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Early December (Disasters) from the Aisle Seat

A Long Editorial, Soundtracks, Lasers & DVDs

by Andy Dursin

Soundtrack reviews, laserdisc clips, and DVD news follow this long-winded editorial on the state of affairs on December 7, 1998--read on, though you have already been warned!

PSYCHO opened this weekend. Can you already sense my disinterest? I remember back in '83 when PSYCHO II opened, and there was an outcry from all corners of the globe, stating "how can you make a sequel to a Hitchcock classic?" in no uncertain terms. Well, folks, in 1998, you have something far less relevant than a mere follow-up--a remake of a Hitchcock classic, with the added excitement of Norman Bates masturbating. Just like the original, reviewers weren't permitted to screen the film in advance, though unlike the 1960 picture, this seems to have been done for a different tactic this time out. Instead of divulging plot secrets, withholding the film from reviews in 1998 seems to have been done to prevent the movie from receiving a glut of negative reviews, which it did on Saturday from critics everywhere.

No, I didn't see the movie, but do I need to? This movie is designed for the "young people" who made I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, URBAN LEGEND, SCREAM, etc. into box-office hits. Movie-goers who never saw the original--as evidenced by the picture claiming to be a shot-for-shot remake (even though it runs seven minutes shorter!) and incorporating modern rock artists into the soundtrack fabric. If you've seen the original, there doesn't seem to be any reason to watch it. (Fortunately enough, it seems as if the current young-teen-horror trend may be coming to an end. I STILL KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER has fallen well short of the original's fiscal performance, and will be hard pressed to gross over $45 million. PSYCHO opened only modestly, and suffered a severe drop-off in attendance on Saturday and Sunday.)

The Holiday Movie Season has already turned out to be lukewarm, dominated by kid pictures A BUG'S LIFE and THE RUGRATS MOVIE. After reading months of negative press on the usual Internet news sites (which is fast becoming one of the most inaccurate barometers of any film's actual quality) and other sources, BABE: PIG IN THE CITY opened and bombed, though not without it receiving the best reviews of any film this season. Sure, it may be "darker," but this G-rated picture has already been hailed by many critics as one of the year's Best films (not just a children's film)--proof that quality entertainment isn't always reflected by box-office statistics (but we already knew that on both sides of the coin. Witness ARMAGEDDON's $200 million gross). ENEMY OF THE STATE was a decent programmer, albeit forgettable, while MEET JOE BLACK was too slow and subtle for most moviegoers' tastes (I liked it, however).

I'm looking forward to seeing BABE, while it's still playing in theaters, and also several films opening on Christmas Day--MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, THE FACULTY, and the weepy STEPMOM among them (though only because John Williams is doing the score on the latter). I've already vowed to stay away from the Robin Williams drama-edy PATCH ADAMS, which boasts an unfunny trailer and includes many snippets of Williams in a typical man-against-the-establishment role that could be dubbed DYING PATIENTS SOCIETY.

As for STAR TREK: INSURRECTION, which opens this Friday, I'm betting it's neither better nor worse than the indifferent reaction that test audiences have allegedly met with it. One thing, though, is certain--the name STAR TREK no longer carries with it the mystique and excitement that it did back in the mid '80s, when Kirk, Spock, etc. had their big screen adventures, and the possibility of a "Next Generation" series loomed in the distance.

Now, over a decade later, we have movies every two years with Picard & co., and a pair of mediocre television programs that draw only the most fanatical of Trek fans. Unlike "Star Wars" (whose visibility has been maintained by Lucas through book tie-ins and toy merchandise--he learned his lesson with the "Star Wars Holiday Special" and the Ewok TV movies), Paramount has been reaping the benefits off "Star Trek" spinoffs to a degree that has lessened the franchise from an "event" title to something that has almost been deprived of any freshness. We've had too much Trek for its own good. I get the feeling that once Patrick Stewart has ended his run, the franchise itself ought to be put in a state of semi-retirement, to be dusted off a few years later once someone with fresh ideas and a new concept can keep Star Trek alive without the principal motivation of keeping the checks coming in for the studio.

As you can tell, I wrote this after several cups of coffee on Sunday morning, needing to get a lot off my chest. (There, now I feel better!) Feel free to send in your comments on the new Star Trek, this season's movies, or the incredible amount of blown calls in the NFL (the Jets got an early Christmas present on Sunday) to me at dursina@att.net for inclusion in the next column. In the meantime, onto some relevant FSM news and reviews!

Soundtrack Corner: A McNeely Double Dip

Joel McNeely is getting around these days. His most recent two scores are for a pair of box-office disasters made by producer Jerry Weintraub over at Warner Bros., which has been specializing in turning out turkeys over the last twelve months. Fortunately enough, both scores are strong efforts and worth a listen if you get a chance.

SOLDIER was the Kurt Russell bomb that opened and closed in October without hardly any fanfare (apparently Warners, fearing the worst, didn't spend money on advertising for this one, which netted Kurt a hard-earned $15 million for about 12 lines of dialogue). Truth be told, the movie wasn't all that bad--the opening third was sluggish and seemed to have been cut down, but it straightened itself out and became an entertaining enough programmer with a competent script (by UNFORGIVEN and BLADE RUNNER scribe David Webb Peoples) that would have been better off in the hands of someone other than EVENT HORIZON's Paul Anderson. (I saw the movie at a bargain theater last week, and felt satisfied having plunked down $2.50 to see it. It's worth about that, or a video rental).

McNeely's score is a thundering, bombastic affair, with brass sections that--as Lukas played for me over the phone before I heard the soundtrack--clearly resemble Jerry Goldsmith's main theme from U.S. MARSHALS. Now, we know that McNeely has fallen prone to the temp-track several times before (remember IRON WILL? The main title in that one was SILVERADO, INDIANA JONES & THE LAST CRUSADE, and FAR AND AWAY all rolled into one), and true enough, there's too much derivative material in SOLDIER to make it a highly recommended album (it also runs only 28 minutes, which leads me to ask--couldn't Varese establish a separate label for their union releases, like "Varese L.A.," so we know when their albums run under 30 minutes?).

Still, I did admire the craftsmanship of McNeely's score, which works well in the movie and--as long as we're talking about cliche-filled scores that aren't pushing any musical boundaries--it's more interesting than U.S. MARSHALS as a whole, even if it does rip-off the main theme.

More interesting is McNeely's music for THE AVENGERS, which I'm reviewing for an upcoming FSM. All I could hear in the film mix was McNeely's new "Avengers" theme, which sounded like it stole its opening motif from the classic '40s ballad "You Made Me Love You"! Having now heard the score in Compass III Records' inaugural soundtrack release, I can safely say that--while my original assumption about his theme was correct--McNeely's score is a great deal more interesting than I had originally thought.

The music McNeely composed for Sean Connery's villain, August DeWinter, is evocative, mysterious, and melodic all at the same time--orchestral with only the occasional dip into '90s synths and percussion. The themes McNeely composed for John Steed and Emma Peel, meanwhile, sound like a nod to Henry Mancini's scores of the '60s, and there are brass sections and passages that sound like John Williams or, more precise, McNeely's Williams-esque concept album for STAR WARS: THE SHADOWS OF THE EMPIRE.

Despite the often wide-ranging mix of styles, there's a lot to like on this 59-minute album, and the score works better freed from the movie's haphazard editing and blaring soundtrack, where the majority of McNeely's quirkiest and most intriguing work was buried under the mix. THE AVENGERS is one of the composer's better works to date and certainly makes for one of his most cohesive and enjoyable soundtrack albums.

Laserdisc & DVD

THE X-FILES (Image Laserdisc, $39.95, ***): Only on laserdisc for the time being (a planned DVD for February was nixed allegedly due to Chris Carter's desire to create a "Special Edition" package), this taut and exciting big-screen translation of the current Fox series isn't much more than an elaborate, 2-hour episode of the TV show, but that's a good thing in this case.

Filled with as many plot holes and open-ended answers as the questions it raises, Chris Carter's script concentrates on a government conspiracy involving a planned invasion of Earth, which is naturally uncovered by David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson just enough to tease the viewer into thinking something major will happen. While a few substantial things do, some audiences were put off by the movie's intricate plot and inconclusive finale, which leaves the door wide open to continue on TV--which it has already, obviously.

What the movie lacks in sheer cinematic flair it compensates for in good storytelling, strong performances, and a script that will keep you pondering the various possibilities Chris Carter's production raises (but, of course, doesn't answer). Will the show, or a future movie, even bother answering them? Probably not, but enough people will keep watching regardless to warrant its continuation. For everyone else, as long as subsequent films are as compelling as this one, I doubt most viewers will mind future sequels.

Image's laserdisc is letterboxed (incredibly, the movie was shot in the wide 2.35:1 frame, though I'm not sure if the picture is genuinely anamorphic) and looks and sounds as good as you would expect it to. As with the current video release, a featurette with Chris Carter and Gillian Anderson briefly precedes the film--if you haven't seen the movie yet, BE SURE to avoid this spoiler-filled segment, which divulges the movie's plot and would have been better off placed at the end of the disc. A minute of excised footage, discussing Mulder's allegedly abducted sister, has been added into the fabric of the movie for fans.

Briefly....

Warner's long-awaited Special Edition DVD of THE EXORCIST ($24.98) was released last week, and it contains all sorts of terrific extras and some of the most downright frightening trailers I've ever seen (the pulsating "image" trailer was freaky enough to make me scramble for the lights!). While there is no isolated score, there are fascinating audio tests, in addition to a pair of commentaries and a terrific 75-minute BBC documentary, that certainly warrant a purchase for buffs. In the documentary feature, Lalo Schifrin's rejected score--and William Friedkin's subsequent firing and trashing of his music!--is recounted by the filmmakers in an amusing anecdote.

Incidentally, someone emailed us about the Limited Edition VHS package of THE EXORCIST ($50), containing the expanded CD release (sans "Tubular Bells"). Apparently, this has been recalled for some reason, though I haven't read much about it. If you have any details, be sure to let us know at dursina@att.net or MailBag@filmscoremonthly.com

Aisle Seat Mail Bag

from Richard Street:

    Regarding your piece on the Filmscore Monthly website about Tomorrow Never Dies on DVD:

    I don't have DVD simply because of the price, and general unavailability of rental titles (I don't know any store in the UK that even rents Laserdiscs!), and I'm not so obsessed with all the add-on features that I'm going to buy DVD discs (even if I could afford them), not even the isolated score track. But a few notes about the Tomorrow Never Dies release...

    I'm guessing that the brief interview clips might have come from a British documentary, "Nobody Does It Better - The Music of James Bond", which centered on David Arnold's cover-version collection "Shaken And Stirred" and his recording of the TND score, along with a potted history of Bond scores. Much of it is very interesting (and Serra is barely mentioned beyond Michael G Wilson's quote about taking Bond into a new direction)...On the basis of what I heard in the programme though, I'm not about to buy "Shaken And Stirred".

    I bought the much-loathed Goldeneye score (it was very cheap), and have come to the conclusion that it's not actually that bad a score, just a really terrible Bond score. I also bought the TND album (the official one; I've no time for pirate/rip-off/bootleg issues, principally because they're illegal) and, despite enjoying the music in the actual film, I can't bring myself to play the entire CD very often and never play the Moby track. Of the two songs, "Surrender" (the end title song) is infinitely the better.

    And am I the only person who actually likes Legrand's Never Say Never Again score?

Richard, thanks for the info on the Arnold material. If you think GOLDENEYE isn't a bad music score, by all means check out SHAKEN AND STIRRED. Some of the tracks are a wash, but several of David Arnold's attempts to modernize (and still pay homage to) the Barry sound are quite effective.

As for NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN, I do like the main theme, and several of the tracks are enjoyable, but it's absolutely awful when combined with the film. Some of Legrand's tracks are incredibly inane (the most egregious of which were excised from the final cut) and the use of the title song over the front titles is positively absurd. As a soundtrack album, it's certainly goofy and I enjoy it in a "guilty pleasure" sort of way, even though what I felt was Legrand's best cue in the entire film--the horseback escape with Kim Basinger--isn't on the album at all!! So much for a definitive presentation.

NEXT WEEK... Movies, I promise. Have a happy one and see you next time! Remember to direct all correspondence to dursina@att.net. 'Nuff said!


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