"I have this text from him [James Horner] the night before he died and I had spoken to him earlier and he was in a great place. Then the next morning there was this stream of texts and the phone calls started coming in – I would trade anything not to have this discussion." 1
I would trade anything not to have published An Unwritten Future, an article by Kim Østenfor Spildrejorde in July 2015, a few days after the disappearance of James Horner. He gave an overview of the projects in which James Horner was engaged: James Cameron's four Avatar sequels (the first planned for December 2018), Harald Zwart's The 12th Man, now scheduled for 2017, and finally Mel Gibson's Hacksaw Ridge coming this autumn.
"Mel [Gibson] is brilliant and it makes me feel so dreadful–the stuff you hear in the media. He's this unbelievable director, and some of my best experiences–there's some unbelievable memories that I have working with Mel. I'd love to do it again." 2
James Horner – April 2015
The cinematographic and musical quality of the collaboration between James Horner and Mel Gibson has always been obvious. There was first of all the beautiful and intimate The Man Without The Face and the unforgettable Braveheart and finally the powerful and singular Apocalypto. Hacksaw Ridge, which marks the return of Mel Gibson to cinema after 10 years of absence would have been their fourth collaboration. Early reviews describe a film with devastating emotional power. So, it is even more difficult to accept James Horner’s absence on just such a project.
Seeing the trailer of Hacksaw Ridge and the superb posters produce complex feelings, a mixture of bitterness, sadness, injustice, and regrets. All the requisite conditions were there for James Horner to have given us the deeply moving music that was undeniably his forte.
Just as Andrew Martin, the robot of Bicentennial Man, became aware that he shall see disappear, one by one, all the humans who were dear to him, Hacksaw Ridge is making us aware that these successive releases of orphaned James Horner projects and all their unborn music will just rub salt in the wound.
To intensify our bereavement, Simon Franglen revealed last week that James Horner was scheduled for the Zhang Yimou film, The Great Wall, slated for February 2017. Quite a few shots from the trailer are impressive, and the story seems to brilliantly mix lyricism and heroism. One more project where James Horner could have express his many talents as narrator.
Imagine his airplane had never crashed, we would have had the right to a high-level cuvée: an amazing autumn with The Magnificent Seven and Hacksaw Ridge, followed by a winter marked by The Great Wall. James Horner left when everything was in front of him: from the cinema with this monumental trio that would have placed him (yet again) to the forefront of the Hollywood scene; to the concert music with the composition of a choral work or a ballet to accompany Collage; to the interpretation of his most significant works in live presentations, Titanic Live and Aliens Live, leading the way for others.
The Avatar sequels which could extend until 2023 will prolong the torment, and every time we shall remember how deeply tragic is James Horner’s absence, how his music would have written our present!
This artist was an inexhaustible source of notes that magically united together to form a unique and indefinable whole. Before, each new project announcement brought us impatience, excitement, joy. Now every unwritten score brings regret and suffering. The source has dried up since the summer of 2015, the flow of notes was arrested right at a time when he seemed strong enough to last for another 20 years yet! Imagine the number of films, the number of hours of music… The story should have continued just like of our two finest examples of longevity in Ennio Morricone and John Williams each of whom, beyond 80 years, are still to our delight quite relevant players in the film music world.
Time does heal the pain, but still, what we are missing grows day by day. Such an attachment to an artist can sometimes seem excessive. One answer can be found perhaps in the words of Sara Horner, the composer’s wife who for the first time spoke to National Public Radio:
"He could write music that expressed something inside of him that, in everyday real life, it was very difficult for him to communicate, and I think that part of it, the emotional connection that he had with his audience, was, for him, the whole point of it." 3