little daily outing is compromised by the presence in the property of a real estate agent and prospective tenants who happen to be the Antarians in human envelopes. At 0:54, the orchestra soars, strings twirl and trumpets intone a catchy motif to follow the boat rented by the extraterrestrials, at full speed to the dive site where the cocoons are. A flute coming from Krull and a malicious horn solo that we will find twenty years later in Bobby Jones Stroke Of Genius accompany the study of an underwater map.
Mysterious Dive starts on a descending strings phrase, which leads us to the seabeds. A mysterious atmosphere then settles, from which a beautiful horn solo (0:40) emerges, like an evocation of Atlantis, the sunken city not far from Florida, where cocoons have been resting for 10,000 years.
Two hits of drums bring us abruptly back to reality and to the retirement home for the jazzy Seduction / Let 's Go. The slow tempo of the first minute of the track accompanies the three retirees, who show to their wives the stimulating effects caused by the first swim near the cocoons. The energizing properties of this rejuvenating bath are fully expressed via the accelerating pace from 0:50.
The very brief Unveiling relates the scene when the boat captain Jack finds out the true identity of the passengers. James Horner draws anguishing sounds and motifs, which will later depict the appearances of the extraterrestrials with their faces revealed (Discovered In The Poolhouse, The Lovemaking).
Then the three other unreleased tracks come between already known passages.
A Relapse offers a beautiful variation of the melancholic theme. It marks the return of Joe's disease because, after an encounter with the owners, he and his two friends are barred from further enjoying the positive effects of the cocoons. The harp and the guitar emphasize the sadness that overwhelms the hearts of the characters.
Sneaking Away brings a bit of humor and vitality after the heavy trio First Tears / Rose's Death / Sad Goodbye. Twenty retirees escape from the retirement home and join Jack's boat. The melancholic theme returns for the fond farewell with Bernie, late Rose's husband, who has decided to stay on Earth.
David Runs To The Boat is a moment of pure Hornerian fantasy. The magic theme returns accompanied by bells and chimes, followed by a rapid rendition of the melancholic theme, which illustrates the desperate race of the young David to say a final goodbye to his grandparents.
Following the magnificent Theme From Cocoon, you can find The Boys Are Out, an arrangement of the jazz / swing thematic developed during the film, already present in the 1985 edition. After so much poetry, we recommend that you avoid the last three tracks not composed by James Horner that break the charm created in the fifty-five previous minutes.
Note that, unlike the recent In Country and Clear And Present Danger, the booklet appears to be less complete, notably with a succinct list of technical data, which does not give the names of the musicians and the recording dates. However, three unpublished photos of James Horner during the recording sessions make up for this perceived lack.
Thank you to Intrada for giving us another look at this score. The new assembly of the tracks, the remastered sound, the narrative contribution of the before-unreleased tracks generate a completely new and intensified listening pleasure. We have known it for almost thirty years, but it is now confirmed: Cocoon figures as an essential score, shining with modernity and full of emotions.
1- Le Maître sort de son Cocon, Didier Leprêtre, Dreams to Dream…'s
2- Ron Howard: De Cocoon au Grinch, Steve Olson, Dreams Magazine, 2000.
Pictures: © Twentieth Century Fox