- WALK LIKE A SIMIAN
- After the obnoxious, misguided Tim Burton mess (the title sequence with Danny Elfman's relentless score was awesome, after that the movie went downhill really fast), I was understandably a little wary of another reboot of this series. The trailers did look good and the word-of-mouth on the film was really good, so I took a chance.
Now, I think that the original Planet of the Apes is a great film and very good reflection on human society. I found the second and fifth films (Beneath the Planet of the Apes and Battle for the Planet of the Apes more annoying than entertaining, but the third and fourth films to have been interesting follow-ups. Escape from the Planet of the Apes starts off with a rickety time-travel premise, but it quickly turns into a social satire with grim repercussions, while Conquest of the Planet of the Apes draws strong and damning parallels to the civil rights movement (in fact there are two endings to this film, the theatrical "Martin Luther King Jr." ending in which Caesar preaches tolerance and peace, and the original "Malcolm X" by-any-means-necessary conclusion that is more in keeping with the tone of the rest of the film.
Raise your hand if you're sure!
It is therefore with great pleasure that I can report that not only does Rise of the Planet of the Apes treat its subject matter with great dignity and intelligence, but it also has a healthy but not intrusive respect for the original film series. Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver's script updates the concept for a contemporary audience but not at the expense of the legacy that the franchise has had, and director Rupert Wyatt wisely keeps the story concentrated on the character relationships and motivations.
Andy Serkis stars in motion capture as Caesar, the child of a chimpanzee (named "Bright Eyes," Dr. Zira's [Kim Hunter] pet name for Taylor [Charlton Heston] in the original 1968 film) upon whom whiz-kid Will Rodman (James Franco) had been testing a drug that he hopes will cure Alzheimer's disease. Rodman has a personal stake in this as his father Charles (John Lithgow) suffers from the ailment and is rapidly losing his mental faculties. Caesar develops an intellect that is on par or may even surpass most humans, but he understandably bristles at his second-class status as a "pet." When a mishap forces Caesar into incarceration at a primate research facility, his perspective on humanity becomes even more disaffected.
Serkis and the Weta animators have created another outstanding performance for Caesar. The character manages to be perfectly emotive while never feeling overly human. In fact, one of the main strengths of the film is that it does avoid anthropomorphizing Caesar; he may have an expanded range of emotions and intellect but is always a first and foremost a chimpanzee.
I must admit that I was a little disappointed in Patrick Doyle's score for the film. It is unfortunately a very streamlined affair, lacking much of the composer's customary fire. One scene features a burst of exotic percussion that would sound perfectly at home in one of the previous Apes features (even the Tim Burton film) but the tone is not consistently applied. Maybe the score will make a better impression the next time around, but on first blush I found it a little bland when it needed to get more exciting. He does manage to get a few nice melodies in for some of the more tender moments, but overall it services the film and little more.
The film is definitely worth seeing, however, whether you're a long-time Apes fan or somebody new to the franchise. It takes an old chestnut and makes it work in new ways. The film made good money and I am curious to see how this film series develops as some of the ideas I've heard from the participants for potential sequels sound rather good.
- I missed out on the Varèse Sarabande Club release of James Horner's fun steel drum and saxophone cacophony Commando as it came out whilst I was on leave of absence. I was disappointed in missing it, but prices of that disc quickly became to extravagant for me to purchase. I received an e-mail from somebody a week before the strike offering me a copy for the relatively reasonable price of $65. I stalled because at this point I was starting to think that we might be going on strike, and while $65 isn't that much, I might have better use for it than a silly if endearing film score. I saw that he was also selling a few score bootlegs and that turned me off as well.
Well, the strike ended and La-La Land released their own damn edition of Commando. This meant that not only was I able to get a score I'd wanted for a long time for straight list price instead of getting gouged on the secondary market, but it was more complete, had better sound and the Power Station song that closes the film, which wasn't on the Varèse disc. So I came out of that situation pretty happy.
It did occur to me, however, that there was something unscrupulous about the person offering me the original Varèse disc. The price was about half what I've seen that disc go for, so it looked like a decent deal, and if I didn't have any other concerns I might have sprung for it. It is clear, however, that the person trying to sell the disc had gotten wind of the fact that La-La Land was preparing their release and was looking to unload his old copy and get something for it. It's just too much of a coincidence and it just strikes me as being rather predatory.
A few weeks later, Intrada released a complete, remastered limited edition of Jerry Goldsmith's Explorers, which sold out all initial 3,000 copies within 14 hours. Douglass Fake made an announcement that he was tired of seeing people who want something lose out because they misjudged the demand on how many copies they should make available. A second pressing of Explorers was commissioned, and Intrada will no longer announce how many copies each release will be, they will simply keep the ones that sell in print and announce when the ones that don't are going out of stock.
During the flurry of reactions to Intrada's announcement, I began to realize something. There are a lot more people hoarding these discs than might at first be apparent. While there are indeed some people who purchase a bunch of each release purely for speculative purposes, there are also many who pick up two of each at a time "just in case." The amount of people admitting to the latter was shocking, and when put together adds up to much more than the former. Worse, many of these people thought that they were doing others a "favor" by keeping these discs "available," despite the exorbitant prices they might charge somebody who missed on the original release for them. Maybe I would feel a little different if one of them hadn't sought me out to fleece me, but it just seems that they're taking advantage of people who couldn't get the original release for whatever reason (lack of funds at the time, unaware of release, only recently discovered the score).
Not long afterward, Lukas Kendall announced the impending conclusion to his FSM label, citing the current state of the market and the workload that came with the label. This came as a hard blow as Kendall changed the landscape of film music collecting, first with his magazine, then his message board and finally the FSM label, but he will continue to work with other labels as a producer (he has already worked on several projects with Intrada and La-La Land).
As isolated incidents, these events might not be much. But taken together, it does make me wonder about the future of this hobby. The market has become much more unreliable for anything but 80s grails, and while I do indeed like those very much, it is often the smaller releases that slip through the cracks that offer something unexpected.
- Sharp readers may have noticed that Intrada Records released the complete score for Explorers. This has always been my favorite of Goldsmith's scores for Joe Dante. It is also my sentimental favorite of Dante's films, having been the same age and sharing many of the same dreams (not in the literal sense) as the protagonists when I first saw it. I feel that this was a moment when creatively the two artists were most in accord.
The original record had about a half hour of the score with three (relatively good) songs interspersed throughout. Those selections tended to concentrate on the more sci-fi aspects of the story, but there are many more dimensions to this score, most particularly a very down-home Americana aspect that was barely touched on on the original LP but was a central element to the film. This material rounds out the beginning of the score and grounds it for when the action opens up in the latter portion.
Goldsmith's electronics are a primary element of the score, and it is one of the cases where they are best integrated into the orchestral material. Wak's boogie is developed in very subtle ways throughout the score and when it is finally manifested in all of its nutty glory toward the conclusion it perfectly mirrors Dante's combination of wide-eyed wonder with wry cynicism. While I wouldn't say that the sound is night and day from the Varèse CD (which sounded pretty good, actually), it is much, much more detailed now, revealing much more detail and presence than the former release. This was something I'd been hoping to get for a very long time, and it's great to finally have it.
- Bruce Kimmel's Kritzerland label just released the Elmer Bernstein score from Drango. I'd never seen or even heard of the film, but I always check out a Bernstein score and the sound samples sold me on the disc. They do give a decent idea as to what the sound and tone of the score is, but do not really prepare you for how it gets under your skin while listening to it.
There was apparently a lousy LP rip of the soundtrack album that came out overseas, but naturally Kritzerland has sourced their CD from the original album master and the mono sound is clean and detailed. The recording does an excellent job of conveying the quiet nuances of Bernstein's introspective score. This isn't a big, sprawling epic like The Ten Commandments, The Magnificent Seven, Slipstream or Heavy Metal, this is the Bernstein that scores people's interiors.
Kritzerland has similarly filled in important gaps in Bernstein's discography with their releases of God's Little Acre and the twofer Love With a Proper Stanger and A Girl Named Sooner, and when I say that this is "essential Elmer," I mean that it is a dramatic work on par with To Kill a Mockingbird, Rambling Rose, The Birdman of Alcatraz, My Left Foot or Far from Heaven. If you're at all interested in Bernstein, Drango is unmissable (that a title like this at 1,000 copies has not yet sold out is part of the reason why Lukas is ending FSM).
- FSM has released the maestro's score for The Great Santini, an adaptation of Pat Conroy's semi-autobiographical novel with Michael O'Keefe and Blythe Danner and centered around an amazing central performance by the great Robert Duvall. Bernstein's score has some militaristic flourishes as befits Duvall's aptly named Colonel "Bull" Meecham, and there is a wide array of source music (the film is set in the 60s), but Bernstein contrasts all of that sound and fury with the intimate, bringing out the underlying familial bonds.
The Great Santini is a very good score I've waited a long time to be able to have, but I have to admit that it was Drango, which I'd never heard of before it was released, that really connected with me.
- My Lord of the Rings compilation is pretty much finished. More to come later.
- Last year, FSM released Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Ron Jones Project, a massive 13 disc box set with all of Jones' music for the series (save for the material from "The Best of Both Worlds," which was formerly released by GNP Crescendo as Star Trek: The Next Generation - Volume 2) including his music for the two Star Trek Interplay video games he composed music for.
Recently, La-La-Land has released their own 3 CD set, Star Trek: The Next Generation - Collection Volume 1. This set has one disc for Dennis McCarthy, another for Jay Chattaway (who took over from Jones after he wasn't asked to return after the fourth season) and another disc of scores by guest composers, Fred Steiner, John Debney and Don Davis.
I had pounced on the Ron Jones box set when it first came out because I really liked the music from the animated Superman series that came in the Blue Box, thought "The Best of Both Worlds" was an exciting, muscular score, and I recalled that Jones was responsible for the show's Klingon material, which was an interesting amalgam of Jerry Goldsmith's melodic approach to them in Star Trek: The Motion Picture and James Horner's orchestration from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. I did think that the 13 disc box set may have been a bit of overkill until I received it and found that it was chock full of amazing music that fits beautifully in with the Star Trek feature scores. In the first two seasons, he would often reference Alexander Courage's original theme or Jerry Goldsmith's theme for the first film, but over time he began to develop his own material, and his beautiful, flowing theme for the Enterprise, ever moving, ever changing, became one of the main beneficiaries of the box set format.
I was a bit on the fence about the La-La-Land collection, however, because on the whole I tended to find the rest of the music for The Next Generation save for a few contributions by Jay Chattaway to have been fairly pedestrian. I did like some of the samples, however, so I took the plunge and ordered the set, figuring (correctly) that the collection format would weed out some of the blander material. The Jay Chattaway disc had some very nice moments; his music tends to be better the more intimate it gets, and his magnum opus for the series is his beautiful theme for one of the series' best episodes, "The Inner Light." Fred Steiner's score may as well have been written for the original series; he was never asked to return but I kind of wonder if they might not have gotten more restrained music from him had he been given a better episode to score. The Debney and Davis scores offer interesting spins on the established Next Generation sound.
If there is one composer I haven't yet mentioned it is McCarthy. It is unfortunate, but he is most associated with Rick Berman's "no recognizable themes" edict for the series, and to be honest, there are many moments in the series, even in the best episodes, when the drama needed more character in the music to make it more effective. McCarthy did his job he was instructed to do by his boss, and kept his gig for another fifteen years or so. Star Trek put food on his table and sent his kids through college.
On the other hand, McCarthy is also a great composer, and the last thing I want to do is damn him with faint praise. I would even say that the ultimate blandness of much of his work for Star Trek ran sharply against his initial instincts, as his first several scores for the series, "Encounter At Farpoint" (available on GNP's Star Trek: The Next Generation - Volume 1) and "Haven" (represented on the La-La-Land collection) are bold, expressive and beautiful; everything Star Trek music should be.
Even after he had curtailed his more ornate tendencies, there were still moments here and there where he would manage to sneak in an extra-beautiful theme or a bold statement of his theme for Captain Picard (the second season kick-off "The Child" features one of his greatest, and most Star Trek, openings). There are even some subtle connections he makes, such as a theme in the episode of "Family" that would eventually become a fanfare in his score for Star Trek: Generations. I also think that some of his best scores were for some of the series worst episodes, which makes a certain amount of sense; something like "Cost of Living" needs all the help it can get.
Which brings me to the series itself…
- This is really strange, but I missed most of the run of Star Trek: The Next Generation when it was on. The uneven first two seasons and the godawful mess that was Star Trek V: The Final Frontier really soured me on Star Trek for a while. This meant that I stopped watching the show just before it really hit its stride. I would occasionally catch an episode here or there (I did see "The Best of Both Worlds" when it aired), but since I never went out of my way to watch it, I really never took to it and didn't warm up to Star Trek again until Deep Space Nine started getting really good (and then Voyager ruined that, but I digress).
Netflix, for all of their current self-inflicted woes, is streaming all of the Star Trek series save for Deep Space Nine (which is to be added anon). This gave me the opportunity to start revisiting this series, which I did piecemeal at first, jumping around to particular episodes that I had heard about but never caught up to ("Darmok," "The Inner Light," etc.) until I eventually just started following the series chronologically (with a few skips here and there).
It is very interesting to see how sophisticated the series got once it really got going. Yes, there were quite a few stinker episodes throughout the seven years the show was on, but as the actors became more comfortable with their characters and the situations were more complex and adult, the better the show became. The last several seasons were really good, and the season finale was fantastic.
At the center of the success of the new show was Patrick Stewart. The idea of casting a captain who ran so against the "heroic leading man" stereotype was as groundbreaking in 1987 as the idea that said captain might be portrayed by a good actor. His presence changed the landscape of the show, making it much more thoughtful and introspective. What struck me more than anything else is how important the quality of one's character is in Star Trek, and Stewart's authority sells this beautifully, as does the idea that there is much more going on beneath the surface.
There is a moment at the conclusion of "The Inner Light" when Picard is presented with the Ressican flute that he learned how to play in his alternate life. The reaction Stewart has to the flute, how he clutches it, conveys so much about the character and what the experience he had meant to him.
In fact, the show was so good that it really disappointed me that the Next Generation films were, on the whole, so lame. Part of the problem was the "broader audience" that the producers and studio were looking for, which unfortunately translated into "lowest common denominator" and ended up muting much of the series intellectual thrust in favor of action thrills (as much as I like First Contact, it doesn't have the brain that the best episodes of Next Generation did, including "The Best of Both Worlds"). The final film, Nemesis, goes a step further and makes a mess not only of the established characters, but of their fates as well.
- To represent the music of the series on my iPod, I've gone through all of four GNP Crescendo Next Generation volumes and The Best of Star Trek: Volume 2 for additional material from "All Good Things" (Volume 1 had a suite from "Heart of Glory" which was duplicated in better sound quality in the Ron Jones box set) and the La-La-Land set to make separate customized programs for Dennis McCarthy (led off by a custom mix of his arrangement of Alexander Courage and Jerry Goldsmith's themes for the program's titles) and Jay Chattaway (framed by the concert and recital arrangements of "The Inner Light" theme from the GNP Crescendo collections).
I also made four programs out of selections from the Ron Jones box, one for each season. I listen to these all of the time. The only drawbacks to my collection is that the sound quality on "The Best of Both Worlds" is not up to par with that of the FSM set and the seasonal collections mean that my season 4 set sort of trails off at the end with "The Drumhead." I've been considering adding the Next Generation end credits to give that particular title a better send-off. I do like having a substantial amount of Jones' body of work for the series available, as it really does hearken back to the scope of Star Trek: The Motion Picture in tone, if not in actual orchestration.
- The more time I spend with Varinia, the easier it is for us to communicate. There are the easy things, such as "please feed me." There are also slightly more complicate concepts, such as "could you please clean my litter box?" My favorite was when I had guests over last week, so I moved a bunch of stuff into a closet that she normally frequents. While the guests were over, she was out and about with us (she is becoming a very social cat), so it wasn't until they all left that she came up to me and led me over to the closet to ask "why is all of this $#!+ in the closet?"
If you want to see her behave like a crack whore, open up a jar of olives in front of her.
- …and you get something like this…
DO NOT DISTURB MY FRIEND. HE'S DEAD TIRED
FLOORED WITH THE RINGS
…COMBINE THE PREVIOUS TWO TOPICS…