Star Wars Sold! Merry Christmas!

Life is just plain weird and crazy sometimes, surprises coming out of nowhere. Ridley Scott shooting a new Alien movie, or Ridley Scott making a Blade Runner sequel. A simple children’s story like the Hobbit being turned into a bloated trilogy,  Arnie mooted for a new Conan movie when he’s about due a bus-pass.   But nothing could prepare us for this….

Late last night I was browsing the web and came across just-posted news pages stating that George Lucas had sold his company  Lucasfilm ( including the Star Wars films, ILM, Indiana Jones etc),  to Disney for a whopping $4.05 billion. I’ll be honest, I didn’t believe it-  I looked at the screen with utter disbelief. Was it April 1st or something, had the site been hacked by a clan of hi-tech Star Wars Activists? Checking other news sites the reports seemed to be backed up with press releases from Disney.  I texted a few friends the news and went to bed. One of my work colleagues, Steve, texted me back bemused queries regards what was going on, likely thinking I’d been drinking too much.

Woke up this morning to a news report on Radio 4 confirming it all (if  Simon on the Finance section of the Beeb’s Today programme says its true, its true). Disney have announced an intention to have Star Wars: Episode 7 ready for 2015 release followed by Episodes 8 & 9 every two/three years after, with further films beyond even that.

Well, first things first, a slap on the back for all us oldies who yelled foul at George Lucas assertions that he never intended to make a 9-film saga, contrary to what we fans read back when TESB was being made pre-1980. Here we go, its now rightfully back to a nine-film saga (although to be fair Disney may well take it beyond that- will there be an Episode 10 or will it spin off into separate sagas/trilogies?). Mind you, that ‘The Complete Saga’ Blu-ray box that sits on its shelf behind me is looking decidedly incomplete right now. (I still, even after owning that box for a year now, haven’t watched the Attack of The Clones or Revenge of The Sith discs yet. Trying to watch the Blu-ray of The Phantom Menace really messed me up and ruined any interest in getting any further. And yes, I’d started with Episodes 4-6 first.)

You know, some months ago I was sitting in my office at work talking with one of my colleagues, and I complained that Lucas should have loosened the reins of the Star Wars franchise years ago and let other guys write/shoot spin-off movies.  That we should have had all sorts of wild and different films in the Star Wars universe, good, bad, average… low-budget character films, big action films. As long as they all stayed true to the franchise lore, why not? Lucas had always championed independent film-making that took risks, why not go with projects like that in the Star Wars universe as well as the huge blockbuster spectacles? Lucas showed no such interest in furthering the franchise in cinemas, preferring to make the Clone Wars cartoons and work on a live-action tv series that, well, may not even see the light of day now that movies are back on the agenda. I’d shake my head sadly and rue the cruel twists of fate that gave us those damn prequels.   But here we are. The gates have been opened. I doubt Disney are any more likely to go wild with all sorts of daring projects than Lucas ever did or would, but you never know.

A few more thoughts- do Disney now have the rights, as they own Star Wars now, to dig out the original OT versions and restore them for Blu-ray release one day? Do they have the rights, if they choose, to simply do a reboot and remake the whole lot? Is Spielberg too old to have a go at directing a Star Wars film, something he always wanted to do but Lucas would not allow?  Could Pixar have a crack at an animated Star Wars project? What the hell can we do to make sure that Nicholas Cage gets nowhere near this?

Considering how lousy and predictable most Hollywood scripts are these days, who the hell gets a shot at writing the next Star Wars movie? Do the guys behind the execrable Pirates of the Caribbean films have a shot at showing just how good Lucas prequel scripts really are?

Do we get a Darth Vader movie one day, with our fave Dark Lord kicking Jedi ass between ROTS and ANH?

Its enough to make you dizzy. It’ll never live up to the possibilities.

So more Star Wars movies. Well who’d have thought it? Colour me cautiously excited (whatever colour that is); this is the biggest game in tinsel town and will likely eclipse all the hype and rumours we experienced back when Lucas announced he was making The Phantom Menace.  The world has gone crazy and can only get crazier as further news filters out of the House of the Mouse during 2013.  God, just writing that makes me worried. Disney. What was Lucas thinking? (Oh yeah, he was thinking $4.05 BILLION).

But maybe for us Star Wars fans, Christmas came early.  Merry Christmas folks, we may have got Star Wars back.

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John Carter OST

Back when I was a lad I absolutely adored listening to my LPs of the Star Wars and Superman: The Movie soundtracks. Back in the days prior to home video (and being able to relive films just by literally rewatching them), I used to recapture favourite films by listening to their soundtracks and running the films just in my head. Sometimes the music would be so good it would launch all new films that never were, becoming soundtracks for my teenage daydreams (the Superman score was perfect for just that). Symphonies of adventurous music, these double-album grandiose soundtracks would soon lose favour and be consigned to history- by the time Return Of The Jedi was released in 1983, the album was just a single-disc vinyl affair missing the best music!

This past week I’ve been driving to work and back listening to the soundtrack album of Michael Giacchino’s John Carter score. I bought the album almost immediately after seeing the film on Blu-ray, and I have to say it still looks like being the score of the year for me. Lush, sweeping and romantic, its a fantastic score. Maybe my age has something to do with this, as, just like the movie, the score harks back to that other era of big symphonic soundtracks with proper themes and melodies as compared to the Media Ventures/Hans Zimmer sound that dominates the cinema so much these days.  I don’t particularly hate the ‘Hans Zimmer sound’ that is so popular these days as his scores, when good, can be really good (Thin Red Line, Gladiator, Inception) but really, generally most of the time the scores all blur, and the style (so many films aim for that Zimmer ‘sound’) pervades so many big budget blockbusters they all tend to sound the same. Do any of the Pirates of the Carribean films have an individual score? Do any of the Transformers films sound any different?

The John Carter score is a glorious (and I’m sure deliberate) throwback to the  scores for films like Star Wars, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back, Superman: The Movie. I honestly think the John Carter score is that good.

It helps that I’m such a big fan of the John Carter movie. A commercial and critical bomb, I think it was a fantastic film, the most fun I’ve had all year. The film is everything the Star Wars prequels should have been, and far, far superior. Its also a far better film than many of the blockbusters that followed it this summer. Maybe in ten years it will be subject of a reappraisal (not that its should take ten years in this day and age). Anyway, I simply adored it. It was like being swept back to the films of my youth, back when Lucas and Spielberg and John Williams were in their prime, back when it seemed we were destined for Star Wars and Indiana Jones adventures forever. Back before the well dried up. I guess maybe John Carter will appeal to my generation more than current audiences.

But yes, the soundtrack is a stunner. Big bombastic action cues share space with rich, tender themes. Probably the best such score since The Empire Strikes Back; it really is that good. Bold orchestral flourishes, rich use of choir, a memorable  main theme, touching love theme…. its all here. It helps that so much of the score is here, as the CD is generous, with something like 74 minutes of music, truly recapturing the feel of those great old double-album vinyls of my youth. The kind of music so few films get these days (and I guess few others will as this films perceived failure may well nix future filmscores such as this). Great score, great album.

Just occurred to me: “This past week I’ve been driving to work and back listening to the soundtrack album of Michael Giacchino’s John Carter score“.  I bet there’s very few people on the entire planet that can say they’ve done that this week. ..

Replicant Anniversary- Blade Runner by Edgar Rothermich

So this BSX release turned up.  The Vangelis score for Blade Runner recreated by German film composer/producer Edgar Rothermich, I think there’s two things that immediately spring to mind having heard it- first that it sounds very good (not a perfect match for Vangelis but not too divergent from it, easily the best re-recording of any Blade Runner music to date, and benefiting from wonderfully clear recording quality) and secondly the question, well, “why insist on just copying the bootleg rather than reproduce the whole score?”.

The Blade Runner score and its long road to official release, and then the lacklustre quality of those releases, is a long story that I won’t go into here (I’ve gone into it before on this blog). But suffice to say its been a sad fact that the best edition of the score on disc is any one of the many bootlegs that have done the rounds for the past twenty years or more, albeit their sound quality is generally inferior to that of the official releases. The producers of this ’30th Anniversary Celebration’ seem to have decided that they should re-record the score and in doing so attempt to recreate the content of the initial bootlegs. I mean, this things content is pretty much identical.

So we wind up with a disc that is, incredibly, as irritating as the lacklustre ‘official’ releases that precipitated its creation. Yes, its nice to have the music in high fidelity without the edits and remixes and dialogues that plagued the official albums. But its irritating that recreating the music missing from the official releases hasn’t been attempted,while the bootlegs (inferior sound quality aside) produce the score recreated here minus the edits/remixes/dialogues anyway. Why slavishly reproduce the ten-minute Blade Runner Blues track when only a few minutes are in the film, or re-record One More Kiss Dear (source music way back in the background for all of twenty seconds in the film) rather than re-create I Am The Business or the Taffy Lewis Bar music, cues that every BR nut truly craves?

What I’m getting at is that this BSX release sadly doesn’t isolate itself enough from the official releases or the bootlegs with its own unique identity- this is particularly frustrating as much of it is just so damned good. A bolder, 2-disc edition with all the stuff from the film missing in all previous editions would have been nigh on perfect and indispensable. I’ve asked the producer of the album on one of the film music forums if an expanded or additional release might be one day on the cards but he didn’t bother with a reply so sadly it looks unlikely.

Still, all that being said, anyone who cares for the Blade Runner score should really race to pick this up. The CD edition is limited to 2000 copies but its also available on itunes so should be easy enough to get hold of. Rothermich really created something quite special here, and is to be applauded. I only wish he and the producers had been a tad mote ambitious.

Oh well, over to you, Vangelis. Time you had another attempt at the definitive Blade Runner?

Prometheus- Final Word?

Oh dear, not another Prometheus topic? Well, now that we finally have Prometheus on Blu-ray/DVD etc and have been able to watch it again, no doubt blogs and forums will be awash with further debate and opinion regards this divisive film. It may not be the classic we hoped for or the best film of the year, but it’s certainly the most debated and talked-about (I watched DKR and pretty much forgot about it, but I always find myself thinking about Prometheus, so it achieved, er, something). Is it really as bad as so many have said? Having now watched the Blu-ray twice and most of the lengthy making-of doc, I must say its fascinating to see how the rather rushed production impacted on the end result, and indeed created many of the problems people have with the film. Yes script revisions seems to be the major culprit, a second writer and revised approach creating any number of plot-holes, and mooted scenes planned but not shot would have likely improved the film, and some strange hell-bent fascination to cut the film to two hours would appear to have impacted on the pace of the film.  I do think that what Ridley and his cohorts managed to bring to screen with the limited budget and timeframe is quite extraordinary, albeit somewhat misguided. I just hope that the proposed Blade Runner sequel at least gets a fairer timeframe- alas, I think it’ll suffer the same fate as Prometheus; I think Ridley Scott knows time is pressing (he’s in his mid-seventies, now) and has a resultant tendency to race into his projects these days.

I will say this- the Blu-ray looks utterly beautiful and the image quality is better than when I saw it at the cinema; somehow at the screening I saw it didn’t look particularly dark, something I put down to the lighting demands of  3D photography (even though I saw the film in 2D).  On Blu-ray the darks are pitch-black and improves the mood considerably; the colours are full, the image sharp and wonderful, in short it is very, very pretty. And of course knowing what to expect, or not to expect, does rather lower expectations regards the story etc. Certainly the deleted/alternate scenes offer a tantalising glimpse at what may have been a Directors Cut (something it seems we won’t ever be getting, as Ridley seems bizarrely happy with it as it is). I think Prometheus is likely a few reshoots short of the great movie it ought to be. There’s a number of plot-holes that need new scenes to fix them (that Laurel and Hardy pair who somehow get lost spring to mind) and a few unshot parts that need adding such as David visiting Weyland during his youth-orientated dream (at least then there would be some point to casting Guy Pearce).  Funny thing is, Ridley could still shoot that stuff if he wanted to/could convince Fox to fund it.

I really think that this is a case of a  film just needing a six-month delay to tidy things up. I’d have even filmed a sex scene between Vickers and Janek in which Janek sees that Vickers is sporting a Weyland-fingerprint just like David has, hence discovering that Vickers is indeed another robot. The whole thing about creator and creation is the central subtext to the entire film, surely. The idea that Weyland, obsessed with his mortality and playing God, has created his own ‘children’ in David and Vickers is just begging to be developed. And having Vickers back in the sequel would have been a major bonus as Theron is the best thing in Prometheus for me.  I’d have a sequel in which  Shaw and David go off to Paradise and have another Vickers model lead a rescue/investigation team to the moon to end up fighting against the Deacon creature we see at Prometheus’ coda.  Well, here we are dreaming up other Alien/Prometheus movies already.

Thinking along those lines, is Prometheus a good Alien prequel? Is it even the best of the Alien spin-off movies? People often decry Prometheus as if it was the  unwanted sequel to Lawrence of Arabia; Alien may be a ‘classic’ but lets be honest, it was no Lawrence of Arabia, people.  I doubt that’s what Ridley was trying to say by referencing Lawrence of Arabia during Prometheus but I think its a point that needs stating.

Indeed I think some of the comparisons between Prometheus and the first Alien movie have been a little unfair. The space of over thirty years does tend to brighten the rose-tinted glasses. Alien is little more than a b-movie. Think about the story and what happens. Think about the time it was made, and all the other awful similar films like Inseminoid, XTRO etc. that came out. I’m not aiming to belittle the film here- but just think how bad Alien would have turned out had it been directed by anyone other than Ridley Scott. It just doesn’t bear thinking about.  Alien is a very simple, somewhat dumb b-movie elevated to potential greatness by the direction of Ridley Scott, the production design of such noted visionaries as Ron Cobb and H R Giger, and the evocative Goldsmith score. Without their contributions the film would have just have been a silly space movie, period. I think when people look back on Alien, its not the story, or the ideas, behind the film that they remember, its the mood, the design. Yes Alien is a better film than Prometheus- its clearer, more direct, simpler. But I’d contend that Prometheus is the more ambitious of the two.

As for the other Alien films, I’d say that Prometheus is superior to all of them. I hated Aliens back when I saw it in the cinema in 1986 and I’ve never really made peace with it. For me, its not an Alien movie at all, its a bug-hunt Starship Troopers movie. Alien’s deadly, unreasoning killing machine creature is replaced with a hive of stupid cannon-fodder ‘alien warriors’ directed by an egg-laying  ‘mommy’ Queen.  All that gung-ho space marines rubbish and idiotic Queen Alien nonsense. Give me a break. The popularity of the film doesn’t surprise me (it saddens me, but doesn’t surprise me). The same people who moan about plotholes in Prometheus seem to forget all that goes on in Aliens (the central conceit for one- the Company that directed the Nostromo to the derelict hear no more, but don’t simply direct another ship for another go, rather they ‘forget’ about it and fifty years later unwittingly wind up sending Terraformers there? Like, duh).

David Finchers’ Alien 3 was a return to form for the franchise but it was scuppered by production problems so huge it seems a textbook case of how not to make a sequel. Fincher disowned the film but its not-quite-directors cut version is a pretty good movie in my mind. At least the Alien is a deadly creature again and the gung-ho stupidity is put to rest. Its a ‘proper’ Alien movie to me, with wonderful mood and score. The less said about Alien:Resurrection the better, except to say its utterly unwatchable. I tried again a few years ago but gave up. And what to say about the AVP movies other than they should never have been made?

So Prometheus to me seems to be the best of the Alien spin-off movies. No, I’m not convinced about all that Space Jockey/bald guy in a spacesuit stuff either, but at least the film tries to ‘open up’ the first film’s premise to make something other than a b-movie horror flick. I think if Ridley Scott went wrong it was in just that. People hear Ridley is making an Alien prequel and expect the space horror film they have dreamed of since 1979, but Ridley got quickly tired of that in pre-production and clearly changed tack. I can understand that. Ridley is right to say that the Alien has been pretty much done to death in all the movies, its been diluted to Halloween boogieman status by the AVP films in particular, and what can you do with facehuggers etc that hasn’t been done? Prometheus couldn’t just be another Alien movie, it had to tell a different story. Unfortunately that seems to have alienated (sic) the majority of the films audience, and Ridleys change of heart in pre-production hurt the finished product as it messed things up, not being wholly one thing or the other.

I still hold out hope that Ridley can make a Prometheus 2 that ties up some of the plot strands and presents a fitting conclusion.  I’m not sure that’s even possible but you have to hope? Rumour has it that Ridley might only be producing the sequel, as he’ll be too entrenched in Blade Runner 2 business (for what its worth, David Fincher gets my vote as the perfect alternative to Ridley).

Prometheus- Final Word? No, not bloody likely…