Listening to- Alien 3 OST

a3ost.jpgAfter a few delays at the label due to manufacturing plant issues (perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising how few places actually manufacture CDs in this age of downloads and streaming) I finally received my copy of La La Land’s expanded Alien 3 release.  To say its been a great listen over the past few days would be an understatement- its wonderful to finally hear all that underscore that was missing on the original album release (which is also included in this two disc set). The main set-pieces were all on the original album but it left an awful lot out (my personal gripe was the music when Ripley went to the canteen and was among the male prisoners for the first time, its a wonderfully tense and evocative piece). There is a lot of underscore and atmospherics which really give character and weight to the score, and a few surprises unheard in the film. I believe there is about forty minutes of music additional to that found on the original fifty-minute album, with another ten minutes of alternates as a further bonus (the full score assembly totals ninety minutes, which indicates most of the film had music).

Back in 1992 Elliot Goldenthals score was like a breath of fresh air- bold in its orchestration, daring in its use of atmospherics and downright Wagnerian in the brutality of its horror. All these years later it still sounds just as fresh and unique. I suppose Goldenthals absence from blockbuster film scoring has abetted in his unique musical ‘voice’ seeming so unusual and rare, but its clear that there hasn’t been such boldness in mainstream scoring since (the only thing I can recall offhand is perhaps some of Don Davis’ Matrix scores). It reminds me of Vangelis’ Heaven and Hell album in a way; not in content but in the way that the music contrasts moments of serene aching beauty with moments of cacophonous depravity.  Some of it is terribly haunting, emotional and sad and some of it quite terrifying and unsettling- I don’t think I could listen to this on headphones in the dark, frankly the subsequent nightmares aren’t worth risking!

Alien 3 as a film is still a divisive moment in the franchise (I’ve always been a fan myself but I know many felt robbed by it dismissing so much of what they thought was great about Aliens) but I’m sure few could argue that there is anything bad about the music. In this expanded form its clear how much it nods back to Goldsmiths original Alien score in inventiveness and mood and tension. Its a magnificent work and I’m so glad that I can finally, after all these years, put the two-disc Alien 3 set alongside my two-disc Alien release from Intrada on my shelf.  Just goes to show- everything comes to he that waits. Maybe its not too late for a complete Blade Runner from Vangelis after all.

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Sarah’s Key (2010)

sar1Sarah’s Key is a rather harrowing film about the  arrest of thousands of French Jews in the summer of 1942 by French authorities- a young girl,  Sarah (Melusine Mayance), tries to save her brother by locking him in a bedroom closet, thinking she will return soon. In the present, an American journalist, Julia (Kristin Scott Thomas) living in Paris learns that her new home is the flat the Jewish French family once lived in and becomes obsessed with tracing the family’s fate. As Julia pieces the few remaining traces together into some kind of narrative, flashbacks vividly show what happened as the young Sarah tried to escape and get back to her trapped brother.

While somewhat perfunctory in execution this remains a tense film with a surprisingly downbeat ending. I suppose it leads you to think that the final outcome will be a vindicated Julia meeting a still-living old Sarah, but this isn’t that comfortable or life-affirming. In this sense, it feels more ‘real’ and is all the more effective. The fairy tale of traditional movies leads one to expect one outcome and when it turns out another, it feels much more convincing and satisfying albeit less pleasant.

The performances are fine but the film really belongs to Mayance as the spirited young Sarah. Thomas, who I’ve followed since her stint in Polanski’s Bitter Moon many moons ago (sic) is rather wasted unfortunately, with a fairly needless b-story of an unplanned pregnancy that perhaps offers some sense of closure at the films end. But what a surprise to see Aidan Quinn in this. I don’t think I’ve seen him in a film since the great Legends of the Fall back in 1994.  I always liked him as an actor and looking back its so strange he was never a bigger ‘star’ than he became. Perusing IMDB, its clear he’s kept busy and had some success but its certainly odd that I’ve not stumbled upon him in a movie in all these years since. So bizarre seeing him just appear (somehow I hadn’t noted his name in the credits) like some ghostly blast from the past.

 

Geostorm (2017)

geo1Wow. This was truly terrible.

I remember seeing the trailer for this back in October last year when I saw BR2049. It was clearly an overblown CGI-dominated spectacle with an incredibly dumbed-down plot… basically the very opposite of BR2049. So I had no interest in watching it, figured I’d get around to it eventually, expecting very little.

This film took my lowest expectations and yet still managed to fail those expectations. By some margin. Hands down, this is the definitive film for watching credibility crash through the floor. I can’t believe this film even exists, its so nuts. Really, its like it is dropping whopper WTF moments every page of the script, its almost tragic.

First, the casting of Gareth Butler as some super-genius scientist/engineer who has built a global space-based system of satellites that controls the Earths weather systems and protects human civilization from environmental disaster. Wowza. Butler as a killing machine/super solder/spy maybe but a genius lab rat? What kind of casting is that?

But lets go back a minute. This film supposes that all the Earths nations have suddenly put aside their differences to pull together and build a space station that looks like something out of Star Wars and a network of weather-station satellites. So the film expects me to accept that a) global warming/environmental change is accepted globally, b) that world peace is an inevitable result of that and c) we suddenly can build Star Wars-level space stations in orbit and d) develop weather-controlling sciences.

This is, like, inside the first ten minutes during a wise-ass child’s monologue voice-over (child turns out to be Butler’s daughter, obviously, and yes, she’s wiser than most of the dumb adults, go figure).

So Gareth Butler gets sacked. Butler gets divorced. Despite his genius credentials instead of dropping into a hi-tech job he’s unemployed living in a trailer. His brother (!) gets put in charge. Things start to go wrong and people that spot whats happening get mysteriously killed. Butler gets hired again to try to fix the mess as he’s the guy that built the super-space station and he’s the only one who knows how it works. Suspicions point to the President of the United States (Andy Garcia in slightly sleazy politician mode). Just so happens that Gareth Butlers’ brother’s girlfriend (stay with me) is a Secret Service agent  that protects the president (!) so they go kidnap the president while all hell breaks loose in orbit as Butler tries and fails to fix his now disaster-inducing system. While weather disasters befall the cities of the world it turns out that the real culprit is the president’s Secretary of State played by Westworld‘s MIB (!) himself, Ed Harris, who has some crazy scheme of wrecking every other nation in the world and thus leaving America in charge of a new World Order with himself the new president. Or something like that, its not clear how wrecking the world economy and climate can ensure American survival never mind superiority.

Sure the effects are spectacular but its all for nothing. It doesn’t involve and it doesn’t really even impress, its just vaguely cartoon theatrics involving less-than paper-thin characters going through hysterical motions. Geostorm is everything wrong with modern Hollywood blockbusters and if it wasn’t so stupid and inept it might even be insulting: its a disaster movie in more ways than one, and actually makes Armageddon seem like a classic movie. I’ve already wasted more than enough time writing about it. Best forget this horrible silly movie even exists. The Day After Tomorrow was so much better than this.

Westworld Season Two, Episode Five

west5Oh dear, Delores. And oh dear, Westworld. In an episode that does so much right (our trip to Shogun World pretty much everything we might have hoped for, particularly those of us who ever played the Bushido RPG -anybody remember that?), Westworld suddenly displays some shockingly bad writing, with a terribly boring sex scene followed by Delores betraying/destroying/rebooting her ‘beloved’ Teddy in a WTF moment that had me scratching my head.

What is it with Delores this season? Are they hellbent on turning her into the most nonsensical, contrary and unsympathetic character? I just can’t work it out. Still consumed with vengeance and rescuing her ‘father’ (who she knows isn’t her real father, the whole point of her rebellion is that its a revolt against her programming and false memories), she finally has a moment vindicating her love for Teddy/consummating their relationship and then, bang, bye bye Teddy.  I get why she does it- Teddy displayed an ability to think for himself a few episodes back and ignored Delores orders, but really, this isn’t the behavior of Sesaon One Delores and it surely conflicts with her fight for robot rights/freewill, doesn’t it? Its getting so that it feels as if Season Two Delores isn’t the same model as Season One Delores.

That Delores stuff really left a bad taste in my mouth and rather soured what was otherwise a good episode. The visit to Shogun World was a pleasant (ignoring the excessive gore) diversion, as was the glimpse of India (Raj World?) a few weeks back, offering new characters and an interesting comparison to season one events in Saltwater (the scenario being lifted from a Westworld storyline n a clever in-joke).

It rather sums up Westworld’s second season so far- it does some things so right it frustrates when it fumbles so much else. The showrunners were given more time to get season two produced but it actually feels rushed, which can only make me wonder if its suffering from being overthought or perhaps too concerned with confounding fan theories at the expense of doing what would actually make sense. We’re halfway through now and I really can’t say I’m loving it as much as I did last season. Its still very good and some episodes really have got me fired up in places with its ideas and execution but on the whole, as I wrote awhile ago, I’m missing Ford (Anthony Hopkins). I’m sure there are some reveals coming up and threads will get tied together but I’m beginning to wonder how many viewers will care. Contrary to all expectations, I’m rooting for the MIB William, and if he bites the dust this year I’ll be quite at a loss regards season three.

Whats up, Buck?

buckLast night I watched an episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. It was like sucking (and choking, too, if the truths known) on a glorious Nostalgia Pill (you can buy those, right? Comes in a DVD box or something). It must have been thirty years or more since I last saw an episode of this old show- it aired here in the UK in 1980, but dates back to 1979 in the States. What caught my eye in the television schedules was the title of this particular episode. This was a season one episode, and the reason why I watched it is that, strangely enough, its the one episode I can clearly remember originally watching; Return of the Fighting 69th.

buck2
Anybody else miss those lovely old 1970’s-era episode title cards?

The reason why I remember watching it? Well, it was on a Saturday afternoon that summer that my Dad took my brother and I to watch The Empire Strikes Back. We got back home in time for tea and it just so happened that here in the Midlands at least, Buck Rogers was airing on Saturday afternoon/evenings in that teatime slot. I was quite a fan of the show; (it was colourful and fun and had great production values for the time. It also had Wilma Deering (Erin Gray), who frankly any pubescent boy would have a crush on. Actually, now that I think about it… Princess Leia, Wilma Deering… I needed to get out more, my teen crushes were clearly geeky. So anyway, having just seen the cutting-edge ILM wonders of TESB, it was rather unfortunate for Buck that this episode was (for the show) an effects showcase that featured an asteroid field and space battles that in no way compared with those of TESB. In fact, it only heightened the gap between an expensive television show of the time and an Hollywood blockbuster- nowadays its not as big a gap as you’d remember it was back then- back in the 1970s, you could drive an AT AT through that gap sideways. I had a hard time even sitting through it whilst my mind was still reeling from the latest adventures of Luke Skywalker and co. and that kinetic asteroid field sequence that was, ahem, decidedly rather static in Buck Rogers.

Poor Universal Heartland (I think it was them that handled the effects for those shows, if I remember rightly). They didn’t stand a chance against ILM. It’d be like pitting C-3PO against that robot in the new Lost in Space, old Goldenrod would be in bits before he could screech “oh my!”

But its funny, the other episodes of season one would come and go and be largely forgotten, but I never forgot watching that particular episode that suffered from that unfair comparison.

That being said… those glossy 1970s sets and skin-tight costumes and those jokes… the show hasn’t aged particularly well and it really does remind me of how far television genre shows have progressed in the years since. In that respect, its a fascinating watch just to see how much has changed. But fair play to the producers, making a sci-fi show back then with optical effects on a television budget and schedule was no mean undertaking, especially when such space stuff was still largely considered hokey and for the kids.  From the somewhat scary vantage point of the year 2018, there is something pretty endearing about old genre shows like this one.

Well, I never watched it for the effects or deeply thought-provoking plots back then anyway. I was watching it for Wilma, and she never disappointed. Erin Gray was like something from another planet to a Black Country boy in 1980- and I don’t mean like one of those pod things from Invasion of the body Snatchers. Here’s a curious piece of trivia (and if its not true, I don’t care) – she actually auditioned for the role of Captain  Janeway for Star Trek: Voyager and obviously didn’t get the part due to somebody’s reckless oversight. So there’s an alternate universe out there where Star Trek: Voyager is my favourite Star Trek show…

 

Listening to- Englabörn & Variations by Johann Johannsson

englab.Listening to this is just, frankly,  unbearably sad. Its the first album by the late Johann Johannsson, and now also the last, as it has just been remastered and released by German label Deutsche Grammophon, to celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of the albums original release, accompanied by a second disc of variations, curated by the composer himself shortly before his death. The music was always melancholy and fragile, as most of Johann’s work was, but listening to it now the album seems to carry a whole new poignancy and depth. It feels like it has become his own requiem, and the second disc just seems to intensify this feeling.

So we seem to have the beginning and end, here, of a tragically short-lived career. It should, of course, be a celebration of his genius and perhaps one day it will be, but at the moment it feels too close to his death for that to be so. The final track of the second disc, a reworking of Odi Et Amo, arranged by Johann for voice (performed by Theatre Of Voices) is just a little too heartbreaking for comfort. It feels as raw as funeral music. What a terrible loss to us his passing is, and how strange to think that his music has now a life all its own, to be listened to for years beyond his death. As a whole this two-disc package is a remarkable piece of work (the first disc really benefits from a thoughtful remastering)-  Englabörn & Variations is genuinely worth anyone checking out to discover what was so special in his music.

I wonder if we will ever hear his abandoned score for Blade Runner 2049? I have no idea how far it had progressed, but as it was replaced fairly late in the post-production of the film I have to think it was almost complete. Perhaps, as director Denis Villeneuve contended, it didn’t really suit the film as it came together (and Johann, to his credit, didn’t seem to make anything like a public contention), but I will always be so very curious to perhaps one day hear it.

Maybe Villeneuve or the films producers will be able to one day set in motion circumstances to release the score once some distance has been gained from the films release date. I cannot imagine, after enough time has passed, that such a release could possibly harm the film or the score it eventually was given by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch.

Surely it would be such a shame, if it exists in some near-finished state, to languish in a vault somewhere. If nothing else, it would be fascinating to hear how Johann ‘saw ‘the film in his own eyes compared to what we have become so familiar with. Listening to Englabörn & Variations I am filled with such fantasies of what Johann would have created to be the films soundscape and beating heart.