June 23, 2015 0

James Horner and Casper’s melody of death

By in Movies, Soundtracks

Christina Ricci in "Casper" (1995)

Casper is the film that gave me a multifaceted view on death.

I’d certainly thought about death before Brad Silberling’s 1995 film — like everyone else, I’d experienced the loss of pets and relatives — but I hadn’t actively tried to comprehend what dying meant. It was something sad that happened, but it was part of life’s cycle: people were here, and then they weren’t. So it’s impressive that, for a mid-90s family film, there’s a fairly constant feeling of melancholy-mixed-with-wonder that runs through Casper that touched on many aspects of life-relating-to-death I hadn’t yet dug into: even if someone means a lot to us, memories are sometimes beyond our control; that regret and closure are not always within our grasp (explored further in The Sixth Sense and What Dreams May Come); that understanding and enlightenment may never happen; and that death can equally be about fear and sadness, but also beauty.

The film’s tone bounces around too much for some (at times wildly slapstick, at others extremely sincere and saccharine), but it was a defining movie of my pre-teen years because of the emotional response I had to it. At the core of that, of course, is James Horner’s wonderful score. There are fun moments of big band and jazz, some gothic touches of organ and harpsichord, and even some interesting “ethereal” sound design. But holding it all together is one of the most melancholy melodies ever put to film: “Casper’s Lullaby.” Sad, yet wistful; regretful, yet full of quiet awe, the theme has forever cemented itself in my mind as a musical interpretation of painful sadness; a melody of death. Hearing it instantly brings me near tears.


I’ve always been in awe of music’s ability to elicit emotion at a very basic, core level. James Horner had that kind of creative power. With his scores, subpar movies became passable; good movies became great. Along with John Williams and Danny Elfman, Horner was one of the three composers with the most influence on my childhood: The Rocketeer, The Land Before Time, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Jumanji, and The Mask of Zorro all had music that affected me and played a big part in my initial soundtrack-education (heck, even this oft-forgotten blog of mine is named “Danger Motif” after Horner’s most notorious recurring musical idea). This list doesn’t even including Horner’s best-known, highest-regarded works for films like Braveheart, Titanic, and Avatar!

Consistent and creative, Horner was a titan in the history of film composing and my own childhood would have been completely different without him. The influence he’s had, the emotions his work has caused: it’s almost impossible to comprehend the effect his music has had on the world. In his honor I’ll queue up “Casper’s Lullaby” and softly weep with a mix of sadness and wonder.

James Horner (1953-2015)
IMDB | Wikipedia

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