Flightplan (James Horner)


Flightplan made a mild splash at the fall box office on release, earning a tidy sum, despite being critically reviled and a rehash of many currently-popular suspense movie clichés, particularly those from 2004’s The Forgotten. In addition to missing children and Clarice Starling (with one starring Jodie Foster and the other Julianne Moore), both Flightplan and The Forgotten feature James Horner scores which see the veteran composer at his most experimental. But while The Forgotten was largely an exercise in atmospherics, Flightplan is more suspense-oriented.

Fans of James Horner get a mixed blessing with Flightplan. On the one hand, the reuse of material that has plagued the composer’s career is largely absent: there a few brief statements of Brainstorm in the final track, and dedicated Horner fans may identify a few more minor instances, but little of the composer’s penchant for recycling his own material is in evidence.  On the other hand, the music is very moody, with lots of rumbling bass and pianos but little in the way of melody. The three-note theme from the finale is hinted at early in the score, but very subtly–it will probably take the average listener multiple playthroughs to identify this.

Only in the final track do these hints of a theme come together for a triumphant melodic statement, and it’s all too brief. The rest of the album tends toward suspenseful, slightly minimalistic music, or chaotic and atonal action music. This material has a unique sound, due in part to the complex orchestrations as well as the limitations Horner has set on himself. There is no brass in the score, for example, but there are no less than five pianos which had to be primed before playing to muffle their sound.

As much as one can respect Horner’s desire to do something outside of his musical comfort zone, and the complexity and effort that went into creating the music, Flightplan is simply not a compelling listen for much of its length. The brilliant final cue, which would be a fine choice for inclusion on  compilation, and the pounding action cues make up for this somewhat, but people who are not fans of Horner or of the movie will probably have little use for Flightplan, a moody and dissonant if largely original James Horner suspense score largely bereft of harmony until its finale.

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