Tag Archives: Matt Morton

Rocks In The Attic #817: Matt Morton – ‘Apollo 11 (O.S.T.)’ (2019)

RITA#817On the last day of the year, I thought I’d post about my favourite release of 2019. I don’t tend to buy much in the way of new music – I’m so out of touch, the list of food-trucks at Auckland’s Laneways festival always catches me out as they could be band names for all I know – but I do buy lots of soundtracks, for films both old and new.

For me, 2019 was a year punctuated by two huge let-downs. First we had Ari Aster’s follow-up to his wonderful 2018 debut Hereditary (or should that be Her-head-hit-a-tree?). Midsommar should have been a sure-fire hit. Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor and Will Poulter star as a group of American college students who take a trip to the northern Swedish countryside with their Scandinavian college friend. Aster then follows the script of The Wicker Man with unapologetic audacity, closely following the major plot-points in everything but location.

RITA#817aIt looked great, and sounded even greater with a wonderful score by Bobby Krlic, but the film’s unoriginality is just unforgivable. I guess it must be okay to steal so shamelessly from a 46-year old film as most of your target millennial audience won’t have seen it, and any older viewers might not remember it?

The other let-down was Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Tarantino’s ninth and his weakest offering since Death Proof. I’ve already written about that disappointment, and I’m sorry to say that a second viewing made me dislike it even more.

Instead, I found greater enjoyment in two documentaries: Todd Douglas Miller’s Apollo 11 and Asif Kapadia’s Diego Maradona. Both films offer a fresh, new perspective on their subjects and both demand repeat viewings. I’m hoping Antônio Pinto’s score to the Maradona film will eventually see the light of day on vinyl, it’s a genuinely beautiful accompaniment that works as a piece on its own (I’ve been thrashing it on Spotify ever since I saw the film). The strength of the film can be demonstrated by the fact that it almost made me feel sorry for Maradona. Almost.

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The score to Apollo 11 is similarly fantastic. Miller’s film eschews the standard talking head interviews that slow down most documentaries, and ditches the concept of a narration track of any kind. Aside from Matt Morton’s score, all sound contained within the picture is real-life diegetic sound. All that is left is just chatter on the mission’s microphones, and background sound.

About 30 seconds into the film, I had to check on IMDb what we were watching. Was this a documentary with computer-generated effects shots to bolster the launch and space sequences? No, but it looked like it. The images were just too good. The opening shots of the film, showing the rocket on the launch-pad at the Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral look uncannily like CGI but they’re not. It’s in fact footage shot by NASA on huge 70mm film-stock (essentially the size format IMAX screens were built for), and mostly unreleased by the space administration until now.

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My only regret is not seeing it on an IMAX screen as that would have been superb. I’m hoping it will continue to play on an occasional basis, given the film’s timelessness.

As iconic as the events of the film are – spoiler alert: they land on the moon, Michael Collins goes for a ride around the moon, picks up Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, and they fly safely back home – the film’s real power for me is in its soundtrack. Composer Matt Morton went to great lengths to only use period-era analogue synthesisers (the liner notes state: ‘All instruments and effects existed at the time of the Apollo 11 mission’), and so the music sounds just as ‘1969’ as the action on screen. It’s a wonderful score, building and building in tension as the three-man crew pass each milestone in their journey.

2019 was a tough year for me in both health and work, and also for our country with two international-scale tragedies and a shocking murder-trial. And so it isn’t hard to understand why I’ve taken so much joy from two films focusing on former glories. Here’s to a better 2020, hopefully without that idiot in the White House.

Hit: The Burdens And The Hopes

Hidden Gem: Liftoff And Staging

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Rocks In The Attic #792: David Shire – ‘2010 – The Year We Make Contact (O.S.T.)’ (1984)

RITA#792“My God, it’s full of stars!”

With Doctor Sleep, the long-rumoured sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s This Shining, about to eventually open in cinemas, it feels like a good time to revisit that other sequel in the Kubrickiverse: 2010 – The Year We Make Contact, Peter Hyams’ 1984 sequel to Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece, 2001 – A Space Odyssey.

Despite the strength of acting talent in front of the camera – Roy Scheider, John Lithgow, Helen Mirren and Bob Balaban – and a great visionary team behind it, it seems like the film has been unfairly forgotten over time. Auteur theory is alive and well, with director Hyams also writing the script, producing the film and operating behind the camera as the cinematographer, leaving no doubt that this is his vision on screen (by way of Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick, of course).

RITA#792bThe music score, by David (brother of Talia) Shire is sublime, and the liner notes on the soundtrack LP go to great lengths to explain that it was recorded using the Synclavier II, the Yamaha DX-1 and the Roland Jupiter-8. It doesn’t sound too far from Matt Morton’s recent score to the fantastic Apollo 11 documentary; itself recorded entirely using synths only available in 1969.

We open in an extremely exposition-heavy (read: ‘talky’) first act of the film, with Roy Scheider still in his Aviators and short shorts from Jaws 2. Taking over the role from William Sylvester in 2001, Scheider plays Dr. Heywood Floyd, the head of the National Council for Astronautics, blamed for the failure of the Discovery One mission to Jupiter.

The Americans are in a race with the Russians to get a mission up to the abandoned Discovery spaceship, and Floyd is presented with the opportunity to get there first, onboard the Russian shuttle alongside two other Americans (played by Lithgow and Balaban). Scheider’s got such a great face, he should be immortalised on the side of Mount Rushmore.

RITA#792aThe production design on the film is superb, and it looks more like a sci-fi film from the latter end of the 1980s, or possibly the very early 1990s. Thankfully we don’t see much of Earth in the opening act – only a field of telescopes in the desert, a ridiculous clandestine meeting in front of the White House, and the gloomy interior of Floyd’s house (complete with pet dolphins – tut tut).

The rainbow-light design of the Russian spaceship is refreshing – after the used-future of Alien and the Star Wars films – and surprisingly doesn’t look as much like Super Mario’s Rainbow Road as you might expect. The only really hokey segments of the film are the voice messages to and from the mission. They might serve a narrative purpose, of course, but the treatment of the voices, processed with a warm reverb, doesn’t sound right – and in retrospect should have been handled differently.

The return of Dave Bowman, the missing astronaut from the first film, who turns up on his wife’s TV set back on Earth, is deliciously creepy, and starts a chain of events that take us all the way through to the finale of the film. Once we hear HAL-9000 again, it feels like the old team are back. By the way, when Amazon figures out how to program the voice of the Alexa home assistant with HAL’s passive tones, count me in. ‘Open the garage doors, HAL…’.

Unlike a lot of modern-day sci-fi, the film doesn’t get bogged down in explaining the technology of the future it presents, and instead it successfully jettisons many of the usual problems and anxieties about space. The astronauts go from ship to ship with ease, and aside from one white-knuckle moment when their ship enters Jupiter’s orbit, everything else works like clockwork.

2001 – A Space Odyssey raised a lot of questions about humanity, mankind, our past and our future. 2010  doesn’t go out of its way to answer those questions, but it does give us a sense of closure with the film’s final moments serving as a fitting bookend to the story.

Hit: Nova / New Worlds / Also Sprach Zarathustra

Hidden Gem: Earth / Space

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Original Cinema Lobby Card