The Four Feathers

Sony Classical (0696998974425)
Sony Classical (4547366011623)
Movie | Released: 2002 | Format: CD, Download

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# Track   Duration
1.The Making Of A Fine Soldier3:28
2.The Dance2:22
3.Harry's Resignation10:09
5.To Abou Clea3:08
6.The Martyrs2:40
7.The Mahdi10:47
8.The Letters6:52
9.Poison From A Friend6:56
11.Ethne's Feather4:21
12.Ghost Of Serenity6:30
13.A Coward No Longer13:49
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The Four Feathers - 08/10 - Review of Andreas Lindahl, submitted at
It's strange, really. Everyone - it doesn't matter whether they are huge James Horner fans, or simply can't stand his music - seems to be interested in every score Horner puts out. Horner fans because they like his music, of course. That's not especially surprising. But why do the Horner "haters" keep listening to the composers' music? Or so it seems, anyway. Because every time a new Horner soundtrack is released, the same people always seem to get their hands on a copy for their own collection, after which they share their opinions with the rest of the film music community. I just think it's strange that people keep spending money on music they don't like... Anyway, these people will probably pick up a copy of Horner's latest score, The Four Feathers, as well. And they'll probably moan about how unoriginal it is or about the large number of lifts from other scores. And while I sort of agreed with them when they complained about Windtalkers, which really was an uninspired and unoriginal score, I just won't agree with them when they start going on about The Four Feathers. Because The Four Feathers really isn't in the same league as Windtalkers. It's much better. The score won't be the most original thing you'll ever hear, but Horner luckily manages to avoid the easy and convenient lifts he tends to do, and it even seems to be written by a composer with ideas. And for some reason, that feels like winning the lottery.

The score can be divided into two different parts, or moods. First, there's the action music. And then there's the drama and romance. The romantic parts of The Four Feathers are typical Horner stuff, when it comes to sound and orchestrations - we get the piano, woodwinds and soft strings (and some airy synth sounds) - but Horner does not reuse any thematic material for these sections. And the love theme is a beauty. Especially when performed on solo piano (like in "The Dance") or by lush strings in the wonderful "The Letters". It's one of those classic Horner themes that it's impossible not to love. And luckily the romantic parts never get overly sentimental. There are thick, strong renditions of the love theme but Horner never goes as far as he did in for example Enemy at the Gates, which was more or less embarrassing to watch because of the sentimental, over the top appearances of Horner's love theme (worked great on CD, tough). At times these soft moments remind me of Horner's score for To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday, since they both share the same delicate piano, woodwinds and strings. Lovely stuff, and the largest reason this music scores many points in my book.

The action music isn't in the same league. Altough we don't get even one appearance of the overused four note motif (yay! We won the lottery again!) and Horner actually presents some ideas I haven't heard before (such as wind chimes, lots of subtle, and not so subtle, synth sounds, that actually work) I'm having a hard time trying to appreciate these cues. The largest, and perhaps only, reason this is so hard are the vocals by Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. To be frank they annoy the hell out of me. Apart from the vocals the action music actually is rather good. Not great, but good. There are a lot of percussion and calling horns and trumpets, of course, but every time Horner starts to build up his action cues, presenting some interesting ideas, these damn vocals take over the entire stage, ruining the mood and the music. Sure, they probably work great in the film (when I can't hear them because of the sound effects) but I can't stand listening to them. Horner just makes use of this effect too much. The only time it works is in "To Abou Clea" where the vocals are more subtle and together with all kinds of percussion and ethnical instruments create a sound that reminds me quite a lot of Hans Zimmer's Gladiator score. But cues such as "The Mahdi", "Snier!" and "Ghost of Serenity" are practically unlistenable.

Still, I enjoy most of the score for The Four Feathers. And it gives me hope. Clearly, Horner can be original when he really tries. Not entirely original, mind you, but far from unoriginal. Unlike Windtalkers, The Four Feathers score doesn't come with any obvious and downright painful reuses of previous scores. It still sounds like a typical Horner score, of course, but that can, and should, be explained with style, which is a whole other thing - it's something I welcome. Three strong or four weak stars, that's the question. Ah, why not... four weak ones, it is.
The Four Feathers - 06/10 - Review of Tom Daish, submitted at
The prospect of James Horner scoring something of an historical epic was one that I was looking forward to with a good deal of enthusiasm. His recent scoring hasn't really been particularly exciting, but The Four Feathers seemed like a project where he ought to be inspired more than usual. The story of a soldier who resigns, is branded a coward and then tries to redeem himself has been told on many occasions, perhaps most famously in the sterling 1939 version scored by Miklos Rozsa. This latest telling is directed by Shekhar Kapur whose previous outing, Elizabeth prompted a quality, if somewhat oddly anachronistic score from David Hirschfelder but perhaps for the sake of safety based on a solid track record, he asked Horner to score The Four Feathers.
James Horner has written some fine, epic scores; Legends of the Fall, Braveheart and even Titanic were successful, particularly Braveheart which contains some of his most effective scoring for both action and drama. The approach is rarely hugely original or complex, but it works, which in a film is the most important thing. The problem is, when applied to CD format, the simplicity becomes all too apparent. The three listed are varied and dynamic enough to earn their playing time, The Four Feathers, rather unfortunately, does not. Harry's Resignation is a case in point, only shortly before the nine minute mark does something other than quiet strings and meandering piano actually happen. No doubt effective in the film, although I can't help thinking that it's little more than musical wallpaper that papers over the cracks rather than adds to it. The final minute of dissonance the track has to offer is more interesting, but it's just a bit late by that point.

The prospect of Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's vocals for some apparently genuine location flavouring can either be seen as a good use of a performer to enhance the score or simply a way of disguising the fact that underneath, the orchestral passages have been heard numerous times previously. The effect on the brief, but exciting Sniper! is notable, but without the singing, it would just be another outing for shakuhatchi and percussion led James Horner action motif #3. The dynamism is admittedly welcome, as it is in the extended Escape, but only because the rest is pretty sleep inducing. To Abou Clea is one of the better dramatic cues that features more interesting percussion and more interesting vocal effects, together with some surprisingly dissonant orchestral writing. The cue goes somewhere, it is interesting and it makes a musical and dramatic statement. Too many of them do not. The Mahdi has a pleasing martial atmosphere that is interrupted by the vocals in a surprising and exciting way, making if one of the finest and best sustained cues of the entire album. Unfortunately these moments of quality are a little thin on the ground.

The Four Feathers is more interesting than Windtalkers and more original than A Beautiful Mind, but like both of those, it is still too long. While Harry's Resignation is a crucial point in the film, a track of two minutes to cover this event would be enough. Like many of the quieter, longer tracks it simply doesn't add anything and is just padding, acceptable with the pictures, tedious without. The score is bereft of a strong main theme which doesn't help matters. Braveheart has several and while they are repeated quite frequently, their placing and variation means they never wear thin. The Four Feathers doesn't even one strong theme, Khan's vocals are the only striking invention and much of that down to the performance as much as the writing. Some good moments, but as with much recent Horner, you'll have to be patient to get to them.

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