Dune (2021): First Impressions

dune2021Well, I’ve not long come back from watching Dune at the cinema- yes my first trip to the cinema since watching 1917 back in January 2020, a pandemic ago that seems so long ago now (hard to believe that in another world, I would have seen Dune a year ago already, and we’d be hearing reports of Part Two gearing up by now).

So what did I think? I really liked it, very much so. But I didn’t love it. Maybe my affair with Villeneuve’s Dune will be one of those gradual courtships, a friendship that deepens into full-blown love, but this certainly wasn’t an experience like watching his BR2049 back in 2017. Watching that film was like falling head over heels in love instantly, a passion that hasn’t diminished any since. I adore that film. Dune was different. It was amazing and impressive and it seemed to do most everything right, but there was something that just kept me at arms length from it.

Maybe its familiarity with the book, objectively noting creative decisions whilst watching the film, and maybe it was familiarity with David Lynch’s 1984 film, objectively noting moments with the same dialogue or doing the same scene in a different way or omitting something Lynch did, or doing something Lynch didn’t (or technologically couldn’t). Sometimes it was difficult to seperate it as a new adaptation of the book rather than a remake of the Lynch film, some of it was so close. Oddly, I could feel myself really enjoying the film more when it was showing stuff not in the Lynch film, like Paul and Jessica’s escape from the abandoned terraforming station, that sequence galvanised my attention or freed me from all the mental comparisons in the back of my head. It was a complex, oddly unique experience watching this film, its carrying all sorts of baggage that isn’t fair or deserved.  At least BR2049 was just in the shadow of a thirty-five year old movie (albeit it managed to also be a sequel to Blade Runner‘s source novel -arguably more faithfully than the 1982 film was). 

So what did I think? Is it ridiculous of me to suggest – no, seriously- that it wasn’t long enough? That maybe criticism of Villeneuve’s slow burn of BR2049 resulted in him too mindful of audience patience and resulted in him consciously keeping Dune moving at a steady pace that perhaps lost some character beats? I can imagine readers at this point rolling their eyes in horror. Yes, maybe I’m being ridiculous to suggest I’d have preferred three hours of Dune over the two hours and thirty-five minutes we got. Would the extra twenty-five minutes have added anything? Maybe not. But I would have enjoyed more of Thufir Hawat and perhaps explanation of why we have Mentats and not iPads or AI supercomputers, or why we have shields and knives and not guns and blasters etc., some of the subtlety of world-building that makes the Dune novel so enticing and wonderful. Maybe I’m missing the Emperor and all those machinations that are clearly being left for Part Two. Lynch’s film struggled with exposition dumps in its first twenty minutes but in hindsight, the 1984 film’s opening scene with the Navigator interrogating the Emperor was a brilliant move and something I missed here. 

Really, that’s my only real fault with the film; that it wasn’t long enough (maybe I’m just greedy). The cast are largely excellent, bringing all the characters to life, and the imagery is just, well, pretty phenomenal, the yardstick for what any future sci-fi epic will be measured against for decades, surely. I’m not entirely convinced Zimmer was the right choice for composer, the film sounded like so many others whereas Johann Johannsson would have made it sound like nothing else we’d ever heard, but Fate has resulted in that being stolen from us (but surely there’s an alternative to Zimmer in this world?). The visual effects were as extraordinary as might be expected: given the time and budget these film wizards can conjure anything onscreen, it seems. Dune is absolutely a really impressive film and everything I’d hoped for. Its a film largely -painfully- without an ending but that’s just part of the deal of getting a part one and a part two and Dune finally -hopefully- being considered as one, five-hour long epic in a few years time. I wouldn’t put it past the producers to give us an extended cut before Part Two lands in cinemas in, what will it be, 2024? If only Villeneuve could have shot the two back-to-back in the manner Peter Jackson shot his Lord of the Rings

Well of course all this is the elephant in the back of the room – will we get a Part Two? Critical response seems largely positive, fans of the book seem to like it, and audiences seem to be going to the cinema to watch it, so it looks promising. But who knows? I’m not at all certain that as a single entity, Part One really works. It lacks closure. Intellectually I think they closed the film at the best place they could, given Villeneuve wasn’t going to repeat Lynch’s folly of trying to encompass the entirety of Dune in a single film, but emotionally when the credits rolled it felt rather anti-climatic. Even though I knew it was coming, it still hurt the film. The Part One moniker is really important, because this Dune is only half a  film, really, half the experience, and the best stuff is really yet to come. Maybe that’s the root of my coolness toward the film- its not the whole film.

I dearly hope we get to see it, because if Villeneuve gets to make Part Two and he nails it, well folks we’ve possibly got the definitive sci-fi epic we all dreamed of when reading Herbert’s novel. If we’ve still got physical disc formats and 4K UHD when Part Two joins Part One on my shelf, all the better, because boy, that double-bill will be a frequent and hugely enjoyable pleasure that I can only imagine right now. Yeah, I can dream about it, but as Duncan says in the film, “Dreams make good stories, but everything important happens when we’re awake” and boy, I want to be awake watching a five-hour Dune someday.

 

The Dune Sketchbook (Hans Zimmer)

dune sketchbookGiving us our first real glimpse of what will be the musical soundscape of Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming Dune film, WaterTower music have today released the first of what will ultimately be three Dune albums from Hans Zimmer. This first one, The Dune Sketchbook, is a pretty substantial one, one hour and forty-two minutes of what I presume are sonically finished (they certainly are not demos), works-in-progress musings and expansions of themes and motifs that we’ll hear on the official soundtrack (released September 17th, apparently).

I’m not really one for buying soundtracks ahead of a films release; I remember hearing the The Empire Strikes Back album before it came out over here in the UK (I seem to recall it came out before the film did Stateside, too), and have found I much prefer seeing a film ‘fresh’ and experiencing the music at the same time as the rest of the film.

But the idea of The Dune Sketchbook seemed an intriguing one, and presumably much of what I’ve heard here will be different in the film and much of the actual score re: themes, motifs etc will be missing from this. Its also quite possible that these versions will be more rewarding than the official soundtrack counterpart, as these pieces are not constrained by the whims of film editing etc. and have been given plenty of room to ‘breathe’.

LOTS of room: some of these tracks are very long. The album has nine tracks but they are really each more lengthy musical essays or suites than simply ‘tracks’: the two best pieces, I See You In My Dreams and House Atreides are substantial: the first is eighteen minutes long and the other just shy of fourteen. I remember entire soundtrack releases totalling less music than that of just those two tracks. There’s some very good stuff in the other tracks (Pauls Dream and Moon Over Caladan spring to mind) while in others Zimmer slips into less easy-listening, experimental sound design, but its all quite fascinating stuff, even when it descends into the very weird. There’s an atmosphere to it all that is very promising: its not scoring in the traditional John Williams/Jerry Goldsmith sense that is sadly missing today, but it does have a clear identity and sense of self which is quite refreshing. That said, I’m sure people more familiar with Zimmer and his colleagues doing the ghost-writing will have fun picking out bits similar to earlier scores like Gladiator or Dunkirk etc.

That being said, I did sense a distinct Vangelis vibe to some of it, particularly the two standout tracks I mentioned earlier. I suspect Zimmer still had some of his old keyboards handy that he’d pulled out of storage for the Blade Runner 2049 score, because there is a Vangelis feel to some of those electronics weaving through the voices. Also reminded me of the Tron Legacy score (which itself nodded somewhat to Vangelis with its ‘old-fashioned’ analogue synth pads etc). Indeed, the voices that are a big part of the score’s soundscapes (at least the experimental workouts here) remind me of Vangelis’ work with Irene Papas: latter parts of the track I See You In My Dreams which feature a woman’s voice in an unknown (native Fremen?) dialect weaving through electronic drone reminded me of the Vangelis/Papas track Song of Songs from their Rapsodies album (which is a brilliant albeit obscure album) and also Vangelis’ See You Later album, in how Vangelis featured spoken and sung vocals in that album’s partly dystopian music. 

The House Atreides track breaks out into a bold anthemic piece that will inevitably remind some of Braveheart’s James Horner score (or indeed Bear McCreary’s Battlestar Galactica music) but to me pointed almost directly to Vangelis’ Chariots of Fire score, particularly the triumphant swells of Eric’s Theme (possibly even more so in Vangelis’ re-recording album for the London play from a few years back). I’d never imagined music like this for the Atreides but it does make perfect sense; its noble, heroic, clearly signifying the hope and tragedy of what befalls them: an emotional quality totally missing from, say, the David Lynch film.

I’m not suggesting Zimmer is being a plagiarist here, its just that I’m hearing plenty that I like, especially as I’m such a huge Vangelis nut. This album is certainly worth a punt for those curious, and while I’ll be leaving the official soundtrack proper until I’ve seen the film, I’m sure I’ll be listening to this a lot in the meantime up to the film’s release. On the strength of this album I think its very easy to get just all the more excited regards what Zimmer has been doing for this film: it could be great. 

Really, at this point, is there anything negative one can say about Villeneuve’s film other than its a Part One currently without a Part Two? You can almost touch the hope and positivity about the film, its difficult not to get swept up by it. If this film turns out to be as great as it might be and still flops at the box office… ugh, I can’t bear to imagine.

Interstellar Strikes Back

inter1In the spirit of all things Ad Astra, I’ve elected to embark on a rewatch of similar sci-fi films (maybe it would be more pertinent that I should get around to that 4K edition Apocalypse Now first, but I’m sure its time will come, having just given that sets Hearts of Darkness doc a rewatch yesterday). First on the list was Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, which gave the me the opportunity to watch it on a 4K UHD disc that I bought last year and never watched.

Well, as far as 4K goes, I couldn’t really tell much difference in the picture quality, other than some nice careful use of HDR (the Black Hole effects at the end really benefit)- what I did find improved was the sound, with a nausea-inducing low level on the bass that threatened the walls of my house. I don’t know if its the same track as the Blu-ray but goodness its a loud and energetic track.

This time around the film held a few surprises- I  discovered  that Timothée Chalamet, who is playing Paul in Denis Villenveuve’s Dune project, featured in Interstellar, playing the young Tom (son of Matthew McConaughey’s Cooper). I really hadn’t realised I’d already seen him in something- turns out Hollywood really is a small world. Speaking of which, David Gyasi, who played scientist Romily on the mission through the Wormhole, was featured in Carnival Row that I watched a few days back- he played Agreus, a Puck and therefore a performance under considerable make-up (one of the most noteworthy roles in the series, I thought). Of course the film also stars Jessica Chastain and Matt Damon, who will both turn up in the next film on my list; The Martian.  So yes, small world indeed. I won’t mention that McConaughey also featured in that ‘movie’ I saw the other night because, well, we’re all pretending I didn’t see it.

While I did enjoy rewatching Interstellar, it remains a difficult film to really connect with- something I find true of many of Christopher Nolan’s films. They always seem detached, films of soulless characters in admittedly astonishing situations. Something like Interstellar, I should probably love, but I don’t, and I think that as its true of all his films, that’s down to Nolan’s style.

inter2What Interstellar undoubtedly is, is a fantastic audio-visual experience. Its use of music is pretty extraordinary, abetted by a brilliant Hans Zimmer score which dominates the film more than anything else in the picture. I think its Zimmer’s second-best score of his career (Thin Red Line having the number one spot, naturally), and it works so well in the film it never fails to ‘wow’ me. Of course much of its success is in the editing of the film, as it really seems to be edited to the score, rather than the other way around, and it really is a huge part of the film’s success.

The usual things still bugged me however. Nobody builds rocket engines alongside a conference room. I can never see those doors/wall slide open to reveal the silo next to them (that conference room must have extraordinary soundproofing) without a groan and I’ll never understand that thing of the NASA complex actually being clandestinely built to be spaceship. For a film that purports to be a serious science fiction film with real science etc, I’ve never been at ease with some of its ‘leaps of faith’ that would rankle Kubrick and Clarke no end.

That being said, I think I’ve made my piece with Gargantua and the bookcase. Its clear to me now that the wormhole wasn’t put next to Saturn, and set for Gargantua, in order for humanity to find a world to live there. Those worlds in orbit/proximity to the Black Hole were never candidates for human colonisation. That was an assumption by the NASA boffins and quite wrong- I’m sure humanity actually uses Murph’s gravity equation to travel to different worlds entirely. No, the wormhole was set for Gargantua simply because Cooper had to fall into the Black Hole and transmit the gravity equation data to Murph so that she could realise the technology to save humanity. It was all orchestrated by the ‘Future Humans’ in a kind of cosmic time paradox. It always bugged me that the last place to settle a human colony would be anywhere near a Black Hole, and rewatching it again I kind of realised that was never the case, whatever the NASA boys thought – in a nice Time Paradox kind of way, Matt Damon’s Space Madness-infected (hey, say hello Ad Astra!) Mann had to behave the way he did in order for Cooper to ‘sacrifice’ himself. So finding habitable worlds near that Black Hole was a fool’s errand rather than the film being stupid.

And I still think a whole film set on that dying Earth would be a splendid thing. Some of the best stuff in the whole film is in that sequence, including things like history being rewritten to show the Apollo landings were a hoax. I love that stuff, and there’s a whole great film in there- I’d love to know whats happening in the rest of the world.

 

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.

 

 

 

Superman Returns Expanded OST

suprmn retTo get me in the mood for the (hopefully imminent) arrival of La La Land’s 3-disc Superman: The Movie soundtrack, I’ve been listening to John Ottman’s score for the ill-fated Superman Returns from 2006- well, the expanded 2-disc edition that La La Land released in 2013. It might seem a perverse choice, but I really like Ottman’s score – mainly because it re-uses so many of John William’s original themes. Its almost a Superman Greatest Hits, with plenty of Horner’s Brainstorm score also thrown in, partly from the choral sections which accentuate the films rather ill-judged religious tensions regards our Kryptonian hero, but yeah, there’s a lot of Brainstorm in passages of this score. I think it’s a really nice, melodic and thematic old-fashioned superhero score – inevitably it owes a huge part of its success to those timeless classic William’s themes and motifs, but as a fan of that original score it was lovely reprise. You just can’t make a Superman film without John William’s music- God knows Hans Zimmer later tried, but Man of Steel etc are woeful, frankly, compared to William’s masterpiece. Whenever Ottman reprises the Superman main theme, I always get a tingle, and the frequent use of the Fortress of Solitude music is lovely, lending it something of an importance not present in the original film.

Admittedly I’m not best equipped to really comment on the 2006 film,  I haven’t seen the film for some time, probably back when it first came out on Blu-ray over a decade ago. When I first saw it at the cinema (and subsequently on disc) I really enjoyed it but I’m open to a rewatch recalibrating my opinions somewhat. Time inevitably changes things. Back when it came out I was overjoyed by its sense of heritage, its honouring of Richard Donner’s original – it felt like the Superman III we deserved back in the day. And the music! As a lover of William’s original score, how could I not be bewitched by hearing it again?

Looking back on it, maybe the film was just too faithful and sincere to the original and needed a fresher, more unique voice of its own- it’s a shame the same creative team didn’t get to make a sequel that, having set up the return of our hero, actually gave him an adventure worthy of the Big Screen (that being said, one of the things I remember enjoying of Superman Returns was how intimate and character-based it seemed). Instead the franchise stalled again and took a decidedly different approach with Man of Steel etc.

Anyway, I’ve certainly been enjoying exploring this score again. I hadn’t given it a spin for awhile, but it certainly holds up pretty well. Indeed, considering how film music (and superhero scores in  particular) have been going lately with the almost mundane background muzak of the Marvel films etc, it’s almost a great surprise. supermanalbumSure, in the great scheme of things its a poor shadow of the Williams classic in comparison, and I’m sure the 3-disc edition of the original will blow this out of the water, but that’s true of most scores compared to that 1978 colossus.  But this hasn’t been a bad way of getting me in the mood for that lovely old album I used to love listening to, an album assembly that features on disc 3 of the new set and that I’m really looking forward to hearing again.

Ah hell. Time I dug out my old vinyl and jumped back to being a thirteen-year-old kid again, lying on my bed with the gatefold on my lap, listening to the music and dreaming of heroes and villains. 

 

 

 

Thin Red Expanded

thinredost1This may prove to be the soundtrack release of the year. La La Land Records have confirmed a 4-disc set of Hans Zimmer’s gorgeous score for The Thin Red Line is going to be released next week. The film is one of my favourites and so is the soundtrack, so this is great news. Its also, I believe, the last project from the late Nick Redman, and is surely a marvelous way to celebrate him and remember his contributions to film music ( I believe a dedication to him has been added to the inside inlay of covers being reprinted to fix a typo that slipped through, which is a lovely gesture by the label).

There does seem to be a little bit of a backlash though from the film music community. Of the four discs two have been previously released – the soundtrack album and a later compilation of Melanesian chants, of which I think just three are from the film (I have the soundtrack album, naturally, but never bothered with the other). The main draw of course is the full score on the first two discs, hugely expanded from the original album and featuring some alternates. As a souvenir/record of the music this set is fantastic, but some music fans have balked at the high price ($59.98) considering two of the discs are nothing new (albeit they have been remastered). I suppose this is the problem with some releases, especially as there is a tradition of including original album assemblies for completists’ sake (this may be a legal requirement, too, I’m not sure). Most of the time it’s fine, the new material heavily outweighing the old (I’m thinking of the 3-disc Star Trek:TMP set, which included the original 1979 album but that was lost in all the new goodies) but two discs of old/two discs of new, considering the price point of the set,  seems to be annoying some. I think they just need reminding how sublime this score is- its some of the finest music ever written for a film.

thinredost2Foolishly, perhaps, as I have always adored this film and its music I’m pretty much at the ‘whatever the price, I’m in’ set, but it does mean I’ll have to reign in purchasing other stuff (and indeed just cancelled two pre-orders on Amazon). I’d rate this set as one of the biggest, most important and unlikeliest releases ever- up there with the aforementioned 3-disc Star Trek: TMP and 3-disc Conan the Barbarian. These are all releases that, when the actual films came out, you would not have dreamed were possible. I suppose what may be troubling fans is all the rumours of six hours of music cooked up by Zimmer that some had hoped we’d hear something of, and initial word of a 4-disc set for TRL had some -hell, me too- wildly speculating about contents. Well, the final tracklist has brought us back to the real world, but it’s not too shabby at all and really, an expansion of this was so unlikely I still have to pinch myself. There is some utterly gorgeous, beautiful music on this set for the first time.

Unfortunately, I will likely have to wait until March for it to arrive over on these shores- expect a review then!

Horner’s Apollo 13 expanded

apollo-13-expandedCue a really neat segue from my last post, and its proposals of lunar excursions in the next two MI films, to the confirmation that Intrada over in the US has released an expanded and remastered 2-disc edition of James Horner’s Apollo 13 score.

Regular readers here will know of my affection for James Horner’s music, particularly his early scores back when one great score followed another and it seemed like he could turn his hand at anything. There was a time that I’d buy a James Horner soundtrack blind, and go watch a film just because of his involvement.  Apollo 13 was released in 1995, just after Braveheart and Legends of the Fall, and just a few years before Titanic would really change everything (I mean, he was popular back then but Titanic would launch him beyond the stratosphere). There is some really great music in Apollo 13, but the original album release really confounded fans, being a strange mix of dialogue, pop songs, sound effects and score, relegating the score music to just a few tracks. Well, it looks like that horrible piece of corporate thinking has been rectified at long last with this edition, combining a disc of the complete score and a disc of Horner’s original aborted album assembly from all those years ago. Why exactly it has taken so long for this to happen is baffling but I suppose with how things are now with CD sales we should think ourselves lucky it’s finally here.

Its certainly a nice start to 2019. I’d really like to see new editions of his Field of Dreams and Legends of the Fall scores, so fingers crossed we have more releases of Horner’s work over the coming year.

This could be a great year for soundtrack albums, with a rumoured three or four-disc edition of Hans Zimmer’s sublime The Thin Red Line score possibly getting announced next week. As both film and score are among my very favourites, if this actually does happen I think this blog will go into some kind of meltdown…  and a depressed funk if it doesn’t.

Mission: Impossible- Fallout (2018)

mi6Your mission, Mr Cruise, is to make a summer blockbuster better than Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation. Well, this is Mission: Impossible, after all, Mr Cruise, not Mission: Difficult.

Utterly bonkers, and yet almost ridiculously flawless, this astonishing film is surely the blockbuster of the year, possibly the best for the years since the franchise’s previous entry, Rogue Nation. As pure edge-of-your-seat entertainment, its as good as blockbusters get. Thrilling, jaw-dropping, gasp-inducing, exhilarating… word was it would be good, trailers teased something extraordinary, and early reviews seemed to be overwhelmingly positive. Well, here’s a film that lives up to the hype. Sure, there will be some who will somehow be left cold by its charms, but most cinema-goers will leave screenings with big smiles on their faces. As Hollywood entertainment goes, this film delivers a masterclass.

Its madness, really, that a franchise by its sixth entry 22 years old just continues to get better and better. True, it can be said that the last three films have largely followed the same template, but it has to be said, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? Instead the production team have just upped the stakes and somehow improved and finessed with each successive effort. A series of films that started in the shadow of Bond seems to have finally beaten Bond and left it behind in the dust.

If I had to fault it, well, I’d say the Hans Zimmer-inspired music score from Lorne Balfe is just a tad overpowering and uninspired; it works okay in the film but it doesn’t really have the finesse of Joe Kraemer’s Rogue Nation score, the lightness of its touch or the sophistication of its orchestration and writing. Balfe’s score screams summer blockbuster at you in its Dark Knight/Inception-style glory and beats you over the head with it. I suppose its just continuing the trend for current Hollywood scores but I think it would have been interesting to hear something a bit more restrained and measured against the films insane visuals and energy.  In many ways Fallout clearly betters Rogue Nation but the score is where it slips up, the one bad decision in the creative process.

Other than that, though, its pretty much a perfect summer blockbuster. The script is great, the stunts and action sequences rattle away with jaw-dropping verve and the cast is pretty much spot-on. As crazy as the spectacle is, its nice to at least feel like it is grounded in some kind of reality, and while I’m sure there are plenty of erased wires and CGI tricks it never feels like a cast of animated CGI doppelgangers leaping around as it does in so  many Marvel/DC actions sequences.  I was a little concerned by some awkward plotting during the first act (when Hunt loses his three plutonium cores) but it was clearly just setting-up the spectacle to follow. I can’t really put my finger on it, but during this section I felt a little nervous that things weren’t quite right- it felt a little contrived, which might well seem an odd criticism for a franchise that is obviously hopelessly contrived. It just didn’t feel quite as smooth as I would have liked, as if a little more polish on the script was needed. But I can excuse fifteen minutes of so-so material when it sets up all the spectacular stuff that follows.

The funny thing is, after the brilliant Rogue Nation, if three years ago I had to make a wish-list  for the sixth entry, it would have been more Solomon Lane, more Ilsa Faust, more chases, more fights, more jaw-dropping stunts, and that’s pretty much what we get with Fallout. Its everything I could have hoped for. Crikey. That Cruise fella may be annoying in the real world but as a movie producer/star he’s pretty damned impressive.

Well, there’s only way to end this review. Your mission, Mr Cruise, is to make a summer blockbuster better than Mission: Impossible- Fallout. Well, this is Mission: Impossible, after all, Mr Cruise, not Mission: Difficult

Zimmer’s Blade Runner…

br2049Ouch. Consider this possibly the first real negative news about the upcoming Blade Runner sequel: Hans Zimmer is working on the soundtrack. Not necessarily a case of ‘Johannsson out, Zimmer in’ (which really would be a case of the film jumping the shark in my view), but all the same, bit worrying. Sure, Zimmer has done some good scores, but these days much of it sounds like sound design rather than score (in order to get some emotion for Dunkirk they had to dig out Elgar for crying out loud).

To quote a new interview with director Denis Villeneuve: “Johann Johannsson of Iceland composes the main theme as planned. However, given the scale of the task, Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer joined the team to help Johann. It’s hard to get to Vangelis’ angle. We have Johann’s breathtaking atmospheric sounds, but I needed other things, and Hans helped us” (Studio Cine Live).

I would much rather have seen/heard Johannsson left alone, doing his own thing and using his own voice to give the film, well, its own voice, like the film Arrival had. Too many modern film scores sound like Zimmer even when he didn’t do the soundtrack; his ‘sound’ is too pervasive and it can be argued has actually hurt film scoring in general. My one hope about Johannsson doing the score was that it would hopefully sound new, fresh, exciting, just as Vangelis’ score did back in 1982.  Besides which, I don’t think this film should even really have that Vangelis ‘sound’. This film isn’t Blade Runner 1982, its Blade Runner 2017 (well, I know it’s actually ‘2049’ but you know what I mean).