July 14, 2011
Action, Fantasy, Film
Alan Rickman, Alexandre Desplat, Daniel Radcliffe, David Thewlis, David Yates, Deathly Hallows, Emma Thompson, Emma Watson, Evanna Lynch, Film, film music, Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Hedwig's Theme, Helena Bonham-Carter, Hogwarts, J.K. Rowling, Jim Broadbent, John Hurt, John Williams, Julie Walters, Maggie Smith, Matthew Lewis, Michael Gambon, movies, Nicholas Hooper, Part 2, picture, poster, Ralph Fiennes, review, Robbie Coltrane, Rupert Grint, score, soundtrack, Steve Kloves
To talk about the end of an era is probably an understatement. The extent to which J.K. Rowling’s books and their subsequent adaptions for the silver screen have impacted teenage culture is a phenomenon quite beyond compare. For the countless fans who have grown up with their beloved characters, this final half of a chapter marks the end of a decade of midnight queueing, hopes, fears and expectations as all the emotional ballast of seven predecessors sets down on Part 2’s shoulders. For those loyally devoted and indeed for the filmmakers and our trio of protagonists it will be a bittersweet ending as they come to terms with the fact that it really does all end here as the teaser posters touted. To live up to such hype is no easy task for any filmmaker but as before, director David Yates and his crew of muggles have diligently captured the magic of the series that only the books themselves can top.
After the rather slowly paced “Part 1,” this hits the ground running and very rarely lets up throughout as out hero and his friends hunt for the final horcruxes and do battle with the dark lord and his minions. After a dangerous journey to the high-security wizard bank Gringotts, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) make it to Hogwarts. Their presence cannot go unnoticed however and soon You Know Who (Ralph Fiennes) and Co are on their way to attack the castle and settle things once and for all. There follows a desperate race against time as all the remaining wizards try to keep the forces of evil at bay while trying to find and destroy those bits of Voldemort’s soul with which he cannot be truly killed. It’s an action-spectacle of the highest order, that maintains a breakneck pace and almost non-stop carnage. And heavy stuff it is too: Hogwarts is being blasted to rubble, the Quidditch pitch burns, so much that we and the characters have come to love is under serious threat here. With such few moments of respite, the racing story draws on the viewer as each and every character reaches his or her own personal climax within the sprawling and incredibly dense plot.
Yates and Steve Kloves’ screenplay manage to walk that fine line of balancing very moving and personal moments amidst the action and this will ultimately prove the real payoff for fans. With such an enormous supporting cast that includes Maggie Smith (sorely missed in previous episodes), Michael Gambon, Robbie Coltrane, John Hurt, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Emma Thompson, David Thewlis and so many more besides, it’s good news that room has been found and the need for closure recognised even for minor characters. Matthew Lewis as Neville and Evanna Lynch as Luna too, both long regarded as some of the finer casting choices among the “child” actors, get to shine in their roles. Perhaps most satisfying of all is the detour that’s taken (at a climatic point nonetheless) to finally reveal the motivation behind Alan Rickman’s shady and complicated Snape. It’s a very fitting send-off and it’s worth seeing the film purely for this as it perfectly embodies the sense of magic, wonder and drama present in the books as a whole. Meanwhile, Daniel Radcliffe manages to hold it all together even though his personal tale threatens to be overshadowed by the sheer scale of things. Hie performance is perfectly judged and never gives in to sentimentality. A few tears may well flow.
The film is not perfect by any means though the few flaws are much more easily forgivable that in the previous film. For instance, intimate knowledge of the plot is a prerequisite and non-fans will have their work cut out for them in trying to follow who, what and when. Despite being only half a book, Rowling has so much ground to cover that incredulously the film seems rushed at times. The lengthy battle between Harry and Voldemort is a prime suspect here, one that could have been more cleverly devised and could have peeled the villain’s “pure evil” aspect back to reveal his insecurity and motives for being evil in the first place. Furthermore, Yates is unsure as how to handle the resolution of the present-day story, first needing to explain an important plot point gets in the way of what it all means for the protagonists’ journeys. Were it not for the excellent epilogue, the emotional climax could even have been described as underwhelming. However, fans can be forgiven for passing over these minor detriments and in reality, they do not hurt the film in any great capacity.
Also returning for this final chapter is French composer Alexandre Desplat. His score for “Part 1” was polarising, some fans praising his orchestral diversity and style while others bemoaned his failure to establish a musical coherency for the franchise as a whole. His music for “Part 2” lives in a similar situation with very solid action music and reprisal of his own themes from the first part. These aspects are presented on the soundtrack album but in the film go somewhat unnoticed. This is because in several key scenes, by choice of either Desplat or the filmmakers, music by John Williams (and at one point Nicholas Hooper) composed for the first two films is simply inserted by copy and paste. The reasoning for this is debatable but the suspicion arises that Desplat’s score, while full of finesse, could not pack the emotional punch Yates was looking for and the album presentation of new music would support that argument. Unfortunately for Desplat, Williams’ music is far superior and as viewers leave the theatre “Hedwig’s Theme” is what they will remember. It’s disappointing that Desplat could not incorporate the existing themes with his own and make for a rounded and ultimately more satisfying listening experience. As it stands, the album is very enjoyable but hearing it in the film makes us nostalgic for what could have been if the great maestro John Williams had returned to score the final chapter.
“Deathly Hallows” 2.0 is everything the fan-base could have hoped for, delivering a worthy conclusion to one of the decade’s most defining franchises. Sadly, it is the end of an era and it’s time to say good bye.
Score on Album
I hope you all enjoy going to see Harry Potter in the theatres. Why not share this review with your friends in advance on Facebook and Twitter? Thank you all for reading. Now, accio DVD boxset!
November 20, 2010
Adventure, Fantasy, Film
Alan Rickman, Alexandre Desplat, Bill Nighy, Bonnie Wright, Brendan Gleeson, Daniel Radcliffe, David Yates, Emma Watson, Film, film music, Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Imelda Staunton, J.K. Rowling, Jason Isaacs, John Williams, Julie Walters, Michael Gambon, movies, New Moon, Nicholas Hooper, Part 2, Part1, Patrick Doyle Hedwig's Theme, picture, Ralph Fiennes, review, Rhys Ifans, Robbie Coltrane, Rupert Grint, score, soundtrack, Steve Kloves, The Deathly Hallows, The Hobbit, The Philosopher's Stone, Timothy Spall, Twilight, Warner Bros.
So it all comes down to this: the beginning of the end. And in order to adapt the finale in more depth than the previous escapades, Warner Bros. decided to split “The Deathly Hallows” into two parts. It’s the beginning of a trend perhaps (“The Hobbit” and the “Twilight” series have followed in the footsteps) with the purpose, some would argue, to milk moviegoers as much as possible. Be that as it may, watching this “Part 1” what becomes quickly apparent is that director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves have indeed been able to include many more of fan’s favourite moments that might otherwise have ended up on the cutting room floor. Much of the novel’s first half is recreated quite faithfully, making this (with the exception of “The Philosopher’s Stone”) the film that sticks most closely to the source material.
Forget any notion of “this one is darker” or “Voldemort is getting stronger”. As Bill Nighy’s opening monologue explains we have moved from tensions lying dormant just beneath the surface to all-out war: The forces of evil as led by Lord Voldemort are rapidly tightening their grip on the wizarding and muggle worlds, taking over the Ministry and, in a final-solution like operation begin screening halfbloods, mudbloods and just about every blood in between. Somewhere in this carnage our hero Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) aided by his friends Ron and Hermione (Rupert Grint and Emma Watson) must complete the task entrusted to them by the late Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), that is to locate and destroy the remaining horcruxes, pieces of the dark lord’s soul with which he can never truly die. However tales of a mysterious fairytale leads to the “Deathly Hallows”, three powerful magical objects that may also help to destroy He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. Also, there’s no chance of returning to Hogwarts which has been completely infiltrated so “Part 1” becomes a road-movie of sorts, the trio travelling extensively across Britain as they try to remain undetected. This means that the film dispenses with many of the elements so familiar: the castle, the teachers, classes and (most) of the yo-yoing hormones. As always there’s an awesome supporting cast (perhaps one of the greatest British ensembles ever): Robbie Coltrane, Brendan Gleeson, Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes, Rhys Ifans, Julie Walters, Bonnie Wright, Jason Isaacs, Timothy Spall and Imelda Staunton.
In parts the road-movie concept works very well. Yates is at this stage very adept at handling the magic and directs some truly great scenes at the beginning of the picture. Hermione’s farewell to her parents with a memory-wipe-charm is probably the best and something we never see in the book. Harry’s farewell to Privet Drive and the visit to his parents’ grave similarly set new heights for the series. In general the first act sets things up nicely, rolling at breakneck speed, filled with great action in the sky-battle, humour and at the same time finding the space for truly touching emotion and a sense of tragedy or impending doom. The trip to the Ministry to retrieve the locket from a certain Dolores Umbridge is also realised with a great eye for detail and is very entertaining. After the wedding escape though, things become a little hazy in the plot department. Unlike the novel where J.K. Rowling’s canvas to illustrate the to-ing and fro-ing is almost endless, the film struggles here. There’s a lot of woodland scenes which completely drain the energy, pace and urgency that graced the opening. In general there just seems to be nothing happening.
As such the film is also devoid of a truly satisfying climax. This is understandable in a way when one considers that the real drama and epic finale are still to come in “Part 2” but not really an excuse to neglect audience interest in the first part. It seems Yates is unsure how to proceed with the ever increasing sense of pessimism in the face of the overwhelming odds. To compensate for this downward momentum the filmmakers try to lighten things a little bit but this is something that comes across as trying too hard. The scene with Harry and Hermione dancing looks like it accidentally ended up in the wrong film. Most likely, when we’re able to view “The Deathly Hallows” in its complete form, the faults of part one will seem less significant but on its own, you will leave the theatre having seen some great material but dissatisfied nonetheless.
Following a lot of negative comments of his two Potter scores Nicholas Hooper did not return to write the music for “The Deathly Hallows”. In his stead rising talent, french composer Alexandre Desplat took the reins to carry the franchise further. Fans of the composer will find much to enjoy in his score and the soundtrack contains some really fantastic action material, the track “Sky Battle” is of particular note. Those expecting any sort of thematic consistency with the earlier films may be disappointed however as Desplat disregards all of the Williams, Doyle and Hooper material – with the exception of minimal statements of Hedwig’s Theme at the beginning. Neither does Desplat introduce a significant new theme as a replacement such as the elegant “New Moon” theme he wrote for the “Twilight” series. It’s a shame because this could well have been his magnum opus. Still, for most of us, this score will contain more than enough great music to chew on. And at this point it looks increasingly likely that Desplat will return to score “Part 2” so we can expect plenty more of the same.
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” (bit of a mouthful, eh?) has an awful lot going for it. Fans of the franchise will find much to like about it. For everyone else it depends on whether or not you are willing to withhold your judgement until we see “Part 2” in July. It’s not the best “Harry Potter” of them all but should set up the really epic finale perfectly.
How did you interpret this HP? Please do leave a comment with feedback or with your thoughts. Also please follow me on Twitter and subscribe to the RSS feed. All the best to you!
November 7, 2010
Action, Adventure, Film
Akator, Cate Blanchett, CG, Christopher Nolan, Cold War, David Koepp, Film, film music, George Lucas, Harrison Ford, Holy Grail, Indiana Jones, James Bond, John Hurt, John Williams, Jurassic Park, Karen Allen, Korngold, Marlon Brando, movies, Peru, picture, Ray Winstone, review, Sci-fi, score, sequel, Shia LaBoeuf, soundtrack, Star Wars, Steven Spielberg, Tarzan, The Dark Knight, The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Last Crusade, The Lost World, Transformers
It’s been almost twenty years since the world’s favourite archeologist last donned that fedora that makes him as iconic as any James Bond. Naturally with this large a gap between sequels many Indy fans approached this fourth entry with a certain anxiety and apprehension, some arguing that a perfect trilogy should remain just that. Besides, Harrison Ford had just passed 65, not exactly a prime age for an action and adventure hero. But the ultimate question was had wonder-boys Spielberg and Lucas still got the flair of their 80s heyday? The former’s hadn’t made a “fun” movie since 1997’s “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” and hadn’t made a really good “fun” movie since the original “Jurassic Park” way back in 1993. Lucas meanwhile had tinkered with his “Star Wars” prequel trilogy and it is generally agreed that the new films don’t even come close to rivalling the originals. And while “The Crystal Skull” was met with mixed reactions from both fans and critics, the good news is that they have largely succeeded.
Fittingly, this fourth film takes place a full decade after “The Last Crusade” and thus into a whole new era. The focus of the American struggle has clearly shifted as the 50s arrive and we are plunged into the Cold War. From the outset, Spielberg is firmly in control of these changes as we are introduced to the film’s villains in the form of Soviet femme fatale Irina Spalko (the ever excellent Cate Blanchett) and her minions as they infiltrate a secret U.S. military base, and everything filmed in beautiful pastel colours of soft browns. The opening act will have Jones hardcores squealing with glee at the various in-jokes and subtle details (it’s The Lost Ark!) while the more casual viewers will still be swept away with the whole stylishness of it all and the beginnings of an excellent old-fashioned adventure romp. Back in his more familiar surroundings at University, enter story proper in the form of Mutt, an enthusiastic and Marlon Brando-esque teen played by Shia LaBoeuf. We can criticise LaBoeuf all we want for his turns in “Transformers” among others but “Crystal Skull” is without a doubt his best role yet. He brings Jones a coded message from an old friend, who has lost his mind in search of a lost city in the Peruvian jungle supposedly made entirely of gold.
Travelling to Akator – accompanied by the requisite map transitions and orchestral swell – the pair track down a mysteries skull made of pure quartz which will give the owner powers over the aforementioned city. Of course, Spalko is after the skull and city as well, as is an old flame of Jones’. I’m not going to give it away but let’s just say that Karen Allen also stars. Supporting characters include John Hurt as Oxley and Ray Winstone who plays sly sidekick Mac. But a crucial question still remains unanswered: can Indy still kick ass and wise-crack like he did all those years ago? The answer there is a resounding yes! Even better, David Koepp’s screenplay actually pokes fun at the ageing archeologist (“Damn, I thought that was closer!”), but no way has Ford lost his edge. And this time he really needs to use his wits, especially when seconds away from nuclear annihilation. It’s in these early action sequences, leading up to a great chase through the University that the old “Indiana Jones” feeling really returns and we can applaud the filmmakers for their craft and daring to take on another sequel.
But “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” is by no means without faults. Some of the action, the jungle chase and the ants sequence suffer from CGitis. Not because the visual effects themselves aren’t properly rendered but because the audience aren’t as closely involved, as we were for example with the tank chase in the last film. A Tarzan tribute is also completely ridiculous and out of place, and the conclusion (i.e. what the entire skull plot hinges on) is just too Sci-fi. Elements of the supernatural have always been a part of the Jones series but never have they featured so prominently as here. And while we suspended disbelief for the Ark and even the Holy Grail, it’s difficult not to raise an eyebrow at some of the contrivances we are asked to swallow here. As a result the second half of the film sags slightly, once we reach Akator the film never again gets as high as the awesome ride of the opening act. Had Spielberg been able to maintain this high-octane tempo, it would probably have been a real classic. Thus the film can’t quite compete with the original three but nevertheless remains a really fun adventure picture that easily eclipses most other action blockbusters out there. Indeed were it not for Chris Nolan and his “Dark Knight”, this would have been in with a real chance for film of the year in the genre. And the very final scene hits a great Jones moment right on the head.
Indiana Jones needs his hat, his whip and, very importantly, he needs his theme tune. I would go so far as to say I would have downright refused to see this film if the still peerless John Williams did not return to score. After a three year break, it could be argued that Williams himself is not too dissimilar from Indy – he’s in his late seventies now. The result too is much like the film, not Williams’ best work but still a really good listen. The composer does reprise many of the old themes – Marion’s theme or the Map Room – but adds a few new ones to his palette as well. The skull and Irina Spalko both get great mystery, the latter with a distinctly Russian flair. Mutt too gets a great theme in the style of a Korngold swashbuckler. It all culminates in “The Jungle Chase” cue which is the best on album.
This latest instalment in the series does not feature Spielberg at the top of his game, but he really comes very, very close. And with the score hitting all the right notes as well we can truly say welcome back Indy! And that is a very warming thought indeed.
What were your personal thoughts on the Indy sequel? With Indy 5 in the works as well, why not leave a comment and let us know? Also, please follow me on Twitter or subscribe to the e-mail and RSS feeds. Thanks for reading an until next time, all the best!
October 9, 2010
Adventure, Fantasy, Film
Andre Lesnie, Bad Taste, Billy Boyd, Braindead, David Cronenberg, Dominic Monaghan, Elijah Wood, Enya, Favourite Film, Film, film music, Fran walsh, Harry Potter, Howard Shore, Ian McKellen, John Williams, London Philharmonic, Lord of the Rings, Miramax, movies, New Line Cinema, New Zealand, Orlando Bloom, Oscars, Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens, picture, review, score, Se7en, Sean Astin, Sean Bean, Silence of the Lambs, Star Wars, The Complete Recordings, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Frighteners, The Philosopher's Stone, The Return of the King, The Two Towers, Tolkien, Viggo Mortensen, Warner Bros.
The trivia and lore surrounding the making of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy are almost as expansive as Tolkien’s mythology itself. The sheer love and passion with which the filmmakers approached the epic trilogy are reason alone to name it the most meticulously made motion picture series of the decade and to safely book its place among the top films of all time. Considering then that “The Fellowship of the Ring” is merely an (albeit three hour long) opening act, the bar is set very high indeed. Because from the moment that Galadriel’s voice comes drifting out of the dark, whispering in elvish, we are drawn into a fantasy world unlike anything seen before: Forget Star Wars, forget Harry Potter, forget that cutesy 1978 animated version. This is serious, hardcore fantasy, a world rooted as firmly in the reality of a European dark age long forgotten as in its very faithful adaption of the source material. This is the one Middle Earth to rule them all.
In the mid-nineties Peter Jackson was a director best known for extremely gory and disturbing splatter horror pictures, from his home-grown “Bad Taste” to “Braindead” and “The Frighteners”. Definitely not a household name, and most definitely not the guy Hollywood would choose to direct a blockbuster franchise like “Lord of the Rings”. But then, Hollywood can’t really take credit for this franchise because it was born and bred in New Zealand by Jackson and his fellow screenwriters Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. After a financial fiasco at Miramax which would have seen the trilogy made as a single movie, Jackson was able to find another suitor for his mammoth undertaking in New Line Cinema, a division of Warner Bros. who thankfully agreed to provide the budget for three full films. Beginning principal photography in late 1999, it was perhaps the greatest shoot ever, three films being shot back-to-back over 274 days with often as many as six or seven units all filming in different places across the two islands which had been cast as the principal character, namely Middle Earth. Had this been attempted in Hollywood, the project would surely have been doomed from the start.
What is extremely significant is that in between all the statistics and the action, Jackson manages to keep a firm grip on both characters and plot, never loosing sight of the human elements within the story, something that can only come from knowing the text inside-out, being truly passionate about the subject and the hallmark of a very talented director. Because at heart, “Lord of the Rings” is a story of very simple values: friendship, courage in the face of overwhelming odds and the destruction of nature. The plot, just in case you’ve been living on Mars or in Mordor, concerns a Hobbit by the name of Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) who inherits a magical ring from his old uncle Bilbo. However when the wizard Gandalf (played by the venerable Sir Ian McKellen) discovers that this is in fact the One Ring which was created millennia ago by the dark lord Sauron to rule all of Middle Earth, Frodo along with some Hobbit friends sets out on an epic quest to destroy the ring and thus evil once and for all. He is accompanied by a fellowship of actors extremely respected in their fields but (at the time) largely unknown in Hollywood – Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Sean Bean – and also some new talent – Orlando Bloom, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd – all of which combine for some absolutely fantastic character acting.
And for those that might have feared that their vision of the beloved novel might be torn to pieces, those fears soon evaporated with almost every corner of fantasy fandom praising the adaption. Tom Bombadil gripes aside (seriously, he would have been totally out of place in the film), any changes that have been made are entirely justified: The romance between Aragorn and Arwen is given actual screen-time, the threat of Saruman is made real and present early on, and in general the narrative flows much more freely than in the novel. Some newcomers might well wonder at some of the plot turns but thankfully things like combining Rivendell and Lothlorien were avoided. While it might have made sense from a classic plot point of view, never does the story suffer from it. And very importantly we feel like we’re in these places, thanks largely to Andrew Lesnie’s soaring (and Oscar winning) cinematography. Enjoying the best of both worlds between location and visual effects wizardry, the camera swoops effortlessly through Isengard and Moria. Just as it should be, no one visual effect jumps out of the screen shouting look at me! They’re incredibly impressive but never obtrusive, the Moria sequence perhaps the best example of live-action, miniature photography and CG mixed flawlessly into one thrilling sequence. We do feel that this is the highlight of the action and the actual ending of the film is a bit on the small side in comparison. But it should also be noted that “The Lord of the Rings” is one long story, not three individual books, and is meant to be viewed as such. So the conclusion at Amon-Hen is the perfect set-up to lead us into “The Two Towers”.
Canadian composer Howard Shore may too have been an odd choice to many in the industry as he was known largely for his horror scores (“Silence of the Lambs”, “Se7en”) and David Cronenberg collaborations. However Shore spent several years thoroughly researching the text for his music, visiting the sets in New Zealand and eventually recording with the London Philharmonic, a huge choir and several speciality instruments. The results is perhaps on of the greatest achievements in film music ever (so much so that a book has been written about it!): An approach that is thematically interesting and consistent over the three films. Like the films it’s an approach to fantasy scoring rooted in real music and avoiding many of the clichés so often to be found in regular writing in the genre. It can certainly compare with John Williams’ “Star Wars” for scale and depth. “The Fellowship of the Ring” serves very much as the firm ground on which Shore can build his themes, the development of the main Fellowship theme (nine notes, one for each character) clearly traceable throughout the film. Even themes that would only come to full statements in “The Return of the King” such as the Gondor theme can already be heard, completely formed, at the council of Elrond when Boromir speaks. What is also fabulous is that the score has found some mainstream following. Two versions of the score exist, the regular album release which seems to focus more on Enya’s contribution to the film (which in reality is minimal) and an expanded, four disc set titled “The Complete Recordings” which presents all the music in the film in full. It’s an expensive treat but a treat it most certainly is and is well worth shelling out for.
Graced with 13 Oscar noms and four wins (including one for the score), “The Fellowship of the Ring” is the opening chapter of the most remarkable film story of the 2000s and one of the greatest trilogies in history. Never before has something as grand as this been attempted and probably it will never be attempted again. It gained instant following from millions of fans, critical praise and made quite a taking at the 2001 box office – almost as much as the film that was supposed to be the film of the year, namely “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”. Simply put, it’s a masterpiece in every department from story-telling to acting to costume and visual effects. And it remains my favourite film of all time!
How does this film rank in your Top 10? Please tell me about it and comment! Also please follow me on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed. Until next time then I wish you all the best!
September 16, 2010
Bruce Broughton, Contact, Doug Adams, Event, Fellowship of the Ring, film music, Howard Shore, International Film Music Symposium, John Barry, John Williams, Johnny Depp, King Kong, Klaus Badelt, Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, Rescue Dawn, Richard Zemeckis, Rick Porras, Signing, The Extra Man, Troy, Werner Herzog
For the second year running some of the most renowned names in Film Music have descended on the classical music capital of the world to share their experiences and provide insights into their industry. And let those who would have thought that last year’s line-up of star guests (John Barry and Bruce Broughton no less) would be hard to top, fear not for the “FIMU” team have managed to attract even bigger stars this time round. Three Academy Awards, three Golden Globes as well as four Grammys are things most mortals couldn’t imagine in their wildest dreams. Not so for Howard Shore whose scores to “The Lord of the Rings” epic fantasy trilogy stand at the heart of the Symposium’s attraction. In addition German composer Klaus Badelt, LotR producer Rick Porras and journalist Doug Adams will contribute to the celebrations for an increasingly popular slice of the film and music business.
My decision to register for and attend the Symposium was spontaneous at the very least. As it turned out, it became a post-exam pat on the back. So I took the train from Zurich to Vienna in the hope of seeing some the people who write such wonderful music and maybe grabbing a few autographs as well. Being prepared, I brought along some CDs by those artists, just waiting to be signed.
8:05 am. After a short train and foot journey and firmly clutching my bag containing those all important CDs I stand at Anton-Webern Platz 1, home of the Arts University. Registration is quick and simple: My name is ticked off and I am presented with my copy of the Symposium programme. The hall is quite empty but over the next hour it is filled with a very healthy number of students, composers and enthusiasts like me.
9:00 am. The excitement in the room is audible. Klaus Badelt has just poked his nose around the door and after a quick introduction by organisers Claudia Walkensteiner-Preschl, Dr. Gerold Gruber and Dr. Sandra Tomek he takes to the stage to rapturous applause. Despite having composed through the night and having a piano nearby to deal with any musical inklings that might pop up throughout the day he is animated and in good spirits. After some initial mic problems he begins to explain what exactly makes his composing process as well as composer/director relationships tick. Jokes and anecdotes abound about “Pirates of the Caribbean” but more importantly about Vietnam film “Rescue Dawn” and director Werner Herzog. He plays its opening scene and main titles, once without any musical soundtrack, once with. What a difference! The pictures may tell us a thousand words but without music a whole other level of emotional connection is lost on the audience. “The opening sequence,” he says “I always write towards the end of the process because only then do I know what I really want to say about the project.” In this case the title music foreshadows the main character. Very interestingly he shows a similar example where music was written and then removed by the composer, greatly adding to the scene’s power. Finally, just to please us fans, he plays the closing moments from “Pirates”, Johnny Depp showing once again why he was perfect for Jack Sparrow! It’s an hour that goes by way too quickly and to more applause Klaus makes way for Rick Porras who is already waiting in the wings.
10:00 am. For the rest of you, Rick Porras was a long-time associate of Bob Zemeckis before spending seven years of his life in New Zealand as Co-producer on “Lord of the Rings” – in fact he and his family liked it so much they decided to relocate permanently. Once the applause dies down Rick apologises for his Californian accent before illustrating several aspects of a film’s musical identity from a production point of view. Like Badelt he relies on audio-visual examples. He talks about Alan Silvestri’s brilliant integration of score with Zemeckis’ choice of source cues to give older audience members feelings of nostalgia for a particular time of their lives. A similar theme is the focus of the opening moments of “Contact”, Zemeckis taking the idea of radio waves in space as a platform to launch a medley of classic songs as we track out through the solar system. Moving on, he turns to LotR. Thus we are allowed to see part of the Moria and Khazad-Dum sequence from “Fellowship of the Ring” in story-board and pre-viz form next to the finished product. The application of this ‘animatic’ allowed for incredible savings in both time and money for a production that was, let’s face it, bigger than anything that had ever been undertaken. It’s so incredibly fascinating that this hour too passes without anyone noticing.
11:00 am. For the duration of a 15 minute break, some of us take advantage of Rick Porras being around for an early, private autographing session. Rick is very open and friendly, kindly answering all our requests and questions. He even asks a girl to send him a copy of the thesis she wrote on the music of LotR. Only on the reasons for Howard Shore’s score for “King Kong” being rejected he won’t elaborate. He did mention “Troy” before in relation to rejected scores but he is well aware of how touchy a subject it is for the studios. Still, one autograph down, three to go and I’m certainly not complaining!
11:10 am. The time has finally come to welcome Howard Shore and Doug Adams. Their time on the stage is conducted in an interview-style dialogue. Howard looks tired (jet-lagged more precisely) but he answers every question with great depth in his usual comfortably slow manner. It’s an atmosphere similar to a John Willams interview – one really gets the feel not only that one is in the presence of a true maestro but that here is one of that rare breed of traditional composers who need no fancy computers but only pencil and paper to write truly awesome music. Doug Adams goes along well with this, his questions are thought through and allow Shore to develop an answer and really say something worth while. A hiccup on the technological side of things means we can’t sample the Shire theme so an audience member whistles it instead. I also notice that Klaus Badelt has popped back in to listen. After some well-phrased and some not-so-well-phrased audience questions for Howard, it is up to Doug Adams to present us with the book he has spent several years working on. Unfortunately we won’t be able to buy it just yet but to compensate they give us order slips. It’s an expensive treat but a treat it will be: Beautifully bound and illustrated it looks fantastic and if Adams’ linear notes on the “Complete Recordings” soundtracks are anything to go by, the writing and thematic analysis will be of the highest order.
12:00 pm. The first part of the symposium is already over except for the autograph session. We all wait patiently in line with our CD inserts at the ready and hoping for a quick browse of the sample books available. It’s a long wait until I get to the front of the queue but am at least able to begin a lively discussion with a fellow fan on, well, film music. Someone (not me) who forgot to bring something signable decides to get his MacBook Pro signed instead. Its value probably trebled. Finally it’s my turn: Doug Adams, Howard Shore, avoid Rick Porras, Klaus Badelt. In that order. Badelt and Porras are both very chatty, Klaus is glad I liked his newest score “The Extra Man”. Howard Shore on the other hand is polite if a little distant. One gets the feeling he doesn’t particularly like PR exercises like this. Not that it matters, that signature (with golden marker and all…) looks fantastic. He must have practised that S. The last people in line are rushed through as the celebrities must rush away to a press conference for the gala concert on the 16th.
12:45 pm. At this point I leave the Symposium. Several workshops take place in the afternoon as well as a presentation of Austrian Film Music. Unfortunately I only have two days in Vienna and I want to see the city as well but I am really very glad I came.
In summation I can only say I hope a tradition has been started here and that the Symposium will become an annual event for many years to come. It’s a really great way to learn about film music and the processes involved. But it’s also great fun to meet with some of the people who write the great music I listen to. So, perhaps most importantly, it’s an event which takes place this side of the Atlantic, creating an industry event, something for European fans to enjoy, something that has really been lacking up to now. I wish could come back next year.
August 25, 2010
Adventure, Fantasy, Film
Aaron Zigman, AnnaSophia Robb, Bailee Madison, Bridge to Terabithia, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Disney, Eragon, Film, film music, Gabor Csupo, Heavenly Creatures, Jake Lloyd, John Williams, Josh Hutcherson, Katherine Paterson, Lord of the Rings, movies, Narnia, picture, review, Robert Patrick, score, The Phantom Menace, WETA, Zooey Deschanel
Before you roll your eyes to heaven and groan in frustration at yet another uninspired “Lord of the Rings” rip-off, marketed as a thrilling ride of excitement and adventure but really little more than cheap trash, give this adaption of Katherine Paterson’s much loved novel a chance. The film has indeed been a somewhat unfortunate victim of fantasy stereotyping, dismissed as yet another attempt to pick up on the post-Middle-Earth hype by fantasy hardcores, as children’s fare by others, a viewpoint not helped by the fact that it was picked up and marketed by Disney. It’s a huge shame because “Bridge to Terabithia” is as much an adult film as a kids movie – perhaps more so, dealing with some very mature themes yet still enthralling it’s audience in a fantasy world quite different to anything else we’ve seen. In this alone it can easily outdo the likes of “Narnia”, never mind that shambles calling itself “Eragon”.
Jess Aarons (Josh Hutcherson) is seemingly neglected by his struggling family and bullied at school. A change occurs with the arrival of the eccentric Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb) in his class and despite their differences the bonds of friendship are quick to grow. Together they create and rule over a fantasy world named Terabithia in the local forest that allows them to escape from their more worldly problems. This new-found freedom influences Jess positively: his artistic talents begin to flower as does his confidence to oppose the school bullies. Only his troubled father (played by Robert Patrick) remains distant and out of reach. A “Heavenly Creatures” this certainly ain’t but you had better bring a packet of tissues because a tragic twist in the final act is heartbreaking. Ultimately however the film’s message is one of hope, love, resilience, moving on and new beginnings.
The film’s main assets are to be found in Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Robb. Too often a good film is ruined or very poignant scenes undermined by children who are just not able to deliver in poignant or troubling moments. Take Jake Lloyd in “The Phantom Menace” for example or Robb herself, playing that irritating creature in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”. Fans of the book may rest assured that this film suffers no such problems. Hutcherson in particular stands out with his very mature performance, portraying both awe and great loss expertly. This is definitely a name that will have to be watched in the future. Given the right opportunities, he could very well be one of the major stars of tomorrow. Robb one the other hand displays a captivating charm and thankfully never lets it get ‘too weird’ – In short she’s a perfect casting choice for the role. While the adult cast is placed firmly in the shadow the performances of Robert Patrick and Zooey Deschanel do deserve a mention. They too know that this is the kids’ show and do well to fit around them.
Terabithia itself is wonderfully and fantastically realised, thanks to excellent visual effects provided by WETA and New Zealand landscapes (the country, it seems still has wonderful locations left over for fantasy films to shoot…). Like “Lord of the Rings”, director Gabor Csupo makes sure the fantasy world remains rooted in reality and his animation background pays off for the realisation of Terabithia’s many creatures. From fighting squirrels to a certain troll, they are all lovingly realised, many more from the book only making a brief appearance in the opening and closing credits. It is understood that the children’s tale is far more important than the visual spectacle and thus the effects are subtly achieved. Only in the final epilogue scenes the magical kingdom grows to look more like average Hollywood CGI and while this may detract from some viewer’s expectations it makes perfect sense that everyone views Terabithia in a different way, the younger May Belle (Bailee Madison) seeing her fairytale kingdom much more innocently than the older two.
The task of colouring Terabithia musically fell to relative newcomer Aaron Zigman. The result is a concoction of guitars (both acoustic and electric) and more traditional orchestra and choir, a combination which quite simply soars. The music excellently provides for all the excitement and emotional heart the film requires. Zigman is clearly very adept at this kind of style, his action material sounding at times almost John Williamsesque. Sadly the studio’s attempt to squash some cheesy pop tunes (including one AnnaSophia Robb sings herself, she’s not a bad singer but it’s a very blatant marketing ploy that wasn’t necessary) into a film otherwise devoid of the foodstuff means that on album Zigman’s score suffers significantly. A promotional score-only release makes for much better listening.
In this age when fantasy fills multiplexes like rom-coms and thrillers it’s very refreshing to see a film breaking the mould and presenting something adults will actually derive enjoyment from and does its source material justice. It’s a hidden gem of the genre with superb performances and great visuals. Just don’t forget those hankies.
This August has been my blog’s most successful month – thank you all so much for reading my reviews! As always please feel free to leave a comment with feedback, suggestions or arguments. I’m looking forward to your thoughts. Also please subscribe to the RSS feed or e-mail sub and follow me on Twitter. Until next time I wish you all the very best!