Glory 4K UHD

gloryposterTonight I finally watched my 4K disc of Glory; first time I have seen the film for several years. What a magnificent film, what glorious (sic) music from James Horner. I was so lucky to be loving films and going to the cinema while films like Glory were being made, and someone like James Horner composing stuff like his scores for Glory, Field of Dreams, Cocoon, Apollo 13, Legends of the Fall, Braveheart

I texted my old and now-distant friend Andy that I’d re-watched Glory again, and reminisced about the day we first watched it. Andy, my cousin Tony and I had watched Born on the Fourth of July that afternoon, then gone over Tony’s for a takeaway tea (his folks were away) and later returned late evening to the Showcase cinema  to watch a film called Glory, that we knew nothing about other than it was a Civil War movie. We’d been impressed by a big carboard standee of the poster that had been on display in the lobby of our Showcase cinema for a few weeks: a beautiful image that promised… something. You know, back in the good old days of great, imaginative poster art. We didn’t expect, though,  that we would walk out at midnight, stunned, convinced that we’d just seen a better film than Born on the Fourth of July: it was the Oliver Stone film that critics were raving about. Glory seemed to just come and go, but it certainly left its mark on us. I searched out the Glory soundtrack CD a few days later. Popped it onto a cassette and blasted it out of the cheapo stereo in my beat-up old death-trap first car as I raced Andy and I through Cannock Chase in blazing sunshine several days later. Good times.

I grew up watching Jaws, Star Wars, CE3K, The Empire Strikes Back, Blade Runner at the cinema… and so many others. I was a really lucky guy, looking back. Films were better then. Film music was better then.

Glory looks really fine on 4K; its a gorgeous, grainy image with real depth and vibrancy, particularly those shots of the setting sun obscured by fire-smoke etc. Its a good example of how film-like the 4K format is with HDR. What a cast that film had too. And there is a very real, tactile feel to the film too, as there’s no CGI. Its all pretty much real, which just makes the battle scenes all the more impressive. After watching the film I put the commentary track on and watched it again, not something I do as often as I used to. Its one of those (rare) picture-in-picture commentary tracks, in which we can see the speaker in a smaller image in the corner. Anybody remember those? DVD and Blu-ray had some really ambitious, clever features like that, that the studios just don’t seem to bother with anymore. Its getting so that looking back at the glory days of DVD makes me feel lucky to have been around in those exciting days for a film-lover. I remember when every new special edition seemed to be more ambitious, films like The Abyss, Contact and T2, and the first boxset of the Alien films. I used to buy them on R1 from a local hi-fi store, but actually bought The Abyss disc when I was on holiday in San Francisco back in either 2000 or 2001. That’s a surprisingly long time ago, now that I think about it- but isn’t everything? That night I vividly recall first watching Glory with Andy and Tony was 32 years ago. 32 years ago!

Tracking tells me my expanded Glory soundtrack disc from La La Land left America yesterday. Its on its way. Really looking forward to hearing it. Eat, drink and be merry, Morgan Freeman tells me on the commentary track, for tomorrow we die. That’s one way of summing up Glory, and maybe life too.

Well, I’m tired. Time for bed, folks. This film was a good one.

Glory expanded edition

glory1Christmas is coming early. I’ve been waiting for someone to do this soundtrack proper justice for years, decades, and here it is at last- one of the last James Horner remasters/expansions, I imagine, certainly one of the last few I’ve been holding out for. What is left, Field of Dreams and maybe the 2-disc Brainstorm? Yeah, I’m still hoping for the latter: it’d be ironic and strangely fitting if that soundtrack, the first James Horner album I ever bought (on the old TER vinyl), turned out to be my last one too. But its a crazy enough world, this Glory is proof enough of that.

I look forward to being able to write a review in a few weeks.

Stories from the shelf (Part One)

shelfoneEvery shelf tells a story. Here’s the top shelf of a corner unit that contains many of my film soundtracks collected over the years (mostly the ‘premium’ limited expansions that I largely had to import from America). It possibly says more about how my brain works than anything else, as I clearly tried to make it alphabetical, or something, starting therefore with John Barry and a few titles beginning with ‘A’ then going somewhat astray. Lower shelves in future instalments will be all Goldsmith and Horner and Williams and more, but I’m going to start from the top and work my way down, so we begin with John Barry.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Barry, but I know many film soundtrack lovers are absolutely convinced he’s brilliant and top of the pile. One soundtrack I didn’t squeeze in here and probably should have is his soundtrack for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which is probably my favourite of his (and my favourite Bond film, too). I suspect the reason why that expanded CD isn’t on this shelf is because I’m not actually sure where it is…

You may find a recurrent theme going on, where notable absences come to my mind for the same reason.  I’ve been buying too many CDs for so many years, and part of the reason why I put up some more shelving last summer was to put my favourite and most treasured discs in one place so I know where to find them (this years project is to do the same with my books but hey-ho we’ll see how THAT goes). Part of the problem is that, once a disc is ripped onto my laptop/external hard drive, I can then listen to it often but without going back to the CD, so that disc actually gets untouched for months, years…

Anyway, back to this shelf. And Barry. My issue with Barry is likely the same reason his devotees are so devoted. Barry had a knack of finding a ‘killer’ theme and therefore compilation albums of his soundtracks are often very successful, but unfortunately (from my point of view) this would also prove to be Barry’s weakness in his actual full scores, and certainly score expansions on CD. Barry would write a wonderful theme for a film and then he would use that for most of the score, reworking it and re-orchestrating it endlessly. His fans adore this, I’m sure. My personal mileage varies so I only have select albums, and one or two even then only because I bought them in sales.

lion1This criticism, by the way, is possibly actually unfair, certainly in the case of the first disc here, The Lion in Winter, a film I haven’t even seen but I was recommended the score and yeah, its a wonderful piece of work. Some people refer to it as Barry’s Christmas album and that rather fits: its in a medieval mode, with choir and pomp and majesty. It features, typical of Barry, some simply magnificent themes (‘Eleanor’s Arrival’ is quite gorgeous, the kind of music that as soon as you hear it you stop what you are doing and purely listen, enrapt, and frustratingly this is one of those times where Barry doesn’t then reuse the theme continuously so my argument regards Barry comes undone). This is possibly my second-favourite Barry score. It dates from 1968, so its almost as old as I am (its aged considerably better).

dances1Second on the shelf is his immensely popular Dances With Wolves soundtrack, here the two-disc expanded edition from La La Land Records (a label you’ll see plenty of here, alongside Intrada and the late, lamented FSM) which was released in 2015. Soundtracks are often like Blu-rays, they seem to get released on anniversaries, something marketing boys seem to be fascinated by which endlessly irritates me. Disc releases of films seem to be delayed years in order to tie into some 15th or 20th or 25th Anniversary (the higher that number goes the more scared I become when its one I recall seeing it at the cinema). An interesting piece of trivia: Dances With Wolves was originally supposed to be scored by Basil Poledouris (of Conan the Barbarian and most pertinently, Lonesome Dove fame), but he backed out of it in order to fulfil obligations to his friend John Milius regards his delayed Flight of the Intruder film. Wolves would have been Poledouris’ break-out score, conceivably changing his career completely and fans of Lonesome Dove can only wonder at what Poledouris might have conceived recording the score for Kevin Costner’s hit Western. Poledouris’ career slid downhill after that, and the bittersweet sting in the tale is that Intruder got pushed back six months so Poledouris could have scored both after all. Life can be cruel. But then again, I guess Barry’s fans hear that story and grit their teeth thinking that they almost missed out on one of Barry’s most popular scores. Its certainly got some wonderful emotive themes and was a big part of the films success. 

Barry’s smouldering, evocative score for Body Heat follows: Lawrence Kasdan’s wonderful neo-noir is a fantastic film truly elevated by Barry’s moody score. Its possibly too repetitive (this is FSMs 2-disc expansion with full score on disc one and Barry’s original album on disc two with an added near-thirty minutes of theme demos that wears thin) but its so atmospheric, its almost like a sultry, smoky score of summer heat, which is exactly what Barry was aiming at. 

kongAnother FSM disc follows- Barry’s score for the 1976 King Kong. Back in the early 1980s, the vinyl album of this was in the bargain bins of record stores and I picked up a copy (as I recall it came with a poster): I was always seduced by that films poster art that was actually promising some other movie entirely (not the poster which FSM used, by the way, as they obviously intended their 2-disc edition to stand out from the original which FSM had actually reissued on CD a few years earlier). I didn’t see the 1976 film until several years later, when much of the music would make more sense, but the film always fascinated me because a paperback of the making of the film was one of the first books I ever read and one that really fired my imagination about movies and the stories about the making of them. So while this King Kong was really a disaster movie for all the wrong reasons, I’ll always have some affection for it. This Kong has something so typically Barry- an absolute belter of a love theme, and it sounds fantastic in some of its variations here in expanded form. Some of the action music is quite jarring and atonal but the romantic sweep of the love theme is quite timeless, Barry just had a gift for melodies like that (see also Somewhere in Time, Raise the Titanic and so many others). I will also just say that the track Kong Hits the Big Apple was a big-band number that was much derided by my freinds and I back in the day when we listened to the vinyl album, and it hasn’t really aged well since, but hey, it was 1976.  

Then we come to Barry’s The Black Hole score. Again, this was one I had on vinyl and it really suffers from Barry’s habit of just repeating ad nauseam a theme over and over. The Black Hole was an ill-fit for Barry; I don’t think this kind of space adventure flick was really suited to him, it was really John Williams domain and to be fair, even a great like Jerry Goldsmith possibly struggled at that kind of thing (although Star Trek: The Motion Picture is absolutely magnificent, but more on that later, as that’s a story for another shelf). I recall that The Black Hole was one of, if not THE, first digital recordings of a major film score., because they made a big deal of it on the cover of the album and in adverts I read in Starlog at the time (1979). In that respect, it seemed more something of the future than the actual music did. Its no disaster but I remember buying this expanded CD edition more out of a sense of nostalgia than a love of the music, although it is a pretty cool main theme (the heroic action theme is diabolical though, that REALLY didn’t suit Barry- Star Wars theme it isn’t). In hindsight the case of The Black Hole, and Disney so clearly trying to mimic the appeal/success of Star Wars, is really kind of funny when you consider that they spent over $4 billion buying the thing from George Lucas decades later- if you can’t beat ’em, er, buy ’em, seems to be the lesson of that story).

abyssThis post is getting too long already so we’ll skip on past a few Barry discs I bought in sales in order to instead dwell on Alan Silvestri’s score for The Abyss, here the expanded Varese two-disc edition that was something of a Grail of mine. I’m not a big fan of Silvestri’s scores, but I always loved The Abyss, score and movie. 1989: summer of Batman, soundtracks like Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade, Pet Semetary… soundtracks that were coming out on CD then, vinyl being a thing of the distant past. The Abyss was a suspenseful, dramatic and strange score, even if its Main Title owed an awful lot to the opening of James Horner’s Brainstorm. Temp music rearing its ugly head again, I suspect (I mean, that thing is a blatant rip).  

Back then I still bought soundtracks from shops, even though that seems something so long ago. I remember the Saturday I went into town and bought both The Abyss CD and Laurie Anderson’s Strange Angels CD, listening to both of them late that night on headphones (Strange Angels has always been a personal favourite album, by the way, which is possibly why I remember that day so clearly- oh and two girls in the town who I think were trying to pick me and my mate Andy up, but I was too distracted (okay, ignorant) to pick up on it at the time, foolishly batting them off. I had odd priorities for a teenager back then and I placed nerdy concerns somewhere higher than girls).  

Varese’s original The Abyss album on CD was typical of the time, limited to about 40 or 50 minutes or so (which was pretty good, as many hovered around the 30-minute mark due to music union issues), certainly far from complete and missing some of the music I enjoyed in the film- so the deluxe version released in 2014 really was something special, so much so that I posted about it here at the time. A limited edition, as so many of these score expansions on disc are, I recently noticed this edition being up for sale at £150 on Amazon. Yikes. I dare say quite a few CDs on my shelves might be worth something now, or at least for as long as people have CD drives/players. 

how2Here’s where my filing of my CDs becomes a little eccentric. What follows on the shelf are a number of discs linked by the actor who stars in the particular films, rather than by the composer: Avanti!, The Apartment/The Fortune Cookie, Irma La Douce How To Murder Your Wife/Lord Love A Duck and Barefoot in the Park/The Odd Couple (regards those last two, the films in question are definitely NOT Lord Love A Duck or Barefoot in the Park, its just that those each feature scores for two films by Neal Hefti). The actor in question is of course Jack Lemmon, and these are films I absolutely adore, and they date from a period when film music was really quite wonderful, melodic and memorable: scores that are great, for great movies that star a great actor. The actual music is quite varied and the composers quite different in style, but generally seem to have great romantic themes that really soar: Carlo Rustichelli’s Avanti! is beautiful and timeless, and Neal Hefti’s How To Murder Your Wife has a love theme that just.. well, I fell in love with THAT theme back when I first saw the film many years ago, and it never ceases to amaze me that it ever came out on CD one day, and one that actually featured the full score as well as the original album on a second disc.  I think I was buying film soundtracks at a particularly fortuitous time: the last score for a Jack Lemmon film that I’m really holding out for is Prisoner of Second Avenue, another personal favourite film whose Blu-ray I can endlessly re-watch. Maybe one day.

silentNext disc on this shelf is Peter Schickele’s Silent Running. This is another CD that is pretty special to me. Douglas Trumbull’s film Silent Running has always been a particular favourite of mine and its ecological themes have only gotten more prescient as time has moved on, and Schickele’s score is one that sounds really quite unique: its very 1970s, featuring small orchestration with folk songs from Joan Baez that should really date it (maybe they do, but that only adds to the films strange charm). It was one of the films from which I recorded the music via tape deck and holding a microphone to the tinny tv speaker, and listened to the cassette with the music mixed with some dialogue and sound effects.

Many, many moons ago back in the 1980s I used to see the vinyl album in stores but I never bought it (pocket money never stretched that far), and when it went out of print I just thought it would turn up on CD someday (everything seemed to eventually), but it didn’t. I think the reason was that the master-tapes were lost or destroyed, so when Intrada finally released it on disc in 2016, it was actually a recording sourced from a pristine vinyl copy, and surprisingly, it sounds pretty damn fine.  Plenty good enough to me, considering I’d been pining for a release for decades at that point. Whenever I see this CD on the shelf I have a bit of a ‘pinch-me’ moment. 

doorostFinally, Marcelo Zarvos’ The Door in the Floor soundtrack: I love this music. Its one of those deeply emotional, rather dark and reflective scores… the film is a pretty bleak drama, really quite sad, being about the break-up of a marriage that being destroyed by the unbearable grief over the loss of two children in an accident (it stars Jeff Bridges, Kim Basinger and Mimi Rogers and is really quite good). Its one of those cases where the music is as integral and important as any other part of the picture. In this respect its like Vangelis’ Blade Runner: the score is the soul of the movie. Zarvos’ score is such a powerful work of longing and regret; to me it works completely seperate from the film the music it was written for. I suspect many will have never heard it or seen the film (it dates back to 2004, incredibly).

Crikey, this one went on a bit. Might have to pause awhile before I get around to the next shelf: Horner!

P1100355 (2)

Yes I know, ‘G’ (for Goldsmith) comes before Horner but there is a method to my madness…

.

And later, Troy

troyHa ha, this one’s more terrible than I remember, even here in its apparently ‘definitive’ Directors Cut. Its almost as much a farce as Life of Brian, it is so over-sincere in its attempt to make something Shakespearean of the hammy dialogue, wooden acting (and I’m not talking about that horse) and the ‘what-were-they-thinking’ casting which makes some of Oliver Stone’s casting decisions for Alexander look absolutely inspired.

The film was obviously in trouble when the film-makers opted for Hollywood’s usual ‘how do we fix this?’ by ditching the original score by Gabriel Yared, and then hiring James Horner to write a whole-new score, giving him just four weeks. Horner demonstrated his professionalism by somehow writing and recording a serviceable score but its clear he had little time and likely little enthusiasm for the project (I always thought Horner preferred character-based, intimate dramas and wrote better scores for such films). He must have known Troy was in trouble and that his music could never be good enough to fix it in what time he had. The irony that studios think replacement scores can somehow fix broken films when studios otherwise seem to have such little appreciation for film scoring never ceases to amaze me. Yared apparently spent over a year on his score- I heard it years ago on a bootleg and it shows that he was invested in it; it’s quite sophisticated and rather better than Horner’s effort (to be fair to Horner, had he been given a year his score would have been much better too).I would love to watch Troy with Yared’s original score but that will never happen.

To be fair to the film, its clear it was made with the best of intentions and certainly has some obvious ambition; at times it looks quite spectacular but the whole thing is undermined by its fumbling script which has all the beats of the familiar story but saddles them with hokey speeches and one-dimensional characters that leave the actors with nothing to play off. Diane Kruger’s Helen is the weakest point of the film and yet she’s supposed to be its backbone, the narrative drive behind everything that happens- she has no charisma, no character, but its hardly Kruger’s fault. She’s a much better actress than this but even she cannot feign chemistry with the quite vapid Orlando Bloom playing Paris. Brad Pitt’s Achilles makes a game attempt at saving the film (it should have been his film, its clear) but even his frowns and sulks are of insufficient weight to bring the pathos this film needs. I remain quite sympathetic for Eric Bana, he’s the best thing in this quite disastrous film.

Returning to the music score, perhaps the film would have been better served had it been given Eric Idle’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” at the end as we see Troy burning. At least the film might have then been saying something, if only about a better movie.

Legends of the Fall and the Shelf of Shame

legends7Well, another post in the Shelf of Shame series, this time concerning my Blu-ray edition of Legends of the Fall, a film I thoroughly enjoyed at the cinema back in 1995, and subsequently watched several times on DVD, but which I hadn’t seen since, even upon upgrading to the Blu-ray edition, which remained unwatched since I bought it (near as I can tell, sometime in 2013). One of the most sobering things about this Shelf of Shame series is the realisation of how many discs I have that I have watched only once, if at all,  and also regards just how much time is flying past and how much of a waste of money that collection on the shelves might possibly be, in hindsight.

Can we judge the worth of a DVD or Blu-ray or 4K UHD by how many times we have watched it? Is that fair or misguided? Does £20 spent on Alien on UHD suddenly become more palatable had the disc been watched five times? Should the monetary expenditure be more reason to watch less ‘new’ stuff and instead return more often to rewatching old favourites? Of course its not just films on disc, I could just as easily be remarking upon CDs and books, all the objects we accumulate.

I’m horrified that its been several years since I bought Legends of the Fall on Blu-ray and that I hadn’t watched it: for one thing, where indeed have all those years gone? On the other hand, one has to consider the worth of spending as much money as I have on discs if they are going to just sit there unwatched. I suppose a related inquiry would be, those films we enjoy and even love, how many times can we, and should we, return to them? I always feel its rather strange when someone says they only ever watch films once, but maybe they have a point. For my part though, I cannot imagine that: films are things I cannot help but return to, if I enjoy them. Even if this Shelf of Shame series would suggest some failure at that.

Its also very true that the only reason why I finally reached for this Blu-ray disc and actually watched it, was the release of the complete score on Intrada’s recent CD that arrived a few days ago. Listening to the score was a reminder of just how much I loved the film when I first saw it and of course that wonderful period from the late 1980s to the mid 1990s when James Horner’s scores were such a soundtrack to my life. I know there are many naysayers regarding Horner’s music in film-music circles, but for fans such as myself who were there pretty much at the beginning of his career, that period of Horner’s career is akin to people looking back to when The Beatles were making music.

legends2It is often true that rewatching films can offer a sense of perspective, looking at it from the vantage point of someone in 2020, older and (possibly) wiser, and naturally offering an inevitable giddy rush of nostalgia. Watching Legends of the Fall last night was a bewitching experience of impressions: the sense of tumultuous David Lean epic, huge breathtaking landscapes dwarfing the humans in nearly every frame. The great cast: a young Brad Pitt in one of his first leading roles, Anthony Hopkins, Aidan Quinn, Karin Lombard, who I recall appeared in a few films at the time (its funny how faces seem to appear in a number of films at a certain time that seem to then disappear- in her case, rather than disappear she simply moved to a successful series of tv roles I never saw). Of course there is the hauntingly beautiful Julia Ormond stealing the film from everyone around her with a wonderful performance. While watching the film I couldn’t help but imagine what a more ‘adult’ Star Wars prequel trilogy could have been, had it centred Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side around some Legends of the Fall-like doomed love story with Ormond as the object of his ill-fated affection (I could certainly more easily imagine a passionate and feisty Ormond as the mother of Leia and Luke than Natalie Portman). Above all else in the film, there is also that sweeping, overwhelming James Horner score that dominates the film in a way that scores really don’t anymore.

The funny thing was, even though it may have been ten or fifteen years or more since I last saw the film, I could still remember some of the lines just before they were spoken, and yet other moments came as quite a surprise, elements that I had quite forgotten. The film remains something of an oddity; even in 1995 when I first saw it, it seemed a film at odds with contemporary Hollywood; this is a film about myth, and legend. Its clearly not intended to be a true tale, its so larger than life its more a piece of modern myth-making, a tale of the early-20th century more in line with Sergio Leone’s filmography (as much a late-period Western as Once Upon A Time in America is a realistic gangster movie).

legends3That thought suggests a tantalising what-if: imagine what Sergio Leone could have done fashioning Legends of the Fall into one of his typical three or four-hour epics. It has all the elements of his films; a male-dominated list of characters with a chiefly male-dominated worldview, epic landscapes, huge battles scenes with hundreds of extras, a sense of larger-than-life fantasy, of Pure Cinema. With Leone at the helm, it would have certainly benefited from a better climactic gunfight- Leone was a master of them, turning them into operatic ballets of violence, whereas the one Legends of the Fall has ultimately feels clumsy, overwrought, relying on slow-motion to add gravitas and James Horner’s dramatic scoring.

legends1The story of Legends of the Fall is quite simple but unrelentingly dark when one considers it: I’ve always thought of the film as an overwhelmingly depressing piece (depressing in a good way, if that’s possible, like the grim denouements of so many Film Noir). At its very simplest, a beautiful young woman, Susannah (Julia Ormond), enters the lives of the Ludlow family living in the Montana wilderness, and destroys them, before finally blowing her own brains out from the guilt and sense of unfulfilment.

The film describes Tristan as the rock against which all the others broke themselves against, but that’s missing the point that Susannah is almost like a snake entering the Ludlow Eden in the films beginning. Admittedly she intends none of this, she’s just being true to her nature- beautiful and kind, but she’s finding her place in the world where she becomes an unhappy catalyst of doom. Its funny how Tristan later considers that he may be damned, and has pulled everyone he knows into this damnation, but that could just as easily have been a monologue of guilt spoken by Susannah.

But isn’t Legends of the Fall great? Sure, its not perfect, and it rushes things (a conscious decision of director Edward Zwick, who preferred to pace it as a stream-of-consciousness, of a tale spoken to someone over a campfire and consequently sweeping the narrative forwards with little reflection). But its a hell of a movie- that’s MOVIE in great big capital letters, full of passion and epic moments- yeah, Pure Cinema in the Sergio Leone vein, a win-win in my book.

Curious fact I hadn’t realised before: the novella the film was based on was written by Jim Harrison, who was also the author of the short story Revenge that was turned into a Tony Scott film from 1990 that I later discovered on VHS rental and seems largely forgotten now but which I really liked. It featured a beautifully haunting score by Jack Nitzche which is one of my most treasured CDs. In retrospect, both films share common themes so the connection is not surprising, but I hadn’t been aware of it before. You learn something new all the time (really must read that Jim Harrison novella that inspired Legends of the Fall).

Horner’s Magnificent Fall

legfallJust arrived from Intrada (via France and Music Box) is the expanded edition of James Horner’s magnificent Legends of the Fall soundtrack. I didn’t really ever see this coming- like the expanded The Thin Red Line set that La La Land Records released last year, this was an expansion that I figured would never happen. To be fair, the original score release was pretty good (Horner’s albums at that point -1995! crikey!- were usually pretty lengthy and a far cry from the paltry 30-minute highlights editions we were used to in the 1980s) but when a score is as good as this one, well, more is always better.

I don’t buy many soundtrack albums these days – part of this is just because, over the years, most everything I’d have wanted has fortunately gotten released, even Silent Running, and I’ve so many discs from Intrada and La La Land etc collected over the years that I often pick one off the shelf and can listen to it like its something new (except for The Thin Red Line, which as I have remarked upon before, I seem to be listening to all the time). Couple that with the crazy cost of shipping these days making the CDs so very expensive, I really have to think twice about releases (recent expansions of John  Williams’ Far and Away and The River failing to make the grade).

Didn’t have to think twice about this one though. This dates back to James Horner at his absolute peak, back when he was doing scores like Glory, Braveheart and Field of Dreams, when each one used to be fresh and thrilling, and, in the case with Legends of the Fall, sweepingly epic and dramatic. Scores like this were rare even back in the day, and today, well they are frankly non-existent. No-one scores films like this anymore, probably because nobody at the Studios asks them to. Listening to this album will be great, but also a little sad. 1995 and all that. Where has all the time gone?

(I plan on blasting this out while working at home tomorrow, should make those ten hours at the veritable desktop workface a little more bearable).

Flee to the Movies… but not The Omega Man (obviously)

omega1Listening to Horner soundtracks in my car, commuting to work. Every day a new score, every day less cars on the roads, less people on the streets, the world slowly becoming more The Omega Man. Its funny how the routine drive to/from work that was once pretty changeless day to day, week to week, month to month, has suddenly been so transformed. It was getting so I could drive to work and judge whether I was running early or late by at which point on my journey I would pass by certain pedestrians walking on their regular routes to work or shop etc. I drive alone in my car but the familiar faces almost seem like partners on my journey. A woman who I have figured out to be a teacher at a nearby infant school (regular as a watch term-time, absent during the holidays), or an old man with a hunched back walking his dog… both gone now, and so many others. Suddenly that whole landscape has changed. Call it Covid-19 Blues, a lonelier car journey than usual.

Has anyone else noticed the horrible feeling of reality come crashing in, when you’ve just watched a good film and then its over and -boom- you’re back to the Real World with all this Covid-19 nightmare going on? I suppose its all a part of the escapist appeal of movies anyway, but its pretty horrible, lately, coming out of a great movie and suddenly realising whats really going on. There’s a moment of ignorant bliss, basking in the ‘reality’ of the film before that glow fades and reality bites. Anybody else pointedly looking at watching more positive/escapist films than stuff, like, say The Omega Man or Soylent Green etc? Its funny how, when life is fine, you don’t mind dipping into something Dystopian or dark, but when everything in the world turns lousy, that stuffs just plain too horrible to bear and you need something rosier, happier.

There was a time, back in 1982, when I remember Blade Runner seeming dark and moody and Dystopian. Its practically a Utopian Ideal now.

I hadn’t listened to Horner’s scores for awhile. I stumbled into it by accident, my USB stick on random suddenly dropping onto the Main Title of Brainstorm, and that was it, I was hooked, the random function deactivated, listening to the whole album. Brainstorm is such a clear, fresh and astonishing work: the first James Horner score I ever bought, on a TER vinyl that I feared I’d wear out (a few years later it would be one of my very first purchases on Compact Disc, an expensive Varese import). Pretty much every day I would be driving to a different score, my USB stick going alphabetically through the ones I’d put onto the stick a few years back: Braveheart, Cocoon, Glory… the latter in particular bringing incredibly vivid memories of distant days, of blasting out Charging Fort Wagner racing through Cannock Chase in my first car (a banged-up old death-trap posing as a Mini Cooper) with my mate Andy: sun-drenched forest and Horner in his prime, glorious indeed. Its funny the things you remember like yesterday, when yesterday can be such a blur.

Mind, the last several yesterdays don’t deserve remembering at all, do they, so I welcome forgetting the details, the general darkness enough to send me scurrying for something pleasantly positive from my shelves of discs. I re-watched Gladiator the other day (albeit a 4K-UHD edition I bought in a sale a little while ago) and it was great, held up pretty well. Oliver Reed is magnificent in that; every time I watch Gladiator I wonder at what the hell happened with that guy, what amazing roles/films we missed out on because of what I assume were his personal demons. I don’t know much about him- its a funny thing, mind, how he seems to turn up in quite a few of the Hammer films in the Indicator box-sets (he even has a turn in The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll that I watched a few nights ago: there was the weird feeling, seeing him in Gladiator, so old worn-out looking, shortly before his death,  while in Jekyll, so young and handsome (I guess the women in the audience adored his angry charms) with his whole life and career ahead of him.

johncAnother film I watched the other night, well a part of it, anyway, as I stumbled on it channel-hopping just prior to going to bed, was John Carter, Andrew Stanton’s wonderfully evocative love-letter to the old sci-fi pulps that Star Wars etc summarily ‘homaged’. Hadn’t seen it for awhile, I really enjoyed  what I saw and really need to find out my Blu-ray copy for a proper re-watch at a more civil time. It still seems mightily impressive,  looking gorgeous and sounding even better, with that fantastic Michael Giacchino score. That was a film from just before Disney purchased Lucasfilm (indeed, John Carter was killed by that particular deal) and you know, it was pretty clear to me from just watching half-hour of it, that the film was better than any of the Disney Star Wars films that replaced it. Whenever I see John Carter I wonder about all those other adventures on Barsoom we were robbed of. There ain’t no justice.

Ugh. I feel my mood slipping darkly. Maybe its time for The Omega Man after all… if you can’t beat it, wallow in it.

Jumanji (1995)

Every film is a roll of the dice

jumnji1James Horner brought me here.

You see, I’d never seen the original Jumanji. Don’t know why, it’s just one of those films that seemed to pass me by. It was a popular enough film at the time, I believe, and I used to go the cinema all the time back then, in 1994/1995/1996, but somehow I didn’t go see it. Maybe I’d read some negative reviews. The real curio is that somehow I never even got around to it over the years since, on tv or disc releases. When the remake/reboot was released in 2017 and got some positive reviews, I refrained from watching it because I hadn’t seen the original (I’m old-school enough to think it’s best to see the original before watching a remake/reboot).

So why don’t we watch some films, but watch others instead? Is it simply because, one day we finally get around to it, and it’s the right time? Or maybe, somewhere, there is a really great film but we’ll never get around to it, like it’s that love of our life that we just missed by crossing over the street at just the wrong time? Maybe there’s a film out there that I’ve never even heard of, maybe its a foreign film, but its a film thats just perfect for me, that I would fall head over heels for and simply adore if only I could see it, but I never will?

Well, thats life, I guess. But the romantic in me, the romantic lover of films in me, anyway, would like to think we see the films we deserve and we get to see the best as well as the worst. But maybe there is always the chance that there is something better, that the best, the most perfect film for any of us, might still be out there. Maybe it’s waiting for the right day for us to finally discover it. Maybe it hasn’t been made yet, but someone’s writing the script right this minute, or the lead actor/actress is just leaving drama school ready to make their mark. That we ain’t seen nothing yet.

Anyway, Jumanji isn’t that film, clearly, but I’m glad I finally got around to it.

Maybe in back in 1996 (Jumanji was released late 1995 in the States, but reached UK early the year after) simply wasn’t the right time. Robin Williams still had other, and greater films ahead, James Horner still had many scores to write, including Titanic ahead of him, and back at the very beginning, really, of things, Kirsten Dunst had a whole career ahead of her. Sitting here in the dark days of 2019 though it seems like a wonderful bubble of nostalgia, a reminder of the good old days, a moment in time lost to us now. I think the James Horner score is a big part of that, which, as I say, is what got me here. I never bought the soundtrack album (it must have been just around the time I’d stopped blind-buying his scores) so I wasn’t at all familiar with it, but when I saw the 4K disc in a sale a few months back (I think it was about £8) it was the fact it was a James Horner score on it that swung me into buying it.

Its certainly a rarity now, seeing/hearing a film for the first time with a James Horner score, a special treat. Just watching it and hearing Horner’s old familiar tropes, so irritating at the time, honestly (Horner became notorious, especially later in his career for almost plagiarizing himself with scores), is almost endearing, now.

Naturally much of the charm of this film is simply because of the time the film was made and the talent involved. Joe Johnson, the director, fresh from Disney’s brilliant (albeit ill-received at the time) Rocketeer movie (and there’s a blu-ray I need to watch sometime soon). Robin Williams, in nicely restrained mode here, what a talent he was, so able to channel a wonderful childish element into his performance as a man who has grown up trapped in a game. Jonathan Hyde, like James Horner, had James Cameron’s Titanic just ahead of him. An incredibly young Kirsten Dunst, fresh from Interview With a Vampire. Bonnie Hunt, who would later appear in The Green Mile but spend most of her career in voiceover work and television shows. And there’s Beatrice Neuwirth (always Lilith from Frasier to me). And of course ILM. I guess it could be argued that ILM was as much the star of the film as any of the cast, it’s so dependant on its visual effects, which naturally as the film dates from the early days of CGI effects haven’t aged too well.  But like blue screen bleed and dodgy matte lines and paintings, its all a part of its time and its charm- all part of the learning curve that gets us from Jurassic Park to, well, Jurassic World, or T2 to, er, Terminator: Dark Fate, which is not an endearing way of suggesting we have traveled far and gotten precisely nowhere.

So anyway, I finally got around to watching Jumanji, and it turned out I possibly caught up with it in the best way possible, on a 4K UHD disc that displayed all the best (and possibly its worst) in great detail in widescreen rather than VHS pan and scan, and uninterrupted by ads or people getting up during the cinema presentation to rush to the loo. You know, all that stuff we put up with, or used to in the old days.

And now of course I can appreciate the James Horner score all the more simply because his scores simply are no more. And I can watch Robin Williams and smile and appreciate his talent and the loss, and wonder at the sadness that would one day overtake him. Films are not seperate from real life, although they are microcosms of time, bubbles of moments, in this case, a bubble of 1995. Yeah, Jumanji is great fun, in some ways it seems like its from some more innocent and simpler time, but in other ways it’s clear that so little has really changed.

 

 

 

Party like it’s 1989

I’m always slightly amused by studios and/or their marketing departments focusing so much on anniversaries when releasing or re-releasing films on disc. I’d buy a copy of Alien on 4K disc whatever year it came out, it doesn’t have to be the film’s fortieth anniversary, but hey ho, there you go. So anyway, this year we seem to be getting reminded of certain film’s 30th anniversaries this year- The Abyss appears to be getting a new 4K scan or master for release later this year (originally released 9th August 1989, I guess it will slip a bit later than that for a disc release in the Autumn), and Field of Dreams is getting a 4K disc release in May. Unannounced but surely coming is Tim Burton’s Batman, another film from 1989 (looking back, I always feel like 1989 was the year of Batman– it was all over the place in the media, a huge ‘event’ film in the same way Star Wars was). Before all these, Pet Sematary gets a 4K release next week, partly due to its thirtieth anniversary but also thanks to an incoming remake/reboot (hey, before you watch the new one, here’s the old one to watch first so we can make a bit more money out of it).

So anyway, its been getting me a little nostalgic for 1989, which on the face of it never occurs to me as a great year for films, but now that I think of it (and consider those 4K disc/Blu ray release schedules) I have to admit, maybe it wasn’t such a bad year at all. I used to go to the cinema quite a bit back then, and can vividly recall shedding a tear or two to Field of Dreams (in a good way, it’s not as if it was a terrible film or anything, I’d reserve that kind of emotional reaction to something like Black Rain), and coming out of a matinee screening of The Abyss into a full-blown storm, torrential rain lashing across the cineplex car-park in a tempestuous gale that was like I’d brought the film out there with me, one of those disorientating moments that last with you forever.

I remember watching Born on the Fourth of July and Glory on the same day. We went to see Born on the Fourth of July in the afternoon, went home to have a chip tea then went back in the evening to see Glory. Now, the funny thing about that was, we all expected July to be the better film, but were totally amazed by Glory, really swept up by it. It had a phenomenal score by James Horner, and a great score is something I always react to in films, no doubt a big part of why I enjoyed it so much. Another film I saw at the cinema that year with a great score was The ‘Burbs, and I remember scouring record stores looking for that soundtrack for months in vain. Yeah, it was a good year for soundtracks, as I recall, though it would take years for me to finally get a copy of The ‘Burbs score on disc.

Not every cinema trip was as thrilling, mind. 1989 was also the year of Star Trek V: The FInal Frontier, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and, yes, Black Rain, and The Fly 2. Not films I recall really enjoying at all. I remember coming out of Pet Sematary more impressed by the music than the film- I bought the Varese CD and years later the La La Land expansion, but never actually saw the film itself again at all. It was also the year of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, a film I enjoyed at the time but has really worn thin on me over the years since. Its a funny thing, how films you were once wowed by later lose their charm, but films you didn’t ‘get’ the first time around sneak up on you (Munchausen is such a crazy maddening folly of a film I eventually couldn’t help but fall in love with it).

Thirty years, though- scary. Mind, I was looking up both Glory and Born on the Fourth of July online and they were released in December 1989 in the States, and it certainly wasn’t December when I saw them, so suspect it was later in 1990 when I saw them that day over here in the UK- release dates could be really staggered back then. After so many years it’s hard to remember very clearly, although I can remember sitting in the cinema at the time and looking over at my mate Andy after Glory ended, both of us shell-shocked by having watched not just two war films at the cinema that same day, but two damn good films at that.  It would never happen again- it’s funny sometimes, you just never know, in the moment, just how special/unusual or unique a day really is. They just come and go but perspective lends us clarity- and thirty/twenty-nine years, whatever it is, it’s certainly some kind of perspective.

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.