Monday, July 28, 2014

Godzilla soundtrack roars with orchestral fury

Just when it looked bleakest for fans of old school orchestral scores, this summer delivered two knockout soundtracks. Michael Giacchino’s vibrant music for the epic movie masterpiece “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” packs an emotional wallop, while Alexandre Desplat’s wickedly fierce strains for “Godzilla” contain some of the most exciting action cues heard on any soundtrack in years.
Desplat’s immense talent and command of orchestra have been well documented in the film music community. Given his impressive and varied output, he is arguably the best composer of the past decade, certainly in the top five. But never has his music been this focused and this riveting. This is a sinister, delightful, over-the-top, relentless soundtrack that grabs you, shakes you, and never relents.
Now keep in mind, this is not a varied soundtrack with a lot of thematic material and melody. It does one thing and it does it well. Boy, does it ever. This is an action score, literally almost from start to finish.
Desplat wastes no time unleashing his orchestral might with the main theme in track one, “Godzilla”. This is an insanely exciting piece of music that escalates in compositional layers beginning with a brooding quasi-heroic motif reminiscent of Elliot Goldenthal’s anthem for “Batman Forever” and Jerry Goldsmith’s theme for “The Shadow”. From there the theme explodes into a Herrmann-esque frenzy with battling brass, stabbing strings, and finally a whaling siren/roar to represent the legendary beast.
The fun continues with colorful, spooky suspense in “Inside the Mines” and “The Power Plant”, a cue that introduces the score’s emotional and dramatic material. Most of the middle tracks have moments where this dramatic theme re-emerges, but never for long before we are whipped back into the orchestral thrill ride of pulsating brass and furious perfusion.
This is a score that attacks. “Inside the Jungle” is the most exciting primal action music since John William’s “The Lost World”. There are times when it sounds like two competing orchestras are doing a battle of the bands, literally. Talk about a composer being in command of the orchestra. “Two Against One” is an absolute joy of thunderous delight, “Last Shot” a roaring fury, and “Godzilla’s Victory” brings the aggressive mayhem to rousing finale before some reflection and a restatement in “Back to the Ocean”.
Bottom line: “Godzilla” contains the most exciting and energetic action music since Alan Silvetri’s “The Mummy Returns”. This impeccably crafted score is a blast. It is an addictive listen and a must own for fans of action and suspense music.

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).

Monday, July 14, 2014

Top ten reasons why ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ is great

What is great about “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”? In a word, everything. But for this limited list we will stick with my ten favorite things about this summer’s most talked about film. You can read my official review here.
SPOILER WARNING: Do not read any further until you have seen the film. And if you have not seen it, stop what you are doing and run to the nearest cinema immediately. It is a profound, deeply affecting, amazing, exciting movie—a true emotional experience.
1) All Our Yesterdays
It was a very wise decision to have a key sequence of scenes set in Caesar’s old home—his human home in Pacific Heights—where he lived in a warm, nurturing environment with a loving human father (Will), grandfather (Charles), and surrogate mother (Caroline). Just being in that house and feeling the memories and ghosts of Caesar’s past was melancholy magic and a treat for fans. The trip down memory lane is also a reminder of why Caesar and Koba see humans so differently. While Caesar was playing chess with Charles, sitting down to family dinners, and going on picnics to Muir Woods—Koba was being tortured, experimented on, and locked up alone in a tiny steel cage. Which leads into number two on this list.

2) Koba
Koba is a tragic—and great—character who plays a Shakespearian role in this epic ape opera.
A word must be said here about the actor who plays Koba—Toby Kebbell. I said in my review of “Dawn” that Andy Serkis deserves a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his work as Caesar. I would add to that, Toby Kebbell gives a performance as Koba worthy of a Best Supporting Actor nod. He makes us feel Koba’s rage, his hurt, his pain—his thirst for vengeance that drives him into madness.
While is easy to hiss at Koba as one of the film’s chief villains, most of us would feel the same way as the brooding bonobo if we had suffered the lifetime of horrors he has endured at the hands of humans. For more on Koba’s backstory read the outstanding “Dawn” prequel novel “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Firestorm” by Greg Keyes.
The thing that really adds to the tragic depth of this character and story—Koba was right. If only he could have contained his hatred, stayed loyal to Caesar, went to scout the armory in an official capacity; then maybe, just maybe there could have been peace? Probably not. Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) and his gun fetishists would have launched a sneak attack on Ape City no matter what. And if not him, then someone else. After all—as Caesar says in the film—Koba learned hate from humans. Koba betrayed Caesar, but may have saved the apes after all.
3) Home Movies
This one is an extension of the Caesar’s return to the house where he grew up in. Once again, the attention to detail is astounding and the nostalgic emotions are so powerful; so real. When Caesar finds an old video camera and watches footage of himself as a toddler with Will—it is a desperately needed cathartic moment allowing us emotional closure to all that Caesar lost when he was cruelly ripped from his loving home by humans. The sentimental scene is given an extra layer of depth and poignancy when Malcolm watches from afar, asks who it was on the camera, and Caesar replies, “A good man. Like you.”

4) Maurice Makes a Friend
One of the many wonderful subplots in “Dawn” is the touching friendship that develops between Maurice the deep-thinking Orangutan statesman and Malcolm’s teenage son Alexander. The scene where the two of them sit side by side reading a book is pure movie magic. It is a reminder of what could be—what should be—when hate and fear and racism and bigotry are absent. If only the Carvers and Kobas and Dreyfuses of the world would stop standing in the way, think what could have been in the world of “Dawn”—and in our world.

5) A Show of Strength
When Caesar marches his ape army into San Francisco on horseback and warns humans to “not come back”, it is a magnificent scene of epic imagery wielding such staggering, visceral power, it sends chills of spastic delight up and down the spine of any moviegoer with a pulse. Michael Giacchino’s outstanding score is one of his best and the action march he composed here is a delicious homage to Jerry Goldsmith’s “The Hunt” from the 1968 original. This jaw-dropping, intense, spectacular show piece of a scene is a masterwork of staging and presentation—one of many in this amazing movie.
6) The Hunt
Talk about opening a movie big. This kinetic, rousing, thunderous action set piece of the apes engaged in an organized moose hunt seems modeled after and inspired by the fabled buffalo hunts of Native Americans (that is before the white people arrived and killed all the buffalo for, you know, fun). It also ties in beautifully to the heart-breaking opening scene of “Rise”, and of course the classic hunt scene from the 1968 film. This set piece is also a clever and effective way to introduce Caesar’s teenage son, “Blue Eyes”.

7) Silly Ape
To fully appreciate this scene one must read “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Firestorm”. Before he was tortured by humans at medical labs, Koba was forced to perform in a lame TV show for a cruel and abusive owner (the one who burned his eye out with a cigarette). I fully admit that I took great pleasure in watching Koba utilize this background to turn the tables on these two racist, gun-worshipping, idiotic, inbred morons.
8) Schoolhouse Rock
The entire design of Ape City/Ape Camp/Ape village and the stone-age culture they have built is an astounding artistic achievement in creativity and production design. The shot of Maurice teaching to a makeshift classroom of young (and easily distracted) apes is simply awesome—with attention to detail and nods to the original film series that fans will appreciate.
9) Old Friends Reminisce
Even before he was exposed to the ALZ-113 mist, Maurice was already highly intelligent and became Caesar’s intellectual consigliere. The scene where Caesar and Maurice sit on the mountain and talk about the old days is not only a delightful treat for fans of “Rise”, it is a clever tool to lay in some exposition about what has been going on the last ten years. A priceless scene with huge emotional and sentimental payoff for fans of “Rise”.

10) Goodbye My Friend
This is the money shot seen in the trailer, many of the TV spots, and in one of the overseas posters. When Caesar is forced to say goodbye to Malcolm before the inevitable war begins, it is an emotional powerhouse—a moving, iconic moment that will be etched in cinematic history and our hearts forever. Again, the use of Michael Giacchino’s beautiful music really strikes the perfect note. If this scene did not get to you, then you probably are not reading this article.

Friday, July 11, 2014

'Dawn of The Planet of the Apes' epic, emotional

The spectacular new science fiction adventure film “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is the kind of movie Steven Spielberg would be making today if he were born thirty years later. The movie takes us on an adrenaline filled emotional roller-coaster, creating epic imagery and intimate character moments that stay with us long after the final credits and the strains of Michael Giacchino’s moving score have faded. This is brilliant, tight, cinematic storytelling at its finest.
“Dawn” picks up ten years after the events in “Rise” where Caesar was ripped away from his makeshift nuclear family and sent to what was essentially an ape prison run by a cruel warden. There Caesar used his intelligence and gift for language to bring together a core of apes and free them from their human torturers. What is cool about “Dawn” is it brings back that initial core of characters, including Cornelia (now Caesar’s mate), Maurice, Rocket, and Koba (the scarred bonobo from the Gen-Sys lab). We see how they have grown and developed over the past ten years, raising families and making a peaceful life for themselves in an ape city of sorts in the forest of Northern California.

Screenwriters Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, and director Matt Reeves have done a fantastic job creating a fully-realized dystopian world making great use of San Franciso landmarks and their collective imaginations are brought to life with staggering realism by Weta Digital—a visual effects studio seemingly without limits. But it is not the incredible effects and riveting action that makes “Dawn” such a great film. It is the strong story, crisp plot, and unforgettable characters we get know, most of all Caesar himself.
A wonderful, iconic cinematic character such as Caesar is a result of imaginative writing and strong directing to be sure. But make no mistake there is an actor who is making this all work. Andy Serkis deserves an Oscar nomination for his performance as Caesar in “Dawn”. Yeah, you heard me. Motion capture or not, it is a transformative piece of acting that should be rewarded.
The creation of the ape society alone and the complex relationships and politics that exists between the characters would in itself leave most filmmakers bragging for years. But “Dawn” is not content to be just good or even great—it wants to be an all-time classic that people will be watching twenty or thirty years from now. And you know what? They will be, because as this story unfolds it gives us characters to care about and outcomes to root for. When bad stuff happens we feel our hearts break with just as much emotional resonance as the characters on the screen.

It is not a spoiler to say “Dawn” is about a war. It is kind of a re-imagining of “Battle for the Planet of the Apes” (1973) in the same way “Rise” got its inspiration from “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” (1972). What is interesting is that Caesar in “Dawn” faces a similar dilemma to the Caesar in “Battle”. He wants peace. He wants to trust. He wants to see the good in humans because he was raised by a kind human father (Will), grandfather (Charles), and surrogate mother (Carolyn). But Caesar faces opposition from within his own ranks by his second in command “Koba”, a hawkish bonobo who has only experienced sadistic torture and cruelty from humans. As Caesar says in the film, “Koba learned hate from humans.” There is a terrific prequel novel out right now, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Firestorm” that tells the life story of Koba and is a must read for fans. Koba watched his mother get beaten to death, had his eye burned out with a cigarette by a sadistic owner who abused him to “perform” on a TV show, and was subjected to years of invasive experimentation in a lab. The more we learn about Koba, the more we can see things from his point of view.
But in the end, hate can only lead to destruction and more hate. Caesar understands this. So does his human friend Malcom (Jason Clarke) and his wife Ellie (Kerri Russell). Racists like Carver (Kirk Acevedo) do not understand this. Neither do warmongers like Dreyfuss (Gary Oldman) and Koba (Toby Kebbell).
See what I mean? That is the kind of meaningful character motivation and interplay we get in “Dawn”. Intelligent, socially relevant commentary about the nature of humans and their cruel treatment and disregard of other species, and of each other.
It is hilarious hearing critics go out of their way to not to praise the film too much, lest they have their critic elitist snobbery card revoked. So I will say what they will not.
Bottom line: “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is a modern masterpiece of epic, character-driven, genre storytelling. The visuals are staggering to be sure and the action breath-taking. But, like its 2011 predecessor, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is a movie with heart. It stands alongside “The Godfather Part II”, “Aliens” and “The Empire Strikes Back” as one of the greatest sequels of all time. It is the best film of 2014 so far.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Caitlin Star and the Guardian of Forever: Caitlin Star book #2

Now available.

Caitlin Star’s first solo outing shocked readers with its relentless, nihilistic, and graphic take on the YA dystopian genre. Now, this riveting stand-alone sequel launches the unforgettable action figure femme into the realm of mythic superhero. Caitlin Star and the Guardian of Forever is a colorful, exotic, brutal, exhilarating, action-packed adventure novel with shades of Tomb Raider, Indiana Jones, and Tarzan of the Apes.

Caitlin is a warrior trained by Gunner Star in the ways of the Bull Mongoni, a mythic species of hominids that lived long ago. The Bull Mongoni philosophy is to strengthen the mind and the flesh, to protect the earth and its creatures, and to fight for those who have no voice. When Yellowstone Park was under siege by the Big Oil Mafia and North America held hostage by right-wing extremist President Tony Perkins and his Moral Authority militias, Caitlin Star led a revolution. She and her warriors protected the National Parks, defeated Perkins and his self righteous goons, and restored free-thinking to America.

It was but a temporary victory. Backed by the billionaire Cantor brothers and under the guise of a new charismatic leader, Senator Ben Cross of Texas, the Moral Authority has spent the last two years growing stronger. Now they have teamed up with a para-military gang known as the White Hand, have taken control of Central Africa, and are intent on destroying the only remaining patch of pristine rain forest on Earth—a place known as The Last Eden. 

When a cross river gorilla is sadistically murdered, Caitlin is called into action by Azrael—a.k.a. the Black Knight—a fellow Bull Mongoni warrior with roots in the Congo. Now she must defeat the White Hand, battle the militia of a ruthless Uganda dictator, and face down a mysterious figure who is manipulating everything behind the scenes for a devious purpose that will threaten every living thing on earth.

It is up to Caitlin Star to save a paradise, free a continent, and rescue the entire planet itself. Caitlin Star is our last hope.

'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Firestorm' outstanding prequel novel

Disclosure: “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011) is my favorite movie of all time and “Planet of the Apes” (1968) is my sixth favorite, so this is not exactly an unbiased review. But being a fan is a double edged sword that brings with it the baggage of huge expectations. I am pleased to report “Firestorm” met those expectations. This book not only serves as a great primer for the new sequel movie “Dawn”, it works as an exciting science fiction novel that anyone can enjoy.
“Firestorm” picks up right after the events of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”, not long after Caesar and Will had their emotional “E.T.”-esque good-bye scene in Muir Woods. Events unfold rapidly as the deadly retro-virus ALZ-113 explodes across the human population, sending San Francisco (and the rest of the world) into chaos. Meanwhile, the corporation who created the virus, (Gen Sys), hires a shadowy black-ops organization to erase the truth and clean up any and all loose ends, including Caesar and his troop of apes now trying to live peacefully in Muir Woods. The pace is furious, a lot happens, and still author Greg Keyes finds a way to seamlessly develop a whole host of characters. This is a book packed with action and suspense but never at the expense of character or emotion.
The writing is quite impressive. Keyes smoothly transitions between several narrative viewpoints, including that of a former a Police Chief named Dreyfus, who will be played by Gary Oldman in “Dawn” and be the film’s main antagonist. Two human female characters are particularly well done; an anthropologist, Clancy, and an emergency room doctor, Talia. We really get to know these characters with a limited amount of word count. This is strong, tight writing at its best.
Where the author really succeeds is when writing from the apes view point. Some may feel there is not enough Caesar in this novel, but this book really focuses on the broader, epic story. There is plenty of Caesar, and all of it beautifully done. But the ape who gets the most “screen time” in this book is Koba. The chapters and passages written from Koba’s viewpoint are artfully done. While the writing is mesmerizing, it is often very upsetting, to the point of being hard to read.
Koba is the bonobo chimpanzee with the scarred/blind eye from “Rise”. He was the one who looked like he had been through hell and was given the retro virus ALZ-113 mist and wrote “Jacobs” name on the screen after. In “Firestorm” we learn all about Koba’s backstory and what happened to his eye. Koba’s story is sad, infuriating, and quite graphically portrayed. As is the back story of Malakai, a former poacher turned mercenary. Some of the scenes are hard to take, but tragically, they are realistic. The backstories of real life great apes rescued from the entertainment industry, labs, and abusive private owners by wildlife organizations and sanctuaries are full of horrific tales of heartbreak. As Dr. Zaius said in the original 1968 film, “Man is evil.”
The author is working with a sense of purpose here and both characters and their stories have an arc that contributes immensely to the story. And I appreciate the author (who has a Master’s Degree in Anthropology) not sanitizing the material. Because when people know the truth (good, decent humans anyway), they might work to try and change things, and maybe think twice about chuckling at the toddler chimpanzees in that Super Bowl commercial.
Bottom line: “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Firestorm” is one of the best movie/television tie-in novels I have ever read. It is a fast-paced, graphic, violent, emotionally affecting story with vivid, tight writing. “Firestorm” is a mesmerizing, page turning novel and a must read for any “Planet of the Apes” fan, or anyone who enjoys well-crafted, action packed, character-driven science fiction.

Music of the apes

The “Planet of the Apes” franchise has featured legendary composers and outstanding soundtracks going all the way back to Jerry Goldsmith’s avant-garde masterwork for the original in 1968. Few other franchises (perhaps even none outside of “Star Trek”) have showcased such a rich and diverse series of scores composed by such an array of talented composers. So when it came time to re-imagine and re-launch the film brand name with “Rise of the planet of the Apes” in 2011, director Rupert Wyatt and his composer of choice Patrick Doyle faced the daunting task of trying to create something musically fresh while standing in the shadows of composing giants such as Jerry Goldsmith, Leonard Rosenman, Lalo Schifrin, and Danny Elfman.
Patrick Doyle had just finished up composing a majestic work of symphonic wonder for his longtime collaborator Kenneth Branagh on “Thor”, my choice for Best Original Score of 2011. It was perfect creative timing for Doyle because he was able to carry that musical momentum over into “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and created a rich, emotional tapestry of mystery, wonder, and sentiment—serving as the ideal synergistic score to accompany director Rupert Wyatt and screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver’s character driven, emotion-packed cinematic masterpiece.
Doyle establishes a sense of mystery, awe, and danger right away in track one of the soundtrack album, “The Beginning”, and wisely chooses subtle African influences in his choice of instrumentation and the haunting pitch of the choir vocals. We also get a theme for Bright Eyes that morphs into a brief escalating crescendo that lays the ground work for the two main themes of the soundtrack, “Caesar’s Theme”, and “Muir Woods”. Like all great composers Doyle lays a musical framework early in the score as he establishes the themes and motifs he will build upon in later, more fully developed cues.
The tension filled “Bright Eyes Escapes” builds into a rhythmic suspense cue before ending in a mournful vocal rendition of Bright Eyes Theme. “Lofty Swing” is a strong stand-alone cue with the best African flair of any track. “Stealing The 112” is a terrific suspense cue with a statement of the spooky “mystery” theme that has a James Newton Howard/”The Sixth Sense” vibe to it and is also featured prominently in “Who Am I” and “The Primate Facility”.
“Muir Woods” is a majestic, soaring cue that together with the gorgeous, haunting, “Off You Go” give a bold, wondrous statement of Caesar’s Theme and form the heart and soul of the score. This is imaginative film scoring at its finest and reminiscent of the glory days of John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, and James Horner.

Patrick Doyle is not known as a composer of action music, and while he is no Goldsmith (or even Rosenman or Elfman in that regard), the action music in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is expertly crafted and beautifully arranged and orchestrated with strong clean lines and no numbing walls of sound. Doyle is a gifted, melodic composer and uses melody in his action music in a similar way that Bruce Broughton does. “Gen-Sys Freedom” and “Zoo Breakout” are exciting action cues and the outstanding “Buck Is Released” is a blast.
But, as is the case with “Thor”, it is with the sentimental material where Doyle really hits out of the park. The last two cues pack an emotional wallop as Buck dies in Caesar’s arms in “Caesar And Buck”, and Will and Caesar share a bittersweet moment back in the magical Muir Woods of “Caesar’s Home”. The music during the final good-bye scene is absolutely magical; a deeply moving “E.T.”—esque scene that builds into a soaring statement of “Caesar’s Theme” that plays out over the final credits as the camera pans up to final shot of Caesar and his new family.

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.