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GUEST REVIEW: Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2018) Blu-ray bonus features

We’ve already reviewed the movie ad-nauseum, so here is something fresh:  a review of the Blu-ray bonus features by guest writer Kovaflyer!

Guest review by Kovaflyer

STAR WARS: The Last Jedi (2018 Lucasfilm blu-ray)

Directed by Rian Johnson

If you enjoyed The Last Jedi or if you have mixed feelings about the newest instalment of Star Wars and are trying to make sense of the film, the bonus features are a great in-depth look at where Rian Johnson took the galaxy that is so very far far away.

 

The Director and the Jedi – Full length documentary feature

The Director and the Jedi is your first behind the scenes look at The Last Jedi and the hard work that went into making this Star Wars movie. This part of the bonus features takes you behind the scenes of the building of up to 120 different sets, the creation of all the creatures that we have come to know and love, the eye-pleasing costumes, as well as the amount of detail involved in the makeup artistry; like the work done to create Kylo Ren’s scar.

The Director and the Jedi also features discussions with Mark Hamill about Luke Skywalker and the direction that Rian took with Luke in the film. Mark tells us that he was going to play the Skywalker that Rian envisioned regardless of how he felt about his own image of Luke. Early footage of Mark and Daisy going over lines and choreographing the Luke vs. Rey scene was fantastic.

The interviews and interactions with Carrie Fisher are both heart warming and fun and showcase Carrie at her best; the only way that Carrie knew how to be. Carrie was excited about the direction of Leia’s character in the movie, calling her strong and in charge.

 

Balance of The Force

Rian Johnson really wanted to hit the re-set button on “the Force” and what it means. He wanted to show new Star Wars fans that the Force is not a super power, but a balance between all things, the light and dark, in all living things.  It is a gift, and not all about moving rock or things across a room.

When he started writing The Last Jedi he had a look back at Star Wars and the main characters in the story and what challenges they would eventually come up against.

Rey is looking to find herself and where she comes from; who her mom and dad are and where they have been, and what her new powers mean and how to use them. With Rey there are no easy answers and if she wants them she is going to have to find them herself.

Finn has just woken up on a ship after being injured in a fight on Starkiller Base while trying to save Rey and the Resistance. He wakes up with the ship under attack and Rey missing, and therefore he has to think fast and take action to save Rey, himself and the ship.

Leia, facing more and more loss is taking charge and leading the Resistance in the biggest fight yet.

Luke is fighting his own internal battle that the Jedi must end. In his view, the Jedi have done nothing but added to the problems of the galaxy, and if he were to bring back the Jedi, the Sith would rise again. Luke believes if the Jedi die, that a new light could rise and win. Therefore, Luke Skywalker has exiled himself; he is being selfless. Rian knew that there was a reason why Luke went into hiding, that it was a selfless act and that he was not just cowering away.

Yoda, yes that Yoda (the puppet version brought to life by Frank Oz), comes to Luke when he needs him the most. Yoda reminds Luke of the same lessons he once taught him, to stop with all the big plans and to focus on the here and now, to be the Luke Skywalker that everyone needs; to be the myth, to be the legend of Luke Skywalker and to not let the light burn out. So, Luke must train Rey and keep her in the light. The most important message Yoda had for Luke, was that failure is the greatest teacher of all. Johnson insisted to have the original puppet version of Yoda and his puppeteer Frank Oz for the film. He wanted Mark Hamill to interact with Oz and not a CGI version of Yoda, and even procured the original Yoda puppet mold in order to fashion the latest version of the Jedi master.

 

Scene Breakdowns

The bonus features also offer the following scene breakdowns.

Lighting the Spark: Space battles are massive undertakings. You get the big explosions, the visual and auditory effects. However, Johnson explains that he felt that in this space battle, he wanted to show the humans behind the spaceships; to make you feel connected to what is happening based on the relevance of the battle to the characters. It is interesting and fun to learn where some of the sound effects that were used in the battle came from (e.g. a roll of duct tape), how some of the spacecrafts and battle sequences were modelled after WWII aircraft and aerial footage (e.g. a B-52 bomber), and how Kylo Ren’s spaceship was of course modelled after Vader’s own tie fighter. In this battle, that saw so many Resistance fighters lost, Johnson chose to highlight Leia’s struggle with loss and grief and her deep love for her people.

Snoke and Mirrors: Rian explains that in bringing Snoke to life, he wanted to ground him in reality; make him have a physical presence. He was worried, however, about the complexity of creating a believable character completely out of CGI technology. In utilizing a complete motion capture suit for Snoke’s character, however, they were able to use every nuance that Andy Serkis brought to the character’s physical being; every facial expression, every twitch, etc.

Showdown on Crait: Johnson explains that the scene of the showdown on Crait was one of the first visions he had when he started working on the movie. To create the visual effects for the shots fired on the salt planet, the film crew went to the salt plains of Bolivia and filmed shooting sequences. It is amazing to hear just how many different options they went through when creating the red under the salt (e.g. shredded dyed red paper), how they reinvented the Walker from Empire into the Gorilla Walker using various sounds bytes to create its own unique ‘voice’, or how they used sounds from old beaten down cars in order to obtain the sounds for the Resistance fighter ships.

 

Andy Serkis Live! (One Night Only)

This part of the bonus features offers a look at the first meeting between Rey and Snoke with Andy Serkis in the full motion capture suit. It is amazing to see Andy’s performance in the raw without the CGI effects. To say that Andy’s performance was intense is a serious understatement!

 

Deleted Scenes

The bonus features also provide a look at some of the scenes that did not make the final cut for the movie; fun to watch but one can understand why they were left out for the most part.

 

In closing

In closing friends, I give this bonus footage 4/5 stars and highly recommend that you pick up the Blu-ray edition of The Last Jedi as you will enjoy some fabulous bonus features that will enhance your enjoyment of this Star Wars film.

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: Star Wars: The Last Jedi soundtrack (2017) [spoilers]

STAR WARS: The Last Jedi original motion picture soundtrack (2017 Lucasfilm/Disney)

Rejoice, dear soundtrack fans, for John Williams is slated to compose the music for the final Star Wars saga film, Episode IX.  It will be a fitting close for the saga, because Williams will have done all nine films.  Star Wars is about the saga.  The anthology films are extraneous to the core Skywalker story.  Episode VIII, The Last Jedi, is mostly about two Skywalkers:  Luke, and his nephew Ben Solo, inheritor of the mighty Skywalker blood.  The film score revisits many classic cues related to the main characters.  Even Darth Vader’s shadow still looms, musically and spiritually.

The Last Jedi spends much time revisiting classic musical cues, such as “The Asteroid Field” from The Empire Strikes Back.  One of the best revisits is of more recent vintage.  It’s also very different.  “Rey’s Theme”, from The Force Awakens, stands atop the mountain in company with the best of the best Star Wars music.  Hearing it again in The Last Jedi is a ready reminder that Williams has the magic.  Rey is the hero of this particular trilogy, and in The Last Jedi she proved herself.  It’s all up to her, now.

One of the biggest and most delightful surprises was the return of Yoda.  Yoda’s theme recurs within “The Sacred Jedi Texts”.  The beloved Jedi Master brought hope to the film, and his music lifts the soul.  The Last Jedi, however, is a dark film and much of the music matches.  It could be argued that The Last Jedi is the darkest film of the whole saga, even more so than Revenge of the Sith.  “Revisiting Snoke” reflects the dark, while tension-filled pieces like “A New Alliance” keep you riveted to your seat.  There are some fantastic percussion beats in the latter.

The military-style marching of “The Battle of Crait” recalls classic Star Wars action, and the music for the Luke scene is stunningly emotional.  In fact, the music for any of Luke’s screen appearances gives goosebumps.  John Williams’ score is, in many ways, more successful than the movie at hitting home.  I think this soundtrack release will receive more home play with the average buyer than the overlong movie.

There are two minor critiques to be addressed.  One is when Leia’s theme is dropped into the end credits for the touching Carrie Fisher tribute.  Yes, it’s heartbreakingly appropriate, but the music doesn’t fit well.  It comes across as a cut and paste job without enough transition.  A second is in regards to the Canto Bight casino music.  On many Star Wars soundtracks, Williams has a chance to go outside the box.  “Cantina Band”, “Lapti Nek”, “Yub Nub” and the music by Maz Kanata’s castle band are prime examples.  The steel drumming in “Canto Bight” sounds a bit too much like a retread of the original “Cantina Band”, but with more…samba.

John Williams did it again, but will we ever see a proper 2 CD edition with all the music?  That would be nice.

4.5/5 stars

MOVIE REVIEW: Star Wars: The Last Jedi [Spoiler-free]

NEW RELEASE – SPOILER FREE ZONE!

STAR WARS: The Last Jedi (2017)

Directed by Rian Johnson

Writer/Director Rian Johnson brings his own slant to Star Wars with Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.  JJ Abrams played it safely to fans of the Original Trilogy with The Force Awakens, and he did so successfully.  He did little to expand the mythos, but Rian Johnson has certainly stepped up in that regard.  Some fans are already going apeshit.  The old “George Lucas ruined my childhood” has been replaced by “Rian Johnson and Disney have ruined Star Wars”.  They’re also upset because just about every single fan theory…was wrong.

Some fans will have difficulty accepting certain revelations about The Last Jedi.  There are also stylistic choices that are questionable, such as the return of lens flare, and lazy gimmicky slow motion.  Johnson also chose to tell parts of this story by use of flashbacks, something that Lucas generally avoided.  These factors, plus the recurring symbolic use of the colour red, make The Last Jedi feel like the odd man out of the saga.

Now, somebody hand Mark Hamill an Academy Award, because he earned it this time.  His curmudgeonly older and wiser Luke Skywalker is note-perfect.  Some fans have complained that this Luke is not the Luke they hoped for, based on the old Expanded Universe (EU) novels.  On the other hand, this previously unseen Luke rocks because it’s completely different from previously told stories, which is what the Sequel Trilogy needs to be.  Remember, Lucas never would have followed those old books any way.  He never has.  Regardless, Hamill has clearly done his best cinematic work in The Last Jedi, fulfilling the wishes of every fan who wanted to see the most powerful Jedi master in the history of the order.

This isn’t really a spoiler, but The Last Jedi does prove that Luke Skywalker has indeed fulfilled his destiny of becoming more powerful than any other.

Don’t worry, fanboys, there is lightsaber action to be seen; and don’t forget the original 1977 Star Wars had very little to start with.  Instead of prequel-esque lightsaber stupidity, Johnson gives us a more contemplative Skywalker.  The stories of Luke and his new student Rey (Daisy Ridley) are so compelling that other heroes are left by the wayside.  Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega) and newcomer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) have their own mission on the side, to cripple the evil First Order.  Unfortunately, and perhaps just due to the gravity of Luke’s story, these side missions only prolong the wait for more scenes with Luke.  Or, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the Vader wannabe with the temper of his grandfather.  Ren has a strange connection through the Force with Rey, and the two are eventually brought together to face each other again.

The Last Jedi should satisfy some who thought The Force Awakens didn’t acknowledge the Prequel Trilogy enough.  There is a reference to Darth Sidious (better known as the Emperor) and the new setting of Canto Bight would fit in with Attack of the Clones.  Finn and Rose must find a master hacker in Canto Bight, a posh gambling centre frequented by rich weapons dealers making money off both sides in the war(s).  New character DJ (Benecio Del Toro) is sceptical of both sides, because he knows it doesn’t matter.  The same people are getting rich no matter what side wins.  This is a relatively new concept in Star Wars, although Darth Sidious did control both sides of the Clone Wars, he didn’t do it to get rich.

Poe, Finn and Rose are among those under the command of Princess Leia, still a badass, and so sad knowing that Carrie Fisher has gone.  Leia has her own moments in this movie, and we know that she was to be the main focus of Episode IX.  Now that Carrie is one with the Force, it is very unfortunate that she didn’t have a larger part of The Last Jedi.  She has a few good one-liners, and Carrie portrayed Leia as a strong and immediately charismatic leader.  There is also one Leia sequence that has fanboys destroying their action figures in anger.

Also noteworthy: Andy Serkis as Supreme Leader Snoke (via motion capture). Serkis makes Snoke more three-dimensional, and though his scenes are short, they satisfy. Laura Dern’s new character Admiral Holdo was memorable for the scenes she had. Unfortunately, Gwendoline Christie was wasted for a second time as Captain Phasma, in what was little more than a cameo. General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson) does a little better as the token second-in-command.

John Williams did it again with another fantastic score, although even here reviews are mixed.  Bass clarinettist and fan Kathryn Ladano was disappointed that there were not many new themes involved.  Radio personality Jason Drury on the other hand called the score “possibly the best of 2017” and “another triumph for John Williams”.  I was pleased to hear the return of Rey’s theme and a few other favourites from the olden days.

Expect the unexpected with Star Wars: The Last Jedi.  Don’t pay too much attention to the extremely negative or extremely positive reviews.  The truth is, as always, somewhere in the middle.  And that is part of the story of The Last Jedi.  The truth depends largely on your point of view.  The two other main themes here are hope, and the power of a symbol.  If the title wasn’t already used in another movie, you could have called it Episode VIII:  A New Hope.

3.5/5 stars

#618: Qui-Gon’s Noble End

GETTING MORE TALE #618: Qui-Gon’s Noble End

The excitement for a new Star Wars movie was never higher than it was in May of 1999.  After all, before Episode I: The Phantom Menace was released, George Lucas could do no wrong.  Sure, sure, he hadn’t actually directed anything since the original Star Wars in 1977.  That only added to the mystique.  He had served as a writer/producer on all three Indiana Jones films, but other than that his credits were not that impressive.  Surely, with George Lucas directing Star Wars again, we’ll get something just like we always wanted, right?

Were we ever naive.

There is one figure that never let us down, and that is composer John Williams.  His soundtracks always had a few key themes that would stick with you forever.  And he was busy through the 80s and 90s, working with his pal Steven Speilberg frequently.  Of course, Williams had to return for the new Star Wars.  There was nobody else who could do it.

The hit single “Duel of the Fates” premiered worldwide before the movie itself.  Hit single?  “Duel of the Fates” had a stunning music video…really, a long kick-ass extended trailer.  It made the rotation on MuchMusic and MTV, for good reason.  Not only was the video a showcase for Darth Maul and our heroes Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn, but the music resonated with people too.  It’s tense track with a choir, which Williams always saves for the most dramatic moments in Star Wars.  It’s fraught with drama and it’s brilliantly composed, and performed by the London Symphony.

The sheer scale of everything Star Wars in May 1999 meant that we would be stocking The Phantom Menace soundtrack front-racked at the Record Store.  That was rare for us.  Previously, we stocked James Horner’s Titanic soundtrack, but that boasted Celine Dion’s massive “My Heart Will Go On”.  In a sense, perhaps “Duel of the Fates” was the “My Heart Will Go On” of Star Wars.  It wasn’t as big but it sure helped put the soundtrack CD on the racks.  There were some incredible themes on the soundtrack, but unfortunately also a lot of music that, to use a phrase of my friend Erik Woods, was just “sonic wallpaper”.

The CD was released on Tuesday, May 4, 1999, in advance of the film.  We received our copies on Friday, June 30.

Of course I was going to buy my copy right then and there, but I couldn’t believe what I saw when I scanned the back cover.  Track 15 caught my eye.

What.  The.  Hell?

“Qui-Gon’s Noble End”.  Everybody knew that Liam Neeson was playing a new Jedi character named Qui-Gon Jinn.  A little after that, another track includes “Qui-Gon’s Funeral”!

Why…the fuck…would you advertise that Liam Neeson is dying in the fucking movie, two weeks before the movie is even out?  Who named these tracks?  Why the hell would you spoil the end of the movie so badly for everyone?

It was baffling.  It’s still baffling.

The track list for Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi has leaked.  I’ve seen it.  There are really no colossal spoilers on it.  You’ll still want to avoid it if you wish to remain completely spoiler free, but at least they’ve learned their lesson about naming tracks.

One of the most anticipated movies of all time was bound to sell more than a handful of soundtracks in advance.  That’s why The Phantom Menace was on our charts!  Every single person who bought that CD knew that Liam Neeson was going to die.

The Phantom Menace came out on May 19.  My sister and I sat there, watching the final duel.  As lightsabers ignited, “Duel of the Fates” began to play.  We both sat wondering exactly when Qui-Gon was going to meet his noble end.  It became obvious when he and Obi-Wan Kenobi were separated by a force field.  Right on cue, Darth Maul impaled him with his red-bladed weapon.

It could have been shocking, but the bigger surprise was that they killed off such a cool villain as Darth Maul after just one movie.  (Yes, I know he was resurrected on Clone Wars, a good TV series.)

As we gear up for The Last Jedi in a few short days, let those who wish to remain spoiler-free do so in peace.  There will hopefully be no Death Star-sized screwups like “Qui-Gon’s Nobel End”!

 

 

#591: My Rock and Roll Lullaby

GETTING MORE TALE #591: My Rock and Roll Lullaby

When I was a young child, I used to hum myself to sleep.  My favourite music was movie themes.  Whether it be Superman, Indiana Jones or Star Wars, soundtracks were 99% of what I liked to listen to.  And 99% of those soundtracks were John Williams.  Come bedtime, mom or dad would tuck me in, and I’d hum a favourite theme until I was asleep.

As I entered the pre-teen years, my parents bought me my first ghetto blaster.  It was a Sanyo, built solid like a Brinks truck.  The Sanyo brought music back to bed time, only now I didn’t have to hum!

By the time I had the Sanyo, I was getting in to rock and roll really seriously.  Kiss tapes were great for falling asleep to.  They were just the right length, and I loved each and every album.  Sure, you’d have to get up halfway through to flip sides (no auto-reverse on my first Sanyo), but suddenly I had a new bedtime routine.  I’d literally rock myself to sleep.

This nightly habit soon became nightly necessity.  It was hard to fall asleep without music!  If we were away from home, I’d bring a Walkman, but falling asleep with earphones on was uncomfortable to say the least.  Cheap 1980s earphones were not designed with comfort (or sound quality) in mind.

The bedtime music habit continued through highschool and into university.  Sometimes I worried, “What happens when I get married?  Is my wife going to want to fall asleep to Kiss Alive with me?”

No, no she wouldn’t.  But I did manage to start falling asleep without music.  When I got my own place, I’d stay up a little later and go to bed when I was exhausted.  If I tossed and turned, then I would throw on a CD to help me fall asleep like the old days.

Have you ever needed musical accompaniment to fall asleep?  What tunes did you like?


No, no no!

#577: Wedding Tunes Tales

GETTING MORE TALE #577: Wedding Tunes Tales

Mrs LeBrain and I have been married nine years.  It is an incredible feeling, to have found the one made for you.  I thank God every day.  We still frequently talk about the wedding day itself, the most amazing day of my life.  The bachelor night before was legendary, but the wedding was perfect.

Well, except a few minor details.

With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, there is one thing that really bugs me today, and that is our wedding CD.  Specifically, one track on that wedding CD.

I personally selected and approved most of the music for the day.  I was very proud to work Frank Zappa into the reception music (“Peaches En Regalia”).  I also had to make sure I had a Kiss song, so I chose “And Then She Kissed Me” from Love Gun.  We focused on Johnny Cash and the Beatles for the ceremony, killing two birds with one stone on “In My Life” for the signing of the registry.  As soon as we started sending out the “thank you” cards to all the guests, I compiled and burned dozens of copies of what you might call The Official Soundtrack Album to Our Wedding.  I squeezed in everything I could, but Jennifer insisted we include one specific song for her maid of honour, Lara.  [Note:  Lara is not evil, but she will be portraying the antagonist in an upcoming store called “Seven”.  Stay tuned.]  I guess when they used to work together in a video store, they would play “My Own Worst Enemy” by Lit a lot.  Some customer gave Lara a CD with that song on it and only that song…on repeat.  I guess this inside joke meant that “My Own Worst Enemy” was Lara’s entrance music at the reception.  And I guess that justified it being on the soundtrack CD.  That is, by far, my biggest wedding regret.  It never should have been on the soundtrack CD.  It’s the only song I absolutely have to skip every time.  It’s shit.  Sorry Lara, but your tribute song sucks!

Jen has her own decision that she would go back and change if she could.  We had the proverbial “bridesmaid from hell”.  Bridesmaidzilla, or ‘Zilla for short, was drama from start to finish.  Without getting into too much detail, ‘Zilla was at the bottom of the bridesmaid totem pole but tried to manipulate certain things to be about her.  The highlight of these efforts was what we call the “caesar salad saga”.

It’s quite simple, really!  Jennifer has a seafood allergy, and any decent caesar salad dressing has anchovy paste in it.  We never take any chances, so we requested a regular garden salad for the dinner reception.  No big deal, right?  It’s a salad, but most importantly, it’s Jennifer’s wedding.  You wouldn’t believe how this salad became a bone of contention between them!  ‘Zilla looked up recipes for vegan versions online.  The salad was repeatedly brought up, but Jen had never really had caesar salad before due to her allergy.  Why would she suddenly want one for her wedding?  Bottom line, Jen chose the salad she wanted.  And for the record, since that time, she has tried vegan caesar salad and likes it.  But why would she gamble on something like that for her wedding night?  No, pick the salad you want.  Bottom line, end of discussion.

Drama continued right up to the morning of the wedding day.  As maid of honour, Lara was in charge of the bridesmaids and all communication was to go through her to relieve the pressure from Jen.  Lara would take care of any minor details so Jen would not have to be bothered.  Well, apparently a bra was needed on the wedding day, and so I received a 7:00 am phone call about it.  ‘Zilla didn’t want to call Lara because they were not getting along, at all, so they thought it would a good idea to call the groom on his wedding day, about a goddamn bra.  They actually called me to ask where you can get a bra on a holiday weekend.  Are you kidding me?

They must have called Lara and gotten it sorted because they got the bra situation taken care of without the groom having to intervene.  The wedding went off perfectly and the reception was even better.   I did my best to curate some cool music, and as a special treat, my sister Kathryn performed at the reception.  It was a jazz quartet — bass, bass clarinet, drums, guitar.  The crowning moment of their performance was a jazzy rendition of the “Cantina Theme” from Star Wars.  My sister had to order the sheet music which wasn’t cheap.  Her band’s performance that night was her wedding gift to us, and that reminds me that I do have one more regret.  That is, I wish I had filmed it.

After dinner, after the cake was served, and I was taking a rest between songs (I was a dancing fiend) I sat at ‘Zilla’s table for a bit to chat.  Jen’s friend Gordie, who is hilarious by the way, and married to one of the good bridesmaids, was also sitting with a few others at the table.  Knowing full well the drama that had gone down, Gordie mischievously commented, “That was a great wedding, Mike.  Everything was perfect and I am so happy for you and Jen.  The cake was great…the only thing I would change is the salad, if it was caesar it would have been perfect.”  Then the husband of ‘Zilla said, “We even gave them the recipe to make it…”

The last bit of ‘Zilla drama happened later in the evening as they were leaving.  The DJ played one of the special songs I picked, which was “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond.  My mom, sister, aunt and new wife started dancing to it and I shouted “It’s the Ladano girls dance!”  My sister, who was right drunk at that stage, yelled out, “LADANO GIRLS, YAAAY!”  They joined with me in a circle and we danced away to Neil, singing along, having a blast, laughing.  ‘Zilla was, apparently, standing nearby waiting to say goodbye.  I felt a tap on my shoulder and she very bitchily said “BYE!” while making a talkie-talkie motion with her hand.  Yeah, bye!

Jen and I will soon be celebrating our anniversary again, and we’ll probably play that wedding soundtrack CD and relive the good memories.  And I’ve convinced her to skip Lit from now on.  Small victories are still victories.

Star Wars radio tonight! The original trilogy on Visions In Sound

I will be going LIVE at 12:30 AM (ET) Saturday morning with Robert Daniels on VISIONS IN SOUND. Tune in on your dial to 98.5 or internet to CKWR!  You folks in the UK can tune in as you enjoy some morning java!

Rob says:  “May is Star Wars month on Visions In Sound and we will be celebrating the 40th Anniversary with a slew of special shows. Joining me this week will be special guests Jason Drury, Michael Ladano & Erik Woods to help with the celebration. Featured music will be from the original Star Wars trilogy (John Williams). Join Us THIS Saturday 12:30-2:30am (ET)”

Blu-ray REVIEW: Star Wars – The Complete Saga (2011 9 disc set)

I will be going LIVE at 12:30 AM (ET) Saturday morning with Robert Daniels on VISIONS IN SOUND. Tune in on your dial to 98.5 or internet to CKWR!  You folks in the UK can tune in as you enjoy some morning coffee or tea!

Rob says:  “May is Star Wars month on Visions In Sound and we will be celebrating the 40th Anniversary with a slew of special shows. Joining me this week will be special guests Jason Drury, Michael Ladano & Erik Woods to help with the celebration. Featured music will be from the Star Wars prequel trilogy (John Williams). Join Us THIS Saturday 12:30-2:30am (ET)”

 

STAR WARS: The Complete Saga (2011 Lucasfilm 9 Blu-ray set)

Includes:  Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and three bonus discs.

Star Wars on blu-ray…it took a lot less time than it did for Star Wars to arrive on DVD!  In special features and deleted scenes alone, it was well worth the wait. You can’t do a box set like this without the bonus of unseen footage. The good news is, The Complete Saga is loaded with unseen special features and deleted scenes. In fact, the Tosche Station scene (deleted from A New Hope) is worth the purchase alone for the true fan. It’s that great.

Will this be the last time we buy the first two Star Wars trilogies? Heck, no! When 3D comes out, everybody will be having the same discussion all over again!  And when the sequel trilogy is complete, we’ll be doing it again.  Will Greedo still shoot first? Well, in my mind I have long accepted that Han shot first. Only in some weird Lucasverse is there a way that Greedo could shoot and miss at that range. That close, I’m sorry, Han is toasted smuggler stew.  Disney says there is no way to re-release the original trilogy without its Special Edition enhancements, as the original film materials are too far gone.

However about 10 years ago or so, Lucas did an official DVD reissue of the ORIGINAL original trilogy, which I went out and bought on day one. It was satisfying, it looked better than my old VHS copy, but it wasn’t cleaned up nice like the special editions were. Which, in my opinion, is fine. It looks good and it’s as close to your childhood memories as you’ll ever get. After all, we didn’t have 1080p TV tubes.

Accepting that a Blu-ray version of the “ORIGINAL” original trilogy will never happen, I am very satisfied with my Blu-ray of the Complete Saga.

The sound is awesome, very deep, and annoying to the neighbors.

The video is perfect; I realize there are probably some colour changes here and there but I’m not about to do an A/B test and find them. I don’t care, it’s sharp and bright and clear and even Phantom Menace looks good!

Content wise, you know what? Hell, I’m actually enjoying Phantom Menace. I’m lost in that moment in 1999 or whatever it was, when we sat there watching it the first time, trying to figure out who the new baddies were and checking out all the cool designs, which all stand up today. Except Jar Jar. Take him out and the movie’s not half bad at all, flawed as it may be.

Bonus featues: I wanted to watch the deleted scenes and there is good news and bad news. The bad news is, I hate how the deleted scenes are organized. You have to click the movie you want, click the planet you want, and then pick deleted scenes from the features. You can’t just go to a menu called “Deleted Scenes”. Anyways, these were mostly great although some action scenes were just animatics. And, I don’t think these deleted scenes overlap at all with the scenes provided on previous DVD editions. For example there was no Greedo scene in the Episode I deleted scenes, but there certainly was on the original DVD release for Episode I. That goes for the special features in general…I don’t think there are many that overlap at all with the ones you already have.  That could be good or bad; for most fans that’s good.  You’re buying new stuff, not the same stuff you have already.

Highlights: As mentioned the Tosche Station scene, which has all the soul of old Star Wars along with finally tying up the Biggs storyline. Also welcome was the attack on the droid control ship from Episode II — previously only available to subscribers to Lucasfilm’s ill-fated Hyperspace service.

There’s also an hour and a half (!) of spoofs from all over the place, including The Simpsons, Family Guy, Robot Chicken, Saturday Night Live (including that hilarious Kevin-Spacey-as-Christopher-Walken-as-Han-Solo one), Colbert, That 70’s Show, and many more. Most of these, I have never seen.

This is exactly what anybody who had reasonable expectations wanted.

5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Rogue One – A Star Wars Story soundtrack (2016)

I will be going LIVE at 12:30 AM (ET) Saturday morning with Robert Daniels on VISIONS IN SOUND. Tune in on your dial to 98.5 or internet to CKWR!  You folks in the UK can tune in as you enjoy some morning coffee.

Rob says:  “Star Wars For A New Generation – May is Star Wars month on Visions In Sound and we will be celebrating the 40th Anniversary with a slew of special shows. Joining me this week will be special guests Jason Drury, Michael Ladano & Erik Woods to help with the celebration. Featured music will be from Star Wars – The Force Awakens (John Williams), Star Wars – Rebels (Kevin Kiner) and Rogue One – A Star Wars Story (Michael Giacchino). Join Us THIS Saturday 12:30-2:30am (ET)”

ROGUE ONE: A Star Wars Story original motion picture soundtrack (2015 Lucasfilm/Disney)

A Star Wars soundtrack without John Williams?  Blasphemy!  Right?  Right guys and girls?  No John = No Star Wars, right?

Wrong!

It’s not like Rogue One is even the first!  20 years before, Joel McNeely composed Shadows of the Empire, the soundtrack to a massive multi-media Star Wars story.  It accompanied a novel, a comic, a video game and action figure line.  The only thing missing was a movie.  Since Disney’s $4 billion acquisition of Star Wars, Shadows of the Empire is now considered “legends”, or non-canon, so if you’re not aware of it, that’s OK.  The point is, a non-Williams Star Wars soundtrack is nothing new to long time fans.  And Rogue One is the perfect vehicle for such a soundtrack.  Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the first non-episodic, non-Skywalker-saga Star Wars film ever.  There are two very obvious ways that it differentiates from the main line of films.  One is that there was no opening crawl (nor should there have been).  The second is that Williams didn’t do the music.  Michael Giacchino did, a man who has plenty of credits on his resume including a large number of J.J. Abrams productions.

Giacchino wisely didn’t overuse established Star Wars music.  You won’t hear the fanfare.  The sudden crash opening music of “He’s Here For Us” was actually a pretty cool moment of shock, and it’s right there at the start.  The music feels like the storyline.  When Director Kennic suddenly pays a surprise visit to his “friend” Galen Erso, you couldn’t ask for more abrupt and appropriate music.  The threat has arrived.  Better hide.

Though Giacchino borrows music only sparingly from John Williams, he seems to embody that classic style.  While unfamiliar, these new pieces sound like part of that universe.  There are memorable parts; not so many as the classic films, but they are there.  “He’s Here For Us” introduces one such theme, and there are more, such as the main theme contained within “A Long Ride Ahead” (and again in “The Master Switch”).  You’ll notice the Rogue One theme music in “A Long Ride Ahead” is very similar to the Star Wars main theme, in particular the first two notes.  It’s the same interval, transposed down to a different key.   That’s why the Rogue One and Star Wars themes sound similar, but different.

Other tracks like “When Has Become Now” have bits and pieces that recall prior Star Wars music without copying.  Another fantastic theme is “Jedha Arrival” which really captures the vibe.  You will get to hear the legendary “Imperial March” in “Krennic’s Aspirations”, in which he meets the Dark Lord Darth Vader in his castle on Mustafar.

For action scenes, “Jedha City Ambush” hits a double:  It’s different from past Williams work, but really gets the adrenaline running.  “Star-Dust” is more contemplative, and very unique.  The drama of “Confrontation on Eadu” has that awe-inspiring mix of ingredients that good Star Wars music always has.  Then, for sheer terror, the ironically titled “Hope” gives you all you need in pure musical form.  The solo violin on “Jyn Erso & Hope Suite” will make you weep.

The crux of the soundtrack is this:  It’s nearly impossible to listen to it without consciously or unconsciously comparing it.  That’s natural.  No matter who composed it, fans would notice it’s not John Williams.  Just like fans can tell the Kiss band of today is not the Kiss band of 1978.  What else could Disney do?  John Williams is 85 years old, and they plan on making these movies for years and years to come.  It’s reasonable to think John Williams will be able to complete the third trilogy of Star Wars, as we hope.  It’s not realistic to think he’ll be around as long as Disney plan on making Star Wars movies, as sad as that is.

We’ll leave this review with just some fun speculation.  It is widely known that, at some point in the late 1970s, George Lucas mentioned there would be 12 films.  Not 3, 6 or 9.  12 films.  He later backtracked and said, “Yeah, no, I meant 6.”  And of course he also used to deny he’d even make the prequel trilogy at all.  Then we found out he was already writing Episode I.  And recently, we learned he was actually planning to do the sequel trilogy after all, meaning you can’t trust anything Lucas backtracks on.  Fans always assumed 12 films meant 4 trilogies.  A fourth trilogy (probably focusing on Rey, Finn, Poe or Kylo’s children) does not seem impossible any more.   As long as these movies make money, it’s feasible that Disney could continue the actual saga beyond just these anthology films.  If we imagine that one day we’ll get Episodes X, XI and XII then who could compose the music?  Certainly not John Williams, since this could not happen until the mid-2020s at the soonest.  If it ever comes to pass, the fourth trilogy would have to be composed by somebody new, be it Giacchino or someone else.   Giacchino established himself as a real contender on Rogue One.  Well done.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Raiders of the Lost Ark – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (2008 CD reissue)

scan_20170116RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Originally 1981, 2008 CD reissue)

When it comes to sci-fi nerds, movie geeks, and Speilberg buffs, there is one name that we all salute:  composer John Williams.

In 1981, Williams was given the task of composing yet another soundtrack for his buddy Steven:  Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Like Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back before it, it needed identifiable themes to accompany our characters:  the heroic school teacher (!) Indiana Jones, his one true love Marion, and a whole slew of evil Nazis.  This time Williams needed to come up with appropriate music not for epic space battles, but to inspire awe in the wrath of God and the Ark of the Covenant.

To go with the 2008 theatrical release of (the atrocious) Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Lucasfilm remixed and reissued the original Raiders soundtrack with 30 minutes of bonus tracks.  (Unfortunately, both the LP and box set have music not on this CD, but we don’t get this stuff for free, so a review of this CD is all you get.)  Virtually every note will be familiar to fans both casual and die-hard.

Indy begins his adventure “In the Jungle” and immediately you can picture the spiders and creepy-crawlies that Indy had to step through.  “The Idol Temple” has even more creepy-crawlies, and Williams expertly finds the musical effects to go with the eight-legged chills.  Just like the movie, be ready to jump startled at certain cues.  Serious action begins on “Escape from the Temple”, the kind of track that is a benchmark for such scenes.  The “Flight From Peru” is the very first appearance of the famous Indiana Jones theme, as he escapes death…barely!

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In America, Indy is paid a visit at the school by two “Washington Men” who want him to find something.  This is the eerie, understated debut of the Ark’s theme, though Indy’s own theme plays around with it, indicating the two will eventually collide.  “A Thought for Marion” introduces her theme, and then back to the Ark’s music once again.  The ominous overtones indicate that Indy’s mission to find the Ark will not be easy.  He is then off to Nepal with music that hints at the dangers ahead.  In Nepal he finds both Marion and the medallion, which has its own dark music.  The military drums foreshadow the involvement of the Nazi forces also searching for the Ark.

The score takes a slight middle eastern turn with “Flight to Cairo”, also augmented with Indy and Marion’s themes.  The two must find the Ark before the Nazis do with the help of Indy’s old Egyptian friend Sallah.  Marion finds herself in trouble almost immediately.  “The Basket Game” is one of the most memorable cues from the movie, though it ended badly for Marion and Indy.  Williams uses articulate melodies in a cartoon-like style to hint at the motion happening on screen.  With Marion gone, Indy must continue his quest with Sallah.  Together they visit a wise man, and discover that someone is trying to poison them with “Bad Dates”.

“The Map Room” is the setting for the next piece, building tension back with the Ark theme.  This incredible cue ends with Indy discovering the location of the Well of the Souls.   What I always assumed were sound effects in the scene is actually music (chimes).  Soon he finds Marion alive and well.  Her theme and that of the Ark return for another go-round as the heroes finally find the treasure.  The music when the Ark is found is similar to that in the Star Wars scene where the first Death Star explodes.   More creepy-crawlies (“Snakes…why’d it have to be snakes?”) infest “The Well of the Souls”, surely the creepiest scene in the movie.

Another great Indy action cue is “Indy Rides the Statue”, a piece of music that recurs when our hero is in great danger.  Escaping the Well of the Souls, Indy must battle a massive German henchman in “The Fist Fight”.  The tension is turned up again, and fans will recall this piece from one of the most punishing action scenes in the film.  “The Desert Chase” is the longest piece on the album, to suit a roller-coaster scene of thrills and chills.  The music delivers the same thrills, as you can picture Indy on that horse chasing down those Nazis.  It’s among Williams’ finest music.

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A tender moment (“Marion’s Theme”) is short lived as the Nazis return.  The action-packed music takes Indy to a secret Nazi island in the Mediterranean (“The German Sub” and “Ride to the Nazi Hideout”).  The horrifying finale reveals “The Miracle of the Ark”, and again some of Williams’ best music.  The end credits music “Raiders March” is some of most memorable music in film history.  It revisits the most exciting music from the score.  It is similar in style and equal in quality to what John Williams did with the Star Wars saga end credits.  This single track should be in any serious music lover’s collection.

For a more knowledgeable take on the Raiders soundtrack, we spoke to Rob Daniels from the Visions In Sound radio programme.  He had this to add:

When I first heard John Williams’ score to Raiders I immediately fell in love with the theme. In fact it has been my ring tone on my phone for several years over at least three phones. That being said the score to Raiders is much more than its theme. By the way, the theme is actually two separate pieces that Williams had written to be the title theme for the film.  Speilberg loved them both and asked them to be combined.

John Williams is the master of memorable themes and Raiders is no exception. There are several wonderful themes such as the aforementioned “Raiders March” but also to be commended is “Marion’s Theme” and the “Ark Theme”. Though I have to admit that my favourite comes in the cue “Desert Chase” as Indy is going after the Ark as it is on its way to Cairo. As the cues play you can see the Nazi soldiers being thrown from the truck and Indy’s fight in the cab with one of them as he eventually gets dragged behind the truck to his final victory and escape. It’s an amazing piece of audio gymnastics in an 8:18 cue.

Williams is known for his broad themes (See Star Wars & Superman) but he also plays the smaller moments just as well. (See “The Medallion” & “To Cairo” cue). In the hands of another composer this could have been just another score but Williams elevated the film to a fun and epic adventure that can be playful, sad and triumphant, sometimes all in the same cue.

The remixing renders an awesome sounding CD with the depth and clarity you expect.  A nice looking booklet has the images to go with it.  Remember listening to a soundtrack while leafing through the photos in the LP?  Relive that with the reissued Raiders of the Lost Ark.

5/5 stars