Thursday, July 24, 2014

Top five influences on ‘Caitlin Star and the Guardian of Forever’

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.

Anthropology 101

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.

Movie soundtracks

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.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ soundtrack review

Michael Giacchino is the soundtrack savior for film music fans who grew up on the classic genre scores from the holy trilogy of John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner—not to mention a long list of other superb talents such as John Barry, Basil Poledouris, Bruce Broughton, Alan Silvestri, and many others.
Many of those composers are no longer with us. Silvestri recently gave us the outstanding music for the new “Cosmos” series on Fox—but like James Horner—seems to have semi-retired from major film scoring. John Williams (with the occasional rare exception) only does Spielberg films now. Sadly, Broughton has not been given a major scoring assignment since 1998’s “Lost in Space” reboot bombed.
Which leaves us with Hans Zimmer. And understand, I am a Zimmer fan and one of the few soundtrack writers who liked his work for Nolan’s “Batman” films (especially “The Dark Knight Rises”) and his controversial “Man of Steel” opus. But must every single blockbuster or franchise be scored by a Zimmer prodigy, or a Zimmer clone, or a Zimmer rip-off artist third generation removed? After a while it all starts to sound like one big wall of cluttered orchestrations and droning waves of white noise.
Sure there is Alexandre Desplat, and he has delivered a few knockout genre scores including this year’s menacing score for “Godzilla”. But his sensibilities just seem better matched to Oscar bait dramas. When it comes to larger than life, iconic genre cinema, it is Michael Giacchino who is the heir apparent to the classic composers of the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Because of this composing lineage thrust upon him by the fans and by the nature of the assignments he chooses, the expectations for a new Giacchino score—especially with a film like “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”—are sky high.
And make no mistake about it, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is a great film, and great films must have music to match their onscreen ambitions and emotions. I am happy to report that Michael Giacchino’s score for “Dawn” meets those expectations. His music not only synergistically matches the onscreen action and drama, it many places it adds another layer of deep emotion to this powerful, moving, unforgettable cinematic experience.

Giacchino’s approach to “Dawn” is similar what Patrick Doyle did for his excellent “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” score. He concentrates on the characters and emotions. “Rise” was “E.T.”—the story of a makeshift nuclear family and their adopted son. A love story between Caesar and Will instead of E.T. and Elliot. “Dawn” is an epic war drama and Giacchino appropriately scores Matt Reeve’s ape opera as if were “The Winds of War” meets “The Godfather” by anchoring his score in a sweeping, emotional main theme, “The Great Ape Processional”. This is the gorgeous, emotion-drenched music that plays over the opening scenes at the ape village and during the bittersweet finale. There is a beautiful, John Barry-esque melancholy feel to this flexible theme, reminiscent of the love theme from “John Carter” (2012).
I have said this before and it is worth repeating here. Michael Giacchino writes the best sad music of any living composer. “Dawn” as a movie is so many things; epic, fascinating, exciting, super cool, visually spectacular, socially relevant, emotionally involving—but above all it is achingly sad. This is, after all, a tragedy, and Giacchino is the perfect composer to bring out these powerful emotions. This is a movie and a score that will make you feel and will stay with you.

But the composer is no slouch when it comes to action music either. There is a long history of outstanding action music in “Planet of the Apes” movies—from Jerry Goldsmith’s avant-garde classic to Leonard Rosenman’s atonal brilliance to Danny Elfman’s brooding strains for Tim Burton’s much-hated remake—to Patrick Doyle’s jaunty theme for Buck in “Rise”. Michael Giacchino does not disappoint in this regard by delivering what can only be described as “The Imperial March” of “Dawn”.

This outstanding action march serves as Koba’s theme and contains a wonderful motif that pays homage to Goldsmith’s “The Hunt” from the 1968 classic. This music is featured in several set pieces beginning with “Close Encounters of the Furred Kind” when Caesar orders Koba to follow the humans after Carver shoots Nash, and again when apes march into San Francisco in an exhilarating show of strength.
Michael Giacchino’s music for “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is well represented on the soundtrack album and features several lengthy, well-developed cues including the exciting action tracks “Gorilla Warfare” and “How Bonobo Can You Go”. The composer brings us full circle with a moving statement of the main theme in “Primates For Life” before rewarding us with what all soundtrack lovers crave in any album, a grand reprise of all the main themes in “Planet of the End Credits”.
Bottom line: Michael Giacchino has been given his best film to score and had responded by delivering his best work to date. It is a powerful, epic, exciting, moving score that will please fans of the movie, the composer, and anyone who enjoyed his scores for “Super 8” (2011), “John Carter” (2012), and of course “Lost” (2004-2010).

Friday, July 4, 2014

A guide to ‘The Planet of the Apes’

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” arrives next week on the heels of a fantastic looking trailer and extremely positive early buzz. In preparation to what could end up being the “Empire Strikes Back” of “Planet of the Apes” films, let us take a look back at the previous entries into this storied franchise featuring our great ape brothers and sisters.
There is an entire universe of material to explore in preparation for “Dawn of Planet of the Apes”, including action figures, lunchboxes, a live action television series, an animated show, and an outstanding new “Dawn” prequel novel, “Firestorm” by Greg Keyes. But it all starts with the films.

“Planet of the Apes” (1968)
Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner
Screenplay by Michael Wilson and Rod Serling
Based on the novel “La Planète des singes” by Pierre Boulle
Released during one of the most transformative years in world history, “Planet of the Apes” was one of three science fiction classics released in 1968 (along with “2001” and “Barbarella”) that forever changed cinematic history. Charlton Heston’s powerful presence, Roddy McDowell and Kim Hunter’s great performances, Jerry Goldsmith’s avant-garde score, John Chamber’s revolutionary make up effects—“Planet of the Apes” features one iconic moment after another and has etched its mark into our collective memory and thepop culture fabric as a forever classic.

“Beneath the Planet of Apes” (1970)
Directed by Ted Post
Screenplay by Paul Dehn
Story by Mort Abrahams
Based on characters created by Pierre Boulle
A rehash of the first film combined with a bizarre storyline about a group of mutant telepathic humans who pray to an atomic bomb and featuring a grudging cameo appearance by Charlton Heston, “Beneath” is the weakest film in the entire franchise. But still, there is some great stuff here. An atonal soundtrack by Leonard Rosenman that is even more avant-garde than Jerry Goldsmith’s classic, the hippie protest scenes are priceless, and there is just an overall weirdness that gives this entry an irresistible cult film vibe.

Directed by Don Taylor
Written by Paul Dehn
Based on characters created by Pierre Boulle
Screenwriter Paul Dehn came on board the franchise for “Beneath” and went on to write all of the sequels. He is in many ways, the true auteur of the original classic franchise and beginning with this film (where Cornelius and Zira escape from the atomic explosion at the end of “Conquest” by traveling back in time via astronaut’s ship), he created one of the most fascinating time loops of any franchise. Although this entertaining movie is considered to be the “comedy” of the series, “Young and the Restless” soap opera star Eric Braeden gives a chilling performance as the villain.

“Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” (1972)
Directed by J. Lee Thompson
Written by Paul Dehn
Based on characters created by Pierre Boulle
Dark, haunting, emotionally affecting, and shockingly effective and convincing despite a miniscule budget of only 1.7 million (compared to 5.8 million for the original). Much like “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011), “Conquest” tells the origin story of Caesar. The filmmakers made great use of the then futuristic looking, brand new Century City shopping complex. There is a wonderful, creepy, Orwellian feel to this story. Ricardo Montablan is fantastic as Caesar’s owner/friend and Roddy McDowell gives his greatest “Apes” performance. Jazz fusion saxophonist and arranger Tom Scott composed the minimalistic, atonal score. Acclaimed novelist John Jakes wrote a terrific novelization of Paul Dehn’s screenplay with the original, darker ending.

"Battle for the Planet of the Apes" (1973)
Directed by J. Lee Thompson
Screenplay by John William Corrington and Joyce Hooper Corrington
Story by Paul Dehn
Based on characters created by Pierre Boulle
If “Rise of the Planet of Apes” (2011) is kind of sort of a re-imagining of “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes”, then “Battle” is more or less the antecedent of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” (2014). “Conquest” was able to overcome the paltry budget through clever location shooting and spot on performances. But “Battle” is—well—a battle—and demanded more of an epic approach not possible with the shoestring budget. Still, the filmmakers did the best with what they had to work with and were helped out immensely by another great Roddy McDowell performance. An entertaining film that works well as a children’s movie. Science fiction author David Gerrold wrote an outstanding novelization of the screenplay.

“Planet of the Apes” (2001)
Directed by Tim Burton
Screenplay by William Broyles, Jr., Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal
Based on characters created by Pierre Boulle
This long-gestating “remake” is despised by many “Apes” fans—and with good reason. The script is nonsensical, the ending inane, and there is something just not cool when a movie whose theme is the immorality of exploiting another species—actually exploits the species in its title! On top of all of this, the movie simply does not feel like a “Planet of the Apes Movie”. That being said, there is much to like about the film. The art direction is gorgeous (it is a Tim Burton movie after all), Helena Bonham Carter is terrific, Danny Elfman’s muscular score is one of his best, and the great Rick Baker once again sets a new standard for physical in-camera makeup/creature effects.

“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011)
Directed by Rupert Wyatt
Written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver
Premise suggested by “Planet of the Apes” by Pierre Boulle
When “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” premiered on August 5, 2011, it caught everyone off guard who was expecting a cynical attempt to cash in on a dormant franchise with golden brand name recognition. Instead of an exploitive popcorn flick, director Rupert Wyatt and screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver delivered an instant, modern classic featuring an unforgettable main character, Caesar, brought to life in a knockout performance by Andy Serkis, with flawless special effects by Weta Digital of “Avatar” and “Lord of the Rings” fame.
Despite the state of the art (and stunning) visuals, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is a throwback film. It is under two hours long, an extreme rarity in today’s marketplace of bloated, over stuffed movies with multiple false endings. On the contrary, “Rise” is a tight, fast paced beautifully shot and staged film. It is an emotionally rich, character driven story that harkes back to the days of Spielberg’s humanistic approach to science fiction in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977) and “E.T.” (1982).
At its heart “Rise” is a love story about family and the relationship Caesar has with his human father Will, grandfather Charles, and mother Caroline—and the tragedy of how he lost them.