When Antoine Fuqua’s remake of The Magnificent Seven rides into theaters next week, it’ll come with the final score ever written by James Horner. The prolific composer, an Oscar winner for Titanic, died in a plane crash in June of 2015, but not before writing seven tracks for the Western.
“While I was making the movie, after he died, his manager and Simon [Franglen] called me and said, ‘James had a gift for you, and we want to bring it to you,'” Fuqua explained during a recent press conference for the film. “They came to my trailer and said, ‘James wrote the score for you.’ … It blew me away. It was magnificent. James is an amazing human being.”
But turning those seven tracks into the full Magnificent Seven score was left to Horner’s long-time arranger and friend Simon Franglen, who worked with Horner on those initial songs and spoke to him the day before he died. “The next morning I woke up and switched my phone on and this stream of emails and texts and phone calls came in just telling me this appalling news,” Franglen told EW. “Shortly after that I flew back to L.A. There was a lot to deal with.”
At the time of his death, Horner was set to work on Matt Damon’s The Great Wall and Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge. But it was The Magnificent Seven that marked his last significant work. “It seemed wrong to just let them disappear,” Franglen said of the suite of songs. He was given the job after playing the music Horner wrote for Fuqua.
“I would much rather that James was talking to you about this now,” Franglen said of how he felt replacing his friend. “In the end, there were two things we had to do: One was to deliver the score and pay our respects to our friend. The other thing was deliver a film score that was right for the film. In all of this, James would have insisted that the score had to be right for the film. This wasn’t meant to be some sort of memorial, it was meant to be a living, breathing score that worked for The Magnificent Seven that Antoine had made.”
Making it work, however, was easier said than done. In addition to Horner’s legacy, Franglen had to deal with the original film’s iconic score by Elmer Bernstein. “James and I had talked about the fact that he was worried this was a poison chalice, even taking on The Magnificent Seven. I remember saying to him, ‘If you don’t do it, imagine who will?'” Franglen said. But the challenge was part of the charm. “It’s almost unheard of to do a cowboy film. You look at James’ own history, in 120 films or so, the only cowboy score he had ever done was rejected, which was for Young Guns II. In all of those years of doing film after film after film, he had never done a cowboy film. That was a part of why this was so special to him. It gave him an opportunity to him to do something he had never experienced properly before, and that’s also why we wanted to finish it for him.”
The end result is a score that pays homage to Westerns — including the original Magnificent Seven — but also keeps a modern edge. “If you listen to it, its got the essence of dangerous cowboy music. It has a bit of an attitude about it,” Franglen said. “Throughout the score, when I was working with the team, one thing we wanted to have, was the score had to have a swagger about it.” It fit the characters, Franglen explained, who are a bunch of ne’er-do-wells with hearts of gold. “These guys are mad, bad, and dangerous to know. They can’t be nice. They’re gunslingers. The attitude in the score is meant to reflect that. We wanted to have a slightly gritty attitude to it,” he said. “Gradually, you’ll see the themes evolve. Because they change. They become more heroic. They’ve got something to fight for in the town. The music has to evolve with them.”
That evolution can be heard in the exclusive track below, “Lighting the Fuse,” which Franglen called one of the film’s main themes. Listen below, and check out the full score when it’s released on Friday.
The Magnificent Seven is out on Sept. 23.