For nearly four decades now the music that John Williams has created for Star Wars has become as instantly recognizable as Darth Vader’s breathing or the heart stopping light saber duels between Jedi Knight and Sith Lord. These scores serve as the heartbeat to the films and go beyond setting the mood whenever a firefight breaks out on the streets of Mos Eisley or in the skies above the icy war torn battlefields of Hoth. With Disney now owning Lucasfilm the long term strategy plan being put into motion is to release both saga and anthology/stand alone films from here until eternity. With John now in his mid-80s his focus will remain on the new saga trilogy that began with The Force Awakens last December. As for the anthology films that have just now begun rushing down through the flood gates the young film makers and composers who helm these projects will have the daunting task of creating something that can go off and explore the vast reaches of that galaxy far, far away all the while retaining that emotional depth viewers felt when Luke Skywalker stood and looked out upon the twin suns of Tatooine as they sank down beyond the horizon.
Michael Giacchino is certainly no stranger when it comes trying to emulate John Williams. His first major scoring session was composing original music for the Playstation and Sega Saturn video game adaptation of The Lost World: Jurassic Park. As fate would have it Giacchino found himself transitioning into the long dormant film franchise with Jurassic World (which would go on to become the second highest grossing film of 2015 right behind Star Wars: The Force Awakens, no less). Originally Giacchino wasn’t the first choice to be the composer on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as Alexandre Desplat (who collaborated with director Gareth Edwards on Godzilla) had to drop out due to a scheduling conflict. Michael entered the fold with only four and a half weeks to write and record a full score. Under any circumstances even the most seasoned composer would crack under such extreme pressure however Giacchino melds a majority of Williams’ classic Star Wars motifs with material that fits into Edwards’ vision of an anthology film that brings a gritty realism to the wars fought between the empire and the rebellion. I’ve read feedback where many feel that this soundtrack would be more in line with any other science fiction film currently on the market and upon giving it my first listen I didn’t quite like what I was hearing as one track in particular, The Imperial Suite, teeters on being generic and leaves a lot to be desired considering John’s Imperial March is widely considered one of the most popular musical themes of the latter 20th century. Regardless of being under the gun (or more fittingly the blaster rifle) Michael Giacchino was able to come into his own during the final half of the score with five of the last six tracks where I’d recommend everyone put their focus if you’re willing to hit repeat and allow something that’s a little left of center to truly take form. Personally I think it blends rather well with the classic themes we all know and love and if you’re wishing that there were more of those cues featured in Rogue One all the previous soundtracks are still readily available in various formats so you can mix seminal with contemporary and still win out.
When George Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney back in 2012 many breathed a sigh of relief. Even though Lucas was the creator of the immensely popular space opera the reaction his prequel trilogy received was mixed to say the least. A majority of criticism stemmed from the over reliance on green screen and digital effects rather focusing on the grand story telling aspect that made the original films a beloved sci-fi series. Plus the wooden acting and clunky dialogue certainly didn’t help either.
George ultimately decided to give Star Wars back to the fans and let the next generation of young film makers reignite that spark of excitement in all of us who enjoy time and time again traveling to that galaxy far, far away. While Episode VII: The Force Awakens went back to many of the techniques the classic trilogy employed I felt like it stepped into the same foot prints of A New Hope without taking the risk of deviating from a set path and didn’t challenge itself to be different. The other reason I didn’t get behind The Force Awakens as others is we’ve had six movies devoted to the Skywalker lineage the time is right to go explore other avenues of the force.
What gets me excited now that Disney owns the property is the decision that in between the main saga films fans are going to get spin offs that will focus on side characters or various other elements in a limitless universe. The first stand alone, Rogue One, is set to be released in theaters in less then a month and will tell the story of how the rebels were able to get their hands on the Death Star plans. My initial thoughts were for the most part skeptical towards the idea until it was announced that Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) had signed on to direct. While a select few were lukewarm to Edwards’ interpretation of the king of the monsters there is no denying that the man has a keen eye for delivering breathtaking visuals as well as a grand sense of scale. You couldn’t ask for a better choice to direct a stand alone film as every trailer for Rogue One captures the style of the original trilogy in stunning perfection. Having that sheer scope mixed with classic Stormtroopers is enough for me to buy a ticket opening night but if there was any other reason to get on board its the big screen return of the iconic Dark Lord of the Sith himself, Darth Vader.
Nowadays one can’t simply be a Star Wars fan without checking out the official tie-in novel. Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel serves as a prequel to the prequel (if that makes any sense) and from the 14 chapters I’ve made my way through thus far its a fascinating/involving read well worth looking into before heading out to the theater on December 16th. I might delve into the novel a bit more on here once I’ve finished it and we’ve all had time to dissect Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as the new year approaches. You can pick up your copy of Catalyst by clicking on the book artwork below.
Synopsis: A group of heavily armed hijackers board a luxury ocean liner in the South Pacific Ocean to loot it, only to do battle with a series of large-sized, tentacled, man-eating sea creatures who have taken over the ship first.
What defines a seminal creature feature? Two of the biggest qualities that will stand out for a lot of people are overall impact and longevity. Each and everyone of us remember the days of sitting on the couch at our grandparents’ house drawn to the television screen to the point where if something freakishly weird happened such as the sky opening up and it raining down 100 dollar bills even that wouldn’t be enough to draw us away. Part of the longevity factor is how well the special effects hold up over time from the impressionable moments of youthful innocence up till full fledged adulthood where we can sit and look back at childhood nostalgia and go was this something that was released at a point in time where certain fads and phenomenons were impacting pop culture to a point where they couldn’t be ignored. Or was it simply high quality film making at its very finest, nothing less and nothing more? Go ahead and pull up Jaws or Jurassic Park or Tremors even then go back further and explore the original King Kong or The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms or Japan’s response to both those classics in 1954 with Gojira. All the effects work in every one of those films that I just mentioned are what critics and average movie goers alike refer to as setting the standard. Of the six listed only one took the mold and shattered the industry standard beyond repair where Hollywood began their journey into the unknown thanks to the advent of digital effects. Jurassic Park made us stare up at the silver screen in awe and wonder however once the mid-90s hit every major film studio was cashing in on the easier way to produce eye catching visuals to the point where what once was considered a special attraction in 1993 was relegated to the freak show a mere five years later.
In what will be the final creature feature to be included as part of Schlocktoberfest 2K16 Deep Rising hasn’t aged like a fine wine to be frank most wouldn’t compare it to bottle of Mumms. And let me set the record straight this is solely from a digital effects perspective as there are still a wide range of elements that drove the production above and beyond what any other science fiction/horror/action/comedy film of that era did. Take a competent director the likes of Stephen Sommers (before cinematic suicide attempts the likes of Van Helsing and GI Joe: Rise of Cobra) and let him loose with a fun script, genuine chuckle inducing one liners and some underrated casting the likes of the always bad ass Treat Williams, the stunningly gorgeous Famke Jannsen, the ever reliable and deeply missed Trevor Goddard and you get something that in many regards shouldn’t work. As the film continues to push forward at break neck speed one can’t help but get wrapped up in the fun popcorn flick style that Deep Rising has its tentacles tightly wrapped around. One thing I can’t figure out is how Sommers was able to write and direct this film and then immediately switching gears to work on The Mummy which was filmed and released almost a full year later. In many regards Deep Rising and The Mummy share the same DNA despite taking place in completely two different time periods and using the polar opposites in terms of movie monsters. Treat Williams’ Finnegan could be the distant relative of Brendan Frasier’s O’Connell as both have an affinity for firearms and equally explosive one liners. Frequent Sommers collaborator Kevin J. O’Connor slips into the role of a sniveling side kick although he’s not as weaselly as Beni was in The Mummy. Alright I sort of got off course somewhat so let’s wrap this up Deep Rising goes beyond a guilty pleasure or cult classic it was released during the beginning of 1998 which was a horrible decision because even to this very day this has summer blockbuster written all over it. Stephen Sommers reached his zenith in the span of two years and in the blink of an eye hasn’t been able to get back on that same level of creativity again. I know you’re still out there Stephen. Want some friendly advice? Reinvent yourself, strip away the corporate side of the industry and get back to basics. A Deep Rising sequel most likely isn’t in the cards but a similar idea can go a long ways.
Synopsis: An outlaw gang hanged by a posse in the late 1880s comes back from the grave to terrorize the descendants of the posse’s leader.
Usually it doesn’t take long to realize when I’m watching something atrocious as my body has a built in defense mechanism where it will bring on a headache the longer I continue to defiantly try and make it to the very end the more my cranium will throb at an agonizing rate. In the case of 1987’s Ghost Riders I managed to make it to the end credits without having to reach for the Tylenol but my ears will never forgive me for subjecting them to the most eardrum piercing soundtrack this side of William Hung singing Hotel California. When I use the term eardrum piercing I’m referring to having both the music and the sound effects cranked up in the mix beyond the point where viewers can’t even make out the dialogue the main characters are woodenly trying to deliver (not that it makes a difference anyways). Honestly I don’t know how I walked away from this without getting a headache than again I’m still trying to figure why the synopsis states that an outlaw gang is hanged when at the beginning of Ghost Riders its only the gang leader who is done in by the noose where the rest of his underlings go down in a firefight. It’s another prominent example of a straight to video logic where the further down you get the more unanswered questions you’ll be asking.
False advertising no matter the year companies will always take advantage of people who can easily be duped. In the late ’80s to early ’90s a lot of low budget distribution companies loved to employ this method by hiring an artist to create a piece of artwork to draw people in. Three skeletons dressed in wild west regalia brandishing shot guns and walking down the middle of a small town is enough to drive a young teenager’s imagination wild. When Dad and Mom finally decide their child is old enough for an R rated horror flick the excitement level ramps up to high expectations and then the glass ceiling shatters with monumental disappointment as the skeleton bandits are nowhere to be found. The second bit of false advertising is in calling Ghost Riders a horror film. In order to be awarded such a title there needs to be a steady amount of blood which there is very little of and as far as the so called Ghost Riders yeah I don’t count regular looking cowboys riding around on horseback and shooting guns as very ghostly. These outlaws were most likely not the most gentlemanly when they were alive so after meeting the wrong end of a shot gun I hardly think any time would be wasted in putting them six feet under. Why wouldn’t these apparitions be decaying more and more with every passing year they’ve been forced to spend in purgatory? They had enough of a budget to blow up a jeep for the finale yet they couldn’t deliver on ghoulish looking Ghost Riders I’m sorry no amount of push broom air guitar or multiple close ups of a spider snaring an insect in its web can save this. You’d almost be better off watching Nicolas Cage make manic expressions as his skull bursts into flames.
Synopsis: The aftermath of the Oxygen Destroyer brings forth Destoroyah, a beast intent on killing Godzilla, who is on the verge of a nuclear meltdown.
Starting today and running for the next week in a limited North American theatrical engagement is the 29th Godzilla film in the long standing franchise (not including the two Hollywood versions) and the first Japanese Godzilla in 12 years. It’s with Shin Godzilla (which loosely translates as True Godzillla or God Godzilla and was at one point going to be released in the rest of the world as Godzilla Resurgence) where Toho has done something with a major property that very few movie studios could even dream of by licensing Godzilla’s likeness out to Hollywood to help build a multi-million dollar blockbuster franchise all the while having the creative freedom to continue forward with their own Godzilla productions that happen in completely independent universes. The beauty of having six decades worth of Godzilla is we’ve reached a point where if a person isn’t happy with how one incarnation of the King of the Monsters was handled they can move both backwards and forwards exploring how creature designs and the overall tones shifted with the ever changing times. I can’t think of any better time to be a Godzilla fan and with the constantly evolving manner that Toho is taking to keep their property as culturally relevant as when he first set foot out of Tokyo bay.
At first glance the designs of Shin Godzilla and Godzilla ’95 don’t share a lot of similarities in common that is unless you count how both are radical departures from what kaiju fans define as the quintessential Godzilla look. When Godzilla 95 first stomps into frame he’s a lot more bulkier and covered in glowing sores. The previews for Shin Godzilla have shown footage of the King glowing in an eerily similar fashion and considering I haven’t had the opportunity to see the finished product yet I can only assume that his glowing is a side effect of how he absorbs radiation. Focusing on Godzilla vs. Destoroyah it had always been the so called black sheep of the series where I didn’t want to view it in its entirety until it got a proper Blu-Ray transfer with the Japanese language track. Oddly enough the first time I watched it was last Halloween and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Released during the coveted Heisei era Godzilla vs. Destoroyah was the first Godzilla film to incorporate the bleaker messages and imagery of the 1954 original since The Return of Godzilla a full decade prior. References to the Oxygen Destroyer and having a plot point where there is a scientist following a similar path as Dr. Serizawa is where Godzilla vs. Destoroyah takes the series’ mythology into some bold new areas. Toho was also at their creative peak with their special effects work going beyond standardize miniatures and men in rubber suits. In my opinion this is where Suitmation crossed over from being an art form and reached a pinnacle of storytelling in the kaiju genre that since then hasn’t been reached. This is one of those rare accomplishments where in the year since my initial viewing I can sit here with goosebumps as I write this trying to imagine how in the hell the special effects crew were able to film this masterpiece without being driven to insanity. It’s one of those phenomenons that was designed to close out the Japanese film series for a while by passing the baton off to Hollywood. Unfortunately we all know how the first attempt at an American Godzilla went and it would take 16 years to course correct that mistake. I do find it somewhat ironic that back when Godzilla In Name Only was released in 1998 Toho was forced to end their sabbatical less then a year after Hollywood got the entire concept wrong. Now here we sit a couple years after Godzilla roared back on to the silver screen and Toho once again decided to end their sabbatical, not because of any negative feedback no instead this was to reaffirm that the king of the monsters could return in multiple forms bigger, badder, and more bad ass than ever. Once more – Welcome back king! Please stay around for as long as you see fit.
Final Grade: A+
*** Before closing out this year’s Godzilla entry I wanted to share an article that SciFiJapan did last year about the American Godzilla that unfortunately wasn’t. Some of you might be familiar with a few images of a Godzilla design the late great Stan Winston worked on. This was for that American Godzilla which would have been directed by Jan De Bont (Speed and Twister) and initially had Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt attatched to be in the lead roles. Check out the detailed article here — Godzilla Unmade: The Story of Jan De Bont’s Unproduced Tri-Star Film
I always have to laugh when the news feeds on my social media accounts blow up with topics like ‘OMG. That ending to this week’s Game of Thrones was absolutely mind-blowing!’ to which my reply is ‘Uhmm yeah that’s nice. I didn’t see it.’ My television viewing habits tend to border more on a casual viewer yet like everyone else out there I have my distinctive likes and dislikes. If something blips on my radar I’m right there front and center for the series premiere and won’t let over sensationalized internet hype dictate whether I should like said show because its the in thing to do. And hey I don’t want to seem like this is a knock against Game of Thrones. I’ve heard many great things about it from some of my closest friends to the point where eventually I do want to check it out but I’m going to wait a while after the series wraps before sinking my teeth into it. The roller coaster of emotions tend to stick with you significantly longer when you’re going into a full season completely blind. I did this recently with Breaking Bad and quite honestly I felt it was the better approach rather than having something shocking happen one week and counting the next six days down to see if the creators/writers could deliver something as instantly memorable. If the acting, drama and tension are all masterfully executed you won’t hesitate hitting play on the next episode.
Thus the habit of binge watching has quickly become the new norm and thanks to digital media and the meteoric rise of streaming services the likes of Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Netflix we no longer have to waste time getting up off the couch to go and change out a DVD or Blu-ray. The days of using gigabytes of hard drive space are slowly starting to fade as streaming media on the go via your phone or tablet is challenging the entertainment industry to adapt in order to survive.
While all three of these digital services have branched out by financing completely original content Netflix have truly become the game changers by giving audiences full access to every episode of a brand new series right off the bat. Where else are you going to get the option of deciding to move forward with a show immediately with no weekly cool down period? It’s certainly a high stakes gamble that few would see as taking a bigger risk and generating little of the reward .
This past July Stranger Things took form and as I sit here thinking about it now I’m finding a degree of challenge in expressing my own thoughts and takeaways nearly three months after my initial viewing. To sum it up I’d describe Stranger Things as one of those anomalies you’d encounter when traveling down a rabbit hole where the further you go the greater the unpredictability. In the month after it’s premiere Stranger Things racked in an astonishing 14.7 million viewers so it definitely struck a nerve to the point where the entire world is still buzzing about it. I’d love to sit here and completely gush over it yet I don’t want to risk ruining it for those of you who haven’t had the chance to pencil it in. All I will say is it takes place in the early 1980s in a small rural (fictional) everyday town where nothing ever happens and primarily focuses on a group of pre-teen boys banding together after their friend Will mysteriously disappears after a night of playing Dungeons and Dragons. From here on out we enter the oh so familiar realm that Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, George Lucas, Robert Zemeckis, and Stephen King were the masters of in their formative years.
Without question my favorite takeaway from Stranger Things is something as simple as the movie poster for John Carpenter’s The Thing hanging rather prominently in the main character’s basement. It’s a touching tribute to one of several men who helped craft a form of storytelling that has transcended generations and to go and reach that level in eight incredible episodes (each presented as chapters) without the support of a major network is highly unusual however in today’s world I think its safe to say quite literally that Stranger Things happened (and I’m eternally grateful that they did).
Final Grade: A+
Before I focus my attention to the month ahead I just want everyone to know there will come a point where I’ll share my overall impressions on season 1 of Stranger Things at greater lengths. My general writing style tends to encompass a spur of the moment frame of thinking so this is what came out. Rather than pushing this blog post to the brink of 1,000 words where I’d almost certainly begin to nerd out or to quote Led Zeppelin start to Ramble On give me several more months to collect my thoughts and I’ll do my best to remain on point and consistent the next go around. I think it will be beneficial because if there’s any point to sit down and soak in the various motifs of Stranger Things there’s no better time then the Halloween season. I urge everyone to go and do so now! In conclusion enjoy the following video from Reverb.com breaking down the sheer brilliance of the Stranger Things soundtrack.
Synopsis: Trick ‘R Treat takes the Creepshow/Tales from the Crypt approach to nefarious new depths with four interwoven tales set on Halloween night.
Everyone has their own vision of what the perfect Halloween encompasses be it the exhilaration of stepping outside to take in that first breath of brisk autumn air or gathering up the family and heading to the nearest pumpkin patch to decide which one will have the honor of becoming that year’s jack-o-lantern. For others its spending several months collecting a variety of components to help in making a costume that will both turn heads and end up taking first prize at a local Halloween party. Kids entering their early teens know there’s not much time left to score as much free candy as they can so they get a hold of their closest pals and meeting up a few hours early to map out what route guarantees everyone earns a big haul. Those of us who don’t like plan big can enjoy the holiday by putting the kettle on and making some hot cocoa curling up with a spine tingling Stephen King or R.L. Stine novel. If none of those are viable options there’s always the choice of checking the local TV listings to see what networks are offering the best variety of scary movie marathons. Still there are those who are looking forward to getting the day over as quickly as possible so they can set their clocks back before heading off to bed knowing that the full hour of sleep we’ll be rewarded with will feel like euphoria. With the passing of yet another Halloween a select few will see it as that time of the year where its the start of that long agonizing journey towards the day after the new year where the holiday season can finally be put to rest for another nine months.
Any time a movie revolves a certain time of the year it can be difficult to establish mood. Christmas movies definitely have it the hardest because even during December not everyone is feeling a constant joy and love towards one another. A Halloween themed film has to be a lot more fun to create because it deals with a fair amount tricks and treats as well as making sure the thrills are a plenty and the scares are evenly spaced. Trick ‘R Treat doesn’t take long in capturing the essence of autumn’s most recognizable night before the twists slowly begin to take hold and you slip into a void where the spirit of Halloween makes sure you embrace every seasonal tradition whether you’re willing to or not. The setting feels like it could be any rural small town focusing on a group of people who are celebrating in their own ways and you follow these individuals through four impressively solid interlocking stories. The success behind any noteworthy horror anthology is making sure the suspension of disbelief isn’t piled on in too hastily and thankfully there isn’t one moment of Trick ‘R Treat that lacks in genuine emotion. Anyone who is looking to add some much needed atmosphere to whatever Halloween traditions you’re wanting to be apart of this evening needs to include a viewing of Trick ‘R Treat, doing so will make October 31st all the more meaningful.
Final Grade: A
Hell is when the VCR starts eating your VHS collection & spitting the remains back out at you…