Thursday, September 25, 2014
Sunday, September 21, 2014
Franchise starved Universal Pictures blew a tremendous opportunity in 2009 with “Land of the Lost”. Inter-dimensional travel, temporal mechanics, lost cities, menacing humanoid lizard creatures, and rampaging dinosaurs were some of the mainstays of the Sid and Marty Kroft produced NBC Saturday morning live action series “Land of the Lost”, which ran from 1974-1976. It may have been a children’s show, but this was a serious adventure series. Despite the low budget there was a creepy other-worldly sense of mystery and wonder to the show. Many of the scripts were written by the best science fiction writers of the day including Theodore Sturgeon, Larry Niven, Ben Bova, Norman Spinrad, Dorothy Fontana and series co-creator and story editor David Gerrold.
This was a show ripe for an intelligent update ala J.J. Abrams. But instead the producers decided to turn it into a Will Ferrell comedy—and a wretched, offensively unfunny one at that. Note to the producers at Universal: The best way to launch a franchise is not to insult the fan base by mocking them.
Perhaps the greatest irony is that these same tone deaf producers hired Michael Giacchino to write the score for the “Land of the Lost” movie. Giacchino is of course the composer of “Lost”—a serious (and wildly successful) approach to the same themes as “Land of the Lost”.
Thankfully, Giacchino does take the material seriously, creating an exciting score in the Jerry Goldsmith tradition by scoring the film that should have been made, as opposed to the awful one that was.
The “Land of the Lost” soundtrack album is jam-packed with 32 tracks of orchestral blast—an exciting and colorful array of “Lost” style adventure music.
Among the highlights are “Swamp and Circumstance”, a creepy suspense motif, “The Lighter Side of Archaeology”, actually a scary “Lost” style danger motif, and “A Routine Expedition” which introduces the main theme, an irresistible “The Incredibles” style James Bond rift complete with a banjo and electric guitars.
“Never Trust a Dude in a Tunic” begins with big, lush, romantic golden age style string swell before morphing into an escalating danger cue with a wonderful sense of mystery. Then, the track transitions again finishing off with a gorgeous “Lost” style sentimental motif that is developed throughout the score as the soundtrack’s emotional theme. As has been said in these pages many times, no current composer brings more accessible emotion to the table than Michael Giacchino. His ability to create deeply affecting music, (even within the context of a putrid project such as this one), is astounding.
Giacchino also writes some of the best action music in film and television today, and “Land of the Lost” is no exception. This is more than anything, an action score, and one that is brimming with exciting, propulsive, adrenaline inciting cues. The absurdly entitled “When Piss on Your Head is a Bad Idea” is a rousing piece of music, as exciting as anything you will hear on any soundtrack today. “Undercover Sleestak” is a pulse-pounding statement of the main theme and primary action motif.
Bottom Line: “Land of the Lost” is a colorful, entertaining soundtrack full of exciting adventure music and further evidence Giacchino is the closest thing to the modern version of a Williams/Goldsmith/Horner.
Tuesday, September 9, 2014
Aside from two outstanding scores—Michael Giacchino’s moving epic music for “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and Alexandre Desplat’s bombastic fury for “Godzilla”, it has been a dismal year for fans of memorable film music. The year’s biggest blockbuster, “Guardians of the Galaxy”, sent moviegoers scurrying to their smart phones as the credits rolled to buy the catchy (and brilliantly utilized) collection of joyful ‘70s pop classics—as opposed to the original score actually playing on the credits—a functional but tepid assembly of weak, undeveloped musical meanderings barely heard during the movie.
It is hard to believe that nearly fifty years ago music was being written for the debut of a CBS television series called “Lost in Space” with a level of astute musical craftsmanship and complexity far beyond anything likely to be seen at a multiplex—or anywhere else—in 2014.
John William’s music for the Irwin Allen television trio of the 1960s (“Lost in Space”, “Land of the Giants”, and “Time Tunnel”) is a stunning body of innovative work that helped lay the groundwork for his legendary career scoring many of the greatest blockbusters and acclaimed dramas of all time. In many ways, Williams used utilized these shows as an experimental canvas in the same way Michael Giacchino used “Lost” to create musical ideas he would come back to and develop further in films such as “Super 8”, “John Carter”, and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”.
Of the three Allen shows, it is “Lost in Space” where Williams spent the most time honing his magical artistry, and there is perhaps no better example than in “Island of the Sky”, the third episode in the show’s glorious black and white first season.
“Lost in Space” is now famous for its campy style featuring the buffoonery of Dr. Smith. But during the first season—especially the early episodes—this was a serious, dramatic, (and wonderfully melodramatic) adventure show, and John Williams (under the guise of “Johnny Williams”) scored it as such.
The score to “Island in the Sky” can be found in its entirety in the 40th anniversary soundtrack by La-La Land and in a less than complete form on Volume One of the old GNP Cresendo set.
“Island in the Sky” opens with “Strange Planet/John’s Descent”, a powerhouse suspense cue that builds with a pulsating wave of brass, flourishing with both vertical and horizontal movements beyond the grasp of most composers working today. Immediately there is a sense of danger and mystery. The amount of musical depth packed into this short cue is amazing. Many moments feel like they could be out of the darker shadings of a “Star Wars” or “Indiana Jones” movie.
“Helmet It” is downright scary. Among the many treasures to indulge in here are some of William’s best horror music moments foreshadowing later work in “The Fury” and “Dracula”.
“Strangle Hold/Landing” is the showcase piece of the score; an absolute knockout action cue bursting with layered motifs, propulsive brass, escalating rhythms, and a relentless sense of excitement. This 6:27 cue is a precursor of many set pieces featured in future William’s blockbusters. This complex, intricately action music that is always accessible and goes somewhere with a sense of purpose.
“Lil’ Will and The Robot” continue the suspense and dramatic tension with escalating swings of brass in what became the trademark music of this series, and reservoir of motif gesturing used in later works by Williams, especially “Jurassic Park” and “The Lost World”.
“Search for John” is a full-fledged, beautifully crafted dramatic suspense cue with a building sense of mystery and danger. The excitement and shimmering wonder continue as the score soars to its finale in “Monkey’s Doo”, “Operation Rescue”’ and “Personal Chauffeur/Electric Sagebrush/Will Is Threatened”. Every moment in this score has something musically rich for the ear to hang on to. As with his future works. Williams always develops his ideas and knows where he wants to go with them.
Bottom line: “Island in the Sky” is an exciting, propulsive, colorful, avant-garde musical masterwork and a wonderful chance to explore the musical formations of John William’s blockbuster style of scoring.
There is something irresistible, something addictive about top ten lists. I am incapable of passing one by if a link pops up on a page I am browsing. I love reading them—and writing them. As always these are favorites, highly subjective, and intensely personal in a “hey dude you need to get a life” kind of a way.
TV shows (all genres and formats)
24 – FOX (2001-2010, 2014)
The X-Files – FOX (1993-2002)
Unsolved Mysteries – NBC (1987-1997)
Mad Men – AMC (2008-2015)
Star Trek – NBC (1966-1969)
Homeland – Showtime (2011-present)
The Simpsons – FOX (1989-present)
The Walking Dead – AMC (2010-present)
Fringe – FOX (2008-2013)
Bewitched – ABC (1964-1972)
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
Falling Down (1993)
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
Empire of the Sun (1987)
Planet of the Apes (1968)
Wall Street (1987)
Wall Street (1987)
The Bear (1989)
A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Brak the Barbarian (John Jakes)
Logan’s Run (William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson)
The World Inside (Robert Silverberg)
The Bastard (John Jakes)
Conan the Adventurer (Robert. E. Howard)
Batman comics (Dennis O’Neil, Neal Adams circa 1970)
Crash (J.G. Ballard)
Contact (Carl Sagan)
Brainwave (Poul Anderson)
Firefly Lane (Kristin Hannah)
So Close - Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz performed by Jon McLaughlin (2007)
Gods and Monsters – Lana Del Rey (2013)
Viva La Vida - Coldplay (2008)
Live and Let Die – Paul McCartney and Wings (1973)
Push it – Garbage (1998)
California Dreaming – The Mamas & the Papas (1965)
Kokomo – The Beach Boys (1988)
American – Lana Del Rey (2013)
Make That Move – Shalimar (1981)
I See You (Theme from Avatar) – James Horner and Kuk Harrell performed by Leona Lewis (2009)
Samuel L. Jackson
Jeff BridgesVin Diesel
Hollywood Search for ‘Caitlin Star’
Thursday, August 21, 2014
Thursday, July 24, 2014
Sequels are perilous endeavors loaded with expectations. When I committed to the "Caitlin Star" sequel, my mantra was simple. It had to be better. It had to exciting as all hell. It to work as a stand-alone adventure.
The smashing stand-alone sequel novel to Caitlin Star is more character focused, more epic, and contains much stronger science fiction element than its predecessor. It takes place on a different continent with a much more exotic setting (the Congo Basin in Central Africa). It is a fast paced, propulsive story moving Caitlin forward on her journey toward her ultimate destiny.
There were many, eclectic influences on the creation of Caitlin Star and the Bull Mongoni saga. Here are the top five that had the most direct effect on the rousing new science fiction action adventure epic, “Caitlin Star and the Guardian of Forever”.
Birds of Prey
The female heroes/vigilantes/anti-heroes and villains of the DC Comics universe have all had an influence on Caitlin Star. The Bull Mongoni attitude of crusading for social justice can be seen in all of the characters and nobody is fiercer about protecting the earth from greedy humans than Poison Ivy. Physically, both in terms of athletic ability and appearance, there is a lot of Black Canary in Caitlin. Lori, Gunner and Caitlin’s hacker genius operations chief was partially inspired by Barbara Gordon when she was the Oracle character.
Lots and lots of non-fiction science and reference books, especially "Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors" by Nicholas Wade and "The Last Human: A Guide to Twenty-Two Species of Extinct Humans".
To paraphrase what Gunner Star said in my first book over a decade ago, “Did you ever study anthropology? Me? I am fascinated by the stuff. Just can’t get enough. Find out about the past. Find out where you came. And you find yourself.”
When studying all of the various species of great apes that sprung off from the hominid branch, I came upon a mythic species called the Bull Mongoni who thrived throughout Africa and Eurasia until the Homo sapiens left Africa and began to spread across the planet like a destructive virus. The Bull Mongoni mysteriously vanished sometime between 10,000 B.C and the rise of Sumeria. But the hirsute hominids left behind a written and illustrated record of their existence and their philosophy in “The Sacred Scrolls of Tarmok.” These scrolls are the foundation of the Bull Mongoni philosophy espoused by Gunner Star and passed on to his protégé Caitlin.
Music is the most mysterious, motivating, transporting, inspiring, profound, emotional artistic creation there is. I always listen to music when I create and write. I hear the music, and I see the characters and the story unfold before me. There were many tracks spinning on my CD player and in my iPod during the creation of “Caitlin Star and the Guardian of Forever”, especially “The Lost World” by John Williams, “Avatar” and “The Missing” by James Horner, and “John Carter” by “Michael Giacchino.
Land of the Lost
One of the inspirations behind the creators of “Lost” and a whole generation of science fiction writers, (including yours truly), it is astounding how well written this cult 1970’s live action Saturday morning children’s television series was. The first two seasons (1974-1976) featured a who’s who in the elite science fiction writers of the era including Larry Niven, Theodore Sturgeon, Ben Bova, Norman Spinrad, Dorothy "D.C." Fontana, Walter Koenig, and “Land of Lost” co-creator and story editor David Gerrold.
I make no secret about my guilty pleasure love of “Supergirl”. The DC Comics New 52 re-launch of the title features Kara/Supergirl as an emotional, powerful, angst-ridden teenager looking for her place in the world. There is a lot of Supergirl in Caitlin Star. In some ways she is Kara Zor-El in black spandex with a cutlass sword.