Happy Trails

June 13, 2013

Operations have official ended on this version of The Temp Track.  All the furniture and libraries have been moved over to our new offices at http://www.thetemptrack.com, and new content will no longer be posted here.  This building is actually scheduled for demolition in a few months so make sure to switch your links and feeds and whatnot over to our new operations center.  It’s been fun and I hope to see you all soon at our new location.

Last one out hit the lights.

An Ancient Evil Awakens

June 11, 2013

There are rumblings throughout the land of something stirring in the depths of the Temp Track Plaza, the fires are being stoked, the forges once again bellow.  Something old is returning from its long slumber, a demon whose name we dare not speak in our hallowed halls.  Its language not fit for civilized men, its vile tongue a profanity even to the lowliest of peasant.

The Temp Track is returning.

Yes, after my forced exile at the hands of my dissertation, I will soon be returning to the world of Blogos, to wreck havoc with (hopefully) insightful commentary on films and the music therein.  I will not be alone.  Oh no, this time Hell’s coming with me.

*whispering off screen*

What’s that?  We couldn’t afford the Horsemen?  Really?  How much did they want?  REALLY!?!  Well geez.

Okay, so I’ll be twisting the arms of some of my friends and they will be providing guest columns and pieces.  However, please be patient as we slowly bring operations back on line here at Temp Track Plaza.  Not only are we resuming our blogging endeavors, we’re also MOVING!  That’s right.  Soon, this site will be hosted at its own domain, thetemptrack.com.  So look for us there very soon.  And after awhile, I’ll be shutting down this blog, so change your links.

You have been warned!

Also, surf over to michaelwharris.net to find out more about me, the mad idiot behind this blog.

Film Score Friday Top 10: Science Fiction Films AND Scores

July 29, 2011

So I had an idea for a post the other day and hiatus or no hiatus, dissertation or no dissertation, it had to be written.  As Pharoah said: So let it be written, so let it be done.

The other day I was listening to David Arnold’s Independence Day score and remembering just how much I loved it back when I first saw the film (four times in theatres) and thinking that it still is great to this day.  I came back to the score for two reasons: 1) I had just watched the last two James Bond films (both scores by Arnold) and 2) While listening to Alan Silvestri’s new score for Captain America I heard elements that reminded me a whole heck of a lot of Arnold’s ID4 work.  So I listened to it the other day on the bus while reading about the philosophy of Nishida Kitaro (see how much fun doing a PhD is kids!), and the thought crossed my mind of not only great Sci-Fi scores (which Constant Readers will know is my bread and butter, go to, all time favorite genre), but also great Sci-Fi films with great scores.

But I thought that a mere Top 5 could not contain such a list, John Williams alone has composed five great sci-fi scores for great sci-fi films.  So I decided to do a Top 10 list, but also with some very strict rules so that it isn’t burdened by too many scores of films from the same people.  I’m not going to try to define a “sci-fi” score here as having the qualities of any type of music.  Rather, this list, I feel, reflects the wide stylistic traits that marks Science Fiction as such an adaptable genre, both in terms of music and film.  Before we get to the list, though, here are the ground rules I laid out:

1) Only one film each from the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises can be on the list.

2) Only one film per director or composer, with the exception of John Williams for which one film each from his collaborations with George Lucas and Steven Spielberg will be allowed.

3) Both the film and the score must be of high quality, classics of the genre in both instances.

4) Film must first and foremost be a Sci-Fi film, not a superhero or horror or another genre with hints of science fiction.

With that said, I’m not going to go into as much detail as I have in the past on each of the entries, but what I will say that each of these films and scores deserve a spot in your collections if you’re a Sci-Fi fan.  I’ll also present at the end my runners-up.  As is tradition, I present these not in order of quality, but in chronological order.

Metropolis (1927): dir. Fritz Lang, music Gottfried Huppertz – A true classic of the silent era, don’t both with new scores  by anyone, pick up the Kind DVD of the new restored cut with the original score by Huppertz.  His score is a tour-de-force of lush, late Romanticism that would make Richard Strauss blush at its sometimes over-the-top, melodramatic tendencies.  But that was par for the course in the silent era, and if you real want to experience what a pre-composed score for a silent film could do, you must see Metropolis.  The film itself is still considered by many to be one of the best ever made and still holds up very well to this day.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951): dir. Robert Wise, music Bernard Hermann – I’ve already written about this and the next film before so I will merely direct you there.

Planet of the Apes (1968): dir. Franklin J. Schaffner, music Jerry Goldsmith – If you want to read more about these two films see my earlier post on Influential Science Fiction Scores.

Closer Encounters of the Third Kind (1977): dir. Steven Spielberg, music John Williams – All right, everyone whistle the five note theme of CE3K just to get it out of your system.  Done?  Good.  Williams’ score uses so many different techniques, from his trademark post-Romantic romanticism to atonal cluster chords, and the most whistleable melody ever written by man.  In fact, one of my professors in undergrad had Williams’ autograph and he then wrote out the theme underneath.  I had a bit of a geek out moment when I saw that.  But let’s not forget the film, a great exploration of so many different themes: fear of the unknown, madness in the face of an uncontralable drive, war, peace, and finally family.  Some might say that E.T. would be the better choice for this list, but sorry, my go to Spielberg alien film is Close Encounters.

The Empire Strikes Back (1980): dir. George Lucas, music John Williams – No film and its score has influenced me more than Empire.  If there was a ground zero for me diving head long into film music as a subject of study it was my first time hearing the “Imperial March.”  The film made me appreciate how not all films can or should have happy endings, sometimes evil can seemingly win (as long as they blow up in the next film), and some days you just get your hand chopped out and find out that the evil bastard you’ve been fighting against is your dad.  Hey, momma (or Aunt Beru) said there’d be days like this.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982): dir. Nicholas Meyer, music James Horner – For my thoughts on this film and the entire Star Trek franchise, see my earlier post.  But on the film itself, which is considered by many to still be the high point of the franchise on the big screen, it is iconic for so many reasons: a terrific villain who can match the lead tit-for-tat, an epic space battle that still looks good by today’s standards, and a Shakespearean sweep to it that was only approached by Star Trek VI‘s story – and that was only because they had a villain who would quote the Bard almost constantly.

The Terminator (1984): dir. James Cameron, music Brad Fiedel – I might have easily put T2 here instead, and maybe I should have, but everything that was so great about the music and film in T2 is because of The Terminator.  The one-liners, the leather jacket, the great pulse-pounding electronic score (that rhythm in the main theme!), so I made the decision to have the original on the list.

Independence Day (1996): dir. Roland Emmerich, music David Arnold – The film that spawned this list actually gets in to no one’s surprise.  I know some don’t like this film, too much over the top summer disaster carnage, but if there is a film to blame for the glut of disaster films in the late ’90s and early 2000s, it is ID4.  But what it had and others didn’t was a sense of humor about itself and conscious homages to Sci-Fi’s past.  From the ominous shadow ripped from the opening of The Day the Earth Stood Still to the casting of Brent Spiner (better known as the android Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation) as the kooky Area 51 scientist, the film was equal parts comedy and love letter…and the White House getting blown up (though right now I would vote for the Capitol to go first).  And Arnold’s score is both rousing and patriotic along with dissonant and ominous.  I still own my original CD release along with two-disc set released last year by La-La Land records.

Moon (2009): dir. Duncan Jones, music Clint Mansell – I said almost everywhere on this blog that this was my favorite score of 2009, and the film and score have only increased in my esteem as time has passed.  It’s not always the most listenable score on its own, but its tone fits the film so well.  My original remarks on the score are here, though I go into a bit more detail here.

Inception (2010): dir. Christopher Nolan, music Hans Zimmer – I hesitated in putting this one on the list.  One could argue that Inception isn’t pure science fiction like the rest of the entries, but the essential tech that makes the movie work is pure science fiction, so I say it makes the list.  I’ve said so much on the score, most notably this post that single-handedly jumped my view counts  over 100 a day for a solid week.  I’ve heard some that don’t like the score, but Zimmer’s ingenious use of the Piaf song as a template for the trombones was wonderfully done and just adds layers upon layers to the whole dream-within-a-dream motif of the film.  As to the critics of the film itself, I think it will stand the test of time as will Nolan’s entire filmography.  In my opinion, he is one of the best mainstream directors out there today, and I look forward to each and every one of his films.

Finally, to close out, I would like to highlight these films that didn’t make the list for one reason or another: Alien (1979: dir. Ridley Scott, music Jerry Goldsmith), Blade Runner (1982: dir. Ridley Scott, music Vangelis), E.T. (1982: dir. Steven Spielberg, music John Williams), Aliens (1986: dir. James Cameron, music James Horner), Robocop (1987: dir. Paul Verhoven, music Basil Poledouris), Total Recall (1990: dir. Paul Verhoven, music Jerry Goldsmith), Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991: dir. James Cameron, music Brad Fiedel), Jurassic Park (1993: dir. Steven Spielberg, music John Williams), Stargate (1994: dir. Roland Emmerich, music David Arnold), Sunshine (2007: dir. Danny Boyle, music John Murphy and Underground), and, of course, many of the Star Trek and Star Wars films.

Okay, enough time-wasting, back to my dissertation.

Hiatus, Part Deux

April 22, 2011

Dear Loyal Readers,

As many of you may have noticed, I have not been updating this blog nearly as often as I would like.  The reasons for this are many, but most are related to my school work, and increasingly, teaching duties.  If you read my mini-bio under ‘About Me,’ you’ll note that I am working on a PhD, and while, prior to this year, that meant only classes, I have recently embarked down that long, dark part known as the “Dissertation.”  I’ve passed the comprehensive exams stage, passed the defense of my dissertation topic, and now, have been cast into the unknown sea marked only with “Here there be Dragons.”

As such, I have decided to give official notice of a hiatus of operations here at Temp Track Plaza.  This doesn’t mean I won’t surface now and again to give some thoughts, and hopefully even continue with the Tempi Awards but what it does mean is that you won’t be seeing nearly as much of me for the foreseeable future.  I need to concentrate on the task at hand and graduate.  It might take a few years, which is like 10 internet years, but hopefully I’ll come back sooner rather than later.

Until then…good night, and good luck.

Oscar Thoughts and Capsule Reviews…

March 22, 2011

I meant to write part of this post long ago…like the day after the Oscars, but life happened.  I’m getting deeper and deeper into that bottomless pit known as a dissertation and it is slowly taking over my life.  But before we get to some quick score reviews, I thought I’d try to wrap a bow on the whole Oscar thing.

I was shocked and pleased that The Social Network won the Oscar for best score. I honestly thought that it didn’t have a chance to win, that King’s Speech would probably win (though I still contend that Harry Potter and TDH, Part I was Desplat’s best score of last year), but just goes to show that sometimes voters do get things right.  Now, having had a chance to listen to John Powell’s How To Train Your Dragon, I wish to revisit my earlier comments that I made in the heat of the moment when the nominations came out.  While I still believe that both Black Swan and True Grit were cheated by the arcane rules of the Music division of the Academy, and both deserved a nomination due to their high quality.  I am no longer as upset by HTTYD‘s nomination.  It is, by all accounts, a good score, and had I seen the film, it might have squeaked into my Top 10 film scores of last year (maybe…).  Do I believe that it was Oscar worthy?  I’m not entirely sold, I think there are moments in it that are of the type that Oscar voters love: sweeping gestures, lush romanticism, etc.  Good, old-fashioned film music, with just enough new sounds and “ethnic” instruments to make it stand out.  And there is nothing wrong with that, I enjoy that, but I guess the more “academic” I get, the more I look for something really different, that challenges my expectations, or really makes me sit up and take notice.  For me, the scores that did that this year were The Social Network, Tron: Legacy, Black Swan, Inception, and True Grit.  All very different types of film music, but each did something that made it stand out in my mind.  Something that How To Train Your Dragon didn’t really do for me.  Even now as I write this, I’m trying to remember parts of the score, but for some reason the music for Avatar keeps popping in my head, a score that is similar in some respects.  But enough of that, onto some new scores.

Battle: Los Angeles (Brian Tyler) – This is the first new score of 2011 that I’ve listened to, and it was mainly due to seeing a theatrical trailer for the film.  I’ve never been all that familiar with Brian Tyler’s work, and I keep switching him around with Tyler Bates (whose work I am more familiar with and don’t hold in very high esteem).  After hearing this score, though, I will never again make that mistake.  The album kicks off with the “Battle Los Angeles Hymn,” which is a wonderful piece of music.  Yes, it falls squarely into such action/sci-fi/military movie clichés of having a piece with chorus that either celebrates the triumph of the human spirit (think the end of The Island among other films), or somehow depicts the military (think Crimson Tide).  This largely holds true for the rest of the score, there is nothing truly “new” here, but it does what it does exceedingly well and is truly fun to listen to.  There are some great action cues mixed in with more moving, solemn cues.  I have yet to see the movie, though from what I hear, it is a fairly standard, by the numbers alien invasion/war/action/special effects picture, but a fairly good one.  I think the score is better than just good, maybe not great, but throughly enjoyable – well worth a listen or two.

The Adjustment Bureau (Thomas Newman) – Adequate is the word that springs to mind with Newman’s score here.  It works well in the context of the film but doesn’t do a whole lot for me upon independent listening.  It bears Newman’s trademark minimalist tendencies, well-known from his American Beauty score, though he does seem that he’s trying out some new ideas and techniques: more electronics,  a bit of an ambient feel at times, and maybe a bit more of a pop sensibility.  On the whole, though, these just don’t seem to gel or coalesce in the larger scheme.  Overall, the album just feels a bit uneven and lacking in cohesion.  Also included on the album are two original songs recorded by former Verve frontman Richard Ashcraft and a remix of Sarah Vaughn’s recording of “Fever.”  These add some nice contrast to the proceedings, and “Future’s Bright” is used effectively in the film, though the lyrics are a bit on the nose.  There is, also, Newman’s distinctive dramatic cue that is “weighty” and features copious low timbres (think of the most dramatic moments in Shawshank Redemption or Finding Nemo…) and is featured at the height of the film.  For Adjustment Bureau, that moment happens during the cues “The Illusion of Free Will” and “Escher Loops.”  I’m not saying that this isn’t a good score or effort from Newman, I’m just saying that it is just lacking in certain elements that keep it from being great.  This is not unlike the film itself, which is quite good, but just doesn’t following the plot and story deep enough and in the third act devolves into a lengthy chase scene.  Recommended for Newman fans, but not a must buy.

Heavy Rain (Normand Corbeil) – This is a video game score from last year that I recently stumbled upon on iTunes.  Basically, I had just recently watched the 1995 film Screamers which Mr. Corbeil scored and wanted to check out the soundtrack.  After finding nothing under the title I entered the composer’s name into the iTunes store search engine and Heavy Rain was the only album listed.  I listened to the samples and decided to check out the full album.

I don’t review many video game scores here, though in the first year I did do some overviews of the Final Fantasy games, some classics from the 8 and 16-bit eras, but not too many recent titles (with the exceptions of Mass Effect, whose score I picked up on sale from Borders last year, and Bear McCreary’s Dark Void).  This is ostensibly for two reasons:  the most recent console I have is a PS2 plus I just don’t have time to play many video games anymore.  You know…that whole dissertation and PhD thing.  But I do try to keep up with the major titles released every year, and because of that I had at least heard of Heavy Rain.

For those not in the know, Heavy Rain is a noir-ish murder mystery in which the player investigates a serial murderer known as the “Oragami Killer,” named for the paper figures s/he leaves behind and who always strikes during periods of heavy rainfall which he uses to drown his/her victim.  The investigation uses four different characters and a unique control system that makes the game more akin to old school adventure games for the computer (like Grim Fandango or the Monkey Island games).  And I can’t really say more without spoiling things.

The score perfectly matches the atmosphere of the game from what I’ve seen in video clips.  Like most new games, it features a full orchestral soundtrack, and it sounds as if Corbeil was channeling a sort of ambient minimalism that one hears in many neo-noir films.  Specifically I’m thinking of David Julyan’s score for Christopher Nolan’s remake of Insomnia.  Something like this can work great for a video game because so much is atmosphere and can be looped underneath with varying thickness (meaning the music engine can drop layers like strings, winds, etc., in and out depending on a player’s actions).

On the album, the cues are presented mainly as they relate to the game’s main characters (each of the four playable characters has a theme), though there are some specific cues for what I’m guessing are predefined moments in the game (“Before The Storm” for example).  The tense atmosphere is broken, though, for the action cues on the album, and these are much weaker than the other cues featured, but I understand that the game needs action to keep the player interested.

Anyway, it really is an interesting score and demonstrates just how sophisticated game scoring has become when compared to its brethren in film and television.  And more than that, it almost makes me wish that I had a PlayStation 3.  Anyone want to lend me $300?

Well, that’s it for now from Temp Track Plaza.  Hopefully I won’t wait so long between posts next time.

2011 Academy Awards for Best Original Score Nominations…

January 25, 2011

…And once again there is at least one head scratcher among them.  But before we get to that, let’s review my original fearless predictions for the nominations:  Alice in Wonderland (Danny Elfman), Inception (Hans Zimmer), The King’s Speech (Alexandre Desplat), 127 Hours (A.R. Rahman), and The Social Network (Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross).  And I’m happy to report that I picked four of the five correct, with only Alice not being nominated and, for some reason, John Powell’s How to Train Your Dragon being given a nomination.

Now, I’m not saying anything bad about Powell, and I didn’t see How to Train Your Dragon.  I respect Powell and his work, and think that his scores for the Jason Bourne films are great examples of excellet film scoring.  But, in all seriousness: AMPAS – this is what happens when you disallow some scores based on arcane rules about interpolated pre-existing material (i.e. – the rulings on Black Swan and True Grit).  At least they saw their way to actually nominate The Social Network, one of my top three scores of the year (along with Inception and TRON: Legacy).

But now that the nominations are out, who will win?  My choice is for The Social Network, and I honestly think it will win…at least I hope it will.  If not TSN then hopefully Inception.  Both are worthly winners in what was a fantastic year for film scores, even if some of the best were not nominated.

 Good night, and good luck.

2010 Wrap-Up

January 16, 2011

So I know that I’ve already posted my year-end awards, but I wanted to do one more post on the year that was to put a nice bow on things.

It was quite the year, though.  A number of great scores were released, not to mention some great new CD releases.  Let’s discuss the CD releases first.  We had THREE separate Star Trek scores released: new two disc editions of not only the Tempi© award winning Star Trek V, but also Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and Michael Giacchino’s new Star Trek score.  On top of which was FSM’s Ron Jones box-set featuring most of his work on Star Trek: The Next Generation.  We also had Danny Elfman’s two Batman scores released and a new La-La Land edition of Nelson Riddle’s old 1966 Batman film score.  Lost fans were also treated with 4 discs of material covering Giacchino’s final seasons-worth of work on the zeitgeist defining show.  And Varese Sarabande also gave us the hefty Spartacus box-set mentioned previously in the blog.  And that’s only scratching the surface of the great CDs put out by the labels specializing in film scores.

In terms of new scores, it was a wonderfully varied year, with many traditional sounding score released (James Horner’s The Karate Kid and James Newton Howard’s The Last Airbender among others), but if there was a single trend that I took away from this year, it was the growing use and mainstreaming of electronic/ambient musicians in film scoring.  Now, they have been present since the advent of electronic music, but it seems like this year the practice really broke into major filmmaking.  Namely, there were two scores: French electronic-music duo Daft Punk’s TRON: Legacy score and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score for The Social Network.  Further, Reznor and Ross have already been tapped to score Network‘s director David Fincher’s next project, and if there is a sequel to Tron, you better believe that Daft Punk will be involved.  In my opinion, that movie would not have been anywhere near as watchable as it was without their amazing score.

There were also many pleasant surprises from unexpected places.  Fellow blogger and film music enthusiast Herr Vogler had this to say:

“The biggest surprises of the year?
Salt (looks around guiltily) because it’s a lot of damned fun and Robin Hood was actually quite impressive in some ways (I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but this wasn’t it and I was pleasantly surprised by it).”

I didn’t see Salt, but I would heartily agree with Robin Hood.  The film was strictly mediocre, but the score had many nice moments, and it makes me less nervous about the prospect of Marc Streitenfeld scoring Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel project (now titled Prometheus).  James Horner’s The Karate Kid score would also make my list of pleasant surprises (along with the film itself).  I wasn’t expecting a whole lot, but I found the film, and his score especially, quite charming.  One of the few remakes that I feel live up to the original…though I was never a huge fan of Bill Conti’s original Karate Kid score.

One of my other favorite memories of the year is excellent trailer for The Social Network that I talked about earlier on this blog (check out the post here for my full analysis).  If you want to watch it again (and I still do), here it is, one last time:

And after seeing the film, I can say that the song brilliantly captures the tone of the film, and in so many ways sums up everything that is so powerful about the film itself.

So, what are my top ten scores of the year?  Well if you’re curious, here they are, in reverse order:

10. The Karate Kid – James Horner

9. Alice in Wonderland - Danny Elfman

8. Lost: “The End” (Series Finale) – Michael Giacchino

7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I  – Alexandre Desplat

6. Black Swan - Clint Mansell

5. Human Target: Season 1 – Bear McCreary

4. True Grit – Carter Burwell

3. Inception – Hans Zimmer

2. The Social Network – Trent Resznor and Atticus Ross

1. TRON: Legacy – Daft Punk

And in reality, those top 3 could almost be in any order.  Any of them could be number one and in some way or another, they are all deserving of the honor.

Lastly, I shall once again go out on a limb and make my bold Oscar predictions.  Two of my top scores of the year have already been disqualified (Black Swan and True Grit) and I would be greatly surprised if both Social Network and TRON: Legacy are nominated because of the stupid two composers rule (i.e. The Dark Knight).  So based on other awards and such, here are my guesses for the five nominees: Inception (Zimmer), The King’s Speech (Alexandre Desplat), Alice in Wonderland (Elfman), 127 Hours (AR Rahman), and – even though I have reservations about them nominating it – The Social Network (Reznor/Ross).  I think academy would be really hard-pressed to ignore Social Network especially with all the positive attention it has received.  Looking over this list, though, I realize that I have just named EXACTLY the same 5 films nominated by the Golden Globes, and those two award don’t always go hand in hand.  Oh well.  We’ll see how it goes.

Well, that’s it for 2010, here’s hoping 2011 is just even better.  So long, farewell, adieu.


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