When Horner took a long break from scoring in 1999, it was hard being a die hard James Horner fan, not getting a new score by the composer to listen to for a whole year. But now he is finally back (replacing John Williams, who backed out, due to scheduling problems), with the score for Chris Columbus' Bicentennial Man, starring Robin Williams, Sam Neill and others.
It is a quite lovely, emotional score, in the same veins as Horner's scores for Searching for Bobby Fischer, To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday and The Spitfire Grill. With their soft strings, quiet piano and tender woodwind solos, these are some of my favorite Horner scores, and the composer himself has said that scores like those are the ones he enjoys the most to compose.
The problem with Bicentennial Man, however, is that parts of the score are incredibly derivative. One would think and hope that Horner would be back with some great new material after his year long break. And sure, the material is great, but not new, I'm afraid. Large chunks of Bicentennial Man are some of the most unoriginal music by Horner I have ever heard. The cue "The Wedding" serves as a perfect example. Opening with a horn solo, followed by quiet strings and solo piano, this cue borrows music from Deep Impact - the piano motif and other material. Later on in the cue, we are given a rendition of the really beautiful love theme. It's just one problem - it is clearly inspired by its relative from Braveheart. Now, "The Wedding" is really a wonderful, beautiful cue, and it is hard not liking it, or even loving it, but unfortunately it does not offer much new material. That is how the entire score can be described - it is mostly incredibly beautiful, with some stunning moments, but large parts of it have been used by Horner before, in his scores for The Spitfire Grill, Searching for Bobby Fischer and the other scores mentioned above.
The question then, is if this is important, and if it really makes the score less interesting, good and effective. The opinions differ. Many will probably be more than willing to tear this score apart. Other people might not care that much. As long as it serves the picture, and makes for a nice listening experience, they are happy. I am somewhere in between those two groups. One can't deny that Bicentennial Man is a beautiful score, with that genuine Horner sound many of us have come to love, and others have come to associate with unoriginality.
But with Bicentennial Man Horner also offers some really good, fresh ideas, such as the exciting "Transformed", with its lively piano, synths and glockenspiel, and "The Search for Another" - also a very upbeat, optimistic piece, with some excellent feel good music. And fans of Horner's piano solos will get a fair share of those as well in many of the cues, mostly performing the love theme, which really is a gorgeous piece, although it, as already said, contains lifts from other scores. But it is wonderful and is used quite frequently in the score. It appears in many different forms and shapes, and is sometimes performed by sweeping strings and other times by solo woodwinds, or lovely piano.
The song, "Then You Look at Me", written by Horner and Will Jennings, and performed by Celine Dion, is based on the main theme and is quite nice. The version featured on the soundtrack is not the same as the one on the Celine Dion album. This version is not as "big" and over produced, and is much more romantic and orchestral.
If you cannot stand James Horner or his lifts, I suggest you avoid this score. Don't even think about getting it, because you will hate it. However, if you don't care about the composer's controversial way of scoring films, you will probably love Bicentennial Man. It's a wonderful score, with excellent themes and orchestrations. I really enjoy the score, but at the same time I really wish that Horner would stop re-using his music.