Why Rogue One Might Be Better Than the Force Awakens

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Star Wars fans should always be quick to remember that the Star Wars movies were not created in a vacuum (regardless of their various deep space settings).  George Lucas himself has stated that the Star Wars movies were essentially an amalgam of some of his favorite movies and genres assembled within a new and different science fiction setting.

For instance the Dune novels by Frank Herbert are directly referenced more than once in the Star Wars films and it doesn’t take much additional digging to find their influence throughout.

The samurai film epics of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa were another major influence on George Lucas and many elements from the movie The Hidden Fortress are woven into the narrative of the original Star Wars movie.

The film noir genre itself and movies like The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca were ones Lucas grew up enjoying and many of the seedier elements of the Star Wars universe find their origins with them.  The Mos Eisley Cantina and Jabba the Hutt are a direct result of Lucas’ love of the gritty gangster ridden noir films.

There are of course other influences and aspects of the creation of the Star Wars movies which can be traced to many different sources; various science fiction, other films, fantasy literature, mythology, and even real world politics all of which are too numerous to mention here.  All of this is to say that originally Star Wars was never about the things for which it has now become famous, like reinventing the movie industry or altering the perception of science fiction on the big screen.  Instead I would argue that Star Wars was Lucas’ attempt to reintroduce many of the elements of “classic” Hollywood back into the harsh and often dreary cinemascape of the 1970’s.

At this point I must immediately interject here that I in no way believe Star Wars to be a rip-off or even unoriginal, in fact quite the opposite.  Although the Star Wars movies are heavy on familiar themes, pulp fiction references, and film making of a bygone era (even the scene transitions are antiquated wipes, pans, and dissolves) it was all pieced together in a wholly unique blend of space opera epic which introduced the world to the lightsaber, X-Wings, TIE Fighters, Wookiees, droids, and a whole slew of iconic planets, characters, aliens, and starships.

My point is this: As a long time Star Wars fan I have cultivated the opinion that, as a general rule, Star Wars (in all it’s varied forms and formats) is at its best when it emulates other things and frames them within the Star Wars universe; and doesn’t try too hard to be “Star Wars”.  Star Wars is not purely sci-fi, it isn’t purely fantasy, and it isn’t meant to be dramatic high art.  When any of these elements over shadows the others or when the elements of Star Wars itself begin to dominate the storyline the result is failure.

From my experience this balancing game falls apart in the expanded universe books, games, and other forums.  Though there is an argument for such an imbalance within the prequel movies as well and the reason why that trilogy has become so universally panned (though all of that is a topic for another time).

With the Star Wars novels in particular, especially the now defunct old EU, the authors attempt to capture the feeling of Star Wars too much by directly referencing the Star Wars universe in an awkward forced way.  Or they focus far too much on the sci-fi elements of the setting, presenting high tech jargon while casually rattling off obscure alien species and bits of Star Wars trivia in order to seem authentic.  All the while lauding a story lines which might seem clever in other sci-fi but seem out of place in the context of Star Wars.

There are however some great Star Wars novels, some of my favorites are the Death Troopers books by Joe Schreiber which are essentially horror/zombie novels set in the Star Wars universe.  Additionally Cloak of Deception and Darth Plagueis by James Luceno take up the staples of political thrillers set during the time of the prequel era and include all the Sith intrigue and Jedi apolitical maneuvering you’d expect, along with plenty of action and starships.

Similarly many of the best episodes of the Clone Wars series were when Dave Filoni and company played with various concepts and framed genre and  various trope story lines which had not been seen in the Star Wars universe beforehand.  The Clone Wars cartoon included murder mysteries, heist episodes, and giant kaiju-like monster attacks; all under the interpretations of the Star Wars universe.

Even the Star Wars video games have been at their best when they simply borrow from other popular video games and lend their unique and exciting Star Wars spin to the premise and gameplay.  Star Wars Battlefront was essentially Battlefield 1942 in space.  Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds was very much the Star Wars version of StarcraftStar Wars Racer, the Phantom Menace podracing game, was the Star Wars answer to any number of popular racing games of the day.  Those video games were GREAT!  Sure there were other impressive Star Wars games through the ages but many of those put a tight focus on specific characters or directly put the players in control of reenacting scenes from the movies.

Other Star Wars games did not stand up as well.

One of my least favorite games were the Force Unleashed series.  I believe they suffered from trying far too hard to feel Star Wars.  There certainly was some enjoyment in the array of Force powers available to Starkiller, the main character of the games, and the sandbox of destruction possible as a result.  However that game was a ridiculous mosaic of random elements from the Star Wars saga combined with fanboy wish fulfillment, wrapped in an incomprehensible story arc which was absolutely contradictory to the canon of the movies themselves.  I know a lot of people enjoyed that pair of games but not me and I’m sorry, it’s how I feel.

The only real example of a Star Wars property making a success from overtly trying to be “Star Warsy” was The Force Awakens, which does it’s best to redesign the original movie nearly beat for beat while adding several new and exciting characters and twists throughout.  In fact my biggest complaint regarding Episode VII is the plots general unoriginality.  However the characters and overall execution were so great that the redundancies in the narrative could be overlooked.

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This December will see the release of the first Star Wars spinoff movie, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (ugh.  Just call them Anthology Movies).  Rogue One is being touted as a war film, a pilot ace flick, and a heist movie all taking place within the setting of the Star Wars universe.  It is because of what we know regarding the plot that I believe Rogue One will be a great Star Wars movie and possibly better than The Force Awakens, for the reasons stated above.

The Star Wars universe is precisely that, an expansive diverse universe of possibilities and has the possibility to be so much more than a story of the Skywalker family and the Jedi.  Star Wars is also not simply a pattern of film making which if done right can be repeated ad nauseam into infinity.  And the Star Wars universe certainly is not just another sci-fi franchise that any tired sci-fi story can pasted onto, sprinkled with a few lightsabers, and titled Star Wars.  It is the exoticness of the well-worn settings and pervasive mandate for adventure which the Star Wars universe was built upon and which is able to take old stories and reform them in new ways.

Hopefully this is the case with Rogue One.

I really hope Rogue One takes off (pun intended) and is a big hit for Disney and Lucasfilm and I would love to see this first spin off movie blow The Force Awakens out of the water.  I’ve said this before, and although I have absolutely no ill will towards the Force Awakens, but I really hope that in the long run Episode VII really isn’t anyone’s favorite Star Wars flick.  With so much new Star Wars on the horizon hopefully as new movies keep opening up in theaters they will continue to outdo the previous ones in new and different ways.

People I Know: David Tavolier

 

One of my favorite regular segments of this blog has always been the interviews I conduct with various people I know which I like to call People I Know!  Several nights ago I sat down with a good friend of mine, David Tavolier, in order to bring this glorious segment back to the resurrected Mindless Philosophy!

I have known David Tavolier for over 10 years now and in that time we’ve worked on several things together not least of which have been the internationally acclaimed Reginald Sterling series of videos.  Mr. Tavolier has also been a regular source of inspiration and criticism for several of my long form writing projects.

For reasons that will become apparent during the course of the interview we decided to record this interview and post it here for you to enjoy!  So for the first time ever you can hear the sultry tones of my voice as I conduct one of these interviews now broadcast across the interwebs for all to hear!  Allow me to apologize in advance for being so loud and repetitively saying “yeah” throughout the interview.  Trust me I’m aware of my faults, that’s never been a problem for me!

Below are some teaser images from several of the topics we cover during our talk.  I may transcribe this interview in the days to follow but it’s really time consuming and I currently have a sick two year old in the house so it can wait for now.

     In the meantime click HERE to enjoy the interview of David Tavolier!

 

George Lucas Doesn’t Hate The Fans, He’s Just A Terrible Artist

“Art is never finished, only abandoned.

—-Leonardo Di Vinci

“Star Wars is like a woman who was once vibrant and beautiful but who has had an obscene amount of plastic surgery and hasn’t been allowed to age gracefully.”  —-Some Guy on a Star Wars Forum

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or simply aren’t a Star Wars fan or geek of any ilk, you most likely have been hearing the complaints about the changes made to the Star Wars movies in their upcoming blu-ray release.  Most of the recent controversy has centered around some added bits of dialogue given to Darth Vader during the climactic final battle between Vader, Palpatine, and Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi.  In this newest version Darth Vader screams “No! Nooo!” as he picks up his Sith master and gives him the shaft.  A phrase that has already garnered some fan ridicule when it was used in Revenge of the Sith and now has them outraged due to its insertion into the iconic ending of the original trilogy.

Cover of the upcoming Star Wars Blu-Ray

Now many Star Wars fans out there already have several complaints to bring up against Uncle George, the bearded creator.  This recent tinkering with the saga seems to be the straw that infuriated the camel’s core fanbase.  Many other blogs and commentaries seem to imply that they feel George Lucas hates the fans, cares nothing for the Star Wars saga, and thinks that adding to, and messing with, the movies will encourage us gullible fans to shell out a few extra bucks in order to collect a newer version of the films.

But here’s how I see it.

From what I can tell George Lucas does NOT hate the fans of his movies, or think that they are fools.  On the contrary Lucas seems to take quite an interest in the fans and their activities.  He has personally attended several of the Star Wars Celebration conventions and I have personally seen him speak twice.  From all indications he seems actually quite congenial to, and appreciative of, his fans.  One quick example that comes to mind is when Uncle George was taking questions at one of the previously mentioned Star Wars Celebrations, when one particularly stereotypical geeky fan asked a very specific and involved question about buzz droids and particle shielding on Jedi starfighters.  George took a breath and was about to answer the inquiry before the other fans in the auditorium booed the awkward questioner down from the mic.  I remember personally yelling something along the lines of “Ask that kind of shit at a Trek convention!”  George Lucas however said nothing, and simply shrugged as if disappointed he didn’t get to answer.

George Lucas shakes hands with a young Jedi fan

What I’m getting at is that George Lucas could be so much more standoffish with his fans, he could be like the Emperor, mysterious and removed from the people.  Instead he seems to make appearances quite often, has dialogues with the fans, and has even given his take on a few of the popular criticisms about his work.

That’s not to say that George Lucas hasn’t made some mistakes in his work.  I am in no way simply pardoning Lucas for everything just because he takes a few minutes to chat with the fan boys.  Jarjar was waaaaay overdone.  Episode II is terrible.  Han shooting first was stupid.  He shouldn’t have directed the prequels.  And Indiana Jones 4 was total shit (but actually I put most of the blame for that debacle on the other major players involved with that one, Lucas’ story could have been one of my favorite Indy movies, but the execution was atrocious!)

Now onto the idea that Lucas hates the Star Wars universe, or simply has no regard for the established universe that is Star Wars.  I’ve commented on this before in my post about Lucas VS the Fan Boys.  Without repeating myself too much I’ll just restate that I’ve never felt, nor have I really seen any evidence to support the idea that Lucas simply doesn’t care about what changes he makes to the Star Wars universe.  On the contrary I have to say that if you’ve read any interviews with Dave Filoni, the director of the Clone Wars cartoon, or George Lucas himself, you’ll discover that there is quite a bit of thought and effort put into what new elements are added to the Star Wars universe through the cartoons, and film changes, and how those elements fit in with the existing Star Wars realm.  Sure Lucas makes changes to established and iconic scenes, and tinkers with works he’s already completed but I attribute that more to the idea that Lucas is a perfectionist who regularly thinks about how he wishes this or that scene had turned out better.  I don’t believe he makes changes on a whim, but instead foolishly makes these edits based on his current state of mind, and not his original inspired direction.  As a writer myself I can sympathize with wanting to tweak your work to make it just right.  That however has to happen before it is unleashed upon the world.

Which brings me to the last part of my rant.

“Lucas just wants to make a quick buck off the fans by making some unnecessary changes and putting the movies out on a new format.”  George Lucas knows how to make a buck, there is no denying that.  That son of a bitch is the grand master of merchandising and he established the style of promotion and rebranding that keeps a product fresh in the mind of the consumer.  He knows how to stretch something out and get the most from fan expectations and desires.  I’m convinced that the only reason we haven’t seen the live action Star Wars television series yet is because the Clone Wars was far more popular and successful than originally anticipated, so why show all your cards at once?  Get the most of the Clone Wars and when that winds down, ramp up the live action show once more.  Some might say it’s a dick move, but it’s just good business.  Hold onto those good ideas until you need them, and keep the product going.  It’s America, it’s capitalism.  So all our Star Wars dreams aren’t coming true all at once, too bad.

I believe Lucas does what he does in terms of changes, additions, tinkering, etc. because deep down George Lucas is still clinging to his indie film school roots.  Somewhere deep down there is still good in Lucas, he pictures himself as a hipster film geek who praises 2001: A Space Odyssey and Kurosawa movies.  He wants to try to perfect his art however and is afraid to let things go until they are “done right.”  The problem is of course that things are never done right, they’re just done as best as they can be.  As the above quote states art is never finished, only abandoned.  This of course means that George Lucas is a terrible artist in that he just can’t let go.  I’m not saying he shouldn’t have made the prequels or has done too much with the Clone Wars, on the contrary, for the most part, I really enjoy these new segments of the Star Wars saga (glaring annoyances aside.)  It just means that Lucas has to learn to let go.  When he stepped back from the directors chair on the original movies we found that his vision could be fulfilled just as well, if not better, through a different set of eyes.

A young George Lucas with his friend, a young Francis Ford Coppola

It is my theory that George Lucas is not a spiteful person, nor a solely greedy one.  If any maladjustment can be assigned to him I would say he suffers from excessive vainglory.  He wants his works to be the best, and remain the best.  Star Wars, his inarguable pinnacle achievement and best known creation was once the apex of movie making, a groundbreaking achievement in film.  He is slow to relinquish that glory and so attempts to make his art a continual work in progress, slowly adapting the state of the art practices of the present to his masterpiece of the past.  Without a doubt Lucas has been a pioneer in new technologies and styles of film making, but he is unable to completely let go of his pride and the earlier works that got him there.

That is why you fail.

That is all!

Worst Movie Universes To Call Home

Everyone has a favorite movie and some folks even fantasize about living within certain movie universes and partaking in the ideal settings or grand adventures portrayed on the big screen. Take me for example, I’ve got a whole life plotted out for myself should I one day happen to find that I’m living within the Star Wars universe. I would get a job at Cybot Galactica working in droid manufacturing, my wife would be a Twi’lek, we’d have a pet Ewok, we’d be model Imperial citizens, and there’d be a modest little prefab duracrete domicile in the rural outskirts of Tepasi that we’d call home.

But enough about that! We’re not here to read about my Star Wars RPG character, we’re here to discuss the movie universes that no one wants to live in, the most dangerous movie landscapes which if they were real, would surely claim the lives of all but the best of us. Of course as we all know movie universes operate under unique laws of physics that ensure the safety of all the leading men and lady types within them. But for all of us average schlubs and below average slobs these unreal realities would not be ideal worlds to call home.
Let’s take a look at what I believe are the top 5 most dangerous movie universes to live in!

#5- Any Zombie Universe!

Zombies suck. Rather, they bite, and how! It’s pretty obvious why living in a zombie infested world would not be cool. There are several different zombie movie universes and several varieties of zombies but they all have a few things in common. First of all, if you’re alive, you’re delicious. Zombies want to eat the living, that’s just what they do. Also they are mostly thoughtless, which means there’s no negotiating with them. That means zombie universes are the epitome of if you’re not with us, you’re against us. Second, zombies outnumber the living. Pretty much in every zombie flick whether it takes place in a small secluded town, or deals with a global undead outbreak the zombie-to-human ratio is tipped in their favor, not ours. In the movies no one seems to get their shit together to quell the zombie outbreak until half the population is already infected. Whompers. Finally, though zombies are undead creatures immune to pain they do have the “Headshot Weakness.” Everyone knows that if you put a bullet between the eyes of a zombie or bash its skull in with a blunt object, you’ll have yourself a re-dead zombie. That’s all well and good but that means if you want to make it in a zombie universe your ass had better be a class-A marksman or have decent upper body strength, but it’s hard to keep a steady hand when you’re constantly terrified and ones strength tends to get drained when you barely have time to eat and sleep between incidents of being chased around by the living dead.

#4- The Neverending Story Universe!

Now you might be asking yourself, “what would be so dangerous about living in this magical fantasy realm of friendly rock biters, talking tortoises, mystical princesses, and flying luck dragons?” and to be honest there isn’t anything inherently dangerous about the Neverending Story Universe, the problems occur when you remember that the universe of the Neverending Story is contained within a magical book, and that universes existence depends on said magical book being read. So if you live within that universe your entire existence depends on the reading comprehension level of whoever happens to pick up your book universe. Uh oh! Now do you see where the danger lies? People are stupid. Kids don’t read anymore! That was the whole plot of the first Neverending Story, the universe was being consumed by the Nothing, and if it was bad then you better believe it’s worse now! To be fair though it’s not really their fault they don’t read, what with teachers under tremendous scrutiny these days and testing standards which have deemed reading useful only for the purpose of answering questions presented in the various achievement tests. It’s surprising our society hasn’t already devolved into a bunch of proto-men speaking in grunts and monosyllabic phrases, only able to comprehend single letter text message style writing that is no longer then 240 characters. Needless to say I wouldn’t feel very secure living in a society that was based on the literacy of our culture. Though I guess there is a slight hope for the Neverending Story universe if they can manage to get their magical book onto a digital format, or better yet, simply convert their readership based existence into a viewership based existence powered by those who watch the movie instead of read the book. But alas that wouldn’t last very long either considering only nostalgic 30-somethings like myself still watch the movie, until there is an effects centric summer blockbuster remake of the Neverending Story I’d steer clear of setting up shop in that universe!

#3- The Godzilla Universe!

Unbridled destruction. Dispassionate stomping monster feet crushing thousands of people with each step. Battling monsters waging war with incredible powers that lay waste to countless square miles of cityscape with each uncanny blast. Well over thirty-five giant radioactive monster attacks have taken place since 1954 each more deadly and more destructive then the last! Does this sound like a world you want to live in? Clearly these people don’t learn their lesson seeing as they repeatedly fuck with nature or try to take advantage of the terrifying beasts of Monster Island. Though Godzilla and his cohorts seem partial to destroying Japanese cities they have not been solely limited to that island nation. Regardless, think of the constant fear the rest of the world would live with knowing that there were a great number of enormous monsters dwelling within the ocean that just need the slightest provocation to set them off on another rampage. The conventional weapons of man are useless against these behemoths and there is no environment on the planet which can deter them. It’s surprising that the petty human populace of the world haven’t turned to barbarism, fighting against one another and enslaving their conquered neighbors in order to offer them up as sacrifices to the unflinching monster overlords that could quite easily obliterate them without even noticing. Though this Lovecraftian existence isn’t quite what we have within the Godzilla universe, it is precariously perched on a razor thin edge and could topple into that type of maddening chaos at any moment. Who knows what world crushing tempest of impairment awaits mankind when the monsters decide to rise up again?

#2- The Alien/Predator Universe!

This one is a double whammy! Aliens and Predators. You can’t win with either of these guys. The future is bleak for mankind. Should we venture into the outer reaches of the cosmos we will inevitably run into the Xenomorph aliens of the Alien movies. However even if we seclude ourselves from the greater galaxy our strongest and most skilled warriors will still fall prey to the aliens from the Predator films, who scour planets for the most challenging prey to hunt and have found a favorite trophy with mankind. If you’re fat and lazy you’ll make a nice incubator for an Alien chestbuster, but if you’re fit and athletic you’ll find a tri laser scope aimed at your forehead. Worst of all is when the two species battle each other and Earth simply becomes the intergalactic proving ground to show which alien is superior, with us pitiful humans getting caught in the crossfire. The best advice I can offer if you chose to live in this universe is to really let yourself go, get off the diet, and forget the workout regimen but invest in a flamethrower and acid resistant body armor. Other than that, you’re on your own.

#1- The Matrix Universe!

Unless you’re one of the few resistance fighters who realize that you’re in the Matrix universe, then you’re already in danger! That’s right, within the Matrix every man, woman, and child has already been captured, bred, and programmed by the bad guys. The machines have already won and your unreliable genetic material is simply keeping things running until your body fails and you are recycled and your proteins are processed to feed your other pathetic human matrix-mates. But if you are brought out of the matrix and allowed to experience reality then the shit really hits the fan because you will be hunted down by the relentless programming and automated defenses that are in place to ensure that any rogue elements are dealt with swiftly. Though the resistance fighters are armed with a lot of wizard technology, gadgets, matrix tricks, and some cool characters dressed like badasses unless you’re Keanu Reeves, you’re still going to get your ass handed to you by Agent Smith and his evil omnipotent matrix constructs. In all honesty I still have not seen the Matrix sequels. I really enjoyed the first one and thought it was a really stellar idea for a movie. The action sequences were unique and groundbreaking and are still emulated and parodied to this day. I just thought it had a good ending point. At the end he realizes his full potential, he becomes aware of the matrix around him, he can control things, and he is a super powerful being within the matrix. A savior type of character who we just assume goes on to make quick work of the villainy within that universe, free all the unbeknownst slaves, and they all live happily ever after rebuilding the world that was destroyed around them. That however wasn’t where it ended and there were more movies. I just never got around to seeing them, and have since been told that I’m not really missing anything and so have stayed away. I can however tell you without a doubt that I would not want to actually live within the matrix universe. If I was stuck plugged into the matrix and still had to live this half-assed life, no thanks. If I’m going to be a brainwashed cyberorganic component powering some evil machine I at least want to be rich and carefree, not working some shitty 9 to 5 and hoping against hope that the wife and I can get the bills worked out this month. And I know for sure I wouldn’t have enough motivation to be one of the good guys, putting my life on the line to fight for some destroyed landscape in a post apocalyptic reality. You would literally have nothing to fight for. Everything you know and love is in the matrix and fake, and the real world is desolate and almost beyond repair. It’s a lose/lose situation at best as far as I’m concerned.

Anyway there you have it, five movie universes that I’m pretty sure no one would actually want to call their reality!

That is all!

Friday Funny Pages: This Is Why The Fantastic Four Movies Sucked

 

Answers at last to the nagging question of why the Fantastic Four movie and it’s sequel were train wrecks.  Namor the Sub-Mariner of course!  That dastardly demon of the deep was plotting yet another vile scheme!  This time his plan was to ensnare our heroes in a shitty movie deal, and keep them locked in so that they would be unable to rejoin the their friends in the unified Marvel Movie Universe, thus determining that they would never appear in a half way decent superhero movie!  But alas Prince Namor of Atlantis has not only struck this blow against the FF, but simultaneously trapped his rival, and occasional ally, Dr. Doom in this motion picture hell the likes of which is on par with that of Mephisto’s Realm!  Oh the horror!  The shame!  Is there nothing the Fantastic Four can do to escape this unspeakable prison?!?

Nope.  Probably not, there are hints of a Fox launched Fantastic Four reboot in the works, which means that Fox studios would be able to retain the FF rights for another decade or so.  By that time the chance for an FF flick from Marvel Studios and Disney may have come and gone, as much as I hate to say it the superhero movie craze can’t last forever and it might already be too late for Reed Richards and his cohorts.  Looks like we just have to chalk this one up to Namor, well played you water logged louse!

This panel of course comes from the earliest days of the Fantastic Four and was from one of their first few encounters with Namor the Sub-Mariner.  This issue was put together by the “My Two Dads” of many of Marvel’s characters, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.  It’s funny to think that at the time of this issues writing the idea of a Fantastic Four movie was a gag, but now that it has become a reality it is even more of a gag.  Oh well, my motto is let’s see what the next one turns out like!  (Or something along those lines.)

That is all!

Michael Giacchino: Musical Chameleon

This week has turned out to be busier than anticipated, plus my wife has an increased need of the computer for work so I have not been able to post many blogs recently.  I did however have the opportunity to see a couple of movies this week though and that’s what I want to talk about today!

Earlier this week the wife and I went to see Super 8 (while there we got a voucher for a free ticket so later that night I went to X-Men: First Class, but that has nothing to do with this).  I’ve been very excited to see this movie and with good reason.  J.J. Abrams has not disappointed me thus far, though he has had some projects that I don’t believe live up to the level of hype that surround them (Cloverfield and Star Trek), but I was extremely interested to see his take on a Spielberg-esque adventure flick.  As far as I’m concerned this self proclaimed love letter to Steven Spielberg from J.J. Abrams really did a great job of highlighting both directors best qualities.  The look, the feel, the sound, and even the way the movie was shot were very reminiscent of several of Spielberg’s early movies.  As an aside I think other filmmakers out there should take note that even though we have CGI and other super advanced special effects techniques it still makes for a better movie to keep monsters/aliens/whatever hidden from the audience as long as possible in order to really ramp up anticipation and suspense.  Too many movies these days love to have their CGI creatures out on parade throughout the entire length of the movie and after awhile you just lose interest as the movies devolve into a series of chase scenes or an unnatural and unrealistic volley of CGI fight scenes.

Anyway, enough about that.  Going into the theater I knew a few things about the production of Super 8, but I hadn’t researched everything.  Basically I read some interviews with Abrams and Spielberg about the movie and read a few details here and there on Ain’t It Cool News and Comic Book Movie.com.  Just enough to keep my interest up, but not really studying the production in depth.  I like to have a few surprises waiting for me when I finally sit down to watch a movie.  Well knowing what I did about the movie I half expected to hear some John Williams scoring set behind the action on screen.  I hadn’t read about Williams being involved, but then again I hadn’t really researched it that in-depth.  Either way as the movie started I was excited to hear what the soundtrack would be like.  A few minutes into it I realized it wasn’t John Williams, I’ve listened to enough of his work to be able to identify him a few bars in, but I wasn’t disappointed by the music that was there.  For the most part I was enthralled by the movie and didn’t really notice much of the score that was mingled among it, as it should be.  Then towards the end there were a few moments where I distinctly heard some unmistakable homages to Williams.  As the intensity was ratcheting up near the finale of the film there are a few sections of music that are classic Williams, several distinctive chords that have been used most memorably in Jaws (not the main “Dun, dun” theme that everyone knows but some of the more menacing reactive music that really builds up tensions) and was also used well in his Jurassic Park score, and a few others.  Also, given the nature of the plot of Super 8 it wasn’t unexpected to hear a few sections of music that sounded very similar to the theme from another certain Extra Terrestrial movie.

Giacchino at the premier of Ratatouille

By the end of the movie I was very interested to know where the music came from, as much as I enjoyed Super 8, I was now very curious as to who had written the score.  As the credits rolled it was one of the first names shown, and I could have kicked myself for not realizing who it was sooner, I really should have guessed.  Michael Giacchino.  For the past six years or so any time I come across a film score that intrigues me, but is unfamiliar to me, it turns out to be Michael Giacchino!  His music contains such a mercurial quality and he possesses a style not his own.  John Williams and Danny Elfman I can pick out within seconds of hearing them, but Giacchino is a chameleon when it comes to his arrangements, his music never has the same type of sound and his scores are always so well adapted to the production that it becomes nearly impossible to separate him, from the rest of the movie.

The downside to that is that Giacchino doesn’t really have many memorable moments musically.  John Williams has countless memorable themes and melodies attributed to his work from Star Wars to Schindler’s List.  Danny Elfman has given us an unshakeable Batman theme even after it has long been abandoned by modern film revamping.  The great Howard Shore ramped up the heroic nature of the Lord of the Rings with his epic score and the iconic themes that are now just as familiar to Lord of the Rings fans as Bilbo Baggins is.

From my memory though Giacchino doesn’t really have such dramatic qualities about him, but that’s not to say that he is any less of a composer.  His music can be memorable even without a lasting tune running through your head.  In particular I recall his score for the Pixar flick the Incredibles which harkened back to jazzier film scores of the 1960’s, and I first really noticed his work during the Speed Racer movie.  Though some might bad mouth that movie, I really liked it and Michael Giacchino’s score was fantastic.  I was especially pleased that he didn’t overuse the classic Speed Racer theme, but instead teased it along through the majority of the movie until the very end.  Overall Giacchino does what any good composer should do, he makes his music a part of the movie, he helps the director flesh out the emotions and action that are portrayed on the screen.  Michael Giacchino, perhaps more than any other film composer today, seamlessly melds his music into the movies he works on in the same way the set designers have worked a building into a shot, or the costume designers have chosen the look for the actors.  Giacchino’s scores seem to adapt to every movie he works on, and though occasionally that sound can get lost within the greater scope of things, he certainly does his part to make those movies more than they would have been without him.  The best way I can describe his style would be to simply call it adaptive.

There are three things that tell me Micheal Giacchino is becoming a major property in Hollywood.  1) The dude’s already won an Oscar for his work on Up.  2) He seems to now be the exclusive go-to-guy for new Pixar properties, working on all the new titles since the Incredibles.  3) Like any good film composer he’s found himself a directorial partner.  Lucas and Spielberg work exclusively with John Williams, Tim Burton relies heavily on Danny Elfman, and it appears that J.J. Abrams’ music man is now Michael Giacchino who has provided the score for all of his movies thus far.

Michael Giacchino accepting his Oscar for Up

Here’s a quick list of some of my favorite movies Giacchino has written music for:

The Incredibles

Sky High

Mission Impossible III

Several of the Pixar shorts

Ratatouille

The television shows LOST and Fringe

Speed Racer

Star Trek (the new rebooty one)

Up

Let Me In

Super 8

And also here’s one of my favorite sections from the Speed Racer soundtrack, have a listen.

That is all!

Dr. Zaius Facepalm

     You might not know this (or care) but there is a new Planet of the Apes movie on the horizon.  Supposedly this will be a new “reinterpretation”, “reimagining”, or whatever you want to call it of the origin of the Planet of the Apes.  There are some interesting actors attached to this apes remake including James Franco, Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), Andy Serkis (Gollum), John Lithgow, and Brian Cox just to name a few.  News has recently popped up on several entertainment sites that the movie’s release has been pushed up, from November of this year to early August.  There are all kinds of opinions already about this movie, most of them negative, and you’re about to hear mine!

     First off let me just say that I am an avid Planet of the Apes fan.  All five of the original movies left quite an impression on me in my teenage years with their scope and twisting continuity.  I spent a good two years of my life obsessing about the apes movies and digging into their mythos.  Those movies had me thinking differently about the sci-fi movie genre, and hell, movies in general.  From my interest in the Planet of the Apes, and Charlton Heston I went on to discover a greater love for movies from the 60’s and early 70’s, especially other sci-fi outings like Soylent Green, West World, and the Andromeda Strain.  The one thing that hit home with me, although I probably didn’t fully grasp it at the time, was the social commentary delivered in the planet of the apes movies.  Complex, thought provoking themes that were mingled throughout what some consider to be a schlock premise.  The futility of war, the arrogance of mankind in the face of nature, the destructive power of nuclear weapons, and all the intricate and ambiguous overtones that go along with those things.  Long story short, I appreciate the Planet of the Apes series for what it is and what it was trying to achieve.

Charlton Heston, Linda Harrison, and Maurice Evans as Dr. Zaius

     Now onto this new Rise of the Apes movie.  When I heard the first hints about this movie, and read that James Franco was involved I was pretty excited.  For the most part Franco has been making some very smart, calculated movie choices and seems to really take an interest not only in giving a good performance but the content of the script as well.  Of course we all remember the last “reimagining” of the Planet of the Apes under the direction of Tim Burton.  Now I love Tim Burton and most of his body of work, but that was not a good apes film.  It was a soulless outing that relied exclusively on the novelty of talking apes in a world turned upside down, and offered up nothing in the way of thought provoking storyline other than vague themes of overcoming oppression.  It was like Gulliver’s Travels, without the satire, just a few trips to some zany places.  I still don’t think Burton’s apes can be completely admonished though.  The makeup, costumes, and sets for that movie (as with most of Burton’s movies) were fantastic, visually it kept what was great about the originals and improved upon it.  But visuals and special effects was never what the Planet of the Apes was about.  It wasn’t a technically difficult sci-fi movie in the vein of 2001: A Space Odyssey or Star Wars, its strength was in its message.  The talking apes weren’t supposed to enthrall the crowd with the mere spectacle of their presence on screen, these creatures that thought so highly of themselves and their post apocalyptic culture were meant to make us look at ourselves and think about our behavior and its impact on the world as a whole.

     When it comes to Rise of the Apes, there are seemingly already several things stacked against this ape production.  First off is the moving up of the release date.  You might be thinking, “But hey it’s coming out earlier, that’s a good thing right?  We’ll get to see it sooner!”  Ah, not really.  If anything it implies that the studio doesn’t have much faith in it and will move it up to a time when the summer movie heavy hitters are dying down, eliminating competition while keeping it away from the more intense holiday movie season. 

     Secondly there’s the talk that the apes in this movie will be CGI, or motion capture, or some other kind of digital effect.  The Planet of the Apes movies are known for, in fact heralded for, their ape-man makeup.  Eliminating this element of the franchise seems wrong, almost shameful.  Regardless if such complaints are simply nostalgic or old fashioned the fact that the movie is now moving up its release date also means they have three less months for finishing those complex effects, which means it will be rushed, which of course means it will most likely be crap. 

     Third.  This movie is an origin story, the name Caesar has been thrown around and was at one time part of the title (Caesar: Rise of the Apes.)  The plot of this “new” origin has been described as: a young super intelligent chimp, Caesar, rallies his comrades and other apes to revolt against their human captors.  Ok sure, sounds alright, except it really means this movie isn’t a true reimagining of the origin, it implies that it is more or less a remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the fourth segment of the original apes saga.  In Conquest of the Planet of the Apes two of the apes from the timeline of the first two movies escaped the complete destruction of the world and are hurtled backward in time to the era when Charlton Heston’s character first left on his mission (stay with me).  There the surviving apes are questioned with curious suspicion and misunderstood, flip flopping the premise of the first movie in a very creative way.  Those apes of course are inevitably killed by an arrogant world that fears them, but they have a baby who survives and who is the subject of the fourth movie Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (pause for breath).  In that movie chimps and other apes have replaced cats and dogs as the world’s most popular pets, the now fully grown evolved ape from the future has been renamed Caesar by his benevolent master.  Soon Caesar embraces the legacy of his parents and more or less teaches the domestic, slave apes to be more self reliant and fight for their freedom thus completely altering the entire timeline of the Ape Multiverse in the process changing the way the apes actually rose to prominence (shew!).  That movie completely sent the whole concept of the Planet of the Apes in a new direction while still bringing along the previous social and political issues of the other movies.  This remake of Conquest, which Rise of the Apes seems to be, looks to be trying to utilize that innovative climax of the fourth movie, without the crucial continuity of the other films.  Without having all the information about this film, Rise of the Apes sounds to me to be more of a Planet of the Apes rip off, rather than an actual part of the franchise.  It’s almost as if the producers decided that they wanted to take the peak of the action from the original saga and redo it in a modern style.  That idea of starting in the middle of your story might have worked for George Lucas and Star Wars, but the real impact of that peak in Conquest of the Planet Apes is lost when taken out of context, and we are left with what will most likely be another vague tale of generalized oppression as with the Tim Burton movie.

     And lastly, speaking of not having all the information about this film, where is the information about this film??  It is now coming out in August of this year and we have very little information, images, script details, or anything else even remotely promoting this movie.  That is perhaps the biggest clue that this movie will be terrible.  From where I’m sitting it looks like the studio (Fox) is going to put a minimum of effort into promotion, move it to a timeslot that has weak competition, and simply hope for the best.  With such low expectations from the movies producers how can I be optimistic?

This lackluster photo is one of the only images currently out from Rise of the Apes.

     I will however defiantly do my best to keep some hope out for this film, I love the Planet of the Apes series and I really think there is some potential left in the message and tone of the original movies.  I would also like to see a sci-fi movie reclaim the genre’s place in legitimate cinema.  Too often these days sci-fi movies are simply dull, action and effects driven “summer movies” with not much to say.  If Rise of the Apes can bring back sci-fi that also has a message, that means there is also still hope that there is a movie going audience left who aren’t all glassy eyed morons mesmerized by big explosions, thoughtless dialogue, and CGI goofiness.

(Not that those elements don’t have a place at the movies, but when that seems to summarize most of the movies out there, things start to seem bleak.)

That is all!

Human or not, Charlton Heston knew how to handle any leading lady.