Tag Archives: John Williams

Star Wars (Damned If They Do, Damned If They Don’t)

3 Jan

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Like millions and millions out there, I am a huge Star Wars fan. I watched and re-watched the original trilogy (Episodes IV, V and VI) more times than I could pretend to count. And when the prequels were finally made (Episodes I, II, III) by George Lucas, I was as excited as the rest of the world. But then Lucas did something unforgivable: He created a new trilogy….of mediocrity. They were not bad movies by any means, they had fun universes, some great actors (Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor), a fantastic John Williams score, and added to the mythology that we had been waiting to gain pieces to since 1983’s Return of the Jedi. But it was mediocre, plain and simple. The quality of actors for Anakin Skywalker were distractingly bad, the overuse of CGI for characters that had previously been done with love using Muppets was jarring, and the dialogue was frequently laughable. The most interesting protagonist (Neeson’s Qui-Gon Jinn) and antagonist (Darth Maul) of the movies were killed off so quickly, that we were left with mostly the dregs. And don’t even get me started with Jar Jar Binks….But still, you couldn’t NOT watch, you still got a thrill by watching the mythology unfold. You still appreciated the vastness of the universe and the storytelling. It was still a fun ride, and thankfully the best chapter was left for last (Revenge of the Sith aka Episode III), so it did end on a positive note.

Then, years went by, and fans were given a huge gift…George Lucas sold Lucasfilm for 4 billion dollars, and a movie a year was going to be made. And thankfully it would be created by other writers and directors, and specifically made by fans, for fans.

Time has passed, the the first 2/3 of the new trilogy has been made (Episodes VII and VIII), and it’s astounding, but these movies are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t with us fans. It’s too massive a franchise NOT to piss off millions of people, so The Force Awakens and now the recent The Last Jedi have proved the old adage that “you CAN’T please all of the people, all of the time”.

The Force Awakens was a nostalgic pleasure to watch. It flooded our hearts with memories of our childhoods watching the original iconic trilogy. Han Solo with his rascally personality was back with Chewbacca and the Millenium Falcon, the music, the visuals, the universe we love, all back, hooray! What was the problem? Well many people complained loudly that it was completely unoriginal. It was simply a rehash of everything we knew. Story-lines mimicked the originals, there was even basically a new Death Star with yet another conveniently designed fatal flaw that if you bomb it will blow up the whole place. “JJ Abrams how could you make us wait so long and then do nothing NEW with it???”

Well I didn’t feel that way, I loved the nostalgia, I loved seeing Han Solo again, I loved being engulfed by that universe again, and I had no complaints. But I DID leave the theater telling Adi and my friends that it’s okay for Abrams to have made this as a sort of “apology” for the mediocre prequels, and finally make one “for the fans” after all these years; BUT that it was a one-time baton pass from the old to the new, and all future ones would HAVE to be original storytelling.

And that’s exactly what happened. And that’s unfortunately what proved my point that fans cannot all be satisfied. Because along came The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson, an extremely creative director in tow (did you ever see Looper? If not, check it out, one of the most clever movies of the past 10 years). Critics loved The Last Jedi, arguably the best reviewed movie in the franchise’s history. But…audiences were divided. “How could you destroy our childhood and make Luke so angry?!” some would yell. “An entire mission that fails, what was the point of that?!” others would cry out. “Rey has iconic parents, that can’t be the real answer to that mystery!” others would complain. Even Mark Hamill, aka Luke Skywalker went on social media saying how upset HE was that Luke was not the same positive character he had always been (until Disney likely pressured him to shut up, and he suddenly did a total 180 and apologized in public). A petition was actually started to remove this from the Star Wars official canon, and remake it; over 80,000 people have signed it and counting (see it for yourself here). Wow, fans can be truly whiny!

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But I think that’s a GOOD thing! There aren’t enough things left in this world that instill passion into people, but this franchise still makes people leave their homes to see their first movie in 2 years. It still makes people happy OR mad enough to make them angrily post on social media and argue with their friends about how great or terrible it was. Try making that happens with 99.9% of the other movies out there…it won’t happen. Let’s continue to create movies and television that makes people want to continue talking about it long after they’ve left the theater or turned off their TVs. Personally, I think BOTH movies were awesome. I saw each one in theaters TWICE, and these are the only movies I can say that about in the past 10 years! Both did far more to thrill me and make me care than the disappointing prequels. I think The Force Awakens did what it needed to do and gave us all the gift of nostalgia that we had been longing for after many years, and The Last Jedi appropriately moved on from there. I appreciate that it did not take the safe route. I love that missions failed. I loved the continued awesome music and visuals, and new creatures that were NOT reliant on CGI. I loved that I did not know what was going to happen next, and I am excited to see how this trilogy finishes….and in a fascinating twist of events, it will revert back to the original director JJ Abrams, so time will tell if he will continue from the tone that Rian Johnson just left it with, or if he will revert to the safer version of the first one that he kicked off…

I will leave you with one additional point. Disney recently bought 20th Century Fox for over 52 billion dollars. I would love for them to reward us by putting their iconic fanfare back in front of each Star Wars movie, because most of us fans can agree that this is how the opening should always sound.

This is easy. The movies were each far far better than Episodes I, II and III (the prequels), though still unable to take the crown away from the original iconic trilogy.

Quality Rating (Star Wars: The Force Awakens): A (Hard to give something an A+ that so closely tried to imitate the original, even if imitation IS the sincerest form of flattery.

Boaz Rating (Star Wars: The Force Awakens): A+ (I couldn’t have been more excited from the start to finish if I tried. Harrison Ford was back on the screen playing Han Solo, there was new story, the dialogue was not cringe-worthy, I was in heaven.

Quality Rating (Star Wars: The Last Jedi): A (There are still a few weak lines of dialogue, a incongruous shot of Adam Driver with his shirt off, that ever so slightly weaken the quality of this highly original movie.

Boaz Rating (Star Wars: The Force Awakens): A+ (The continuation of the awesome story but in a far more original and unexpected way? I was sold, and riveted, and that held true upon a second viewing.)

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Jurassic Park (3D) (“My Research & Adulation About The Masterpiece”)

30 Apr

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Synopsis: “During a preview tour, a theme park suffers a major power breakdown that allows its cloned dinosaur exhibits to run amok.” (Rated PG-13; 2 hours, 7 minutes)

Steven Spielberg is a God. Is that too sacrilegious a statement for an observant Jew to make? Fine, I’ll clarify it and say he’s just a god among men. How else to describe the fantasy that he has helped bring to life SO many times over the years with movie spectacle after movie spectacle.

It’s not just his budgets that create wondrous blockbusters, because numerous directors get hundreds of millions of dollars to play with, and their movies may be cool and fun, but they sure aren’t magical (I’m talking to you, Michael Bay). And he certainly doesn’t exclusively choose Oscar-bait material, because many of his movies would have been second-rate in other peoples’ hands. Imagine Jaws directed by anyone else. What are the chances  that the LACK of seeing the shark would be what scares the bejesus out of us. (I was one of countless kids who for years still had lingering twinges of fear when I’d dip my toes into a swimming pool!) How about Saving Private Ryan; do you think anyone else would have given you the terrifying sense of “being there” that you had during its initial 20 minute D-Day scene? In my opinion that scene escalates the film so much, that I consider it to be the greatest war movie ever made. I could honestly go on and on about my all-time favorite director, but let’s focus my attention on the brilliant blockbuster at hand, Jurassic Park. Oh what an awesome movie it was. And I’m happy to report that it stands the test of time. Seeing it on the big screen once again was exhilarating;  it was as scary, thrilling and (yes) funny as ever.

I need to mention the fact that Adi went with me to see the movie in 3D. For anyone who is unaware, I am incredibly critical of the 3D experience in movies, and my feelings generally range from hatred to mild apathy. Whether it’s about the distractions of the glasses constantly slipping off my nose, or how they feel pressed against my own glasses underneath, or the dulled tones and colors that result from the 3D effect…I despise the format. But for the sake of this particular blog post, I will write about the movie and not mention the 3D aspect again; one of these days I will revisit the topic and address/attack it as its own article.

Unlike most of my posts, the vast majority of people reading this blog will have seen the movie in the past, so I don’t need to convince anyone that it’s worth checking out. What I would like to do is remind people about some of the more brilliant aspects of the movie, and possibly offer some new information I’ve compiled from my research.

The Music

As soon as you saw the poster above, didn’t you start playing the music inside your head (or out loud for that matter)? If not, I welcome you to get in the mood and listen to it right here (at the start of the YouTube clip as well as the 2:25 minute mark). John Williams composed the score for all of Spielbergs’ movies, and has thus created some of the most memorable melodies in film history. He managed to somehow make 2 notes absolutely terrifying with his Jaws theme. He gave a platform to world-renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman, who was forever immortalized in the beautifully haunting Schindler’s List theme. As Spielberg created another piece of cinematic history, so often John Williams followed. The melody for Jurassic Park was an instant-classic, and you would hear people singing it as soon as they’d leave the theater. To say it set the mood for the wonders on the screen would be a glaring example of understatement.

The Special Effects

It’s been 20 years since the movie came out. There have been so many advances in technology, computers and special effects, and nobody would even try to contest that statement. Then why on earth do these effects hold up as better and more “real” than the majority of big budget movies today? The amount of thought, care and dedication that went into the visual arts of this movie are astonishing. As fantastic as some of the CGI (computer-generated imagery) movies have gotten, so many film-makers have abused it to the point where it’s not uncommon to hear “CGI-heavy” as a descriptor for a movie – and it’s rarely meant as a compliment. (I’m looking at you Transformers!) Although Jurassic Park had plenty of CGI (and essentially revolutionized it), some of their key moments and characters were mechanical, touchable, animatronic dinosaurs – amazingly REAL ones I might add. When Sam Neill hugged the sick Triceretops? He wasn’t hugging a blue screen, the creature was created for the movie, and it was as if dinosaurs were alive and real…you can’t replace that realism! What about the giant Tyrannosaurus Rex that moved around snapping and snarling and darting rapidly? It was usually a robot. Holy cow-eating dinosaur! In fact it was SUCH a feat of brilliance creating the T. Rex that I invite you to watch these videos that were recently released here; they show the thought and genius that went into it, led by the world-famous special effects pioneer Stan Winston. There are 3 segments at 4 minutes apiece, and you may not understand all of the technical terms they’re using, but you will be amazed by their inventiveness! Are you curious to read a fun National Geographic piece about how the T. Rex from the movie compares to what we actually know about the monstrous creature? I am happy to provide you with a fun piece of reading material here!

Spielberg had originally hired Phil Tippett to use his go-motion animation technology to move the dinosaurs around. Tippett had previously created numerous famous go-motion effects, including the Imperial Walkers during The Empire Strikes Back. Spielberg wasn’t happy with the end-result’s lack of realism in Jurassic Park, and when they saw initial CGI footage of the T. Rex running around and hunting the stampede of other dinosaurs, he famously said to Tippett, “You’re out of a job”, to which the go-motion wizard responded, “Don’t you mean extinct?”. That witty exchange of course made it into the movie itself! As for the shots when the dinosaurs WERE computer generated? I have no explanation as to why they still seem more real than most modern day effects. They just do.

The Script

It sure doesn’t hurt when the author is also one of the screenwriters, and that’s what happened here. Michael Crichton was hired to adapt his own screenplay, and David Koepp came in later and made some very clever changes to its final product. For example, there had been a lot of exposition in the book (and Crichton’s screenplay) about the backstory of HOW it was scientifically possible to bring dinosaurs back to life. Koepp solved this by creating the cute cartoon that was shown to the characters that explains it all. This and other changes took the meat of the clever story, and made it flow so darn well in a 2 plus hour movie. He also took Richard Attenborough’s owner-of-the-island character and made him a sweet, misguided, well-meaning old man instead of a ruthless billionaire. Trust me, when you watch the movie again you’ll realize just how many lines are now classic, and the comic timing is hilarious, especially when Jeff Goldblum speaks. Although I must admit I was rolling my eyes at the ridiculousness of the script where Goldblum’s character Dr. Ian Malcolm asks Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) if she’s heard of chaos theory, and then later the butterfly effect. In both cases neither she nor anyone else is even familiar with the concepts. Seriously?! What the hell sort of schools did these other scientists go to? I was a lazy student in high school but even I had heard of both, c’mon! In spite of that slight lapse in judgment, the script was fun, memorable and well written by the author himself and Koepp. Other notable movies that Koepp has written include Mission: Impossible,  Spider-Man, and last year’s underrated popcorn flick Premium Rush.

The Actors

I would have never thought Sam Neill could be such a great hero, but he really pulled it off. It’s funny, because I don’t associate him with roles like this, as he’s usually a bit stodgy or serious, but here he fit the hat of an Indiana Jones-type perfectly. And it’s ironic, because Harrison Ford was actually Spielberg’s first choice. As the director once reported, “My first choice was Harrison. I went to the art department and I had them do a photo-realistic painting of the T-Rex chasing Harrison… and I put Harrison’s face on the character of the archaeologist, and sent the script, the book, and the picture to Harrison. The next day I got a call and he said, ‘This is not for me, pal.'” So as often seems to occur with famous roles, it could have gone to someone else and now we can’t really imagine it any other way. (William Hurt was also considered for the role before Sam Neill turned up.) Laura Dern was an interesting choice to make since she was mostly doing indie flicks at the time. According to a recent Entertainment Weekly article, she got the script while working on Wild At Heart, and only accepted the role when Nicolas Cage told her that it was his dream to work on a dinosaur movie and she’d be CRAZY to turn it down. And don’t get me started on Jeff Goldblum, his unique delivery is an acting class in itself.

Did You Know?

Pieces of information I wasn’t aware of until yesterday include:

-At the start of their automated tour of Jurassic Park, Richard Attenborough’s character tells everyone, “”The voice you’re now hearing is Richard Kiley. We’ve spared no expense.” I assumed Richard Kiley must have been a well-known actor from the days of yore, but there’s more to it. In the book, Chrichton wrote that Kiley was the narrator of the tour, so fittingly Spielberg was able to get him to actually do it for the movie.

-When they showed dinosaurs entire bodies moving around, or more distant shots, it was usually CGI. Most close-ups of them were animatronic though, including the majority of the climactic velociraptor-kitchen scene, which most people falsely believe was CGI. In fact during that scene Joseph Mazzello at one point ran into one of them and got injured. The seamless blend of computers with fleshy animatronics works so darn well, and that scene was terrifying!

-During filming a massive hurricane hit Kauai, causing the entire crew to flee. The pilot who took them off the island was Fred Sorenson. Who’s that? He was the same pilot who flew Indiana Jones away during the opening scene of Spielberg’s own Raiders Of The Lost Ark!

The Director

This brings us full circle back to the genius himself, Steven Spielberg. Seeing the movie on the big screen after all these years, I was able to see countless details and moments that demonstrate his mastery of the film-making craft. I will give some examples of this from just one famous scene in the movie, the T. Rex encounter: The cup of water rippling each time the T. Rex took a step…iconic. The rear-view mirror vibrating out-of-focus during that same thunderous sequence…brilliant. The close-up of the side-mirror showing the T. Rex chasing their vehicle, and almost caught up, with a funny focus on the words, “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear”!

There were truly endless moments of masterful film-making throughout the film, and as Adi said to me, it did two things that most movies never achieve: It scared her, and it made her care. The animatronics and CGI were able to make these dinosaurs more real than it had seemed imaginable, and the script was able to provide a hell of a fun story; but it’s only thanks to Steven Spielberg that each moment was actually suspenseful, touching and highly effective. The movie fires on all cylinders, and I can’t wait to see what he does in the next chapter of his illustrious career.

The movie was better than its sequels, including the Spielberg directed The Lost World. That one was certainly entertaining, but never as brilliantly innovative as the original. It wasn’t as good as…geez, do I really have to pick a better movie than a classic? Sure, okay, technically it wasn’t as fantastic as his own Schindler’s List. Are you happy now? I need to go wash my hands after that dirty, dirty comparison…

Quality Rating: A+(After everything I’ve written here, was there ever any doubt?)

Boaz Rating: A+