The 33 (James Horner)
James Horner, 2015, Watertower Music
19 tracks, 63:11
This may be last time we hear a brand new James Horner score. It’s a moment to be savoured. And thankfully, Horner has delivered a wonderful work.
Review by Pete Simons
What is it?
“The 33” tells the real-life story of thirty-three Chilean miners who became trapped in a mine, a few years ago. They were stuck for 69 days before they all emerged alive. I know… spoiler alert, what am I like!
Patricia Riggen, director of “Girl in Progress” and “Lemonade Mouth”, decided to direct a movie about the events that unfolded back in 2010. You know… for those who didn’t see the news. Joking aside, the movie has been positively received; and more importantly it features a score by James Horner. One of his last, in fact.
It remains to be seen if Horner’s score for “Living in the Age of Airplanes” will still get a release, and it certainly remains to be seen if Antoine Fuqua can (or: will) use any of the music Horner secretly penned for his upcoming “The Magnificent Seven”. With those uncertainties looming over film music fans, “The 33” could well be the very last time we’ll ever get to hear a new work from the composer who (okay… spoiler alert) passed away in June this year.
What does it sound like?
It’s not the first time that James Horner has visited South America, musically speaking. “Vibes”, “Where the River Runs Black”, “The Mask of Zorro”, “For Greater Glory” and “House of Cards” are notable predecessors.
As “The Atacama Desert” opens the album we are greeted by that 2-tone dull drum that Horner has often applied, including during the opening of “House of Cards”. Soon, Horner introduces a whimsical melody. First on guitar, later on flute. The melody is clearly a cousin to “For Greater Glory” and “The Mask of Zorro”, but it’s different enough for it not to be distracting. The drumbeat intensifies as Horner uses fluttering pan-pipes to build a familiar crescendo.
After a very intimate “Empanadas for Dario” (sparse guitar and soft strings), the 2-tone beat returns amidst string arpeggios, fluttering flutes and various dramatic instrumental effects. It’s a tense little cue, that leads into “The Collapse”, a proper action cue for agitated strings and various percussive instruments.
The dull drumbeat features again in “Buried Alive”, accompanying long chords for strings and Horner’s typical breathy synths and rhythmic pan flutes. Strumming guitars and an upbeat melody on the quena are the ingredients for “Drilling, The Sweetest Sound!”. It’s an infectious cue, which immediately receives a variation in “Prayer – Camp Hope”. The optimistic mood dampens with “The Drill Misses (And Dreams Fade), where the main theme is performed slowly, against melancholy synth chords and puffing pan flutes.
“I wanted a composer who could deliver a score that was complex and rich in scope, but reflecting the Andean sounds of that region. […] Guitars were an essential, but he also brought in Andean flutes, which were a great addition to the tone and texture of the score.” — Patricia Riggen
Horner’s score makes way for a melancholy song, “Gracias a La Vida” performed by Cote de Pable”, and returns with “Aiming to Miss”. This is a hypnotic cue for mysterious synth pads, lightly plucked sounds (presumably harp) and a slowly, rising and falling piano progression. It’s truly mesmerising, and exudes unease and anxiety.
Things turn more upbeat again with “We Are All Well in the Refuge, The 33”, as the strumming guitars, the lively rhythms and the quena return. “Always Brothers” offers a variant on the main theme, whilst “Fenix” is another hypnotic cue, this time for echoing strings and harp. “First Ascent” is, for the most part, a tense and understated cue. High flute and shimmering sounds must surely represent ‘light’, but throughout the final minute the string chords become more dramatic and pulsating synths and modern percussion add a sense of dread to the proceedings.
“James was one of the most gifted artists of our time and his contribution to our film is immeasurable. The music he created is everything I could have hoped for and more. It effortlessly transitions from soaring and dynamic to soft and intimate, perfectly capturing the heart and soul of this story.” — Patricia Riggen
Arguably one of the album’s highlight is “Celebrations”. It starts with lush, yet understated strings offering a melody that closely resembles “Glory”, before a bridge (nicked from “Avatar”) leads us to a reprise of the main theme (including “Avatar”-ish chanting), followed by another reprise of the “Glory”-inspired theme; all the while accompanied by strumming latin guitars and shakers. Despite the familiar lifts, it’s an immensely satisfying cue. And the score is not done yet…
“Family is All We Have” is a quietly understated cue for strings and guitar, mirroring “Empanadas for Dario”, whilst Los Bunkers provide a fairly upbeat cue “Al Final De Este Viaje En La Vida”. The score concludes with “The 33”, which features a jubilant performances of the main theme on flute, accompanied by guitars, shakers and that 2-tone beat. As the cue progresses strings join in. It’s a gorgeous piece, before the lush, romantic strings of “Hope Is Love” close the album.
Is it any good?
James Horner’s “The 33” is a genuinely beautiful work. Of course it’s incredibly saddening to think we’ll never hear this man’s voice again, which means this album comes laden with ‘nostalgia’. However, “The 33” can stand firmly on its own 2 (or 66) feet.
The score is not quite as small-scale as I was expecting from Horner’s early descriptions. Strings and synths blend in really well to provide the score with a deep, warm sound. There is a real maturity to the synths here, it has to be said. Horner uses multiple guitars, panned left and right, for a rich sound. And Tony Hinnegan’s performances on the flutes are just phenomenal, as always. It’s a wonderful album – at once dramatic and joyful. And one last time, Horner shows how good a storyteller he is.
In a strange kind-of way I’m glad that “The 33” is the last of Horner’s recent scores to be released. Had it been “Southpaw” I would honestly have been a little disappointed; and had it been “Wolf Totem” I wouldn’t have been able to stop crying. “The 33”, for all its drama, is an uplifting score about hope and love, that’s left me smiling and tapping along to the music. That is James Horner’s legacy: hope and love… and tapping, lots of tapping.
01. The Atacama Desert (1.59)
02. Empanadas for Darío (1.45)
03. To the Heart of The Mountain (2.29)
04. The Collapse (4.13)
05. Buried Alive (3.45)
06. Drilling, The Sweetest Sound! (1.06)
07. Prayer – Camp Hope (2.35)
08. The Drill Misses (And Dreams Fade…) (5.39(
09. Gracias A La Vida – Cote de Pablo * (4.50)
10. Aiming To Miss (3.38)
11. We Are All Well in the Refuge, The 33 (3.46)
12. Always Brothers (2.21)
13. Fénix (2.31)
14. First Ascent (4.59)
15. Celebrations (3.55)
16. Family Is All We Have (2.59)
17. Al Final De Este Viaje En La Vida – Los Bunkers * (3.22)
18. The 33 (3.43)
19. Hope is Love (3.36)
Digitally at first, physically later.