Thursday, August 21, 2014

Music of ‘The Fantastic Journey’

Remember “The Fantastic Journey”? Chances are you do not. This barely seen science fiction television series ran (with little fanfare and zero network support) on NBC from February to June in 1977, just prior to the “Star Wars” sci-fi explosion.
Although it lasted only ten episodes, this seductive, imaginative, and irresistibly entertaining series left an strong impression for anyone who ever saw it, especially if you were of a certain age and stumbled upon the show (it was never promoted by NBC) during its initial run. The series also featured several notable guest stars including Joan Collins pictured above with Jared Martin and Roddy McDowall. 

After its cancellation in 1977, the show vanished—literally—never to be seen for decades and still has never been released commercially on any home video format (VHS, Laser Disc, DVD, online streaming—nothing).
But now people are discovering (and rediscovering) “The Fantastic Journey” for two reasons. Number one is the outstanding coverage of the show by the prolific and popular genre writer John Kenneth Muir at John Kenneth Muir's Reflections on Cult Movies and Classic TV. Number two is the availability of all ten episodes on YouTube, apparently recorded from a Bravo Network showing of the series. Thanks to this generous YouTube user, the show can now be seen, and perhaps will gain a following strong enough to entice some production company to produce a DVD set, or at least make the show available in a high-quality streaming format.

While “The Fantastic Journey” suffered from all the usual detriments of genre television shows of the era (low budgets, recycled props, impossible deadlines, static camera work etc.), there was an intelligence about the show. The great Dorothy Fontana (“Star Trek”, “Logan’s Run”) was story editor of the show and brought her usual trademark of exciting, character driven science fiction writing to the series. In addition, the cast did a terrific job of bringing these characters to life, especially young Ike Eisenmann and the always interesting Roddy McDowall.
Another element of “Journey” that leaves a strong impression is the striking music by composer Robert Prince. Besides the D.C. Fontana influenced writing, this is another area where the show emulates classic “Trek”. The producers allow Prince to let loose and compose bold melodic scores with strong themes and aggressive atonal action music. This is a show where the music is given room to breathe. Several of these episodes are worth tracking down and watching on YouTube for the music alone.
The main title theme for “The Fantastic Journey” is pure, unabashed ‘70s. Robert Prince utilizes his jazz background to deliver a funky melodic overture that is as irresistible as the montage and accompanying narration that introduces the characters and sets up the premise of the show.

The two best episodes of “Journey” also features the two best scores.

“An Act of Love”, is part “This Side of Paradise” (the classic Trek episode written by D.C. Fontana) part “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and features some of the best character moments in the entire series. The score, anchored around an ethereal female choral, is absolutely haunting. It contains one of the strongest pure love themes of any genre show ever and infuses the episode with a profound sense of obsessive romanticism, mystery and wonder. The “Temple of Doom” part of the score works well also, creating as Prince uses Goldsmith/Rosenman action rhythms to create a pounding excitement and sense of danger.

“Funhouse” is more or less a pure horror episode that makes brilliant use of its carnival setting to create a claustrophobic house of horrors feel. Once again Robert Prince is called upon to create what the budget could not as his atonal blend of harsh (and effective) electronics mixed with bursts of avant-garde orchestra add to the thrills.

“A Dream of Conquest” guest stars the great John Saxon as a cruel, power mad dictator in a solid “civilization of the week” episode. The score to this episode (which features an intelligent primate the cast must rescue from the abusive Saxon) is highlighted by several rousing action cues featuring aggressive bursts of escalating brass and percussion in the atonal style pioneered by Goldsmith and Rosenman in the “Planet of the Apes” series.
"Atlantium", the second episode in which we are introduced to the enigmatic Liana played by the beautiful Katie Saylor, is another strong score centered around a soaring new age Enya-esque motif. In another classic Trek play, music from this episode, as well as “An Act of Love” was tracked into later episodes.

Bottom line: “The Fantastic Journey” is a lost science fiction gem from the disco decade and features bold, aggressive music that hardcore, old-school soundtrack fans will love.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Archer Moore's review of 'Caitlin Star and the Guardian of Forever'

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Harder, Better, Faster, StrongerAugust 14, 2014
This review is from: Caitlin Star and the Guardian of Forever: Caitlin Star book #2 (Paperback)
James J. Caterino has done it again with Caitlin Star and the Guardian of Forever. Stronger than Planet of the Apes, meatier than the Hunger Games and more diverse than Divergent, Caternio's continuing Caitlin Star saga has everything it's YA audience has come to expect from their fiction - action, romance and intrigue.

Lighter on the politics and heavier on the action than book one, this second installment in the Caitlin Star saga picks up where the first book left off, in a world gone to hell in a hand basket. But rather than focus on yet another dystopian future, Caterino lightens things up with breezy dialog, wry humor, and a whole lot more of what the reader is asking for, Caitlin Star herself. Throw in a time travel subplot for good measure and you have a tightly wound sci-fi thriller that owes more to real science than fantastical whims of fancy.

Once again Caterino's vivid imagination takes center stage with plenty of new colorful characters out to stop Caitlin from saving humanity once again. The intrigue that ensues will keep you turning the pages until the wee hours. In a literary field crowded with strong female leads, Caitlin Star stands apart with Caterino's macho male perspective that is surprisingly female friendly. Caitlin Star and the Guardian of Forever feels like a natural progression in the Bull Mongoni Universe that Caterino created a decade ago with Gunner Star. Caitlin Star is the real deal, and she is going to cut you down if you stand in her way. I can't wait to see where she takes me next.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Hollywood Search for ‘Caitlin Star’

Casting is everything. Especially when it comes to playing iconic, larger-than-life characters. 

When the first Caitlin Star book was released last summer, I did a list of some of my top picks to play the brooding Bull Mongoni sword-wielding warrior. But like all things, casting is fluid and now that the smashing stand-alone sequel  “CaitlinStar and the Guardian of Forever”  is out, it is time to update my top five choices for casting Caitlin Star.

One seismic shift has occurred in the area of female action stars from a year ago—Eva green. Now mind you, I have been a huge Eva fan ever since “The Dreamers” (2003) and the ridiculously talented actress should have been on last year’s Caitlin list.

I know I am one of the only people on the planet who actually saw “300: Rise of an Empire” let alone liked it. Here is my review of the film. Eva Green gives a simmering, primal, savage, mesmerizing performance as Artemesia in “300: Rise of an Empire” that is astonishingly fierce and so very Caitlin Star-like. Right now there is Eva Green, then everybody else.

Blake Lively

Blake was hands down the top choice of readers based on feedback from last year’s list. And it is easy to see why. Her combination of statuesque form, voluptuous beauty, and athleticism are a perfect match for Caitlin. She has the right hair color, eye color, is the perfect age and would be able to bring a much needed vulnerability and pathos to the role. Could she handle the primal side of the character and the intense physicality of the role? Of course she could. That is what actors do. Two years ago nobody would have thought of Scarlett Johansson as a major action hero star and look at her tearing it up now. Speaking of…

Scarlett Johansson

The long-time iconic, versatile, and ultra-talented femme fatale actress was never know as an action hero before. That all changed in 2014 with her dazzling work in “Captain America: Winter Storm” and the recent summer hit from director Luc Besson, “Lucy”.  Scarlett Johansson is now positioned as the Angelia Jolie/ Milla Jovovich A-list go to action girl. There is no doubt Scarlett has the look and the chops to make for a great Caitlin.

Olivia Wilde

I have been a fan of Olivia Wilde since her days on the prime time soap “The O.C.” when she was a blonde. She has been a bit scarce lately but her alluring and athletic turn in the underrated “Tron Legacy” has forever cemented her as a favorite to play Caitlin Star. Like Blake Lively, she is a spot on physical match for the vigilante would-be barbarian queen.

Eliza Dushku

A new addition to the “Caitlin Star” list, mainly because I met her in person, gave her a signed copy of “Caitlin Star”, and told her she would be perfect. And you know what—after recently re-watching some her work (especially “The Dollhouse”), she would be. Smart, vulnerable, electric, hot, charismatic and able to kick serious ass—Eliza would make for a great Caitlin Star.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

'Super 8' soundtrack review

“Super 8” is a heartfelt homage to the childhood of J.J. Abrams and the close-knit group of filmmakers he grew up with, including his longtime friend and collaborator composer Michael Giacchino. Why this sincere, pitch perfect, character driven little film was the victim of so much backlash is beyond me. Are we really so cynical now that audiences refuse to go along with anything the least bit nostalgic or sentimental?

“Super 8” wears its heart on its sleeve, as well as its intentions. Abrams said this movie was intended as a direct tribute to the Steven Spielberg films that moved and inspired him and we feel his passion for cinematic Spielberg in every nostalgic drenched frame. There is some “Jaws” and “Close Encounters” in “Super 8”, and of course a lot of “E.T. But more than anything this Spielberg produced Amblin Entertainment production feels more like one of those Amblin production from the mid ‘80s that Spielberg Executive Produced only (“Gremlins”, “The Goonies”, “Batteries Not Included” etc.), as well as the non-Amblin 1985 Joe Dante underappreciated gem “Explorers”.
If you grew up going to the movies between 1975 and 1987 as the filmmakers did (as well as yours truly), “Super 8” is a profound, quasi-religious experience. And because of the technical expertise and painstaking attention to detail, seeing this movie is like stepping back in time to 1979. It really does feel like this could have been a movie made by Amblin some thirty plus years ago.
As one of the few non-sequel, non-franchise, original films released in any recent summer, “Super 8” is a quiet, brilliantly acted (especially by Elle Fanning!) deeply personal character driven genre film that should have been embraced upon its release in June of 2011. Instead, critics scoffed and used the opportunity to take shots at the bearded one and his new heir apparent as internet trolls ranted on about “lens flairs” in an effort to sound film savvy and hide their ignorance. The result was a soft box office and a film that has been all but forgotten three years later.

Michael Giacchino’s score for “Super 8” suffered a similar fate albeit for different reasons. Expectations were impossibly high for the soundtrack. Not only is there the looming specter of John Williams and his masterpieces “Close Encounters” and “E.T.” (which Giacchino pays a lot of tribute to in “Super 8”), there is a vast library of outstanding film music in the Amblin catalogue, not to mention the non-Amblin but still Spielberg inspired/influenced stuff like “Explorers” (1985) and “Cocoon” (1985). To further add to the expectations of soundtrack fans the “Super 8” trailer used music from James Horner’s “Cocoon” score—a lush, gorgeous, and very popular work.
But that was a very different era and the approach to music in film was nothing like it is today. The “Super 8” score, like the film has to be judged on its own terms. When that is done, it becomes clear that both are underrated gems—minor masterworks in need of rediscovery.

The soundtrack album opens with “Super 8”, a cue that introduces two of Giacchino’s main themes,—the movie’s rumbling monster theme, a swinging four note suspense stinger motif—and the family theme, a sentimental melody that serves as the score’s emotional heart. The monster theme is a throwback to the composer’s “Lost” days and this colorful motif gets plenty of play as it develops throughout the score into a full blown theme reminiscent of John William’s music for the helicopter chase on Devil’s Tower in “Close Encounters”.
A third, ultra-fluid, richly developed theme representing the Alice character (played by Elle Fanning) is introduced in “Acting Chops” and given strong statements throughout the score culminating in a full-blown performance in the finale “Super 8 Suite”. A fourth and irresistible theme for the military villains gets a strong treatment in “The Evacuation of Lillian”. This propulsive piece of music is a wonderful homage to William’s “Men With Keys” theme from “E.T.” and sets the tone for the surprising amount of exciting action material in “Super 8”.
Giacchino can write exciting action music up there with the best of them but it is with the emotional material that the composer truly flourishes. While “Super 8” has an obvious influence from Williams, (and to a lesser extent Horner and even Broughton), 2012’s “John Carter” and this year’s masterful “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” show the somposer to be the heir apparent to John Barry and Georges Delerue when it comes to creating deeply affecting emotional music.
“Super 8” is rich with sentiment. “Alice Projects On Joe” is a heart-breaking masterpiece. If this cue does make you feel something, then check for a pulse. Both the Family Theme and the Alice Theme pack more emotion per note than most entire scores contain.
As a stand-alone listen on album the breaking of the music into so many smaller, fragmented cues can be a bit frustrating. There were many times when the Family Theme would start playing and just as I became swept up in the emotion, the track would end abruptly. If there is one weakness in the composer’s game, it would be album presentation, something that Williams, Horner, and Shore do so well. The good news is that recent Giacchino soundtracks have gone with longer cues and a more manageable track number that allows the music to breathe.
But, all of the teasing with the shorter cues in the first two thirds of the soundtrack does finally pay off. Beginning with track 21 “Neighborhood Watch – Fail”, the composer begins to reward us with longer, more fully developed cues, carefully building the musical and narrative momentum until he delivers three absolute knockout tracks—the rousing “Creature Comforts”, the bittersweet “Letting Go” and an emotionally cathartic release as we relive the musical and emotional highlights in “Super 8 Suite”.
Bottom line: The “Super 8” soundtrack is an exciting, moving, nostalgic, score brimming with a sentimental sense of wonder. It is sure to please fans of Michael Giacchino, classic Spielberg/Williams, and Amblin Entertainment.