Tag Archives: Batman

Rocks In The Attic #741: John Williams – ‘Superman: The Movie (O.S.T.)’ (1978)

RITA#741“All those things I can do, all those powers, and I couldn’t even save him.”

With this line, delivered by a grieving Clark Kent near the end of the film’s weighty first act, the writers of Superman: The Movie clearly identify the character’s central flaw: that despite his super-powers, he’s unable to save everybody.

This paradox is echoed at the end of the film (in a scenario later lifted by The Dark Knight), where Superman is forced to decide between saving Lois Lane and saving everybody else. Only by interfering with human history – and thereby breaking his father’s golden rule – can he do both.

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Superman has no weaknesses, except his allergy to that pesky kryptonite, and so his inability to protect all innocent life becomes the character’s true Achilles’ heel. Richard Donner’s Superman makes a big deal out of this; it’s a film about the humanity of the character (with a painfully obvious subtext concerning the American dream). The comic-book superhero stuff is just dressing.

RITA#741aDonner’s film is so much better than recent efforts with the character, it almost seems an insult to compare it to them. After a long break following the woeful Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, we all narrowly escaped the ‘90s Tim Burton version starring Nicolas Cage before the property seemed to fall back into safe hands. Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns (2006) was all set to be a masterpiece. The storyline (co-written by Singer, himself a huge fan of Donner’s version of Superman) did away with the third and fourth films, placing it directly after the respectable Superman II.

“Interesting,” we all thought. This could be something. The director of 1995’s The Usual Suspects had shown that he could direct comic-book superheroes with 2000’s X-Men (and its 2003 sequel). It was pitched to be a continuation of the Richard Donner / Richard Lester films. The opening credits even took the swooping, swooshing style of those earlier films, set to John Williams’ score. What could go wrong?

Well, sadly, everything.

RITA#741bAside from a forgetful cast, and a lacklustre script, the storyline involving ‘SuperBoy’ – the product of a romance between Clark Kent and Lois Lane – was just unbearable. What did Singer expect to happen if the film had been more successful than it ultimately was? Was he thinking that the franchise would continue with ‘SuperBoy’, ‘SuperPrePubescent’, ‘SuperSulkyTeen’, ‘SuperSurreptitiousMasturbator’ and so on?

This storyline, more than anything in Singer’s film, killed the franchise yet again. We would have to wait another seven years for Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel to land. Again, it looked hopeful. I’m a huge fan of Snyder’s Watchmen (2009) and so it looked like the franchise was safe in the hands of somebody who could do dark-DC well. Even better, the film was produced by Christopher Nolan who had done marvellous things with DC’s other flagship character, Batman, in the early 2000s. What could go wrong?

Again, sadly, everything.

Man Of Steel takes all the joy out of the character, and replaces it with a migraine. A bastard behind the eyes, as Withnail would put it. The only good thing about watching Man Of Steel is getting to the closing credits without slipping into a coma. The apple has fallen a long, long way from Richard Donner’s tree.

To be fair, I don’t mind 2016’s Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice – particularly the bit where the delightful Gal Gadot turns up to the Doomsday fight as Wonder Woman – but Superman is the least interesting character in a universe that is doing its best to ape Marvel’s successes.

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The final nail in the coffin – so far – was the return of Superman in 2017’s Justice League. This sludgefest of a film might have been better without Superman appearing, but it was already terrible without him. Moral of the story: if the actor playing Superman refuses to shave his (Mission: Impossible – Fallout) moustache off to complete re-shoots, for WHATEVER REASON, leading to uncanny valley CGI problems, then HE DOESN’T DESERVE TO PLAY SUPERMAN.

Of course, half of the magic from Richard Donner’s Superman comes from John Williams’ epic score. It’s possibly my favourite of his soundtracks – which all depends on which film I saw last: Superman, Star Wars, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Jaws, or Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

There are many passages in both the main title theme, and the score overall, that almost bring a tear to my eye. The score is like a direct line to the nostalgia of my childhood; a magic button, composed by a magician himself.

Hit: Theme From Superman (Main Title)

Hidden Gem: The Fortress Of Solitude

Rocks In The Attic #646: John Williams – ‘Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom’ (1984)

RITA#646The other night, after a hard week at work, I sat down to watch Kingsman: The Golden Circle with my wife. I wasn’t expecting much – I hadn’t heard good things – but I wasn’t prepared for how stunningly average it was. Would I say it is a bad film? No, not really. It was technically well made, by a more than competent director (Matthew Vaughn), but it was instantly forgettable.

When I grew up through the 1980s, there seemed to be fantastic genre films coming out all the time, dotted with the occasional howler (Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, Jaws IV: The Revenge – possibly anything with “IV” in the title, although Rocky IV was a banger). These days, the howlers are relatively easy to avoid. Production of big marquee films tends to be spread across multiple studios sharing the risk of a multi-million dollar budget, and as a result they don’t seem to let a franchise die at the hands of a bad script or a deluded director.

Hollywood’s destructive habit in the last decade is movie-making by numbers; a manifesto of mediocrity. The sheer amount of unremarkable genre films it has produced is testament to the absence of risk that directors and producers are willing to take in order to make something that stands out.

I remember reading an interview with Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige back in 2009, where he outlined his plans for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). His strategy of an overloaded release schedule – 4 or 5 films a year – seemed too good to be true. That’ll never happen, I thought. But it now feels like there’s a new Marvel film out every other month.

The other unbelievable aspect of his strategy was talk of bringing Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and the Hulk together for an Avengers movie. That will definitely never happen, I thought. The Hulk and Iron Man had been revitalised in film by Marvel already, and I just couldn’t see Robert Downey Jr. and Ed Norton sharing a film together with whatever big names they had lined up to play Captain America and Thor. In a way I was right, as they eventually replaced Norton with a different (cheaper?) actor in Mark Ruffalo, but Feige’s vision ultimately proved true. Ensemble genre films are a dime a dozen these days, and it’s rare for a superhero film to be limited to only one or two key roles. This week saw the release of the trailer for the third (?) Avengers film, introducing the Guardians Of The Galaxy into the earth-bound world of the Avengers. Around and around it goes. Pop will eat itself.

But when Feige sits down in his old age – in his superhero-sized mansion – and tells his privileged grandchildren about his life’s work, how will he feel? For the – by my count – seventeen (!) MCU films that have seen the light of day since 2008, I can really only put my finger on one or two that I would hold up as being great films. Iron Man (2008) and The Avengers (2012) stand head and shoulders above the rest, and while there have been great moments among the others, in general they’re all junk; popcorn escapism for the masses.

The rot set in early on, with 2010’s Iron Man 2. How could they get the sequel so wrong, when they got the first Iron Man so right? I spoke to a fan of the series upon its release, and he couldn’t see any difference between the two. That’s the problem with casual film viewers. They just want what they expect, and they’ll happily visit the cinema every time for that hit of familiarity – Coca-cola in their veins, popcorn in their arteries, and the anticipation of safe storytelling that’s not going to push any boundaries and make them feel uncomfortable. Narrative left-turns in cinema these days are met with whispered conversations in the dark as couples explain to each other what is happening on screen.

Marvel’s now-misguided strategy to steady the ship was to deliver a third iteration in the Iron Man series (2013) which was so incredibly poor, that they should have developed a new category at the Academy Awards to recognise it. ‘And the ‘Best Mediocre Picture’ Oscar goes to…’

If Marvel’s attempts at serious filmmaking are to be laughed at, I’m not sure what we’re supposed to think of their rivals’ efforts at DC. Christopher Nolan reinvigorated the modern superhero film with Batman Begins in 2005, and so you’d think his successors might have learnt a thing or two from him. But as soon as he stepped away from the director’s chair, the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) kicked off with one of the dullest superhero films ever committed to celluloid (Man Of Steel, 2013).

Where Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie (1978) was a glorious piece of wondrous entertainment, setting a high bar that wasn’t really challenged until Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel is a turgid mess. I seem to remember a fight sequence at the end that lasted around three hours. I didn’t care about any of the characters, and I secretly hoped that mankind would have been wiped off the screen just so that it would have put me out of my misery.

I might have watched Donner’s Superman and Richard Lester’s Superman II close to a hundred times each. I wouldn’t watch Man Of Steel again if my life depended on it.

Which brings me to Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom. Now, Steven Spielberg knew how to make a good genre film back in the ‘80s. Easily the weakest of the original trilogy – although not according to my old buddy Quentin Tarantino, who sees it as the strongest of the three – it’s still an infinitely more enjoyable film than the unremarkable dross dealt out to us by Hollywood in the twenty-first century.

Hit: Anything Goes

Hidden Gem: Finale And End Credits

Rocks In The Attic #507: Prince – ‘Prince’ (1979)

RITA#5072016 has been a terrible year for celebrity deaths, particularly those from music, films and television. The year started off tainted by the death of Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister just a few days before New Year. Then things started to go crazy with David Bowie dying suddenly on the tenth of January. Following him, we’ve also seen the passing of Eagle Glenn Frey, Beatles producer George Martin, Keith Emerson, Merle Haggard, Elvis’ guitarist Scotty Moore, and many, many more.

Losing Bowie was bad enough, but any year where we lose somebody as iconic as him, plus Prince, plus Muhammad Ali is just plain crazy. It’s like the icons of the late twentieth century are falling off the planet. I’m half expecting a plane carrying Madonna, Tom Cruise and Bruce Springsteen to crash into the Hollywood sign, while Los Angeles succumbs to a devastating earthquake.

Prince’s death seemed to hit a little closer to home, only because he had just played in Auckland a few weeks earlier as part of his Piano And Microphone tour. I would have loved to see Prince, backed by a full band but I didn’t really like the idea of seeing him play unaccompanied. There’s a part of me that regrets not chasing down a ticket, just because it was my last chance to see him perform, but with his passing I’m even more glad that I didn’t go – I like to think that my seat went to a more deserving fan.

I can take or leave Prince. His Batman soundtrack was the first album I ever owned, and I like a good deal of his big hits; I just don’t like all the Sexy Motherf*cker bullshit that he descended to in the early nineties. His contractual dispute with Warner Brothers around that time – leading to him changing his name to the symbol and writing ‘Slave’ on his cheek also turned me off him. All of a sudden, just as I was getting into music in a big way, he didn’t seem to be about the music anymore.

His Greatest Hits album is superb though, and the song off that record I’ve always liked the best is the opening number I Wanna Be Your Lover, taken from this, his self-titled second album. The recent repressing of his back catalogue on vinyl has given me the opportunity to buy the album (I’ve never seen an original pressing in the wild), and it’s a great record.

The album version of I Wanna Be Your Lover sounds even better, being a few minutes longer than the single edit available on his Greatest Hits, and the other singles from the record are all worthy additions to his canon. I can’t remember the last time I liked a record so much from start to finish.

What’s not to like? All the upbeat songs are of a similar quality to I Wanna Be Your Lover, and the slower ballads don’t grate as much as some of the soppier ballads from later in his career. I might put my toe further in the purple water, and try out some of his other records now that they’re widely available again.

Hit: I Wanna Be Your Lover

Hidden Gem: Bambi

Rocks In The Attic #363: Prince – ‘Batman (O.S.T.)’ (1989)

RITA#363This was the first album I remember owning on CD. I think my brother bought it me for what would have been my eleventh birthday in 1989. Having owned it at such an impressionable age, the album resonates with me probably more than it should. I used to think the world of it, now I just hear a big mess – although that’s probably just Prince, isn’t it?

One thing’s for certain – this soundtrack is so ingrained with the style of Tim Burton, I can’t really imagine the film without it. Strangely, it fits perfectly with Danny Elfman’s score too. Imagine Prince’s soundtrack over Christopher Nolan’s first Batman film, Batman Begins – it just doesn’t fit. As much as I love the Nolan trilogy – there’s not a great deal of humour in them, so you can’t exactly imagine something like Partyman playing out over scenes of Heath Ledger as the Joker.

The messiest song on the album is definitely Batdance, yet I loved every second of this when it was released. To my eleven year old ears, it just sounded so unworldly. Try watching the music video of it on YouTube now, it’s just horrible. Man, I didn’t have a great deal of taste when I was eleven (some would say I still don’t).

The bad thing about the Nolan trilogy being so good is that it makes the Tim Burton films look so weak in comparison. It’s an unfair comparison though. That first Burton film was the first decent superhero film in a long time, possible since Superman II – that’s a staggering nine years. These days, there seems to be nine superhero movies every year – calm down Kevin Fiege, it should be about quality, not quantity…

Hit: Partyman

Hidden Gem: Trust

Rocks In The Attic #356: S’Express – ‘Original Soundtrack’ (1989)

RITA#356“Drop that ghetto blaster!” Not sure how I managed to acquire this record, but it’s a guilty pleasure nevertheless. I don’t know what it is about early sampling, but it feels right – maybe because you can hear them stop and start. Obviously everything is sampled these days in electronic music, but you can’t hear the joins any more. Listening to S’Express is like watching Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion effects compared to the super-slick digital effects of today’s blockbusters.

I didn’t like this type of music when it came out – I was into Michael Jackson, Huey Lewis & The News, and, specifically in 1989, Prince’s Batman soundtrack. I turned 11 in 1989, and so I missed the boat on this and the acid house movement in Manchester. Damn, so close to a major musical breeding ground and I missed out on it by 5 or 6 years.

That might have been a blessing in disguise. By the time I was heavily into music – at the expense of everything else – the focus of the world of music was no longer on Manchester, but Seattle. All things considered, I’m glad I grew up with a guitar around my neck than a pair of headphones.

Hit: Theme From S’Express

Hidden Gem: Hey Music Lover

Rocks In The Attic #159: Danny Elfman – ‘Batman (O.S.T.)’ (1989)

This is a very busy score – but then again so is everything that Danny Elfman does. His theme for The Simpsons is all over the place, and there’s not really a better composer suited to score the madness that Tim Burton injects into his films.

I’ve never been a big Tim Burton fan – early on I spotted his inability to create a truly three-dimensional world. Beetlejuice made me laugh, but Edward Scissorhands left me feeling cold, and I’ve felt that way ever since about most of the stuff he churns out. 1989’s Batman however, is another matter.

I was very much into Batman at the time it was released, having just got back from a holiday in the USA where I had started to read comic books. So I eagerly awaited the release of the film, and I even remember going to see it on opening night, probably with my Dad. Since Superman II, there hadn’t really been a decent superhero film, so I literally couldn’t wait to see this. My impatience was demostrated by the fact that I read the graphic novel of the film, before I watched the film itself – a huge mistake I learned to never make again.

In hindsight, it isn’t a fantastic film – especially now that Christopher Nolan has shown how a Batman film should be made – but I still have fond memories of it. Part of the nostalgia I have for the film, is the music, which proved that a superhero score could be composed by somebody other than John Williams. The Batman Theme is great, and although it’s nowhere near as majestic as Williams’ Superman Theme, it seems to suit Batman as it’s darker, moodier, and more fitting to the whole Dark Knight ethos.

This score is a perfect companion piece to Prince’s Batman soundtrack (which I also have on vinyl). Where this is dark and full of shadows, Prince’s offering is more light-hearted and almost futuristic in its sound. Let’s broaden our minds…

Hit: The Batman Theme

Hidden Gem: Descent Into Mystery

Rocks In The Attic #87: Prince & The Revolution – ‘Purple Rain (O.S.T.)’ (1984)

Rocks In The Attic #87: Prince & The Revolution - ‘Purple Rain (O.S.T.)’ (1984)I recently wrote that of all the soundtracks in my vinyl collection, Air America is the film I know the least as I’ve only seen it once. That’s actually incorrect – I’ve never seen Purple Rain.

I don’t know where I stand on Prince. People say he’s a genius, but I don’t really see it. Although, maybe I haven’t heard his genius work – I only own this and 1989’s Batman soundtrack. I’d go and see him play live if I got the opportunity, just on the reputation of his touring band, but in general I don’t think I’m in on the joke.

Hit: Purple Rain

Hidden Gem: I Would Die 4 U