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!

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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.

Save Us John Williams!

     Ugh!  This is completely off topic but  I just watched the Rebecca Black video on YouTube, you know the one where some random teenage girl is singing like a car alarm about a day of the week, complete with explanations of the subsequent days that follow.  Christ!  If you’re not convinced our nations creative culture has hit rock bottom then just go take a peek at the video for “Friday.”  My wife summed it up best in saying that that production was the outcome of children being coddled and told that everything they do is “awesome” and “special.”  Sorry kids sometimes you just can’t sing, no matter how much you dial up the autotune.  We can’t all be star athletes either.  Hard work and perseverance are a major part of achieving what we want out of life, but sometimes a measure of talent is needed to actually make those dreams a reality.  Play to your strengths. 

     Ah but why waste my breath right?  I mean that music video is awful, but it already has over a million views.  Sure many, like myself, have watched it simply to see how bad it is but that notion is lost on our commercialized culture.  A million views means a lot of eyes have seen this train wreck and when there’s an inevitable follow up there will be an immediate viewership response which means there can be some profit to be made on this shit.  I really don’t hold anything against the young lady herself, at best she has been misguided, at worst she’s a bit delusional.  But I don’t see it as having much to do with her. Someone with some film equipment noticed her genuine desire to be a star (talent aside) and the dollar signs started floating down from the heavens as the plans were set into motion to make her the next Justin Beiber/Disney-esque pop star.  There is so little class left in our culture.  Sigh

     I could go on and on ranting, but that wasn’t actually what I wanted to write about today.  I came here with the intention of talking about my love for composer John Williams.  However after seeing that video this morning it just put me in a foul, pessimistic mood so I had to piss and moan a bit.  Anywho, on to John Williams.  Now there’s a classy dude.  I would not hesitate to place John Williams among the ranks of Mozart and Beethoven.  Traditional classical music scholars might scoff at the idea that a mere movie composer, who writes scores for films, would even be considered equal to the great symphonic masters of history.  But I say, really what’s the difference?  John Williams has written traditional symphonies, not many, but he has a few under his belt.  He is though of course most known for his memorable and moving film scores, which often complete the movies they are a part of.  Imagine Jaws without its soundtrack.  Not only the famous tensely menacing theme of the shark but also the incidental sections which highlight the adventure of the open water really add quite a bit to that movie.  Without that music Jaws would seem rather flat and somewhat dull.  It is impossible to separate the music from the action.  Now think about Mozart, Wagner, and Mendelssohn many of their best known works come from their operas and theatrical pieces.  The movies of their day.  I’ll grant you that in some cases these masters had a much larger role in the stories that were being portrayed on stage, but it was all about the music telling those stories, evoking the emotions and tensions that were being played out on stage.

Fact: I have seen John Williams in concert more times than any other band/musician.

     Let me just say that I do like to think of myself as having a rather eclectic taste in music, I don’t only listen to symphonic and classical music. I can appreciate pretty much all music and have it represented in some form or another on my ipod.  With the exception of modern country music, that shits awful.  Though even that has a few exceptions I suppose.  I realize that the only musical discussions on my blog currently are this, and a post about Handel.  I just think it’s important to understand the history of music, and appreciate the diversity of classical music that is out there.  There are some exciting and cool works to listen to, it’s not all chamber music and lullabies for your developing toddler.

     Now back to John Williams.  I have said for a long time that I believe the great film composers are the true legacy of classical music and the great composers of the past.  John Williams, Henry Mancini, Howard Shore, even Danny Elfman all draw on the past as well as adding something new to the sound of symphonic music.  I would love to hear more works from these and other modern movie composers played along with the Bizet and Verdi pieces that are played on NPR and elsewhere. 

     My fandom of John Williams and my overall appreciation of movie scores, began in 1993 at the tender age of twelve.  At that time I had very little knowledge of such subjects.  One weekend my dad told me he was taking me to a movie, we were going to see Jurassic Park.  As I sat in the theater watching the awesome scenery and effects of that movie one thing struck me which had never occurred to me about a movie before.  The music.  It was an “ah ha!” moment for me that has really effected my movie going experience to this day.  I remember exactly which scene it was that caught my attention, it was towards the beginning of the movie just before they reach the island, as the group is soaring over the ocean in a helicopter on their approach to Jurassic Park.  The music is perfectly timed with a cut, so that the music shoots up suddenly to sweep the viewer up and soar them along to this tropical location.  It is a memorable tune that had me paying attention to the rest of the music in the movie, but not distracting me at all from what was happening as people were getting chased and bitten in half by dinosaurs, in fact it enhanced that experience.  As the credits rolled I made sure to pay attention and see who had written that crazy awesome score.  John Williams, a name that would send me investigating all his other work.

Jurassic Park, both the movie and the book, changed my life.

     Back in modern times, the wife and I watched Jurassic Park again recently and I was reminded just how perfectly John Williams’ score weaves the action together as well as highlights the slower more emotional scenes.  I would argue that his work on Jurassic Park is his finest in terms of punctuating a movie, in doing the most heavy lifting to create suspense, and in establishing an overall sense of wonder.  As a kid I was obsessed with Jurassic Park and the soundtrack was actually the first CD I ever bought.  (Yeah I’m awesome.)  Through some searching I soon realized that John Williams was the man behind the music of my favorite movies of all time, Star Wars.  From there I discovered that John Williams was the sound of Jaws, Indiana Jones, and pretty much every Steven Spielberg movie ever.  I was hooked for life, and the rest is history.

Frequent collaborators, John Williams and Steven Spielberg.

     This blog has kind of gotten off track, I had a whole comparison ready to go between the Magic Flute and the ET soundtrack, but I’ve gone on too long at this point.  I have more or less just lectured about my love for John Williams.  I guess if I had to sum up this blog it would be to encourage any parents out there, or hip aunts and uncles, etc. to go out and purchase some John Williams music for some of the kids in your family.  Chances are they already like some of the movies he’s been a part of, so it is an easy in.  Start your kids off with something like the Star Wars soundtracks.  Their enjoyment of something familiar might encourage an interest in classical works, and the intricacies of large orchestral pieces.  That interest might than be translated into other music, be it classical or rock and roll or hip hop.  If kids have a good understanding of different sounds, and the building blocks of music they might be able to cultivate a genuine interest in music, instead of a desire for fame through music.  Maybe John Williams can even help our future generations avoid being bamboozled into making terrible musical decisions, like taking part in obnoxious music videos about random words.

That is all!

John Williams has been as equally important to these movies as the actors and directors.

Why the Avengers Need Ant-Man!

With Marvel Studios now in full swing cranking out movies such as Captain America and Thor, and with the Avengers looming on the horizon there is a lot of excitement brewing among comic book fans and fans of comic book movies.  2011 is going to be an epic year for super heroes on film, we’ve already had the Green Hornet, and soon we will have Green Lantern, Priest, Captain America, Thor, X-Men: First Class, and a new Conan just to name a few!

However, without a doubt the most ambitious comic book project is the upcoming Avengers film, scheduled to be released May of 2012 which will also be a year rife with comic characters on the big screen such as Ghost Rider, Spider-Man, and not least of all the final Nolan Batman!  For anyone who doesn’t know about the Avengers (which if that is the case I don’t know why you’re reading this) they are a team of super heroes, Marvels answer to DC’s Justice League.  The company’s top heroes unite with some lesser known up and comers to fight larger threats that each individual hero may be unable to handle separately.  The storylines in the comics generally deal with major villain conspiracies or cosmic threats such as alien invaders or some other grand impending doom.  The Avenger’s roster has changed over the years.  The team has grown and expanded even fracturing into multiple teams, a west and east coast crew, but there have been a core group of heroes who were the founders and cornerstones of the Avengers throughout their comics history.  Three such Avengers are Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor.  They have become iconic heroes involved with the team and are the old school Avengers that most readers are familiar with; they have appropriately become known as “The Big Three.”  It just so happens that by the end of this year each of the Big Three will have been featured in their own movie, what a convenient buildup to an Avengers movie!

Let me just say right off that I am really looking forward to the Avengers coming together on the big screen, it’s about time we get multiple heroes appearing in the same movie!  Iron Man with Robert Downey Jr. has been highly entertaining, and the trailers for Cap and Thor look outstanding, and don’t forget about the Hulk!  My only complaint is that it would seem that two crucial members of the Avengers have been completely glossed over, heroes who have been a part of the team since the beginning and have stuck with it ever since.  I am of course talking about Ant-Man and the Wasp, the hero and heroine who can alter their sizes.  He can communicate with insects; she can fly and shoot bio stingers out of her hands.  Ant-Man just so happens to be one of my favorite Avengers and in fact one of my favorite heroes in comics!  From everything we’ve heard about the Avengers movie it is all but confirmed that Ant-Man and the Wasp will NOT be appearing in the film, at least not as their hero personas.  I have a pretty enthusiastic fandom for Ant-Man and this news brings me down quite a bit, which is why I have come up with this list of reasons why the Avengers need Ant-Man!  So take a look!

 

#1-Ant-Man is a Founding Avenger!

That’s right, Ant-Man and the Wasp were original Avengers when the team first formed to thwart the plans of Thor’s evil brother Loki.  They were Avengers even before Captain America was unfrozen from his arctic nap!  Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne have been Avengers in some capacity since the beginning and though they might not be household names their history still remains.

#2 –The Couple Dynamic

Every hero has their gal or beau.  Iron Man has a flirtatious thing with Pepper Potts, Thor has Jane Foster, Cap pines for Sharon Carter, heck even the Hulk gets puppy dog eyes for Betty Ross.  Those heroes are fighting for their significant other to ensure their world is safe and often times they might even have to come to their rescue.  There aren’t many heroes however who fight side by side with their wife or husband but that’s exactly what Ant-Man and the Wasp do.  I think that dynamic, of a couple together in big epic battles, would add something interesting to the Avengers team.  They all have something to fight for, but how cool would it be to have the person you most want to protect fighting alongside you.  I just think that would be a small element that would really set the Avengers apart.

#3-Different Personalities

Both Ant-Man and the Wasp are fairly unique characters and not your typical brooding hero figures.  First off, there are already a limited number of women involved in the Avengers, we might be getting the Black Widow and there is a slight rumor about Ms. Marvel making an appearance.  But I think the Wasp would be a great addition to the cast.  The Wasp isn’t your typical tough and buff badass female hero, she of course is capable of great heroics and well trained, but she is pretty much enjoys her “girliness” for lack of a better word.  In the comics Janet Van Dyne enjoys fashion and designing clothes, she even has designed costumes for other heroes.  Ant-Man in the same respect is also not the typical alpha male hero.  He can be intense at times, but for the most part he is laid back and knows when to make suggestions and when to follow orders.  Fairly level headed.  This I think would be a nice break from what we will have with Iron Man the cocky billionaire industrialist, Captain America the leader and war hero, Thor the (literal) God, and the punch first and ask questions later Hulk.

#4-Possibility for Interesting Developing Storylines

Ant-Man has an interesting story arc.  Because of the pressures of being surrounded by all these great heroes he kind of loses it.  He goes through a bit of a personality issue, not being able to decide if he wants to continue to be the oft over looked Ant-Man or the over compensating Giant-Man.  He goes through several heroic identities to fit in with his more powerful comrades.  Eventually believing he needs to do more to equal the “Big Three” he lashes out at the Wasp, they get a divorce, and withdraws to his intellectual pursuits.  All of which is very character driven storytelling and could make for some interesting tangents as the Avengers movies progress through their inevitable sequels. 

#5-Ant-Man is a Real Scientist

Iron Man is a genius don’t get me wrong, but he’s just more of a tech guy, weapons, computers, etc.  I would call him a high-tech MacGyver.  Hank Pym however does it all!  Biology, physics, robotics, etc.  Ant-Man is a smart dude and there is always need for another sharp mind when threats come down from the likes of Kang the Conquerer and Dr. Doom.  With S.H.I.E.L.D being involved heavily in the movie universe, I’m sure they wouldn’t mind taking advantage of his scientific talents as well.

#6-Visually Dynamic

I can just picture Ant-Man on screen shrinking down hopping on an ant’s back and soaring through a crowded battle scene.  Or growing huge and sending guys soaring in every direction.  Imagine the Wasp zooming in and out between bad guys shooting them in the back of the head with her flashing laser-like stingers.  I think the presence of these two characters in a battle scene would really liven things up a bit and get away from the other heroes techniques which basically consist of punching or smashing enemies into submission.

#7-Ant-Man is Not Useless in a Fight

I just want to clear up a common misconception about Ant-Man and the Wasp.  When they use their powers to shrink down to small size they are not useless in terms of fighting ability.  Many people think ‘Oh well they’re small, so why wouldn’t someone just step on them or swat them away?’  That’s not how it works.  When Ant-Man shrinks down the normal laws of physics do not apply, he is actually able to retain the strength he possesses at normal height.  So if someone steps on him, he simply pushes the foot off and is capable of fighting back.  When in a brawl he is nearly impossible to see, but is capable of leaping up and delivering imperceptible punches and jabs, not to mention summon swarms of ants and bugs to attack villains for him.  He also has a great supply of various gadgets at his disposal.  Though Ant-Man won’t be going toe to toe with the likes of Thanos or Galactus in a typical fight Ant-Man and the Wasp can definitely hold their own.

#8-Strategically Effective

When you are a member of a super hero team your life isn’t just a constant battle against hordes of robots and armies of men from outer space.  Often times there is a great deal of sneaking around, gathering information, and spying on the enemy.  What characters are more suited to that task then Ant-Man and the Wasp?  Certainly not Thor, I’m sure he’d draw some attention.  And not every villain can be defeated by simply unleashing the Hulk.  Occasionally there is more finesse required, a delicate touch if you will.  That’s when we need Ant-Man.

#9-So Much More Than Simply Ant-Man

If you’ve got Ant-Man in the Avengers movie you get so much more than just Ant-Man.  With him comes the Wasp, all his scientific expertise, as I mentioned before he can also become Giant-Man adding another heavy hitter to the team when needed, think of all the other things you can shrink down for easy transportation, and not least of all you get the potential for Ultron as a future villain in the franchise.  Hank Pym was the creator of this insane cyborg killing machine which has plagued the Avengers in the comics for decades.  It would be great to see Ultron take on the Avengers in the movies one day. 

Hank Pym using his powers to become Giant-Man

I’m all for Ant-Man, he and Wasp are great characters and it is a shame they are more or less being ignored for the continuity of the movies.  I’m sure the Avengers will still be great even with the absence of Ant-Man, but I really think it would help to rocket that movie beyond all expectations if they would take a chance and include such unique characters the likes of which haven’t been on screen since the days of the Incredible Shrinking Man and the Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.

Ant-Man (1962) was inspired by the Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)

 

To validate my points about Hank Pym you have to look no further than the new Avengers cartoon, Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes on Disney XD.  The writers of that show have done a great job with the Avengers as a whole.  There is clearly a strong love for the characters and each hero is showcased perfectly.  There is an emphasis on the individual personalities, their strengths, weaknesses, and how they work with the rest of the team.  Ant-Man is written perfectly in that cartoon, and Joss Whedon should pay attention to how the Avengers work on that show when directing his juggernaut of a movie project.

Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes. Watch this show!

But alas though we may not see Ant-Man fully in action during the Avengers movie of 2012 there may still be hope for a solo project later on.  There are still rumors floating around that Edgar Wright is indeed planning on directing an Ant-Man movie, and perhaps we might see Ant-Man and the Wasp with the team should the Avengers do well enough to garner a sequel.  Who knows?

Anyway keep Ant-Man in your thoughts this movie season . . . .

That is all!

Some Thing Old, Some Thing New.


     Today I had the chance to rewatch John Carpenter’s The Thing. It’s been several years since I’ve seen the movie and I was pleasantly surprised how well it still holds up. I know there are a great many people out there who hold The Thing to be the pinnacle of sci-fi horror movies. There are certainly plenty of reasons for someone to think that, and I won’t argue. Though I don’t think it is my personal favorite, it certainly is a quality flick. One comment I regularly hear that I have a small problem with however is that John Carpenter’s The Thing is far superior to the original. I’ve read that folks don’t believe it should even be called a remake, and that the 1982 version is such a completely different, better type of movie that the two are incomparable. As much as I have to admit that the newer movie is a much scarier movie with truly superior effects I think there are really far more similarities between them then most people want to admit. This is not at all to detract from Carpenter’s movie, in fact if anything it should add to his praises for such a boffo adaptation! John Carpenter’s The Thing should really be a guide for making any type of “reboot” especially in this day and age when it seems every movie is a remake. (And there is actually a remake of this movie coming out this year some time . . . )

     Both of these movies were a part of my childhood in different ways. My dad is older than most dads in my age range, and as such always watched the classic movie channels. Turner Classic Movies seemed to constantly be on one TV or another in my house growing up. The original 1951 The Thing From Another World also just happens to be one of my father’s favorite horror movies and since it was one of the few horror movies to be regularly shown on TCM I was exposed to that movie on a regular basis. Of course what youth doesn’t rebel somewhat against their elders? Though my parents loved TCM I was not a fan as a kid. I turned my sights to basic cable and the wonders of the late night movie. By the time I was old enough to be sneaking downstairs to watch late night TV John Carpenter’s The Thing was hitting the airwaves of basic cable and even that edited for TV version was enough to make me piss a little.  Needless to say it left an impression, and brought to mind the phrase “This isn’t your fathers Thing.”   (Which is just creepy when you read it.)

     Before going into the similarities of the 1951 and 1982 versions let me state one difference I really enjoy about the movies. The beginning. At the start of the original movie the arctic base camp investigates and subsequently discovers the crashed UFO and the frozen space man. That scene is one of the most iconic and chilling of old school horror. The music along with the camera pulling up to reveal all the men standing at arms length forming the perimeter of the massive ship encased under the ice still has an impact. Thinking about how movies were made back in the fifties it even adds something more to the effect of the shot when you wonder where and how they actually got that shot of that icy plain and the huge dark disc embedded within it. They of course take photos, then cut around the frozen alien and haul the block back to base where it thaws and mayhem ensues.
     That type of beginning really works for the time period. However I really like the first few scenes of Carpenter’s version. It opens with a helicopter flying over the snow as a gunner onboard tries to shoot a running husky down below. Already you know something is wrong. The copter pursues this seemingly innocent animal across the snow until they reach an American research base at which point the helicopter lands and the gunner in a frenzy continues to try and kill the dog. Grenades are tossed, bullets are fired, the new arrival’s helicopter is blown up, and the American research team doesn’t know what the hell is going on. Already they are in the middle of the mayhem, they just don’t know it yet. I always like those types of stories. Of course it all becomes clear later when they travel to the neighboring base where they find everyone dead and records full of exposition relating the modern details of this alien reimagining.

Now onto the heart of this tirade! Why you should love both versions of The Thing, and perhaps appreciate even more the work of Carpenter’s Thing.

-Setting
     An obvious one. Both movies are set in the Antarctic in a U.S. scientific base. This is an important element because this means that the characters are not only fighting some creature, they’re fighting the elements as well. A small group, fending for themselves, in the most secluded place on earth. I can’t think of anything more terrifying.

-Suspense Is Key
     Though both versions of the movie have their scary moments, what really draws you in is the suspense, an element both films make use of almost as soon as the movies start. In the original the main driving force for the suspense are the teams hand-held Geiger Counters which they use to track the alien through the base. Because of the time period the alien is obliged to be radioactive, and the gradually quickening pings of the Geiger Counters warn the men when the beast is approaching. This makes for some great moments as one of the men stares transfixed on the flashing screen while the others tensely check their surroundings waiting for the monster to come crashing through the wall at any moment. The ’82 version masterfully twists this intense suspense and mixes it with suspicion when they discover that their Thing can get inside of other living creatures, imitating and absorbing them devouring them on a cellular level. This creates fear among the men as they realize that some of them are not who they appear to be.

Robert Cornthwaite as Dr. Carrington

-Crazy Scientists
     Both movies have one wacky scientist who thinks he’s so much smarter than everyone else and thinks he has all the answers if everyone else would just shut up and listen to him! In the original that scientist is Dr. Carrington played by the eerie Robert Cornthwaite, who could be Dr. Quest’s evil twin. In the remake the “mad scientist” is Dr. Blaire, played by the one and only Wilford Brimley. 1951 – Carrington thinks he can reason with the alien, it is an intelligent being from a highly advanced society surely it will be open to rational discussion. He is wrong, The Thing kills him. 1982 – Dr. Blaire realizes fairly quickly that this alien is a high risk to not only their safety but the security of the entire world. In an attempt to isolate it Blaire tries to destroy all the radio equipment and their various modes of transportation. He is right. Unfortunately everyone else just thinks he’s lost it and attempts to stops him. The first movie was telling us not to listen to those God hating, free thinking, science commies. The other was saying, maybe we should have listened to the scientist, before it was too late. Very topical for their times.

Wilford Brimley as Dr. Blaire

-Creative Aliens in Cinema
     The two Things are quite different in each movie but they are both quite groundbreaking for their time. In 1951 any alien in a movie that wasn’t a martian or some kind of lizard was pretty unique. This alien evolved from plants and sought blood for its nutrients, a sensational idea at the time I’m sure. Though they don’t go into great detail about the Carpenter alien, there wasn’t any need to, it just sort of spoke for itself. That Thing was an effects masterpiece that tore into, digested, gored, and ripped its way across the screen and was groundbreaking in its style.

-Badass Leads
     Kurt Russell was just great in the 1982 movie, and it made me think about how many awesome movies he has been in. Does he intentionally pick cool, sci-fi, movie geek roles? Or has he just been typecast into those parts? Either way I’m not complaining. The ’51 version starred Kenneth Tobey an all-american military hero type who smoked cigarettes, barked orders, and killed ugly alien bastards. Both guys are badasses, though Kurt Russel is more of the Wolverine badass while Tobey was more of the Captain America badass.

-Dog Mutilation
     Kill all the scientists and military researchers you want, but when you kill an animal that’s when it really hits home with the audience. Both movies feature, pretty early on, some dogs getting eaten by hungry aliens.

-Fire Bad!
     Both versions make it clear that this particular brand of alien has no weakness for cold, it can stay frozen for thousands of years if need be. So if you want to kill The Thing, you’d better have some high voltage wires or a couple of flame throwers. This also creates a great dynamic between the setting and the action. There are several scenes in both movies where you have someone engulfed in flames stumbling through the blizzard conditions of an Antarctic storm.

-Memorable Endings
     Both movies have unique endings that leave the viewer with something to think about in terms of whether the threat is really over or not. In the original we are left with the now famous line “Watch the skies!” which is modern sci-fi legend. In the ’82 version we are left with an uneasy feeling due to the ambiguous nature of that films end. The final scenes of both Things leave the audience with some lingering questions and a few worries.

     So I guess what this has all been about is just me trying to tell you to love all Things equally. The 1951 The Thing From Another World and the 1982 The Thing have equal merits for different eras of filmmaking. John Carpenter clearly has a love for the original movie, as well as the original book “Who Goes There?” which both are based on. It is said that Carpenter based his take more on the book, than the movie however. I agree that John Carpenter really did a stellar job adapting the movie, and it isn’t simply some knock off attempt. I just hope that some of you also go back and take another look at the old The Thing and try to appreciate it for what it was at the time, and not simply as some old horror movie with bad special effects!  Oh and if this new remake/reboot/whatever is any good than perhaps I’ll have another post about it as well.

James Arness as The Thing (1951)

Thor Looks Appropriately Epic

First off the newest Thor trailer was released recently and word on the street is that another Captain America trailer is on the way as well!

This new trailer can only be described in one word, EPIC! Granted it is only a movie trailer, but from what we’ve seen in these first two previews of the film I have to say that it certainly looks like this movie has captured the grandeur and sprawling splendor of Asgard with a good mix of the mundane Midgard. In the first trailer we got more of an idea about what Thor would be like on earth, heavy on S.H.I.E.L.D elements with Thor running around in a t-shirt and jeans. In this trailer however we see much more of mythic Asgard, Thor in his full battle regalia, along with some new scenes on earth. I’m especially liking the Destroyer armor, that shit is straight out of the comics! Most importantly we see how the two settings are going to mix, that there seems to be a great balance of the visual spectacle of the Gods mixed with the small town america aspects of the film which ultimately endear Thor to the world of men.

To be honest I was a little worried when word came down to us that Thor would take place in both Asgard and Midgard. Originally the rumor was that the movie would be set entirely in Asgard, with Thor amongst his fellow godlings. I was pretty excited for the prospect of a chance to really set up Thor’s character in Asgard in an epic realm with a feeling and story akin to the Lord of the Rings. Pure myth and fantasy, with perhaps a lead in at the end where Thor is banished from the land of the Gods which would work into the Avengers extravaganza. However after seeing this and the other footage from Thor I think this mix of settings that Kenneth Branagh has put together will be even better. It looks like we will not be shorted any amount of myth and fantasy in this movie, and we will have Thor’s earthly set up out of the way and fully explained by the time the Avengers movie rolls around. Plus it will set the Thor movie apart from the other Avengers solo outings, in that we will have an obviously different movie from Iron Man, and a mix of two worlds unlike Captain America, which will be entirely set in the era of World War II with little or no connection to the modern-day of the Avengers.

All of this will be quite a benefit to each individual movie in the long run, and each individual series of movies (assuming there is going to be a Captain America 2 and Thor 2) because in these initial outings we get to develop these unique characters in very different ways which gives a specific feel and focus to each hero. This helps alleviate the stereotypical super hero movie cookie cutter plotlines and hopefully continue the costumed hero genre (as long as they are done well) for a long time to come. Also this could make for a very successful Avengers series of movies. The Avengers has a great many fans excited, but it is a project that I have heard some nervous grumblings about as well. More or less some fans are claiming it will never be done right with so many big personalities involved both in front of and behind the cameras. I however believe that Marvel Studios has established, quite successfully, that these various heroes are very unique individuals with certain skill sets which they bring to the table and if the studio wants to do the Avengers right, they will throw a big earth shattering problem at this assembled team of do gooders and let the movie be a playground for their heroics. Spotlighting what we already know about these heroes while at the same time showing them in a team and working together to save the day. Not to say that there won’t be some friction among the members (Hulk and Thor mayhaps?) but they really shouldn’t over think the Avengers, they’ve already got the really cool pieces in place now they just have to put it together with the same attention to detail and focus on talent that they have with these other movies in order to make one epicly cool movie!

And on that note, that is all! Maybe next time I will discuss the upcoming DC movies, who knows?

The Avengers Big Three