June 15, 2011
Action, Adventure, Film
3D, Angels & Demons, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, At World's End, Bill Nighy, Blackbeard, Chicago, Dead Man's Chest, Disney, DVD, Film, film music, Fountain of Youth, Geoffrey Rush, Gore Verbinski, Hans Zimmer, Ian McShane, Inception, Jack Sparrow, Jerry Bruckheimer, Keira Knightley, movies, On Stranger Tides, Orlando Bloom, Penelope Cruz, picture, Pirates of the Caribbean, poster, review, Richard Griffiths, Rob Marshall, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Sam Claflin, score, soundtrack, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, The Curse of the Black Pearl
Despite all the claims that “At World’s End” would be the last of Jack Sparrow’s escapades, the promise of booty in these waters was enough to tempt both Disney and super-producer Jerry Bruckheimer. After all, despite lukewarm receptions from critics and most movie-goers, the second and and third films in the series earned Disney in the region of a billion dollars each. And so, having dropped Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley and director Gore Verbinski, the pirates set sail once more with Bruckheimer promising a style closer to the swashbuckler spirit of the original. Aside from “Chicago” director Rob Marshall, new crew members include heavyweights Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane, next to Geoffrey Rush returning as Barbossa and of course, the one and only captain Jack. Far from a face-lift however, the end product reeks of a dead formula and will have eyes rolling with yet-another-pointless-sequel dissatisfaction.
Picking up with a loose end from “At World’s End,” “On Stranger Tides” begins with Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) captured and brought before King George (Richard Griffiths whom you may remember from the “Harry Potter” series) in London, charged with assisting expedition to the Fountain of Youth led by the now peg-legged, wig-sporting and privateering Barbossa. Sparrow being Sparrow and the British guards being incompetent as ever, Jack escapes but instead ends up on “The Queen Anne’s Revenge,” the ship of notorious pirate Blackbeard (McShane) and his daughter Angelica (Cruz), who are both after the fountain as well, for different reasons. The fountain, it is said will grant eternal youth to whoever drinks from it. Along the predictable routes of the quest, there’s zombies and mermaids to be fought, Blackbeard’s temper to fear and Depp’s still damn good comedic timing to contend with. Penelope Cruz is without doubt the best addition to the cast; she’s a good counterpart to Depp and the pair would have considerably more chemistry if the plot permitted it. Your ability to tolerate their nonsense will depend largely on whether you found Depp’s Sparrow charming in the first place but together their interplay amounts to all the film can muster in entertainment.
The actual fountain plot feels extremely tired in its entirety. Even though he’s an excellent choice to play Blackbeard, Ian McShane’s role can never top Bill Nighy and with the exception of one clever scene in which six pistols are laid out, there’s no evil to be felt. What drives him, why is he so evil? This is what made Davey Jones and Barbossa so compelling and Blackbeard has nothing to serve up in return. A romantic sub-plot involving newcomers Sam Claflin and French model Astrid Berges-Frisbey as cleric and mermaid respectively is equally devoid of all life, never mind believability. Perhaps worst of all, “On Stranger Tides” never leaves a moment to breathe, it tries to pile action upon action, as long as it’s always loud, with plenty of crash bang, people will be entertained, right? All these points draw inevitably to the main x everyone will mark on the map (enough with the pirate puns already!) as to reason for all this mayhem.
Marshall has his hands full, trying to keep the huge, lumbering ship on course but can never muster enough style to inject a breath of fresh air. But then, the director was never the problem of this series. The blame must be decidedly laid at the door of screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio. The pair have become entangled within the mechanisms of a genius idea they once created, their personal fountain of inspiration dried up. While “Dead Man’s Chest” and “At World’s End” were over-laden with confusing (but nevertheless interesting) storylines, the fourth entry is more straight forward in its quest plot but the dialogue feels tired, the puns lame and what little drama remains serves purely to move characters between action sequences. These set-pieces too simply feel like a rehash, from an early sword fight, suspiciously reminiscent of the workshop fight in “Curse of the Black Pearl,” and event the fountain set has reminiscences of the Isla deMuerta. Where is a three-way sword fight equivalent? Where is an all-powerful villain? Where the indomitable monster? And where, oh where is any sense of adventure and pirating spirit? Whether or not this extra dumbing-down is truly the fault of Elliott and Rossio or if pressure existed from Bruckheimer and Disney we will probably never know, this is an assignment they (or anyone else for that matter) should never have boarded.
One of the most offending aspects of “On Stranger Tides” is the original score by Hans Zimmer. Having provided a grand and epic score for “At World’s End,” the only word suitable to describe this music is disaster. Not only is it mixed at excessively high and headache-inducing levels throughout the film, it is largely a copy-and-paste job from the previous three. The much publicised collaboration with guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela to illustrate the latin flair, amounts a minimal amount of score and is extremely uninteresting. Blackbeard’s theme is what one can freely term “Inception” while the only motif of interest for the mermaids borrows heavily from “Angels & Demons.” Zimmer’s application of themes is entirely nonsensical in its rationale. Why exactly is the theme for Beckett or the love theme for Will and Elizabeth present here is anyone’s guess. To top it off, the album presentation features under 30 minutes of score complemented with several (and all terrible) trance and dance remixes. If you thought the rubbish at the end of the “Dead Man’s Chest” album was bad, think again. Even Zimmer’s most hard-core fans have complained about this product. Run away, run away, run away!
Yes, “On Stranger Tides” is just another pointless sequel. Sadly, even the worst “Pirates” yet sets up another sequel at its end that will probably see another film or being made. The box-office reception (though bulged by 3D prices) would confirm the necessity for this to Disney. But really, it’s time to lament and reach for your “Curse of the Black Pearl” DVD.
Score in Film
Score on Album
What did you make of Captain Jack’s latest adventure? Please do leave a comment if you agree with my review or if you don’t. Also please follow me on Twitter and share the review with your friends. Thanks and all the best!
March 14, 2011
Action, Adventure, Epic/Historical, Fantasy, Film
3D, Alexa Davolas, Andromeda, Aphrodite, Armageddon, CGI, Clash of the Titans, Craig Armstrong, Crimson Tide, Elizabeth McGovern, Film, film music, Gemma Arterton, Greece, Hades, Hans Zimmer, Iron Man, Kraken, Liam Cunningham, Liam Neeson, Lord of the Rings, Louis Leterrier, Mads Mikkelsen, Massive Attack, Michael Bay, movies, Neil Davidge, Oscars, Perseus, Pete Postlethwaite, picture, Pirates of the Caribbean, poster, Ralph Fiennes, Ramin Djawadi, Ray Harryhausen, review, Sam Worthington, score, soundtrack, The Rock, The Transporter, Transformers, Warner Bros., Zeus
Just because we haven’t had enough of sequels and reboots already, Warner Brothers felt it necessary to push out a remake of the 1981 film of the same name into a spring season desperately lacking in good action material. Not that the original adaption of the Perseus myth was much good either, but it is fondly remembered by some for Ray Harryhausen’s quite excellent puppeteering effects. For the remake, the monsters of ancient Greece would be created in the computer, and Warners appointed director Louis Leterrier (The Transporter), assembled a cast with considerable talent and invested significant buck that included a late conversion to 3D to cash in on the post-Avatar hype. On arrival however, it quickly became apparent that the film would fail to fulfil even the lowest of expectations and come to represent the very worst that Hollywood has to offer. It is, to apply mythological rationale, a scourge of the underworld.
Perseus (Sam Worthington) is raised by the fishermen (Pete Postlethwaite and Elizabeth McGovern) who found him with his dead mother, unaware that he is in fact a Demigod, the son of Zeus himself (played by Liam Neeson). After they are killed, Perseus finds his way to the city of Argos, the population of which are angry with the endless squabbles of the Gods. Angry at loosing the humans’ love, Zeus sends Hades, God of the underworld (Ralph Fiennes) to threaten the city. If the king’s daughter Andromeda (Alexa Davalos), whose beauty has been compared to that of Aphrodite, is not sacrificed in three days, then Hades will unleash the most terrible beast he has created, the Kraken. After learning of his true lineage, Perseus leads a band of warriors that includes Mads Mikkelsen and Liam Cunningham to exploit a possible loophole in Hades’ plan and thus save the city. There’s a bunch of other stuff, but it doesn’t really matter because it’s all just an excuse to cue one battle and action sequence after the other. Forget such worn out things as plot twists, clever dialogue or, dare we imagine it, character development, “Clash of the Titans” doesn’t need brains, this is about brawn, sculpted abs and overblown action. In many ways it’s masquerading as “Transformers” with mini-skirts, steroids and scorpions but on examination, Michael Bay’s flicks are highly intellectual stuff compared to this.
Not only is the action exceptionally brainless, as it’s presented without any cohesive flow, construction or narrative, the film presents a mish-mash of bits taken from different (and often more accomplished) films: The scorpions and their masters bear resemblance to the Oliphaunts in “The Lord of the Rings” while several gags and of course the Kraken are blatantly borrowed from “Pirates of the Caribbean.” The Kraken may be a genuine feature of mythology but its implementation in the latter was infinitely more frightening than some of the shoddy CGI and green-screen work on show here. Furthermore, the film becomes an exercise in wasting as much acting talent as possible. Imagine the possibilities with two masters like Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes on screen as arch enemies Zeus and Hades. Similarly Sam Worthington, complete with buzz-cut and Australian accent delivers a performance that is so cold he may as well have been turned to stone by Medusa. Never, not once does he, or the screenplay for that matter, make any attempts at believable exposition. And Gemma Arterton’s Io is about as interesting as the lacklustre conversion into the third dimension. What, beyond the promise of a large cheque would force these actors to take on projects like this, is beyond comprehension. A disaster like “Clash of the Titans” simply isn’t worth wasting your time, because not only does it show disrespect for the original (a poor thing in any remake), it is in effect giving the finger to the viewer who was dumb enough to see it. After all, it made Warners over $150 million at the box office. There are dumb action pictures that are well made and entertaining, this is a dumb action picture that is badly made and the most unbelievable bore.
Originally set to score “Clash of the Titans,” was Scotsman Craig Armstrong who had worked with Leterrier before on “The Incredible Hulk,” and who was in desperate need of such a large-scale film to show off his talents. As is the way in Hollywood however, Armstrong’s music was rejected at the last minute, making way for yet another of Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control offspring. Ramin Djawadi and a team of ghostwriters provide a score that is just as cheap as the film, hammering out the same sound prevalent since “Crimson Tide” way back in 1995. Quite apart from the fact that the sound of electric guitars (a “collaboration” with Massive Attack’s Neil Davidge features) and synthesised bass has nothing whatsoever to do with ancient Greece, this music is just a cheap and botched repackaging of a familiar sound, more headache-inducing than everything that went before with the exception of Djawadi’s equally obnoxious “Iron Man.” There’s no point describing anything about it, you can listen to “The Rock,” “Armageddon,” “Transformers” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” and you won’t notice the difference.
To call “Clash of the Titans” poor fare is very much an understatement. You’ll be glad to know that sequels are already in the works so we’ll only have to suffer through the same again twice more. Somewhere in the film’s flabby middle, and in a small attempt to insert a witty line, Liam Cunningham is asked how old a certain creature might be. His reply: “I don’t care.” And neither will you.
I suggest you never see this film. If however you did happen to like it, please leave a comment and tell me why I’m wrong. Feel free to follow me on Twitter or share this review with your friends. Just hit the buttons below. Thanks and all the best!
January 19, 2011
Action, Adventure, Drama, Epic/Historical, Film
Acheron, Bach, Boccherini, Christopher Gordon, Film, film music, Gladiator, HMS Surprise, Iva Davies, Jack Aubrey, Jack Sparrow, Master and Commander, movies, Mozart, Oscars, Patrick O'Brian, Paul Bettany, Peter Weir, Picnic at Hanging Rock, picture, Pirates of the Caribbean, poster, review, Richard Tognetti, Russell Crowe, score, soundtrack, Stephen Maturin, The Far Side of the World, The Truman Show, Vaughan Williams
Released a mere three months after the other great sea-bound movie of 2003, “Master and Commander” could not be further in spirit, gravitas and demeanour from the swashbucklery and general nonsense of its cousin “Pirates of the Caribbean.” That is in all but the first name of their protagonists. Scallywags be warned, the world of Jack Aubrey and his adventures in the Napoleonic wars is gritty, dangerous and above all, deadly serious. And while Jack Sparrow instilled a genre long dead with a new, drunken swagger, director Peter Weir and actor Russell Crowe too were sailing into waters uncharted for decades, the high seas notorious for the storms they can wreak on filmmakers. But in reality, the adaptation of Patrick O’Brian’s popular novels provides the sort of material that both the director and star love to get their teeth into.
Combining plots and ideas from several O’Brian stories, “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” tells the story of “Lucky” Jack Aubrey (Crowe) and his crew of the HMS Surprise, playing a dangerous game of cat and mouse with French enemy vessel The Acheron, a ship with larger sails and more guns. Central to the plot is Aubrey’s relationship with the ship’s surgeon and amateur naturalist Stephen Maturin played by Paul Bettany. One a man of war, the other of science, their love for music connects them as their philosophies separate them. For Weir, always ready to take up challenging material – think of “Picnic at Hanging Rock” or “The Truman Show” – this duality in nature of the plot allows him to stage life on a 19th Century marine vessel in a manner of realism that has never been achieved on screen before. On the one hand, the thrills and deadly blasts of cannons, chase and sea battles, on the other, the monotony, strict routine and tragic deaths that regularly occurred. For Crowe, “Master and Commander” provides yet another opportunity to hone the sort of thinking-man action-hero skills he’s been polishing since “Gladiator.” An equally on-form Bettany makes a good compliment, trying to see some sense amongst the carnage.
It will be easy to approach “Master and Commander” with the wrong expectations and feel let down at its close. The sense of fun and daring adventure we have come to expect from similar picture has been all but sunk and the extended interludes between action pieces may well have you bored to death. At times it is hard to maintain interest and it becomes blindingly obvious that Bettany’s character is used repeatedly as a plot function simply to ask silly questions of the hierarchy aboard. That and to ask for explanations of the plethora of nautical terms scattered very liberally around the place. To dismiss the film on these grounds however would be to misunderstand the talents of Peter Weir and while the different elements don’t always gel, the film still provides very solid entertainment and reflection for its more patient viewers who will be duly rewarded. In any case the look of the picture, the cinematography, production design and visual effects are simply stunning and deservedly picked up an Oscar nomination or two.
To complement the large number of classical and traditional pieces of music featured live on screen as Crowe and Bettany play the violin and the cello respectively, three composers were hired to write original score, namely Iva Davies, Christopher Gordon and Richard Tognetti. How it took three composers to come up with such a small amount of score is beyond comprehension, however what the trio achieved is an unobtrusive score that fits exceptionally well around the source music. In the film the score goes mostly unnoticed but on album, combined with music by Bach, Mozart, Boccherini and Vaughan Wiliams, it is a highly enjoyable listen. The score highlight is the opening track “The Far Side of the World” but it is still placed in the shadow by the classical music which is what listeners will also recall from watching the film. For the score alone, this soundtrack is not recommendable.
How much you will enjoy “Master and Commander” will depend on how much longevity in drawn out sequences you are willing to tolerate. For a throwback to stirring entertainment of a more serious nature (as well as for fans of the books actually), it will represent over two hours of great filmmaking with Peter Weir stretching back to the glory of his 80s and 90s success. And even though it is possible to enjoy both films equally, for most of those swept away by the slick “Pirates,” this will represent the most unimaginable bore.
Music heard on Album
Do you prefer MAC or Pirates (let’s not get a MAC vs PC debate going here…)? Why not leave a comment with your thoughts? If you liked the review please share it with your friends on Face book and Twitter. Thanks and 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.