Tag Archives: Christopher Nolan

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 #633: Ramin Djawadi – ‘Westworld (O.S.T.)’ (2016)

RITA#633It’s a hard life being a soundtrack nut. Last week, I was waiting online to order a copy of the score to Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter [spoiler alert – as the fourth instalment of eleven films, it was far from being the final chapter] from the always excellent Waxwork Records. At 2am, when I found out that the record was going on sale in the USA at the equivalent of 5am NZ-time, I went to sleep for three short hours before waking up to place my order (a double LP in Tommy Jarvis blue & white swirl with green splatter), and then going back to sleep.

Last week I also received Waxwork’s repressing of John Harrison’s 1985 Day Of The Dead score in a lovely blood-smear double LP set; and earlier this morning, the postman brought me a trans-Pacific package from Newbury Comics, featuring John Carpenter and Allan Howarth’s score to Christine (1983), in a blue and gold split red splatter, and this, the soundtrack to HBO’s Westworld TV series, in blood red vinyl.

I have to admit, I was a little cautious when I heard that they were remaking Westworld into a television show. The 1973 sci-fi western is an old favourite of mine from when I would tape films off the TV in the middle of the night, and although a recent rewatch showed that it has dated quite a bit, you still don’t want TV companies from ruining something you hold in high regard.

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But it’s HBO we’re talking about – the company behind The Sopranos and The Wire, arguably the two best TV shows of the 21st century – so the subject matter would surely be in safe hands. Ultimately those hands belong to Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, as creators of the show. Jonathan Nolan has been an integral part of his brother Christopher’s work, co-writing Memento, the Dark Knight trilogy, The Prestige and Interstellar, so I was sold on his involvement alone.

Supported by an intriguing all-star cast (Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton and Jeffrey Wright), the show was very good, although structurally it felt a little too unbalanced with its numerous narrative twists all taking place in the last couple of episodes. Nolan and Joy have suggested that the show will run to five seasons, so if anything, the groundwork has been laid for some more cerebral television.

My favourite aspect of the show however, was the music. Not only does Ramin Djawadi’s score give us a lovely bit of cello in the ominous title theme, but the real aural treat is the show’s diagetic music. Played on a pianola, the anachronistic soundtrack features honky-tonk piano renditions of Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun, the Stones’ Paint It Black, the Animals’ arrangement of House Of The Rising Sun, Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black, the Cure’s A Forest, and Radiohead’s Fake Plastic Trees, No Surprises and Exit Music (For A Film).

Hit: Main Title Theme – Westworld

Hidden Gem: Black Hole Sun

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Rocks In The Attic #618: Hans Zimmer – ‘True Romance (O.S.T.)’ (1993)

RITA#618.jpgYou wait twenty-five years for a True Romance soundtrack to be released on vinyl, and then two turn up at once. Already this year, we’ve had the long-awaited pop soundtrack for the film seeing its debut on wax; now we have a release dedicated solely to Hans Zimmer’s score. Being a fan of all things Tarantino, I had to get this to complete my collection. I mean, the guy’s practically my best friend!

Do I need this score though? No, definitely not. The pop soundtrack captures a couple of tracks from Zimmer’s score and these serve as a pretty good representation. The full score actually gets a little tedious towards the end; the innocence of the main melody turns into something a little more serious. Out go the lovely xylophones and marimbas, and in come some really dated synth cues that feel a little out of place for what is an otherwise very cool film.

RITA#618aI’m starting to come around to Hans Zimmer. I’d previously written him off as a workaday composer, but I’m starting to appreciate the occasional hidden gem amongst his many scores (137 and counting). His soundtracks for Christopher Nolan (particularly Batman Begins and The Dark Knight) have been my favourite action scores this side of the turn of the century – perfectly blending digital sounds within a traditional orchestral score.

Hit: You’re So Cool (Main Title)

Hidden Gem: Not My Clothes

 

Rocks In The Attic #580: Burt Bacharach – ‘Casino Royale (O.S.T.)’ (1967)

RITA#580The stain on the James Bond film series for almost forty years before it was remade, Casino Royale began life as Ian Fleming’s first 007 novel. When EON producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli optioned the film series of the books, Casino Royale was the only existing novel that slipped through their fingers. After the owner of the rights to the novel, Charles K. Feldman, failed in his attempt to persuade Saltzman and Broccoli to film Casino Royale, he took it upon himself to produce the adaptation.

In 1967, two months prior to the release of You Only Live Twice, cinema goers around the world were confused by this alternative James Bond film, a spoof on spy thrillers with little or no relation to Saltzman and Broccoli’s films. It’s a huge compliment to refer to it as a James Bond film, when it is in fact one of the worst films ever produced within the parameters of a larger film franchise. It makes The Phantom Menace look like the work of Christopher Nolan.

Five (plus one uncredited) directors worked on the film, and given that this isn’t an anthology film, that just shows what a mess of a production it was. A 1967 film starring Peter Sellers and Woody Allen at the height of their comedic powers should be great; instead it’s a disappointing headache of a film.

The only saving grace of the film is the soundtrack – a score by Burt Bacharach, featuring one of his all-time best collaborations with Dusty Springfield on The Look Of Love. Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass kick things off with some nice trumpet jazz on the film’s main title, but the remainder of the soundtrack is composed by Bacharach. As a whole, the soundtrack is very much of its time – something Mike Myers and Jay Roach spoofed so well in Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery. One gets the idea that just twelve months following the release of Casino Royale, the soundtrack would have sounded old-hat already. Looking back, it’s a nice piece of swinging London brought to life through the speakers.

Hit: The Look Of Love Dusty Springfield

Hidden Gem: Casino Royale Theme – Herb Alpert & The Tijuan Brass

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