Searching for Bobby Fischer

Checkmate: Searching for Bobby Fischer

Can anyone make watching chess exciting? If you’re writer/director Steven Zaillian you can. In SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISCHER, chess is the backdrop for this moving story of a young chess wiz (Max Pomeranc) who is caught between the rigidity of rules from his renowned coach (Ben Kingsley), the sheer joy of the game from a local hustler (Laurence Fishburne) in Washington Square Park, and the opposing views of his parents (Joe Mantegna and Joan Allen). This heartwarming and emotionally riveting film moves on the beautiful strains of James Horner’s lovely score.

Horner’s sound is still very much in line with other scores of the period like FIELD OF DREAMS. (You’ll also find the seeds of Horner’s later overrated score for A BEAUTIFUL MIND.) Mystically shimmering strings give a sense that the rules of chess are too difficult for us mere mortals, while the comfortable Americana harmonies convey a feeling of familial love.

My favorite cue covers three interlinked scenes as Josh’s father awakens to the fact that he may have been wrong in pushing Josh to compete. Plaintive  solo flute and oboe lines underscore Dad putting Josh’s trophies in his room with an apologetic “These are yours.” Dad then takes Josh to Washington Square Park and lifts his restrictions on playing speed chess with Vinnie. The woodwind, harp and piano triplets swirl like chess moves furiously scattered among the neurons of Josh’s young mind. The music accelerates and gains force as the cellos join the push toward a cymbal flourish and the main theme soars over the scene in the violins. The hemiola effect between the warring musical lines subliminally conveys the opposing forces at work in the story, but the emotion of the moment overrides everything. The music winds down and closes quietly in the father’s darkened office.

Searching for Bobby Fischer soundtrack
“Josh Vs. Dad”
“Josh And Vinnie”

I don’t remember why I went to see BOBBY FISCHER when it was released. Believe me, I was one of the few who did. Looking back all these years later, I can only think that it had to do with Horner’s score. I can count on one hand the times I went to a film strictly because a particular composer scored it. BOBBY FISCHER is one of those rare instances. I’m so glad I did. A beautiful film and one of Horner’s best.

  1. I hope you don’t mind me coping and pasting a film music message board post I wrote a few months back concerning this score…


    When Horner is inspired there is really no one these days that can top him when it comes down to dramatic scoring. He literally hits all the right chords… musically and emotionally. I return to this film often… at times to only pay particular attention to the music. It’s a perfect score and what Horner did oh so right was put into musical terms a child’s innocence. His use of the oboe and light glistening piano it just absolutely perfect for the scenes it accompanies. And away from the picture the music is just as strong. I just want to tear up every time I hear “Early Victories.” Those rolling piano chords which go seamlessly into the scores main theme… not once but TWICE… makes for spectacular and proud film music! And where does Horner come up with the theme in “Josh Vs. Dad?” You never hear it again. A delightful tune for piano and harp! It’s magnificently orchestrated with a perfect underlining flute line. Ah, but there is a wonderful variation on the theme in “Trip To Chicago.” Love it, love it, LOVE IT!

    And is it just me or is Horner the best of the best when it comes down to a French Horn solo? Just listen to the opening of “Washington Square.”

    All I can say is that Searching For Bobby Fischer is easily one of Horner’s finest film scores and is a great film as well!


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