Revisiting Baby Driver (but in 4K!)

bb4kLast night I finally took my 4K disc of Baby Driver out of its shrink-wrap and rewatched the film. My original thoughts are here, from back when I watched the film on a rental from Amazon- I enjoyed the film immensely and purchased the 4K disc when it featured in a sale not long afterwards (ah, the good old Zoom days…) but isn’t it strange when it takes so long to rewatch even a film one enjoys? Baby Driver is one of those clever films that just clicks, a twist on the musical genre and a brilliant reinterpretation of the use of source music in films that dates back to American Graffiti. If anything, I enjoyed the film so much more this time around- no doubt because of the image quality of the 4K and perhaps even more so its superior sound too. Yeah, streaming is okay but its definitely sub-par in so many respects.

And of course, in another example of the argument for physical media, they may not be on the 4K disc, but there’s lots of special features on the accompanying Blu-ray disc bundled with the 4K. This includes two commentary tracks which I think will prove to be highly informative regards the use of the music and the decisions regards selection.

I read recently that Edgar Wright has spent lockdown finishing the script for Baby Driver 2 (which I presume involved listening to his entire music collection and writing for specific tracks/beats) so I look forward to seeing what comes of that. Baby Driver is a fairly self-contained film and doesn’t need a sequel but I’m certainly open to more if its as good as the first film. I also see that Ansel Elgort (who should have been hired by Disney to play Han Solo in its Solo flick) is starring in Spielberg’s West Side Story due in December; he’ll be absolutely huge after that if it proves as good as it hopefully is.

Close Encounters soundtrack- new edition

CloseEncounters-HDThere is something captivating about that poster for CE3K, of the road at night leading to a mysterious glow on the horizon. I remember it on the paperback cover, the original vinyl album, the collectors edition magazine etc. It always seemed so arresting, so…. I don’t know… it just evokes the same feelings in me now, all these years later, holding this new La La Records edition of the John Williams soundtrack. I think this cover is actually a rework from either new elements or original elements remastered but in any case, it is effective as it ever was.

It feels rather fitting, also, to be writing about this new edition of the CE3K soundtrack album immediately after writing my post about Baby Driver. Music is an integral part of both films, just in a different way- in the case of Baby Driver, its source music, but in Close Encounters its the score that is woven so tightly into the fabric of the film. Indeed, one of the pleasures of this edition of the score is the track Advance Scout Greeting, which is functions as sound design in the film but is actually score music, when the scientists first attempt communication through music with ufos prior to the arrival of the mothership. Its utterly sublime and a wonderful reminder of one of my favourite moments of the film- this track alone worth the price of buying this soundtrack yet again.

In all honesty, Close Encounters is not my favourite John Williams score (Empire Strikes Back, if you’re wondering); it always seemed, even back in 1978, music to admire rather than love or adore. It’s a complex, sometimes atonal score, very much of the 1970s when film music could indeed function as a fundamental part of a films success, full of themes and motifs, without being designed as easy-listening or full of tunes to whistle afterwards. While it lacks tunes like Darth Vader’s theme or the Superman march, it does have one of the most identifiable musical motifs of any film, period; the five-note musical signal transmitted by the aliens and the centerpiece of the human/alien communication.

Beyond its sometimes revelatory remastering (for once,  here’s music that really does sound superior than it has ever before) one of the best aspects of this particular release is that it is based on the discovery that John Williams had originally planned to release the Close Encounters soundtrack as a double-lp in similar fashion to the previous double-lp edition of the hugely successful Star Wars soundtrack (and as he would the Superman soundtrack album). For some reason this intention was nixed in favour of releasing a standard single-album of highlights, but this release has allowed the first compact disc to roughly correspond with what Williams had originally intended. .So, rather than be a complete and chronological release as is usual these days for these expanded releases, instead, the first disc functions as a satisfying musical listening experience. Considering the sore is so atonal in places and the original highlights album full of edits and compromises, it works brilliantly well here.

The second disc in this set functions in much the same way, but chiefly with unreleased music, album versions, alternates and the like. It works as a compelling and satisfying alternative to what the first disc offers, almost a director’s cut of the original soundtrack. Its a novel approach but works so well it’s a shame no-one has tried something like this before. As it is, it makes all previous editions of the soundtrack irrelevant and this edition definitive. You may have heard this music before, but whether you have the original vinyl or the 1998 expansion on CD, you haven’t heard it like this. Essential for fans of the composer’s work or this score in particular. My apologies to your wallet, as if you’re here in the UK these things aren’t getting any cheaper – I’d direct you to the music box website as the best deal to avoid customs charges etc. Delivery is quick as its just popped across the channel and the discs well packaged.

Baby Driver

baby.jpgGeorge Lucas is naturally best-renowned for the impact that Star Wars had on the film industry back in 1977, but thats ignoring the pioneering use of source music in his earlier film American Graffiti– the end-to-end parade of rock and roll songs played on the radio formed an evocative and groundbreaking soundtrack/soundscape through the film that revolutionised the subsequent use of source music in film-making.

So I found myself thinking of American Graffiti whilst watching Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver. The use of source music -updated from radio airplay to ipod/smartphone mp3 streaming, naturally- is as integral a part of what Baby Driver ‘is’ as much as the music was in Graffiti. Indeed, what gives Baby Driver its own identity is that its taken it one step further, with the performances and editing timed specifically to the beats of that infectious soundtrack of songs. In some ways it seems almost a much a musical as, say, La La Land.

So whilst it owes so much to a film from decades past it also comes across as being refreshingly original, and excitingly new. Perhaps it’s just a natural progression of how source music has become such an integral part of film over the years since Graffiti, particularly in how some sequences in films often seem to be pop videos in how they are shot , edited and soundtracked with pop songs. The clever conceit of Baby Driver is in how the central character needs the songs in order to function as the titular driver of the film, his skill for driving and spectacular stunts behind the wheel wholly dependant on the flow and beat of whatever he is listening to. Its almost genius in its execution.

baby2The fact that there is actually an involving and thrilling film independent of those frenetic chases is the biggest and most welcome surprise of the film. Indeed, the actual screen time of those car chases is surprisingly small regards the whole.

Alden Ehrenreich must offer something pretty special as Disney’s new Han Solo in his year’s Star Wars anthology movie, because Baby Driver is surely Ansel Elgort’s 2-hour statement for being the best young Solo that we’ll never see. He offers a vulnerability and charm that so often brings to mind a young Harrison Ford/Han Solo that its almost irresistible- intensified perhaps by his costume design in this film, practically wearing Solo’s Star Wars wardrobe like some cosplay nut. No doubt this was a deliberate ploy by Edgar Wright, Baby so obviously evoking the Han Solo look and the sense that Baby and his cars is like Solo and his Millenium Falcon. I recall back in 1977 the sense that the Falcon was like a hotrod in the stars- a novel thing back then so pedantic now. Wright must have been so aware of that when writing/shooting this film.

Isn’t it weird to be referencing old George Lucas films so much when discussing this film? It’s almost as if this film is a love-letter to Lucas, and makes me sadly reflect on how great a film-maker the 1970s George Lucas was (lets not forget the ingenious sound design of THX 1138 or the fact that the 1970s Lucas also cemented the Star Wars saga making The Empire Strikes Back and the creation of the matinee-throwback heroics of Raiders of the Lost Ark).

Is Baby Driver the last hurrah for Kevin Spacey in a mainstream Hollywood movie? I suppose only time will tell but this film is a welcome reminder of how great he is as an onscreen bastard (his offscreen credentials in that regard seems to have nixed his future career somewhat). His charisma and coldness here forms a fulcrum for the film; so much seems to revolve around him and he is so convincing it makes me a little sad that we will lose some great future performances/films re: his probable absence from film-making in future. That’s purely a selfish consideration as a fan of film though rather than any moral judgement on what the actor himself deserves- we’ll just have to see how all that plays out in future.

So soon after enjoying her performance in Cinderella, Lily James appears here as Baby’s love-interest, the charming if rather under-written Deborah. At least the two actors share some convincing screen chemistry,  the lovestruck youngsters evoking a clean cut version of True Romance‘s Clarence and Alabama (Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette). Who would have thought when watching Downtown Abbey that she, in particular, would be the performer whose star would subsequently rise in film?

Anyway, Baby Driver was a surprising blast- great to look at and listen to and a pleasure beyond its car chases and stunts. The clever conceit and importance of its music was exciting and at least felt original and new, which can’t be underestimated in this era of ‘me-too’ cgi blockbusters and superhero flicks.  And while I’d love to see where Wright could take the characters and that conceit with a Baby Driver 2, it’s so nice that the film feels so self-contained and wrapped-up, a new film that feels wholly of its own that doesn’t depend upon or tease a sequel or franchise.