It was John Williams who composed arguably the finest (whole) scores of the latter decades of the 20th century with iconic films as diverse as “Star Wars” and “Schindler’s List.” However, Williams seldom succeeded at capturing the mood of specific moments as well as James Horner when Horner was on-form, and his overall craftsmanship was certainly almost Williams’ equal.

“Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan” (1982)
Considering the stature to which this science fiction masterpiece has ascended, it is astonishing how limited its initial scope was. It was originally envisaged as simply a low-budget TV movie, building upon one of the more gripping episodes of the original series, but it became the foundation for an entire science fiction franchise. Even though the dated special effects have started to wear, almost nothing about “Wrath of Khan” falls short of perfection; even William Shatner is brilliant. Perhaps it did not require a great score to boot, but James Horner’s composition lends just the right touches of suspense and urgency. The battle scenes are perhaps the most expertly done of the compositions, maintaining momentum through long stretches of evolving tactics that are punctuated by sudden reversals of advantage.

“Field of Dreams” (1989)
Few people are indifferent to this film, falling to either extreme of partiality, or at least into ardent ambivalence. There are so many polarizing themes here: baseball, fathers, Iowa, Kevin Costner; it’s no wonder people still discuss it almost 20 years on. Costner plays a transplanted Iowa corn farmer who is compelled to build a baseball field on his land after hearing a ghostly and ambiguous incantation of “If you build it, he will come.” So metaphorical is this film’s content, it is difficult to know exactly what is real and what is not, and James Horner’s score sustains a placid but resolute pathos that suits it perfectly. It is a gentle but powerful longing of a dream to become reality, hovering ever so slightly between the two, both at once and neither at a time. “Field of Dreams” is perhaps not a simple film, but its apparatus is very simple indeed, and it’s worth a peek if you like vaguely philosophical themes.

“Sneakers” (1993)
In one of the most imaginative non-fantasy films of the early 1990s, an impeccable cast (Redford, Poitier, Ackroyd, Phoenix, Straithern) play a firm of security experts. They are duped into filching a cryptographic skeleton key device by a mystery association posing as the NSA. To atone for this error, they endeavor to “sneak” it back from their client. It’s a great film for nerds; there are a number of twists, a latent cerebral romance and a modicum of only slightly abused shibboleths pilfered from mathematics and computer science argots. However, the miracle of this film is Horner’s laconic score, employing an astonishing economy of instrumentation to create more of an atmosphere than a common tonal narration. It is liminal and often almost entirely insubstantial, a mere gossamer wisp that embellishes a mystery and then rarefies like smoke. This score is entirely infused with “Sneakers,” not without, and this is reason enough to see it over and over.