Search This Blog

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

John Williams -- Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

 photo 220px-Star_Wars_Episode_II_Attack_of_the_Clones_soundtrack_zps9d7f323b.jpg

As I mentioned in the intro article for this trio of prequel score reviews, while these three films can be a bit silly, directed by a guy whose skills in that department are suspect, the soundtracks were composed by a master. John Williams is the greatest film composer of all time and takes every project he signs onto seriously. However, on my first few listens to Williams' Attack of the Clones score, I did not see his master's touch. In fact, between the two soundtracks I purchased in 2002, I listened to Howard Shore's The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers score far more than this Attack of the Clones score by Williams. To my ears, Williams' work here just sounded like one theme ("Across the Stars," Anakin and Padme's love theme), surrounded by a bunch of nondescript action music in the vein of Temple of Doom, yet without that classic soundtrack's engaging multitude of motifs. I guessed that Williams, 70 then, must have been past his prime. Over the years, the soundtrack gathered dust on my shelf...until I pulled it out for these reviews. After listening to so much of Williams' work over these last few months, though, and being reminded of his incredible genius, I have approached these prequel soundtracks with an open mind, ready to listen without bias.
John Williams' soundtrack for Attack of the Clones is the most subtle and understated of all his work in the Star Wars universe. It also marks a unique spot amongst all the master's produced work, in that the cues are presented largely in the order they were heard in the film. As Williams hasn't really done this before or since, the choice must have been deliberate. Williams intended this chronological listening experience.
After the usual Star Wars titles, Williams introduces the film's most prominent sub theme, which I will simply refer to as the "Dark Mystery" theme. Attack of the Clones is unique among all six Star Wars films in that, until its final act, it exists as an investigation and a romance, rather than a series of chases and battles. Of course, generalizing is dangerous, as the film contains plenty of chases and battles, and the original trilogy had its share of romance, but of all the films, Attack of the Clones is most geared as I have stated. Thus, Williams introduces the film, post opening crawl, with his "Dark Mystery" theme which brings to mind the dark, rolling oceans the theme is often later associated with. This opening track is followed by the only major theme Williams has written for the film, "Across the Stars." While the romance happening onscreen is a bit awkward and forced, Williams stupendous love theme is not. It ranks among the composer's best work, classically romantic, epic, layered, dangerous. The theme goes through several instrumental permutations throughout the film, but is allowed to fully stretch its legs on this second track, and includes a delicate harp ending among the most beautiful of music Williams has ever composed. The track is followed by "Zam the Assassin and the Chase Through Coruscant," one of the longest pieces of music Williams has written, and which sets the tone in style for the rest of Attack of the Clone's action cues. There is no obvious theme throughout the cue's mostly frantic eleven minutes (it switches gears to quiet suspense for the final bit), though a frenetic trumpet motif is repeated several times throughout, threatening to appear a final time before crashing apart as a character's vehicle in the film does the same. This track breaks plenty of new ground for the then eighth decade-entering Williams. His use of percussion in this track is even more dominant than any of his work on The Lost World. Most shockingly, he utilizes electric guitar to invoke the confusion and chaos of the scene, and to add texture. This was a controversial move, but it works well within the piece.
After repeated listens, Williams' intentions with this cue become clear. While he actually does use a subtle motif (as mentioned above), he wants to carefully change the texture of the piece as it moves along, creating a cohesion of developing feelings, rather than a repeating musical pattern. He does the same on track five, "Departing Coruscant," which subtly revolves around a quiet motif before exploding into it at the end, then never using it again.
That's what I mean by understated. Outside of "Across the Stars," few melodies are repeated from scene to scene. Williams develops each piece carefully and meticulously, but each one is mostly self-contained. On repeat listens, one can tell why Williams did this, and why he sequenced the album chronologically. Each of these self-contained tracks subtly shifts in feeling from one to the next, from the dark mystery of the early tracks, to alternating the gentle romance music of Anakin and Padme with the darker, aggressive tones of Obi Wan and Jango Fett's showdowns, to the strange, alien textures of the album's third quarter, to the ending and reprise of "Across the Stars" across the eleven minute "Confrontation with Count Dooku and Finale." Thus, Williams work here as a suite producer is classical and excellent. He presents his main theme, develops it throughout the work, creates a constant changing flow of texture and emotion around it, then comes back for a grand, thorough, final exploration of it. This soundtrack has rewarded repeat listens like few others in my collection. It is indeed a mystery, but one that grows more satisfying as every aspect of it is further investigated. It has grown so much in my estimation, I may even be ready to say I enjoy it more than Howard Shore's work on The Two Towers (though it goes without saying (even though I am saying it now), that The Two Towers is a far superior film to Attack of the Clones). Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)'s mastery of depth, scope, sophistication, and continuous textural and emotional development prove Williams' age is not a detriment, but an asset. This is a great album.
And one final note...Williams shows remarkable restraint here in not repeating previous themes from the saga. "Duel of the Fates" and "The Robot Army Theme" from The Phantom Menace receive but brief mentions, and "Yoda's Theme" and "The Imperial March" appear only for short, appropriate moments, along with a few bursts of the Star Wars "Force Fanfare." Williams only uses these when he absolutely has to, which adds even more unique identity to this special score. Man, not rehashing old stuff unless you have to...somebody should take notes...

2002 Sony Classical
1. Star Wars Main Title and Ambush on Coruscant 3:46
2. Across the Stars (Love Theme from Attack of the Clones) 5:33
3. Zam the Assassin and the Chase Through Coruscant 11:07
4. Yoda and the Younglings 3:55
5. Departing Coruscant 1:44
6. Anakin and Padmé 3:57
7. Jango's Escape 3:48
8. The Meadow Picnic 4:14
9. Bounty Hunter's Pursuit 3:23
10. Return to Tatooine 6:57
11. The Tusken Camp and the Homestead 5:54
12. Love Pledge and the Arena 8:29
13. Confrontation with Count Dooku and Finale 10:45

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

John Williams -- Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

 photo 220px-The_Phantom_Menace_ost_zpsae02ef22.jpg

One time I wrote a really long comparison of the original and prequel Star Wars trilogies. I am not going to go deep into detail on that sort of thing now, except of course to say, duh, the original trilogy is better. John Williams was in his late 40's and early 50's when he composed the music for those original films. He was in his late 60's and early 70's when he composed the music for the prequel trilogy. Obviously, with the drop-off in the quality of the films, and Williams' advancing age, one would expect a similar drop-off in the prequel's musical score quality. That isn't the case, though, especially not here. Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) is a classic John Williams Soundtrack. Here's why:
Themes. It's what you want and expect from a Williams' soundtrack. He composes a remarkable, blood-pumping choral work, titled "Duel of the Fates," for the film's battle of light against darkness. He composes an absolutely heartbreaking and innocent theme for the child, Anakin Skywalker, all the while finding a way to call back to the previous trilogy, incorporating hints of Anakin's dark future. He similarly does interesting, but respectably minimal callbacks to the theme's of characters who pop up in both trilogies, such as Yoda or Jabba the Hutt. He creates a memorably mechanistic and militaristic theme for the droid army. He creates a light-hearted, but somehow not cloying theme for the bumbling (and nearly film-ruining) JarJar Binks. He creates a wistful, nostalgic, yet tentative theme for Anakin's mother (which is sadly underrepresented on this soundtrack). He also comes up with great cues that call back to his Indiana Jones days of giving each action scene its own distinct theme.
Atmosphere. Williams does an incredible job of creating a sense of mystery and wonder with this soundtrack. There's a childlike grace to this work, necessarily lacking in the other prequel scores--obviously this is due to the film's focus on a child, versus the petulant teenager of Episodes II and III.. Every time a new planet is visited, the score treats the moment as a major event, worthy of fanfare. Underwater settings receive more than suitable dark and aquatic rumblings. Preludes to lightsaber showdowns are scored with Japanese Samurai-film-like percussion work. Action scene music is fun and upbeat, yet epic. This sounds like a whole new galaxy, ready to be explored, and yet familiar all at once. Williams creates such a lush and diverse world here, one would think The Phantom Menace is an incredible film, even though it is one that leaves much to be desired. Perhaps Williams' was simply enthusiastic to be composing for Star Wars again. Whatever the case, the is a major, not a minor work in Williams celebrated discography.
Structure. The CD soundtrack also marks perhaps the best job Williams ever did at structuring one of his "concert-suite" style soundtracks. If you've missed references to this in my previous reviews, space limitations in the late 70's and early 80's forced Williams to find inventive ways to put out decent representations of his film scores. While he would often compose two full hours of music for the films he was working on, he would only have a 50-minute long vinyl LP to showcase it. This forced Williams to get creative, often having to splice together different movements to get the best work onto the record. He also included music unused in the films to create a better listening experience. As compact discs reached the mainstream, Williams often continued this practice, despite now having an additional 30 minutes of space with which to work. However, if Jurassic Park marked the nadir of Williams' album construction work, Episode I marks the absolute pinnacle. Williams really does create an excellent flow that represents almost all the best facets of his work for the film. In fact, here he actually bests a later released Special Edition of the soundtrack that includes most of the music from the film in order, as the chopped up versions of his cues from the film don't work as seamlessly as his concert suites do here. This may indeed mark the rare occasion where listening to a film's soundtrack album is a more enjoyable experience than watching the film itself. Of course, I need to make something clear here:
For as much vitriol as it has drawn in ensuing years, most viewers, myself included, highly enjoyed their first few theater viewings of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. It was new Star Wars after sixteen years of no new Star Wars. It was space battles and lightsaber fights after sixteen years of no space battles or lightsaber fights. It was Star Wars. I can guarantee, the first impression that led me to see The Phantom Menace five times in the theater was largely bolstered by Williams work.

How could you not wear a grin after listening to this?

1999 Sony Classical
1. Star Wars Main Title and The Arrival at Naboo 2:55
2. Duel of the Fates 4:14
3. Anakin's Theme 3:05
4. Jar Jar's Introduction and The Swim to Otoh Gunga 5:07
5. The Sith Spacecraft and The Droid Battle 2:37
6. The Trip to the Naboo Temple and The Audience with Boss Nass 4:07
7. The Arrival at Tatooine and The Flag Parade4:04
8. He Is the Chosen One 3:53
9. Anakin Defeats Sebulba 4:24
10. Passage Through the Planet Core 4:40
11. Watto's Deal and Kids at Play 4:57
12. Panaka and the Queen's Protectors 3:24
13. Queen Amidala and The Naboo Palace 4:51
14. The Droid Invasion and The Appearance of Darth Maul 5:14
15. Qui-Gon's Noble End 3:48
16. The High Council Meeting and Qui-Gon's Funeral 3:09
17. Augie's Great Municipal Band and End Credits 9:37

Monday, April 28, 2014

John Williams Composed the Music for The Star Wars Prequels

 photo lars_moisture_farm01_zps34863b3e.jpg
Between 1999-2005, George Lucas released three prequel films to the original Star Wars trilogy. They were underwhelming. Whatever their faults, though, the greatest film composer of all time, John Williams, composed their scores. They must have some value, right? I guess we'll see. Coming Tuesday through Thursday, the finale to this John Williams April Extravaganza: in-depth reviews of the three John Williams composed and produced Star Wars Prequel Soundtracks. Cool, humorous final sentence, giving the paragraph a sense of closure.

Friday, April 25, 2014

John WIlliams -- Saving Private Ryan (Music From the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

 photo Saving_Private_Ryan_-_The_Original_Motion_Picture_Soundtrack_zps688d09b0.jpg

Saving Private Ryan is not a typical John Williams soundtrack. Williams, Spielberg, and the production staff decided to leave the film's intense battle scenes score free. This increases their intensity and dramatic impact. Any amount of music would have been too much, over the top, and honestly, an insult to the men those scenes represented. However, this also left Williams to score only the more mundane aspects of the film...walking through fields, talking, eating. He does get to create the moving, ethereal "Hymn to the Fallen," which closes out the film, and which I know quite well for soundtracking a teenage Iwo Jima flag raising re-enactment for Veteran's Day I once had to participate in, and thanks a lot for making me do that, Mrs. Nancy. "Hymn to the Fallen" is more akin to Williams' Olympic Theme Work than any of the rest of his film work, but it fits Saving Private Ryan quite well. Its beautiful, haunting choral work and patriotic stirrings are evocative of all the emotions Saving Private Ryan attempts to stir.
"Hymn to the Fallen" appears twice, bookmarking Saving Private Ryan (Music From the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack), and essentially leaving the middle to be filled with incidental music. This is John Williams we are talking about, though, so this stuff isn't throwaway. Williams has created an appropriately weary theme for the soldiers moving on from a situation. Though it is the only real theme to speak of here, it is memorable and effective. Track two, "Revisiting Normandy," is gorgeous and heartbreaking, as a veteran walks through a graveyard populated by his compatriots. "High School Teacher" is the album's standout piece, backing arguably the film's emotional high point, as Tom Hanks' captain character breaks up a fight among his men by admitting his pre-soldier profession. The tracks also features the aforementioned "moving" theme, as well as an unsettling buildup to a firefight. These tracks and track three,"Omaha Beach," highlight dramatic moments, though. The five in the middle do not, and as such, they aren't very engaging--the sounds of walking and eating MRE's. As I've said, this is no fault of Williams. This was a conscious filmmaking decision, and I believe, the right one, but anyone expecting a whiz-bang score based on the title will be disappointed. For the rest of Williams' fans, though, the album's higpoints, featuring forlorn brass, distant martial drums, and achingly beautiful strings just might be enough. They are for me.

1998 Dreamworks
1. Hymn to the Fallen 6:10
2. Revisiting Normandy 4:05
3. Omaha Beach 9:15
4. Finding Private Ryan 4:37
5. Approaching The Enemy 4:30
6. Defense Preparations 5:54
7. Wade's Death 4:30
8. High School Teacher 11:02
9. The Last Battle 7:56
10. Hymn to the Fallen (Reprise) 6:10

Thursday, April 24, 2014

John Williams -- The Lost World: Jurassic Park (Original Motion Picture Score)

 photo Thelostworld-1-_zps578c7d3b.jpg

The Lost World: Jurassic Park is one of Steven Spielberg's worst films. I don't think this is a controversial statement. Outside of a few memorable images (A T-Rex head through a tent doorway, an overhead view of velociraptors cutting through a field at night) and the funniest jump cut Spielberg has ever done (a screaming woman to Jeff Goldblum's face), there are few reasons to watch. I can make a really awesome run-on sentence about all the reasons not to watch The Lost World, though. The film is joyless, it features ciphers in lieu of characters, including a complete regression of the Ian Malcom character (his chaotician personality is replaced by no personality), it fiercely misunderstands who the audience is actually rooting for (the hunter character is the only thing close to a character in the film, the only competent person on the island, and he saves everyone, but he is, apparently, the villain of the film because he wants to shoot an animal that has killed a couple dozen humans), it badly handles its heavy-handed pro-nature message, and it makes me hate Vince Vaughn. Also, somehow, a hundred grown men WITH MACHINE GUNS cannot take down ONE velociraptor in ANY Jurassic Park film, but an eleven year old girl can KILL one with GYMNASTICS in this movie.
Legendary film composer, John Williams, saw that Spielberg was obviously phoning in the film. Williams could have just decided to do the same, regurgitated his themes from the first movie(apparently what many people wanted), taken the paycheck, and gone home. But this is the guy who has admitted that he stays awake at night thinking about all the awards he has LOST. This is the guy who won't just take a paycheck. John Williams could have just taken his note sheets for Jurassic Park, scribbled a few changes, and handed them to his conductor. Instead, he said, "Screw it...somebody get me some drums!!! Now!!!" 
The Lost World: Jurassic Park is by far the most percussive, discordant score John Williams ever wrote. It is nowhere near his best, but it is fun, propulsive, and it keeps the listener's head-nodding. Williams went "full jungle" for this soundtrack, bringing in a very wide array of drums (I wasn't kidding, he literally said, "Somebody get me some drums. I mean, like, I want a whole bunch of drums, I'm being literal. Like every kind of drum you can get me, right now. Wait, you can't get me a bunch of drums? I wrote the soundtrack for Star Wars. If you don't get me some drums, I am going to compose the themes of your downfall, death, and funeral, and everyone will want to kill you so that they can hear them. DRUMS. NOW!") to match the film's dark, jungle setting. He replaces the original Jurassic Park theme (which can only be heard in brief, ghostly snippets) with something that could soundtrack a safari, and he replaces his original "danger theme" with brass and, as I think I may have mentioned, a whole lot of drums. Oh, yeah. It's tuba time.

So there are bonuses to being the big dumb jock soundtrack of John Williams' oeuvre. This album is nothing to be moved by, but if you enjoy mean, dirty, aggressive classical music, or if you just like drums and want to drive fast, The Lost World: Jurassic Park (Original Motion Picture Score) is the way to go.
Now, I think I'll go hit something.

1997 MCA
1. The Lost World 3:33
2. The Island Prologue 5:03
3. Malcolm's Journey 5:44
4. The Hunt 3:30
5. The Trek 5:23
6. Finding Camp Jurassic 3:03
7. Rescuing Sarah 4:01
8. Hammond's Plan 4:30
9. The Raptors Appear 3:43
10. The Compys Dine 5:07
11. The Stegosaurus 5:20
12. Ludlow's Demise 4:27
13. Visitor in San Diego 7:37
14. Finale and Jurassic Park Theme 7:54

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

John Williams -- Jurassic Park (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

 photo Jurassicpark-1-_zps6c187628.jpg

John Williams' early 90's output is pretty underrated. I didn't review the soundtracks for Home Alone, Hook, JFK, or Schindler's List (four very different films) because I do not own them, but from simply watching those films, I know Williams did great work for them. Maybe I'm the one who underrates that period of his career. That really has nothing to do with this review, I just thought I should mention those scores...
anyway, Jurassic Park features one of the most beloved film scores of all time, and the only Williams soundtrack from that era that I do own. As a burgeoning musician in middle school, the Jurassic Park theme was the first music I ever figured out how to play by ear. This music means a lot to me as it does most people who spent any of their teenage years in the 90's. The soundtrack was one of the first CD's I purchased, and, as I had only a Walkman (portable cassette player) and no fancy Discman (portable CD player), I recorded the CD to cassette and listened to it on my bus rides to and from school. When I'd get home, I'd throw the CD onto my amazing 30-watts per channel CD player. I listened to this music a lot, but re-listening for this review series, I am reminded of something: redundancy.
Despite the fact that he is the greatest film composer to ever live, John Williams as an album producer sometimes leaves something wanting. Most film soundtrack fans, myself included, prefer a high quality, complete, chronological soundtrack album. If you'll notice, throughout this series of John Williams reviews, I've written about later special edition re-releases much more so than originals. These re-releases feature more of the music, at a higher quality, and in the logical emotional order the music progressed in the film it backed. As I've just said, this is what most soundtrack fans prefer, or at least, it's what I prefer.
This is not what one gets from a new John Williams release, though. John Williams likes to attempt to create a new listening experience with his soundtracks, altering the track order to achieve a new emotional flow, including music and takes that were not included in the respective film they were recorded for instead of what appeared (actually, in the past, Williams had a good reason to do this, but I'll get into that in the Episode I review. Yep, I'm gonna review the prequel soundtracks). Generally, after a few decades, the soundtracks get re-released as I and other fans want them to be. Twenty-one years after its original release, this has still not happened for Jurassic Park.
What we get here are FOUR nearly identical representations of the Jurassic Park theme, covering twenty-four minutes of the CD's run time. The final track, "End Credits," isn't even the music from the film's end credits. That music can actually be found on track seven, "Welcome to Jurassic Park," which abruptly breaks the flow of the album. It gives closure when nine tracks remain, and track four, "Journey to the Island," has already covered nearly every idea found on it...only three tracks before. These same themes are also heard three tracks before that, on "Theme from Jurassic Park." So much is repeated, so much is left off of the soundtrack, and so much momentum is killed, all of which could have been easily remedied by cutting tracks two and sixteen, and moving track seven to the end. I get that I am nerding out here, but for a fan of this film's music, this soundtrack is quite  frustrating. Still...
The Jurassic Park theme is one of the most joyous and rapturous that Williams ever composed. It's dual nature--the adventurous arrival section, and then the beauty of the "seeing the dinosaurs for the first time" section--is so flawless, only Williams' impeccable work THE SAME YEAR on Schlinder's List could beat it out for on Oscar. Williams' string and synthesizer "horror theme" for the terrifying Velociraptors breaks new ground in the art of soundtracking, while giving a healthy nod to Bernard Herrmann, the master of the past. Williams' whimsical, comforting Brachiosaurus theme puts the 85-foot long reptile in one's living room.
So, while the music found in the film creates an identity sorely lacking on this album, the album still features some absolutely incredible music. I just hope one day we get the real deal.
Also, since I've been a snob this whole review, the book was better.
It was an early 90's pre-teen's dream.

1993 MCA
1. Opening Titles 0:33
2. Theme from Jurassic Park 3:27
3. Incident at Isla Nublar 5:20
4. Journey to the Island 8:52
5. The Raptor Attack 2:49
6. Hatching Baby Raptor 3:20
7. Welcome to Jurassic Park 7:54
8. My Friend, the Brachiosaurus 4:16
9. Dennis Steals the Embryo 4:55
10. A Tree for My Bed 2:12
11. High-Wire Stunts 4:08
12. Remembering Petticoat Lane 2:48
13. Jurassic Park Gate 2:03
14. Eye to Eye 6:32
15. T-Rex Rescue and Finale 7:39
16. End Credits 3:26

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

John Williams -- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

 photo 51P9CTQwXzL_SY300__zps1d13b254.jpg 

No matter what life threw at my family, my dad always made sure we had a giant satellite dish in our yard. I don't know why we always had this (until high school, when it became antiquated, and we had neither the money to tear it down nor to acquire its technological equivalent), but we did, and it was as great as it was strange. My favorite element of the elephant-sized dish was easily the fact that we picked up feed channels which featured broadcasts of films and TV shows well before they aired or became available on home video. I watched many episodes of The Wonder Years and Star Trek: The Next Generation days before they aired on network television. I also saw Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade just a couple of months after it was released in theaters. Yes, 1989 was a glorious year, and by the end of that summer, I had watched my taped off TV copy of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade 57 times before losing count. By the age of ten, I had not only memorized the film's dialogue, but its sound effects and music. With all of that said, I can objectively say that John William's Last Crusade score, while still great, is the weakest of the original Indiana Jones Trilogy.
After the darkly intense Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, filmmakers Steven Spielberg and George Lucas aimed to end the trilogy with a more light-hearted, humorous entry. As the duo were also nearly a decade older than they were when the trilogy began, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is a more loose, relaxed, and reflective film than its predecessors. While this makes for an enjoyable and satisfying conclusion to the most famous of all fictional archeologists' adventures, it also makes for a slightly less engaging soundtrack.
Outside of the opening track and its track two conclusion, there are no long, continuous action takes. Williams adds more contemporary classical touches than any other soundtracks of his I can remember, particularly in "The Austrian Way" and "No Ticket," which feature some humorous bassoon playing.
This is still an excellent John Williams score, though, and as such, it contains many memorable, well-composed themes. As Last Crusade deals with the acceptance of aging, along with making peace with one's father, Williams composes a theme for the Indiana Jones and Henry Jones, Sr. relationship that complements his theme for the film's Macguffin, the Holy Grail. The Holy Grail actually transcends the simple concept of a Macguffin, as it represents letting go of youth, making peace with the one who sired you, and aging gracefully (It is also the only of the original "Macguffin's" Jones does not recover by the end of its respective film). The regal, stately, and comforting compositions Williams comes up with, as usual, do as much to perpetrate these intended emotions and feelings as the work done by the filmmakers. Williams also composes a nice Spanish-inspired theme for the opening title object of acquistion, the Cross of Coronado (found in the two opening tracks), a fun, swiftly moving theme for the Jones duo on the run, found primarily in "Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra," as well as a menacing, march-like track for the film's Nazi villains, heard throughout the second and third quarter of the album. Finally, Williams also does a great job of creating a trek-like feeling with his work here, as the final tracks convey that these characters have not only reached the end of their journey, but the very summit of the unknown. "The Canyon of the Crescent Moon," heard just before the film's protagonists reach their final destination, contains a short, unnerving, otherworldly flute solo that marks my favorite moment of the score.
Williams major themes all come together quite satisfyingly in "Finale and End Credits," as Jones, his father, and their friends ride triumphantly off into the sunset, a fitting conclusion for an excellent trilogy of films, and a great sendoff for a character on his last adventure ever, because they definitely never, ever made another Indiana Jones film after this one.*

NOTE: This is a review of the 2008 Concord Records re-release of the soundtrack, not the inferior 1989 release, which contains less music, and at a lower sound quality (and was also one of the first CD's I ever bought). Both versions contain the track "Keeping Up With the Joneses," only seconds of which appear in the film, as it was deemed an unacceptable accompaniment.  It is easily some of Williams' weakest work, and I don't understand why it was included here, as twenty minutes of the score actually heard during the film was left off due to running time. Also, I don't understand why "Scherzo for Motorcycle Orchestra" precedes "The Austrian Way," as the order they are heard is reversed in the film, and the rest of this release is in chronological order.

* Of course, "they" did make another Indiana Jones film, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which was maligned to the same degree as George Lucas' Star Wars prequels. While I do not own the Crystal Skull soundtrack and will thus not review it (I do own the Star Wars prequel soundtracks, and will review those in the coming week), I am planning on doing a re-watch and written re-evaluation of Crystal Skull in the coming months. Six years should be enough time to be objective. Also, all four films mentioned in the italics addendum received positive accolades from critics at the time of their release, so when I say "maligned," I obviously mean by the fans. By the fans, I mean people who have seen the original films more than 57 times.*

1989/2008 Concord Records
1. Indy's Very First Adventure 12:00
2. The Boat Scene 2:23
3. X Marks the Spot 3:12
4. Ah, Rats!!! 3:40
5. Escape from Venice 4:22
6. Journey to Austria 0:38
7. Father and Son Reunited 1:49
8. The Austrian Way 2:40
9. Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra 3:53
10. Alarm! 3:06
11. No Ticket 2:45
12. Keeping Up With the Joneses 3:37
13. Brother of the Cruciform Sword 1:57
14. On the Tank 3:38
15. Belly of the Steel Beast 5:29
16. The Canyon of the Crescent Moon 4:17
17. The Penitent Man Will Pass 3:24
18. The Keeper of the Grail 3:24
19. Finale & End Credits 10:40

Sunday, April 20, 2014

He Is Risen

So I watched The Passion of the Christ last night for the first time in a decade. In 2005 (The Nicsperiment is old enough to wear deodorant), I explored my opinion of that film in a comparison to the film, Godspell. To sum up the feelings of that post, I essentially said "Yay, Godspell" and "Boo, Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ." I would like to reverse that opinion. In the ten years since my initial viewing of The Passion of the Christ, I have experienced quite a bit of joy and surprise, but also more pain, loneliness, and depression than I ever thought possible. Thus, a film about a bunch of hippies dancing around New York City doesn't appeal to me like it used to. However, during last night's viewing of The Passion of the Christ, around five minutes in, I began to cry, and I continued to do so well into the end credits. I believe that I allowed the 2004 furor around the film effect my initial viewing. I felt numb as I watched in 2004 because I had been told by people who's opinions I thought were important that the film was simply a celebration of violence. Watching in 2014, with ten additional years of life experience, a son of my own, and no echo chamber influencing my opinion, I found The Passion of the Christ to be profoundly moving, or, to quote Sean Connery at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, "I found Illumination."
I don't think this is the kind of film that one should be forced to watch so that they can "see what Jesus did for you so you can feel bad about yourself." I think that is ridiculous, and honestly, I felt that opinion from certain individuals around me, which in turn negatively affected my viewing. This is not the type of film to watch Christ as some sort of other "who did a bunch of stuff for you, and you should appreciate it, you lazy bum." This is a film that displays Christ as a human who suffered, not as some unidentifiable alien, but as one of us--as we do.
One of my favorite films, Ingmar Bergman's Winter Light, highlights the most heartbreaking elements of The Passion of the Christ. Winter Light deals with a pastor who is experiencing a crisis of faith. In the film's final minutes (an hour and twelve minutes into the entire film, which I have posted below), when it appears that the pastor's soon to begin sermon will be unattended, the pastor's crippled assistant has a brief talk with him. The assistant reveals that he has been reading the Gospels, and that, while he thinks Christ's physical suffering had to have been a terrible burden, he finds it to be barely greater than his own. Instead, he finds far more awful, the emotional torment that Christ suffers. Jesus' friends cannot stay awake with him in his time of need, they have little understanding of all he has told them, and they abandon him to death. He receives abuse and rebuke from the same people who welcomed him as a king, only days before. But most gruesomely, before his final moments, as he is dying on the cross, Jesus cries out to God, "Father, Father, why have you forsaken me?" My goodness gracious, how many times have I felt this way in this last decade? A hundred times? A thousand? And yet, every time I think He has, I experience a resurrection. Christ felt the same thing. He felt abandoned by God, just as we do. The Passion of the Christ shows Jesus' skin flayed off, but it also shows his heart and spirit broken. In this way, I feel that Gibson's film allows us to see both sides of Christ's pain, and allows us to see his humanity in a fashion never before seen in cinema.
So no offense to the dancing hippies, or to Victor Garber, one of the greatest actors in Hollywood, but in my humble opinion, The Passion of the Christ is the greatest film about Jesus ever made, even as it only portrays the final days of Jesus' life. It paints the full picture of Christ's love and connection to us, and for the last couple of days, it has been a revelation to me.
He is risen.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

John WIlliams -- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

 photo MI0001187694_zpse9dc5fdf.jpg

When I was a kid, I had another name for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. That name was "The One I Can't Watch." For some reason, my mom had a problem with a seven-year old viewing human sacrifice, ten year olds knife-fighting, and a guy ripping out another dude's heart with his bare hand. She would allow me to watch Indy and his allies' adventures until they made it to the antechamber before the titular Temple. As soon as the far off sound of chanting whispered through the TV speakers, the TV went off. She'd turn it on an hour later, just as Indy and his crew were bursting out of the temple caves to a sunny, precarious cliffside. I didn't see that middle chunk of the film until the eighth grade. By that point, I had nearly forgotten about Temple of Doom, despite the fact that I had seen its siblings many, many times. Instead, it was out of sight, out of mind, until a late-night cable airing. I noticed the movie was on, thought, oh yeah, I've never seen this whole thing, and watched it to my heart's content. I then immediately purchased it on VHS and watched it again and again and again to make up for lost time. I watched it so many times, I created a ritual where when I did, I turned off every light, except a desk-lamp that I made at 4-H camp out of a Pepsi can, which I placed on the floor next to me, underneath an inverted laundry basket. I was an exceptional child.
Anyway, while Temple of Doom is usually regarded as both the wildest and weakest of the original Indiana Jones trilogy, I tend to side closer to Roger Ebert's view of the film (though I wouldn't quite give it a four-star rating, as he does.) Spielberg and Lucas were both recovering from the end of long-term romantic relationships when they made the film, and their "I hate everybody right now, but I'm still at the top of my Saturday-serial game" attitudes are palpable. Every set piece is ingeniously and breathlessly executed, and this film contains a looooooot of set-pieces. Speaking of sets, the set-design is unmatched. On top of that, the special effects are superb, the villain is excellent, the settings are exotic and exciting, and Harrison Ford embodies the role of the globetrotting archaeologist as well as he ever has. Temple of Doom might not be as perfect as Raiders of the Lost Ark, as absolutely no action-adventure film is as perfect as Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it is an incredibly fun and entertaining film, even if it has the mean streak of a crocodile-loaded river mile. It even edges out Raiders of the Lost Ark in one category: its John Williams composed film score.
Yes, I just said that Temple of Doom features a better soundtrack than Raiders of the Lost Ark. Get out the stones, I guess. Raiders of the Lost Ark's score is flawless, but Temple of Doom's score is not only flawless, but bigger and better than Raiders. While Spielberg and Lucas set out to not repeat the same film twice, Williams set out to write even better music. He begins with Indiana Jones' classic "Raiders March" as a foundation, then rolls out theme after memorable theme until the end credits roll.
Everything gets a theme in this film.
A wall of water featured in the film for under two minutes? You get your own distinct theme! British Soldiers who pop up to save the day for about 90-seconds of screen time? You get your own theme! None of this would matter if Williams music wasn't so magnificently evocative. He puts the listener in a 1930's Chinese Nightclub, on the seedy streets of Shanghai, in the air over the Himalayas, in the steamy jungles of India, in a luxurious but unnerving hilltop palace, in cramped, bug-infested caves, into the ninth circle of hell, though the mine-shaft out of it, to a rope bridge between life and death, to a sheer cliff side above the river Styx, to escape and freedom. Through these evocations, Williams creates three new major themes that are repeated with variation throughout the film (NUMBERS!!!): 1) An exotic, percussive, and lively theme for the titular temple, which brings to mind children rising up out of chains. 2) A swooning theme for Indy's love-interest, who is often criticized for being far less tough and often more terrified than Marion from the first Indiana Jones film. After showing the original Indiana Jones trilogy to my wife, I asked her which film was her favorite. She said Temple of Doom by a mile because "the girl in that one actually acted like a girl." My wife is not a fan of the outdoors. 3)An Asian-inspired, childlike, but adventurous theme for Indy's young sidekick "Short Round." (NUMBERS END :(). Around these major themes, Williams weaves loads of the equally memorable minor ones I referenced above. Anything on the screen for more than thirty seconds, and every one of the film's numerous action beats gets its own theme. Williams also uses more choral work to score Temple of Doom than perhaps any other soundtrack he has composed (excluding Close Encounters of the Third Kind), and to great effect. The resultant work is staggering. That Williams could create such an imaginative, expansive score for a film some regard as merely trifling is yet more proof of his creative genius. As it stands, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is one of the finest film scores all time.

NOTE: This is a review of Concord Records' near complete 2008 re-release of Temple of Doom's score, NOT the 1984 release, which omits most of this music. Also, to nitpick something I gave a perfect score to, I can't understand why the percussive rope-bridge scene music has yet to be released. The few major cues left off of this 2008 release can be found on a bonus disc if one buy's Concord's box set of the entire trilogy score, but that particular cue is still missing. Make it happen, somebody!

1984/2008 Concord Records
1. Anything Goes (performed by Kate Capshaw) 2:51
2. Indy Negotiates 3:59
3. The Nightclub Brawl 2:32
4. Fast Streets of Shanghai 3:39
5. Map/Out of Fuel 3:22
6. Slalom on Mt. Humol 2:24
7. Short Round's Theme 2:29
8. The Scroll/To Pankot Palace 4:26
9. Nocturnal Activities 5:54
10. Bug Tunnel/Death Trap 3:31
11. Approaching the Stones* 2:39
12. Children in Chains 2:42
13. The Temple of Doom 2:58
14. Short Round Escapes 2:22
15. Saving Willie* 3:35
16. Slave Children's Crusade 3:23
17. Short Round Helps 4:49
18. The Mine Car Chase 3:41
19. Water! 1:55
20. The Sword Trick 1:05
21. The Broken Bridge/British Relief 4:47
22. End Credits 6:19

Thursday, April 17, 2014

John Williams -- Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack(Special Edition)

 photo Return_of_the_jedi_soundtrack_zps22eea06e.jpg

I don't think I am being controversial when I say that Return of the Jedi is the weakest film in the original Star Wars trilogy.  The entire first act has nothing to do with the rest of the film. The first act itself is essentially the same scenario repeated three times--character visits Jabba's Palace to rescue Han Solo/character fails--until every character is captured, and Jabba is defeated. The final two-thirds of the film is essentially a big-budget re-make of the end of the first Star Wars film, with the addition of a ground battle. Return of the Jedi marks the moment George Lucas went to the dark side, traded profit for art, became cynical about his audience...but don't take my word for it, here's what the guy who is essentially responsible for 50% of the first two films says. Thankfully, even with these faults, Return of the Jedi is immensely enjoyable to watch, thanks to the direction, special effects, the Luke Skywalker/Darth Vader/Emperor storyline, the chemistry between the now well-established characters, and the once again classic musical score by John Williams.
While Return of the Jedi's soundtrack is excellent, it suffers a little in comparison to its predecessors because of the flaws inherent in the film it backs. Williams is forced to repeat himself a bit, as said above, the same thing happens in the first third of the film three times. This is also essentially book-ended by the same scene, as Williams has to score Darth Vader arriving at the Death Star, then the Emperor later arriving at the Death Star in a nearly identical scene. Thankfully, his theme for the Emperor is archetypeally terrifying. Williams' more sinister music in this film is some of his best work, as any time he announces a scene on the Death Star, he invokes feelings of infinite, oncoming darkness. By the same token, his new major theme here, "Luke and Leia," counters those feelings with great hope for the future--in fact, I'm willing to say the epic hope this theme conjures is at least partly responsible for the insanely expanded Expanded Star Wars Universe. Who would want to let go of it after hearing that?
Let's clear out all of the negatives now, though. Disc one includes "Jedi Rocks," a song written especially for the Special Edition of the film, and not something anyone will ever want to listen to. Disc two includes John Williams' new film-closing music "Victory Celebration," which I think is lovely, though most hold it in disdain. It takes the place of "Yub Nub," that goofy Ewok song that pretty much everyone liked, in spite of its silliness. I have to admit, this is one of the few "Special Edition" changes to the film I actually enjoy. I don't see how anyone could argue that "Yub Nub" is a better song than "Victory Celebration." This statement is blasphemy for some, and though I love the weirdness of "Yub Nub" as much as anyone, I'll stand behind it. Also, the soundtrack is a little overstuffed.
There, now that I got that out of the way...Return of the Jedi's soundtrack album has the couple positives I've listed above, and many, many more. Williams did a great job of culminating all the work he had done over the six year period in which the films were released. The changes in characters' themes are fitting and satisfying. The action beats are thrilling. The music, like all of Williams' best work, is timeless. Even the weird synthesizer he throws in near the beginning exists apart from the endless flow. One can also hear shades of where Williams would take the brass a few months later with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Overall, the whole here is deeper than I can measure. The water is just a little lukewarm.
This review is bipolar, and that Star Wars pun I just made was terrible.

1983,1997 Sony Classical
Disc One
1. 20th Century-Fox Fanfare 0:22
2. Main Title: Approaching the Death Star/Tatooine Rendezvous 9:21
3. The Droids Are Captured 1:17
4. Bounty for a Wookee 2:50
5. Han Solo Returns 4:01
6. Luke Confronts Jabba/Den of the Rancor/Sarlacc Sentence 8:51
7. The Pit of Carkoon/Sail Barge Assault 6:02
8. The Emperor Arrives/The Death of Yoda/Obi-Wan's Revelation 10:58
9. Alliance Assembly 2:13
10. Shuttle Tydirium Approaches Endor 4:09
11. Speeder Bike Chase/Land of the Ewoks 9:38
12. The Levitation/Threepio's Bedtime Story 2:46
13. Jabba's Baroque Recital 3:09
14. Jedi Rocks 2:42
15. Sail Barge Assault 5:04

Disc Two
1. Parade of the Ewoks 3:28
2. Luke and Leia 4:46
3. Brother and Sister/Father and Son/The Fleet Enters Hyperspace/Heroic Ewok 10:40
4. Emperor's Throne Room 3:26
5. The Battle of Endor I: Into the Trap/Forest Ambush/Scout Walker Scramble/The Prime Weapon Fires 11:50
6. The Lightsaber/The Ewok Battle 4:31
7. The Battle of Endor II: Leia Is Wounded/The Duel Begins/Overtaking The Bunker/The Dark Side Beckons/The Emperor's Death 10:03
8. The Battle of Endor III: Superstructure Chase/Darth Vader's Death/The Main Reactor 6:04
9. Leia's News/Light of the Force 3:24
10. Victory Celebration/End Title 8:34
11. Ewok Feast/Part of the Tribe 4:02
12. Forest Battle (Concert Suite) 4:05

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

John Williams -- Raiders of the Lost Ark (Expanded Edition Soundtrack)

 photo ROTLA_soundtrack_2_zps272e2901.jpg 

Like any kid born in the late 70's and early 80's, I watched Raiders of the Lost Ark approximately 500 times. During my 20's, I had the opportunity to see a midnight showing of Raiders of the Lost Ark in the theater, and I possibly enjoyed it then even more than I did when I was eight. Hearing John Williams score for the film pumping out of the theater's surround sound speakers may have been the biggest thrill of all. Williams' Raiders of the Lost Ark score came at a time where he could  do absolutely no wrong, immediately following, Jaws, Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jaws II (Williams' score and Roy Scheider's PTSD-inspired performance almost make that film worth watching), Superman: The Movie, and The Empire Strikes Back. Raiders' soundtrack also directly precedes Williams' score for E.T. In other words, Williams' is either an alien, or the most talented composer who has ever lived (not slighting Bernard Herrmann, a fellow space alien). Raiders of the Lost Ark ranks among the multitude of Williams' best work.
Raiders' soundtrack is best known for being evocatively globetrotting, and for the distinctive nature of its themes (Indy's heroic "Raiders March," "The Medallion"'s mysterious energy, the lush, seductive "Marion's Theme," and the horrific majesty of "The Miracle of the Ark."). While all of that stuff is great, the skill with which Williams backs Raiders' cavalcade of action beats is the score's underrated treasure. My personal favorite is "Desert Chase," which highlights my favorite aspect of the Indiana Jones character: his vulnerability. In this scene, Jones goes from foot, to horseback, to truckback, to in the truck, to out the truck, to under the truck, to behind the truck, to on and in the truck again. In the meantime, he takes a beating and a bullet. Through it all, he seems to be in real danger, when he gets hurt, he seems to have really gotten hurt, and when he is victorious, he seems to have really earned it. While Harrison Ford's performance and Steven Spielberg's direction cannot at all be discounted(they are, as they should be, legendary), the scene would not be as thrilling, or hold quite the timeless power, without the music of John Williams.

NOTE: This is a review of the 1995 DCC Compact Classics release of Raiders of the Lost Ark's soundtrack. It was released again in 2008 by Concord Records. The 2008 release includes a few minutes of music not included in this 1995 edition, but it also trims "Desert Chase" by nearly a minute. As noted in the review, "Desert Chase" is my favorite cue in the film, and thus, the DCC release is my edition of choice, and the one reviewed here.

1981/1995 DCC Compact Classics, Inc.
1. The Raiders March 2:50
2. Main Title: South America, 1936 4:10
3. In the Idol's Temple 5:26
4. Flight from Peru 2:20
5. Journey to Nepal 2:11
6. The Medallion 2:55
7. To Cairo 1:29
8. The Basket Game 5:04
9. The Map Room: Dawn 3:52
10. Reunion and the Dig Begins 4:10
11. The Well of the Souls 5:28
12. Airplane Fight 4:37
13. Desert Chase 8:15
14. Marion's Theme 2:08
15. The German Sub/To the Nazi Hideout 4:32
16. Ark Trek 1:33
17. The Miracle of the Ark 6:05
18. The Warehouse 0:56
19. End Credits 5:20

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

John Williams -- Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack(Special Edition))

 photo SW2_zpsc55a7f06.jpg

The Empire Strikes Back, the second film in the Original Star Wars Trilogy, is deep and dark, more nuanced and sophisticated than its predecessor. Its soundtrack follows suit.
The music of The Empire Strikes Back is less bombastic and brassy than A New Hope's soundtrack, though it includes "The Imperial March" and "The Asteroid Field," two of the series' most aggressive tracks. These louder works are more percussive than the brass-driven rhythms of A New Hope, actually dating the album less (though as I mentioned in its review, A New Hope's datedness is timeless). The Empire Strikes Back's score is also more enveloping and atmospheric than victorious and swashbuckling. This is fitting for a film whose climax is a hair's breadth's escape, as opposed to a cathartic explosion.
Frankly, Williams score for The Empire Strikes Back does more world-building for the entire Star Wars universe than almost any element found in any of the six films. He invokes light and darkness so corporeally that The Empire Strikes Back would be just as effective as a silent film. I don't want to downplay the film's direction, set design, cinematography, special effects, script, and acting, but John Williams' work is irreplaceable. "Yoda's Theme" clearly draws the character's gentle whimsy and wisdom and personality traits. Darth Vader's "Imperial March" is even more menacing than the mask he wears. Luke's themes are just as heroic as his deeds. "Han Solo and the Princess"'s theme is just as satisfying a payoff to their cracking banter as their eventual kiss. Perhaps the most incredible mark of this all-time classic film score is Williams' ability to keep the music constantly flowing, all the while changing in tone and emotion. The fifteen minute "The Battle of Hoth..." is as representative of the whole and as good an argument as any that Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is the greatest recorded film score of all time.

NOTE: This is a review of the 1997 re-issue, which contains of all the film's music, presented chronologically. Before this 1997 re-mastered edition, large portions of this music had never been released.

1980, 1997 Sony Classical
Disc One
1. 20th Century Fox Fanfare 0:22
2 Main Title/The Ice Planet Hoth 8:08
3 The Wampa's Lair/Vision of Obi-Wan/SnowSpeeders Take Flight 8:48
4 The Imperial Probe/Aboard the Executor 4:24
5 The Battle of Hoth: Ion Cannon/Imperial Walkers/Beneath the ... 14:48
6 The Asteroid Field 4:15
7 Arrival of Dagobah 4:52
8 Luke's Nocturnal Visitor 2:35
9 Han Solo and the Princess 3:26
10 Jedi Master Revealed/Mynock Cave 5:43
11 The Training of a Jedi Knight/The Magic Tree 5:15

Disc Two
1 The Imperial March (Darth Vader's Theme) 3:03
2 Yoda's Theme 3:29
3 Attacking a Star Destroyer a 3:04
4 Yoda and the Force 4:02
5 Imperial Starfleet Depyoed/City in the Clouds 6:03
6 Lando's Palace a 3:53
7 Betrayal at Bespin 3:46
8 Deal With the Dark Lord 2:36
9 Carbon Freeze/Darth Vader's Trap/Departure of Boba Fett 11:50
10 The Clash of Lightsabers 4:17
11 Rescue from Cloud City/Hyperspace 9:08
12 The Rebel Fleet/End Title 6:27

Monday, April 14, 2014

John Williams -- Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

 photo Close_Encounters_soundtrack_zps91cb5e3e.jpg

Here comes a sentence heavy on prepositions. I first watched Close Encounters of the Third Kind alone at 3 am on TBS on a Friday night some time in high school. I didn't need sleep back then, and thanks to cable TV, I dosed heavily on the classics. As far as the current conversation, Close Encounters has been a bit of a forgotten masterpiece as of late, though it is easily one of the most magical films ever released (even if the director himself now finds the ending to be a bit irresponsible). As for John Williams' soundtrack, it is unique among his work. To describe why, I'll make this unique among my reviews, with an abstract, word association description: Primal fear, haunting, alien choirs, psychological, horrific, experimental, alien, terrifying, wonder, beauty, foreign, mysterious, sugar high, comforting, when you wish upon a star, hector berlioz, jaws, moving on to the next plane, the next step in humanity, images that can only be described with music, rapturous, the unmeasurably deep choirs of the universe.

1977 Arista
1. Main Title And Mountain Visions 3:22
2. Nocturnal Pursuit 2:34
3. The Abduction Of Barry 4:32
4. I Can't Believe It's Real 3:15
5. Climbing Devil's Tower 2:10
6. The Arrival Of Sky Harbor 4:31
7. Night Seige 6:22
8. The Conversation 2:21
9. The Appearance Of The Visitors 4:49
10. Resolution And End Title 6:50

Friday, April 11, 2014

John Williams -- Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (Orignal Motion Picture Soundtrack (Special Edition Re-Issue)

 photo 51wr-5RxkuL_zps94d6e502.jpg 

At the time of this writing, it has been two months since I have written a music review. That might alter the tone of this writing, but I'm not sure it matters here--I am reviewing music that has been in my head for over three decades.
At the start of 1997, when this soundtrack was re-issued, Star Wars was referred to by some as the "Holy Trilogy." Star Wars was a series of films beloved by hundreds of millions. Its universe had recently been expanded by an excellent trilogy of follow-up books by Timothy Zahn (among others), and fan goodwill was at an all-time high. Then, suddenly, Han didn't shoot first. Then the prequels disappointed. Then a CGI movie and ensuing mini-series clouded and overexposed the Star Wars world even more. The once-beloved franchise's fanbase, myself included, became ambivalent. None of any of that crap matters when one listens to Star Wars: A New Hope (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack).
If you want the magic back, just listen to the John Williams' Star Wars Soundtrack Re-Issues. They are the one thing about Star Wars that (with two minor exceptions) hasn't changed. These re-issues were lovingly compiled and feature a ton of music that, before 1997, had never been released. A New know what, screw that, this movie isn't called Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. When I was a kid, it was just called Star Wars. Anyway, Star Wars' soundtrack is brassier and a bit wilder than that of the films to follow. While it may lack the more sophisticated, deeper tones of The Empire Strikes Back's score, it is more fun(I didn't say "better." I said "more fun."). Star Wars' soundtrack is also more a product of its time than any of the other original films' soundtracks, but the late seventies vibes do nothing to detract from its timelessness. John Williams work evokes classic film music, the Saturday morning serials that inspired Star Wars in the first place, and yet creates an entirely new cinematic language.
So no more complaining about who shot first. On the soundtrack, Han always shoots first.

1977, 1997 Sony Classical
Disc One
1. 20th Century Fox Fanfare (Alfred Newman (1954)) 0:22
2. Main Title/Rebel Blockade Runner (Medley) 2:14
3. Imperial Attack 6:42
4. The Dune Sea of Tatooine/Jawa Sandcrawler (Medley) 5:01
5. The Moisture Farm 2:25
6. The Hologram/Binary Sunset (Medley) 4:08
7. Landspeeder Search/Attack of the Sand People (Medley) 3:20
8. Tales of a Jedi Knight/Learn About the Force (Medley) 4:28
9. Burning Homestead 2:50
10. Mos Eisley Spaceport 2:16
11. Cantina Band 2:46
12. Cantina Band #2 3:54
13. Binary Sunset (Medley) [Alternate Take](contains hidden track "Star Wars Main Title" (complete recording session version)) 16:59

Disc Two
1. Princess Leia's Theme 4:27
2. The Millennium Falcon/Imperial Cruiser Pursuit (Medley) 3:51
3. Destruction of Alderaan 1:32
4. The Death Star/The Stormtroopers (Medley) 3:35
5. Wookiee Prisoner/Detention Block Ambush (Medley) 4:01
6. Shootout in the Cell Bay/Dianoga (Medley) 3:48
7. The Trash Compactor 3:06
8. The Tractor Beam/Chasm Crossfire (Medley) 5:18
9. Ben Kenobi's Death/Tie Fighter Attack (Medley) 3:51
10. The Battle of Yavin 9:06
11. The Throne Room/End Title (Medley) 5:37

Thursday, April 10, 2014

John Williams -- Jaws: Music from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

 photo MI0002790713_zps2cf9039c.jpg

For our first John Williams review, here is Jaws: Music from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, which features one of the most recognizable movie themes of all time. Enough ink has been spilled and bytes consumed in the description of that two-note terror, so I'll talk about some of this soundtrack's other the scene's not involving the shark.
How about what I'll argue is the best scene in the film.
This is literally just a dude talking for four minutes, but it's the most terrifying four minutes of the film. Of course, Robert Shaw's incredible acting, the quality of the writing, the cinematographer's lighting, and Spielberg's staging all contribute to the scene's greatness. What would it be without John William's score, though, without the quiet creep of strings tingling up your spine? Just a dude talking for four minutes.
Or how about possibly the greatest jump scene of all time?

John Williams surely must have journeyed down to hell with a tape recorder to find the sound emanating from the speaker's when Ben Gardner's head comes tumbling out of that hole.
That's the awesome thing about this soundtrack. Even in the scenes where that Tuba isn't repeatedly pumping out those two jarring notes, Williams is building up so much suspense that you absolutely dread their return. In a counterpoint to that, jaunty scenes of townfolk ambling about are scored with what is essentially the soundtrack to NPR's "All Thing's Considered." This causes the more horrific nature of the film to standout all the more. Then there's the action-adventure, which Williams apparently approached as if he were scoring a pirate film.

The only reason this review doesn't say 10/10 at the top is that I'm reviewing the original CD version, which is quite quietly mixed and missing quite a bit of music--it is only about 35-minutes long. I've given more concise soundtracks a ten before, but this one does feel like it is missing just a little something--the final boat trip encompasses 3/4 of the tracklist. More of the film's early moments should be represented.
Jaws: Music from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is still near perfect, regardless.

1975 (1992 CD-Remastered Version) MCA
1. Main Title (Theme from Jaws) 2:20
2. Chrissie's Death 1:42
3. Promenade (Tourists on the Menu) 2:47
4. Out to Sea 2:29
5. The Indianapolis Story 2:26
6. Sea Attack Number One 5:26
7. One Barrel Chase 3:07
8. Preparing the Cage 3:28
9. Night Search 3:33
10. The Underwater Siege 2:34
11. Hand to Hand Combat 2:32
12. End Title 2:21

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Here's Johnny!!! Er...John Williams, the Film Composer

 photo a3fb43bb-9a4d-4325-a5c7-d0c69fd7148d_zpsf52ebdfe.jpg
When I made a list in high school of my favorite bands, John Williams was listed at the very top, and he's not even a band. If you were born between the mid-60's to late 80's, John Williams most likely composed the soundtrack for your youth, even if you have no idea who he is. Well, how do you not know who John Williams is? Are you kidding me?! Now you have angered him, and he is coming through your door with an ax! Williams means business!
My John Williams reviews begin Thursday and will continue every day but weekends til their completion, if you can survive his tirelessly ferocious onslaught.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Cold as a Goddamn Stone

In which the stone is every part of me I hate that I wish would be banished forever. Yeah, I'm in a dark place right now. I've been through some dark things in the past. I had some really dark thoughts early last year. Right now, I have essentially become those dark thoughts, which is about the worst possible outcome. My wife says I should get on Facebook so I can at least feel connected to the rest of the world. Well, I am never going to do that, but I do know that the times I haven't blogged in the last five years have been the darkest times in those years, so I guess I will blog. I should probably answer all those unanswered messages in my inbox, and return all those missed calls, and leave the house, too. Maybe I can use my black dog to win World War II or something.
But blogging:
Coming up is a series of reviews on the work of one of the most influential artists on my life when I'm not a simmering mass of awful. Stay tuned.