Star Trek: Discovery Season Two

std6The problems with this show are manifold, but perhaps best summed up by its final moments. We are on the gorgeously reimagined bridge of the original Enterprise, Number One is at the helm, Captain Pike sitting in the command chair, and as they prepare to embark on another voyage in the newly-repaired starship, a clean-shaven officer Spock enters the bridge, wearing his familiar blue science uniform. Its like the clearest distillation of what was great about original Trek. Captain Pike (Anson Mount) has been the best thing about this entire season, the beating heart of it, and he’s only been the guest-star of the show. He’s (surprisingly) the nearest any Star Trek show or movie has ever gotten to recreating the vibe and style of William Shatner’s original Kirk. Smart, charismatic, bold, loyal, he’s been a magnetic personality dominating the season. Perhaps even more tellingly, Number One (Rebecca Romjin) who possibly only appeared in three or four episodes but completely stole the show from most everyone else on any bridge, Enterprise or Discovery. Now minus the irritating beard, Ethan Peck looks oddly ‘right’ as Mr Spock, glorious in proper starfleet uniform, familiar to, yet excitingly different from, Leonard Nimoy’s original. The bridge set design is better than anything in the Star Trek reboot movies, or any tv show of any Trek era. Bright colours, vivid, shiny, beautiful. Even the CGI Enterprise model is breathtakingly good- its no ‘hot-rod’ reimagining but rather the original done well, with all the added style and detail one could hope for. So the Enterprise and these wonderfully realised characters are going off on fresh adventures, closing out the season with all sorts of promise and possibilities….

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…only this is not what we’re going to get. Season three of Discovery will not show us what happens next, what bold exciting adventures this ship and crew will have.

Remember that other lot? You know, that other bunch of non-entity characters (beyond their names, tell me anything interesting about any of them) that populate the bridge of that other ship that buggered off to the future about twenty minutes prior. Yeah, go on, think hard, you remember them. That ‘Chosen One’ Michael Burnham, you know, the one that the universe inexplicably revolved around for about twenty-odd episodes and who had to save all sentient life in the galaxy by disappearing down a wormhole, yeah, the half-sister that Spock that never mentioned ever, in any of 79 tv episodes or several movies, whose Starship, the Discovery, which flew with some magic-sorcery Sporedrive nonsense and which has never been mentioned in any Star Trek series or movie, of any era, ever, even though it arguably saved all creation by, like, buggering off to another time after Burnham. Oh go on, think hard, that other bunch.

Yeah, them. Season three is going to be all about them, conveniently off on in the distant future nine centuries hence, so they can no longer toss about with Trek continuity or timelines or mythology.  Only they won’t have more interesting characters from the Enterprise to save the show and actually make it interesting. No, the writers will be on their own from now on. God help them.

I could go on about all the things that irritated me. Most of it, in all honesty, is the writing, which handicaps both the actors and their craft and much everything else. The show looks terrific, the costumes, the effects, most of the sets, the props, it’s all high-quality stuff, arguably the equal of anything from the movie Treks, including those reboots. But the writing is something from Sesame Street or Power Rangers or modern Dr Who or kids cartoons of the 1970s… its bloody awful. I was hoping it would improve as the season progressed but it actually got worse, mired in a tangled loop of science-as-sorcery and twisted time paradoxes. Something about ‘it was never Burnham’s mother in the timesuit, it was Burnham instead’ which was, like, apparently contradicting everything we’d seen before, when her mother actually told us she was the Red Angel repeatedly saving Burnham and actually was, because, like, when they caught the Red Angel it was her mother in the suit. All I know is I couldn’t give a toss about Discovery or its non-entity politically correct crew, I was more interested in the Enterprise and its crew of actually interesting characters with actual personality.

But alas that’s gone now. But maybe when season three inevitably implodes and gets cancelled, we’ll get that Captain Pike’s Enterprise as a spin-off or something. Hell, I’d even go see the movie if they turned it into a movie, it’s already miles better than that JJ reboot nonsense.

 

The Big Bang Theory Season One

big1Okay, so I am phenomenally late to the party with this one. A friend at work (who is not even there anymore) hounded me for years to watch this show (I really must text him to admit I’ve finally succumbed). So I finally got around to it, as its twenty-minute bites were easier to fit in around the tennis marathon of Wimbledon than things like movies or full episodic drama.

So I’ve seen season one and still know nothing about what happens next (there’s something wrong when you’re watching a sitcom and trying to avoid spoilers, it’s madness and I feel stupid). Real Life mocks me with the terrifying knowledge that there’s another ten seasons of whatever happens next. 262 more episodes, to be exact, according to a wiki I just dared look at. Oh dear.

We’ll see how future seasons progress before the inevitable decline in quality occurs, see how far I get before I give up on it. But I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen so far. Its even pretty funny, and I like the geekdom/genre references (most fly over Claire’s head, but I guess she’s got more of a life than I), it’s like there’s another level going on that was written just for me. I guess that’s a lot of the shows appeal. And the science is certainly more convincing than what passes for science in Star Trek: Discovery.

A surprisingly bland Captain Marvel

cm1There’s something wrong with the structure of Captain Marvel. As origin movies go, its fairly dysfunctional- there’s zero opportunity for growth or what would qualify as  traditional narrative arc for a film such as this. While some might argue thats a good thing, perhaps even a breath of fresh air, in my mind it leaves this film feeling oddly broken- it doesn’t really work.

Maybe they tried fixing it in post- maybe this state of affairs is a result of that ‘fix’ not working, it’s certainly a curio. Mind, looking at those credits, it has two directors, five writers, eight producers, is it any wonder it turns out such a mess? If ever there were an argument for the single-vision of auteurs like Zack Snyder, Captain Marvel may be it.

Sorry, I’m a little sore. I bought this movie. Anyway, lets begin.

Let’s compare Captain Marvel to pretty much any other Marvel hero in their first movie. Vers (Brie Larson) awakens on the planet Kree, a member of her planets Starforce, a military that defends Kree from the evil shape-shifting Skrulls. She’s a self-confident and accomplished warrior with fighting skills and (some) superpowers, right from the start. She is troubled by strange dreams and a loss of memory of anything prior to being brought to Kree as a young adult of eighteen years, but other than that, she is strong and confident. Complete with a sharp-looking rubber superhero costume right off the bat, she’s unfortunately got zero personality under that costume and little room for any growth; she’s a kick-ass warrior maiden, what’s left?

Most other introductory Marvel hero tales start with their alter-ego. Peter Parker as a shy, introverted student, Steve Rogers as a skinny kid who’s deemed unfit for military duty, Bruce Banner who’s a driven scientist, Tony Stark a self-obsessed playboy billionaire. You give them their superpower and the drama is how much it changes them, how they cope with those powers and inherent responsibility. How they grow.

Now, lets try an alternative structure. Let’s show Vers as her original identity of Carol Danvers on Earth, growing up, a young girl struggling to compete and prove herself in a mans world. She tries, she fails, but she always gets up and tries again until she succeeds. Well, there’s your personality and character. She’s driven and stubborn enough to struggle past adversity. I can see the title sequence right there, a period rock song, vignettes of her growing up. Post credits, we open proceedings with her as a young woman, she has a few close freinds, has managed to work her way into the airforce, when in a characteristic act of stepping up to the plate to prove herself, she is caught in a bizarre air battle and ‘dies’ in a crash.

And then she wakes up on Kree, ignorant of her real past. The mystery is how she got there and why, and why she can’t recall her past on Earth- or is this some twin? The plot then drives her back towards Earth and for her to uncover the truth, her true self, and ultimately the true scope of her superpowers. Presto, entertaining movie. Hardly rocket science.

The trouble is, we never really get to know Carol Danvers, the girl behind the costume and the superpowers. By the time the big effects/action spectacle kicks in, we don’t really care. Compare that to the magnificent Superman: The Movie, in which we always care about the title character, always empathise with him, and love Clark Kent, because we know who he is and why he is. Captain Marvel is one big glowing visual effect, and they don’t even think to write her some kryptonite to instil some danger or drama. Maybe that comes in the inevitable second movie, but as origin adventures go, this is one of the worst I can remember. She flies through space, destroying alien juggernauts and beating up alien bad guys, but it’s uninvolving, almost boring. We’ve seen all this CGI spectacle before, and modern film-makers really must try harder, do more. The eye-candy isn’t enough on its own anymore.

cm2Brie Larson, so good in Kong: Skull Island is merely adequate here: she looks beautiful and steps up to the physical challenge, but she’s really hampered by the strange structure of the film that leaves her character hopelessly bland.

I think some have denounced such criticism as sexual politics and maybe the fanboy backlash post-The Last Jedi deserves some of that, but I honestly think its well-founded to some extent. For one thing, the film really doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. Its never competently explained what Annette Bening’s Kree-in-hiding character was doing researching technologies on Earth for the US Government, or competently explains why one minute its a galactic Kree/Skrull war with the Skrull as omnipotent invaders and then suddenly the Skrull are just misunderstood ragtag survivors looking for a new home and sanctuary from the suddenly nasty Kree- is all the lie simply set up for Vers’ benefit for some odd reason, in which case, are all the Kree in on it? I mean, what’s she even doing on Kree? What purpose does it serve having her think she is a Starforce operative named Vers? We are offered sideways explanations in passing, usually via dialogue, which we are not meant to consider or examine. The whole thing feels broken, a deck of cards ready to fall on closer inspection, completely undermining any of the actors attempts to make it work. Jude Law is almost hysterically bad as Vers’ mentor Yon-Rogg, initially a good-guy with a shady demeanor and then suddenly in a twist so badly executed I thought it was actually a bluff, he’s actually the main villain. He looks great in the part physically but its woefully underwritten and everytime he opens his mouth to speak the film goes clunk.  If your bad guy is such a non-entity, you’re in trouble: they almost absent-mindedly drag in that Ronan character from Guardians of the Galaxy (so forgettable in that movie I just had to look it up to check) for villian support, and that fails, too, unless it’s just to throw in those spaceships for our hero to smash.

On the plus side, it has a nice Stan Lee tribute at the beginning- although if you’re a fan of Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby and at all familiar with the real history of Marvel, that is just as likely to set your teeth on edge right from the start. With all due respect to Lee, he’s up there with Gene Roddenberry in the curated myths department. But hey ho, that’s the reality we’re living in, it’s easier to attribute talent/genius to one than in it is to a dozen.

 

From the Earth to a HD Moon

e2mbluThe new blu-ray edition of HBOs classic From the Earth to the Moon arrived today, and eager to see how good/bad it looks I gave it a quick spin. Specifically, I loaded up the two episodes I’d watched on DVD late last year– episode five; Spider,  and episode six; Mare Tranquilitas. 

I’ll get the negative out the way (and while its a biggie for some, it is pretty much the only negative I can see), and as widely expected, it’s the aspect ratio. Originally filmed in the 1990s when most everyone had a 4.3 television, and a cathode ray tube one at that, the show was filmed for a 4.3 (square) ratio (although thankfully on 35mm film I believe, certainly not on video). So purists baying at losing visual information on the top and bottom of the screen (HBO having expanded the whole image to fill a 16.9 widescreen ratio panel in the majority of homes today) will no doubt carry on their baying. The ideal solution would have been to preserve that original ratio as did HD remasters/presentations of the original Star Trek series and shows like The Prisoner and Space: 1999, but HBO no doubt had their eyes on HD presentations on HBO and worldwide sales to foreign networks, where Joe Public likely switches off aghast at black bars on the left and right of the image on their shiny big televisions. Die-hard fans buying shows on disc or download are the minority audience for shows like this, unfortunately (physical sales very much the minority, it’s the world we are living in, and I feel lucky to have the show on disc at all).

This aspect ratio issue was also true of the last DVD edition of the show, but at least this edition has a saving grace, of a sorts, and that’s the newly-executed visual effects, something I really hadn’t expected when news of this HD edition broke.

Possibly one of the deciding factors against preserving a 4.3 ratio is that the majority of the visual effects (and all of the original CGI shots) have been redone, in full HD to replace the original SD effects, and these have been formatted specifically for the wider frame, so couldn’t have been placed in the 4.3 original. I suppose they could have retained those old original effects shots for the 4.3 presentation but that would have negated any benefit from remastering the original negatives of the live-action material as the effects would have stuck out like a sore thumb (we are fortunate to have the option to keep the original effects shots for the 1960s Star Trek Blu-rays – it’s likely we wouldn’t even have that option were they released today, I doubt the studios would make the effort).

I’ve only seen sections of the episodes but on the whole the new effects shots, while certainly not typical of a modern blockbuster movie due to a no doubt limited budget, look very fine indeed. Much better, anyway, than the original effects shots looked, and definitely succeeding in HBOS intentions of giving the show a fresh update and leaving it more like what viewers expect today. They definitely look more cinematic in composition thanks to them being designed for a  widescreen image. When I watched that DVD last year, the visual effects looked horribly dated, particularly on my unforgiving OLED panel- they looked horrible, almost unwatchable, so I commend HBO making that effort. I appreciate some would have liked better CGI but you can hardly expect a remaster of an old tv show to be afforded hugely expensive and time-consuming effects. As it is, what I have seen looks pretty fine and certainly makes the show easier to watch.

The rest of the image has been remastered very well indeed. Colour, contrast etc have been boosted and adjusted brilliantly, and there is plenty of grain for the film purists- likely a result of the image being slightly ‘blown up’ to fill the widescreen frame. Regards this, I’ll have to reserve judgement until I can compare scenes from my DVD but I suspect some care has been given to the framing, I don’t expect it is a simple hack job. A remastering featurette on disc three suggests that considerable care has been given. Skin textures, clothing textures, lighting and colour range are all improved, certainly to my eye (albeit I guess my panel is upgrading the HD image to pseudo-4K anyway). There definitely is a great deal of added detail on the screen, and it definitely looks much better than that horrible DVD did last year- it’s a pretty great HD picture overall; the only real downside I suppose is for those fans who prefer the original 4.3 ratio image. I suppose they can keep (and rewatch) the original DVD edition that was in 4.3 but really, the new remaster is leaps and bounds superior in image quality and they’d be missing out on something here.

So anyway, on the basis of this quick spin I’m very happy and looking forward to really putting HBO to the test with a full rewatch of the series.

Now, if only La La Land can have some really good news for me tomorrow…

 

In Bruges

in bruges.jpgColin Farrell, whatever happened to him? Was it his choice of movie projects? I have to wonder, because he was so good in this, it’s like one of those roles when you see someone new and think, he’s destined for bigger, better things, only you realise it’s Farrell, and all those bigger, better things are in the past. Well, maybe. In Bruges is, shockingly, over ten years old, released back in 2008, and I’ve only just come to around to it. So while it follows stuff like Minority Report, Phone Booth, Alexander and The New World, it also predates that Total Recall reboot and his turn in True Detective (which I thought was pretty damn great) so you never know. Maybe bigger and better things still lie ahead.

But In Bruges is great, and a big part of that is due to Farrell. He’s really good in this, ably supported by Brendan Gleeson in one of his own better turns (which is saying a lot). Maybe Farrell needs help filtering out the crap projects, or maybe he’s happy enough with the pay cheques.

I (eventually) came to this film by way of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri which I saw awhile ago now but which I really enjoyed- and everyone was telling me at the time to see director Martin McDonagh’s previous film (In Bruges), so here we are, yeah, eventually.

In Bruges is one of those weird, small, quirky projects that are just so neat you can’t help but fall in love with it. Hit men Ray (Farrell) and Ken (Gleeson) are ordered by their paymaster Harry Walters to lay low in Bruges, Belgium, after their latest hit went sour with the death of an innocent child bystander. Ken falls for the old-fashioned, romantically historical charm of the city instantly, but Ray isn’t interested, to him it’s an old and boring place, enlivened only by his chance encounter with a local girl, Chloe (Clémence Poésy), who is working with a film crew shooting an American movie in the city. Both men find a new appreciation for life- Ken through the fairytale beauty of the city, Ray through the romantic possibilities with Chloe. But Ray is constantly ridden by guilt for the child’s death, and Ken’s friendship is challenged when he receives instructions from Harry to ‘deal with’ his partner…

In Bruges is a funny, sometimes dark, sometimes enchanting, dark comedy, an oddly gentle character piece with all sorts of interesting and diverting characters and twists. It isn’t the kind of film we see very often- indeed, it really feels like something out of the early 1970s. Something like Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, or Charley Varrick. It really feels out of time, and I suppose, on reflection, the same was true of Three Billboards. It occurs to me that this is exactly the kind of project that Netflix should invest in- if they could produce Netflix Originals of this calibre, well, we really wouldn’t need the cineplex at all, would we? Who needs Disney blockbuster bubblegum when you can be entertained by films like this?

 

Its Trek, Jim, but not as we know it….

…which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’ve been watching the second season of Star Trek: Discovery, and I’ve been enjoying it more than the first season; on the whole I’d say its much improved. I’ll withhold my final thoughts until I’ve seen the whole thing -I’m at the midpoint now, having watched the first six episodes- but clearly there’s good and bad. Funnily enough, mind, when I’ve been thinking back on these episodes I’ve watched, some of the best and worst moments has surprised me.

stOne of my criticisms of season one was simply that, like the film reboots, it didn’t really feel like Star Trek. One caveat here- when I refer to ‘Star Trek’ I’m talking about the original 1960s show, for me that’s always Star Trek and what I’ll always compare later stuff to, whether it be ST:TNG, DS9, Wrath of Khan or whatever. Anyway, the first season of Star Trek: Discovery surprised me by being, for the most part, not a complete disaster. But it didn’t really earn the title ‘Star Trek’ simply because, as a prequel to the original show, it fell into the familiar trap of not feeling authentic- by being so modern and flash and sophisticated it lost a lot of the simple charm of the original. It seemed, like the Disney Star Wars films in a way, to be appropriating the franchise ‘objects’ like Klingons, Vulcans, Starships etc from Star Trek but, in making it of its own it lost the authenticity, in just the same way as the ‘hot rod’ Enterprise of the Star Trek film reboots in no way looks or feels like the original Enterprise. It feels alien, an inferior subsitute.

The funny thing is, the second season possibly succeeds best when it fails to be ‘Star Trek’ and fails worst when it slips into the nightmare technobabble deux machina plots that the writers solve with technobabble in just the same way as Dr Who always fixes everything with that bloody sonic screwdriver- lazy writing basically. Are we supposed to be excited when three characters in engineering excitedly discuss theoretical solutions for their current predicament and come up with some handy gizmo and theory just in time, some  scheme so outlandish it might as well be sorcery? At least in the original Star Trek it was usually Kirks wits or Spock’s logic or just plain fisticuffs or photon torpedoes that saved the day- I didn’t have to stomach two minutes of meaningless techno jargon to somehow explain away something. In this respect, it seems the showrunners are too enamored with ST:TNG and those tv incarnations of that era. On the whole I just think its lazy writing, setting up problems/predicaments and then writing yourself out of it with a solution based on magic and sorcery, something out of left-field and excused by it being a story set in the future.  You know, that whole Arthur C Clarke thing about some sufficiently advanced alien technology being indistinguishable from magic misappropriated in a Star Trek writer’s series bible.

One thing I will say- it looks gorgeous. The sets, costumes, visual effects looking very feature-film quality (to stretch that Arthur C Clarke thing a bit further- television of sufficiently advanced visual quality being indistinguishable from theatrical productions, (ha ha, shoot me now while I go get my coat)). Its got a wonderful widescreen presentation and the Dolby Vision HDR really kicks, which really makes it all the more frustrating when the technobabble gets to spoil everything. While the Star Trek milieu should be really something to treasure it feels strange to report that it also handicaps it. I wish they’d use this quality and effort in a more retro fashion, really evoke the ‘period’ of the 1960s Star Trek than this odd ultra-2001/Avatar hybrid that feels more an approximation- I’m sure the showrunners would argue its what Gene Roddenberry would have intended to do with 1960s Star Trek if only he had the toybox they have now, but that’s not really true. Roddenberry wasn’t really interested in Klingons (that was Gene Coon’s baby) and neither did he really investigate Spock’s Vulcan heritage beyond his alien-ness, so all modern Trek’s fascination with Klingon and Vulcan cultures and languages is all LOTR Elvish to me. Sure it’s fun if you can spin some worthwhile plot from it but it shouldn’t be everything or bog down the adventure. Some of this stuff, well, maybe hardcore Trekkies (who can speak Klingon, God bless their nerdish hearts) lap it up.

Oh well, I’ll see where it goes, but it is pretty good so far. Its the best TV Trek since the original show I think I’ve ever seen, to be sure. It comes so frustratingly close to being brilliant, but maybe the second season saves its best till last….

#1,003!

I passed some kind of milestone the other day and didn’t even know it, which alludes to how meaningless it is, but anyway, this post is my 1,003rd since starting this blog here back in 2012. So my Prisoner of Second Avenue post on Sunday was my 1,000th post. Thats, er, some kind of milestone, and I mention it here only in passing, but I figured it was worthwhile to report it. I wonder if anyone out there has read all 1,003 posts?

I’m sure some blogging savants can (and have) put up 1,000 posts in a single year, but managing a normal life/job at the same time seems dubious at best, to me. Last year was my most prolific, totalling 244 posts, and it’s certainly something I’ve tried to improve upon every year (2017 190 posts, 2016 159 posts, 2015 68 posts…) whether I manage the same this year is still possible (138 now as we begin the sobering slide towards shorter days and Christmas etc). Oh well, here’s to another 1,003 before I keel over.

 

The Thin Red Line OST by Hans Zimmer (Expanded La La Land Records edition)

ThinRedLine-Large__42863.1549393387I listen to this all the time. Not a week goes by that I don’t listen to the first two discs, which comprise the entire score by Hans Zimmer as originally recorded in Autumn/Winter 1998, following two years of collaboration between himself and director Terrence Malick. Entire films can be written, shot and released in the time it takes Malick to edit a film, constantly reworking scenes and often editing, completing and then re-editing them with alternate music- TRL was no different, and when it finally got released, Malick would of course have further tinkered with the score, returning to classical choices he perhaps always favoured (something that no doubt irritated his composers before and after) and thus relegating much of Zimmer’s score to the cutting room floor (or Avid dustbin, however that all works in this digital age).

That The Thin Red Line was one of Zimmer’s finest efforts is nothing new- it was always a major part of the success of this haunting and magical film. However it is clear from this remastered edition, in which the original intended score is presented across the first two discs that this score is truly remarkable and more special than even its fans possibly expected (as the late Nick Redman comments in the liner notes, a two and a half hour program that is almost two-thirds unreleased). Some of it is familiar from the film but omitted from the original soundtrack album release, and some of it is totally new, cut from the film and never heard before. As a whole piece of music, it is in my mind clearly Zimmer’s masterpiece, his finest work. Richly lyrical, emotive, deeply soulful, mystical even. I have found myself listening to it as a musical work all its own, completely independent of the film it was written for.

I keep coming back to it. Its almost an ambient thing, something of a mood. Themes are woven throughout, returned to, dismissed, then later reprised. In this respect it is fairly routine of Zimmer’s work, in which he often populates a score with one or two admittedly fine themes and then constantly reworks them, remixes them throughout the whole, but goodness me, those themes he came up with for The Thin Red Line are quite extraordinary.  I am constantly reminded of Matt Irvine’s record reviews column in Starburst magazine, particularly his review of Jerry Goldsmith’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture score, in which he commented that the music was so strong as a narrative whole that it seemed akin to a modern symphony, a classical work in its own right. Irvine was absolutely spot-on and I do think the same could be said of this score too.

The score functions in a similar way to Vangelis’ Blade Runner score, in which it is mostly about mood and atmospherics, its music that you feel rather than even hear, sometimes. There are themes and leitmotifs just as in any score but they are almost secondary to the whole. One of the most iconic pieces of film music of modern scoring is the Journey to the Line track (as it was titled on the original OST album) which features here in an extended form with a different title- indeed this music is so popular and has been reused in so many trailers and temp tracks that it has become the bane of modern composers. Its interesting that in this complete score it turns up so often in so many different (sometimes subtly so) forms; woven throughout it forms the backbone of the score. Tellingly, it features in Nature Montage, the very opening of the score and a piece of music (some five minutes long) largely replaced in the actual movie. Its a lovely mood-setting piece, evocative of Witt’s dreamy, questioning narration (“What is this war at the heart of nature?”), the warlike, almost drone-like Journey to the Line theme falls to a lovely, soulful piece (Witts theme, really) that sets up the tensions of the film and the score as a whole. Its a genius piece to introduce the score and film and much of it all-new to our ears.

As we suffer the decline and near the end of physical disc formats and likely with it,  such perfectly curated score expansions such as this, it feels all the more special that we somehow got this expanded and remastered edition of this score.  It isn’t cheap, mind, and has come under some criticism. The new material is spread over the first two discs of a four-disc set, the third disc being a remastered edition of the original soundtrack album, and a fourth disc of Melanesian choir music- religious chants partially featured as source music in sections of the film. The inclusion of the original soundtrack is certainly well-warranted. It features music not used in the film, some music used in the film but not sourced from the original score, and edited suites unique to itself. While it is in truth the original album we fans loved for years, it actually feels like a standard third disc of alternates etc that an ordinary expansion such as this might contain. Whenever I listen to it now, that’s what it feels like. A collection of alternates and replacements to the score heard on the first two discs. The inclusion of the fourth disc is partially redundant -little of it was used in the film- but it was a major part of the films identity, and I believe Zimmer insisted on its inclusion, so who’s to argue? If nothing else, it makes the whole thing feel complete.

As far as soundtracks go, this is surely the release of the year, and having owned it a few months now, I often see it on my CD shelf and have a ‘pinch me’ moment of surreal disbelief. Its rather like La la Land’s own 3-disc set of Star Trek: The Motion Picture or Intrada’s 3-disc Conan the Barbarian– these are wonderful scores, some of my very favourites, and we have them in luxurious complete (or as near dammit) editions after waiting for years. Indeed, I would truly thought such releases were impossible, years ago. Just as films appeared in the cinema and then disappeared for years until eventually surfacing on television, so soundtrack albums were simple vinyl albums that came out during a films initial release and then quickly became OOP, relegated to second-hand speciality stores years later. We are very fortunate indeed now.

 

 

 

Party like it’s 1989: Field of Dreams (4K UHD)

pris2Another 30th anniversary, and another 4K UHD release of an old favourite- this time Field of Dreams, a film blessed by one of James Horner’s best and most intimate of scores, and a story/screenplay that makes it the best Ray Bradbury movie that isn’t actually based on a Ray Bradbury story. Like Rod Serling’s early Twilight Zone episode, Walking Distance, this feels so much like a Bradbury tale it’s almost from some kind of fantasy uncanny valley.  As someone who spent much of the 1980s devouring much or Ray Bradbury’s short fiction and later novels, quietly laughing and shedding a tear at just the right moments with each turn of the page, Field of Dreams was, to quote the characters, not just incredible, it was perfect.

In just the same way as Alien is possibly the best Lovecraft film ever made, in how honest and sincere it is in conveying the alien horror of his best tales, so Field of Dreams is the best Bradbury film ever made- the fact that neither author had anything at all to do with the original source materials of either movie matters not one jot.

So anyway, I had to pinch myself a little this past weekend- I was a very lucky ghost watching The Prisoner of Second Avenue in a new HD master on Blu-ray and the following day a new transfer of Field of Dreams, splendidly brought to 4K UHD disc. While the disc will never win any awards or standout from the 4K UHD crowd, it’s the best the film has ever looked- a quick spin of the original Blu-ray disc reveals how limited that old edition really was, hampered by a lackluster print/master which in comparison really highlights the improvements in this new 4K disc. The image is more stable, the detail and filmic grain more defined and the colour depth really improved- HDR is mostly subtle and all the best for it, only really vivid in scenes with neon street lighting or in the baseball field at night.

The film, of course, is something of a marmite picture; often described as a male-weepie or adult fable, it’s a charming and finely-judged film that is really quite subtle – I think it will be interesting to rewatch Always, also from 1989, and similarly old-fashioned and gentle in spirit, to see how Spielberg’s less subtle hand fares (a bargain-bin blu-ray sits waiting on the shelf as I type this). I was naturally predisposed to fall for this film simply because it evokes so much of the magic Bradbury’s old Americana fantasies, but this shouldn’t detract from the qualities of the cinematography,  the performances (Kevin Costner is at the top of his game and James Earl Jones a greater joy everytime I rewatch this), the sublime score, the deft direction.  It has the feel of lightning caught in a bottle- a film has naively nostalgic and innocent as this shouldn’t have worked in the 1980s and beyond, but like Capra’s Its A Wonderful Life, it’s rather gained a timeless life all of its own.

The Prisoner of Second Avenue (Blu-ray)

pris1Thanks to Warner Archive over in the States we have a newly restored release of The Prisoner of Second Avenue, and on Blu-ray no less. Naturally as I’m a huge fan of the film I ordered a copy and it arrived yesterday, so I watched it that evening. I can report that the film looks absolutely gorgeous, a beautifully detailed HD image with fine grain, incredible detail, no DNR, lovely colour- its damn near perfect, and the best I have ever seen this film look. As the physical formats continue to decline, it makes releases such as this all the more special and treasured, and I thank my lucky stars this is region-free, as I’m pretty certain fairly lowly-renowned films such as this is extremely unlikely to get released over here in the UK (which is a great shame, frankly, and I’d love some UK distributor to prove me wrong and release this and some other Jack Lemmon films in HD over here).

So I watched the film last night and I was quite overcome with how wonderful the experience was – this is one of my very favourite films and to finally have it in this splendid Blu-ray release is just wonderful. To say this release was worth the added expense of having to import it from over the pond is an understatement. The 2019 master is pretty amazing and gives the film a whole new life and vitality, you could be forgiven for thinking its a fresh new film shot last year, except for the fact that it being shot on film gives it a tactile grain and image superior to many modern films shot digitally. The film also features some really impressive widescreen composition, certainly that old pan and scan version I first saw must have been pretty horrific.

Its no doubt some indication of my adoration of this little film that I have mentioned it so many times here on my blog. Its one of those films that I had an instant and intense emotional attachment to- I was in a very low place in my life when I first saw this film by chance on an afternoon tv airing, and it certainly struck a chord in me. Indeed, over the years as I have returned to it that connection, and my love of the film, has remained undiminished- perhaps even heightened as I have grown older and been able to appreciate it even more. Sure, there are better films out there- but few films, in all honesty, mean quite so much to me.

pris3A study of a middle-aged man who becomes unemployed and has a nervous breakdown is perhaps a strange one to describe as a comedy, but it is – its funny and it is sad and there is a feeling of truth and honesty about it, of ordinary people just trying to survive in a cold and indifferent modern city. Jack Lemmon of course is probably my favourite actor and he’s excellent here as the wounded Mel, displaying fragility and pride and, as usual, uncanny comic timing delivering his lines or reacting to others. Anne Bancroft playing his wife Edna, has really good chemistry with him and is no slouch herself with the comedy, and she engenders great sympathy during her characters moments of stress and concern. We really feel the warmth between this middle-aged married couple (I’d hate to imagine how young and physically utopian a modern film versions casting would be).  Thanks to some fine location shooting, the film also serves as something of a time-capsule, capturing a mid-1970s America and New York that does not exist anymore. Its familiar but also there is a distance, a sense of innocence lost: an interesting New York double-bill would be this followed by Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, released only a year after and seemingly light years away from this films Second Avenue- it’s a double-bill I really shall have to try sometime.

pris4The film even features the first on-screen performance of an incredibly young-looking Sylvester Stallone. The fact that this year Stallone celebrates his 72nd birthday is a sober reminder of how old this film is and the years that have passed since, and of those we have lost. Jack Lemmon died in 2001, Anne Bancroft in 2005, Gene Saks in 2015, Ed Peck (you may not know the name but he’s a familiar face from a lot of 1960s and 1970s television) in 1992. Infact, of all the cast, I think only F. Murray Abraham (who appears in unlikely cameo as a taxi driver) and M.Emmet Walsh (the apartment buildings inept and  lazy doorman, later a hero of mine from Blade Runner of course), are still alive, other than that young turk Stallone. Behind the screen, playwright and screenwriter Neil Simon passed away in 2018 and the films director, Melvin Frank, passed away in 1988. Composer Marvin Hamlisch passed away in 2012; how I would love to own a copy of the films marvelous score on CD, something extremely unlikely to ever happen as I don’t believe any of the score was ever released, but you never know, stranger things have happened.

I only write about all the talent we have lost as an indication of the films pedigree and worth, and it’s unlikely place in film history as a little film that could – and a film I absolutely adore. Film fans can attach to films more easily and more faithfully than they can people. This film is proof of that.