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X-Cellent Comments from the Aisle Seat

by Andy Dursin

It's always fun when you write an entire column and then your computer crashes. Naturally, you know where I'm heading with this, so I needn't go through my horror stories this morning with you! Well, here's hoping that the second time around reads better than the first (and the same fate that fell upon the first attempt doesn't mess up the second)....

THE X-FILES movie lead the way this weekend at the box-office, making a cornucopia of cash for creator Chris Carter and Fox. I'll give them both credit--often times when a show or movie are in their prime, studios or whoever will hold off on making good on their current success until the fad passes. With THE X-FILES, the wise decision was made to make a theatrical feature while the program is riding the crest of popularity, both critically and in the ratings, and simutaneously appeal both to die-hard viewers (eagerly awaiting a resolution to some of the program's storylines) and non-fans, an even broader movie-going audience who, if they enjoy the film, will become new viewers for next season. The $60 million feature certainly should pay dividends in both respects, and will undoubtedly pave the way for more X-Features once the show goes off the air. Fortunately for both Carter and the series' fans, once the series goes into features for good (presumably after Duchovny's contract expires), they'll all have the experience of having made a movie already, so those "how will it play on the big screen?" questions will already have been answered. And they have--check out my review below.

This week I've included our first-ever Aisle Seat Mail Bag, featuring some comments I've received from you folks over the last few weeks. I hope to include this as a semi-regular feature, so please do send off your comments as always to dursina@worldnet.att.net. I'm always pleased with the insightfulness of your comments, so continue to send 'em off (and I love getting email anyhow, I'm an addict!).

Up next at the movies is OUT OF SIGHT, the Stephen Soderbergh-directed, Scott Frank-scripted adaptation of Elmore Leonard's novel, starring George Clooney and the alluring Jennifer Lopez. Word of mouth is very high on this movie, so I'd peg it as your best bet for weekend viewing, even though it seems as if Cliff Martinez's music score was a casualty (Irish guitarist David Holmes wrote the final score, though Martinez is labeled with a "special thanks" in the soundtrack album credits). Also opening is Eddie Murphy's DR. DOLITTLE, the new take on Hugh Lofting's character who could "Talk to the Animals." Fortunately for Fox, there isn't as much merchandizing riding on this one as there was on the original Rex Harrison musical, long remembered as one of the 60s' biggest flops (sort of like the 1998 GODZILLA several decades ago).

One scheduling change--HALLOWEEN: H20 (one of the most ridicuously titled sequels in the history of modern cinema) has moved from its original October debut to August 5th, obviously in an attempt to capture the more lucrative summer audience. Unfortunately, early word coming out of internet sites like Ain't It Cool News have almost unanimously trashed the movie, saying it's another attempt by Kevin Williamson to rip-off today's youngsters just as many a horror schlockmeister did in the early '80s. Jamie Lee Curtis is on-hand in this one (and she deservedly received a big check for her appearance), but the film is said to be an unscary cash-in on the original, even though Miramax's Dimension Films is sending out word equating the picture with SCREAM (predictably enough), obviously hoping to lure in the audience from its other horror franchise. I haven't seen H20 yet so I can't comment at this point, but you have already been warned. (By the way, there's no truth to the rumor that H20 co-stars Michael Caine and Valerie Perrine--they were in "Water," the lame British comedy from 1986, and have nothing to do with this film. Sorry, I couldn't help myself.)

*IN THEATERS

THE X-FILES (***): Exciting, suspenseful, and just as sharp and smart as you would expect it to be, Chris Carter's feature-length adaptation of his massively popular Fox series is like watching two of the program's better episodes back-to-back. That the movie rarely ever deviates from its standard blueprint isn't so much a criticism in this instance as it is a compliment--more special effects would have turned the film into another ALIENS or SPECIES, while a more "epic" filmmaking approach would have played at odds with what the show is all about.

Filled with conspiracies, extraterrestrials, cover-ups, slimy ooze, a prehistoric prelude, and plenty of FBI personnel who can't be trusted, THE X-FILES movie picks up where the season cliffhanger ended and includes all of the elements that have made the show a Top 20 program for several consecutive seasons--namely, intelligent writing, strong performances between its leads, and a compelling storyline. Truth be told, I was a huge fan of the show when it first started but lost some interest when it got bogged down in one-too-many-conspiracies over the last few seasons. The most successful element of the X-FILES film is that the picture, while inevitably raising almost as many questions as it answers, gives the material a central focus in its aliens-and-government dealings that it has needed for a while now. It simutaneously wraps up storylines at the same time that it points where give new adventures, both on television and (presumably) on the big screen, will be heading towards.

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson are both, unsurprisingly, terrific here, having perfected their chemistry over the years into one of TV's top tandems. Duchovny in particular is far more restrained these days in Mulder's pursuit of "The Truth," and his more effective acting is even easier to spot on the big screen. Anderson, meanwhile, is her usual self, and it's the chemistry between the two actors (however disagreeable they may be behind the scenes) that makes Mulder and Scully such appealing heroes (a side note: I don't want to see the "X-Files" turn into "Moonlighting," but clearly there's nothing wrong with gradually developing Mulder and Scully's relationship into something "more" than it is, either. Carter seems to know what he's doing in this regard, as evidenced by several brief instances of more elaborate chemistry between the two, but thankfully it's kept under-wraps, just as it should be for the time being).

The film, directed by series vet Rob Bowman and scripted by Carter, is perhaps a bit too episodic for its own good, but still, it will undoubtedly appeal to die-hard viewers, those crazed X-philes, and even non-fans, since the picture has a self-contained storyline that is, more or less, wrapped up to a degree by the picture's end. All of the technical elements of the film are a substantial improvement on the show--the bigger effects, more varied cinematography, and far more elaborate music score by Mark Snow all help to give the impression that THE X-FILES film is an important moment in the direction of the show and the characters' lives, while still retaining all of the elements that make the program what it is. It's more confident and assured than, for example, the recent "Star Trek" films, mainly because it doesn't try to be anything different than what "The X-Files" series is at heart. For most viewers and even someone who has never experienced the program before, THE X-FILES movie will answer questions, raise new ones, and thoroughly entertain in the process. (PG-13, 124 mins.


*AISLE SEAT MAIL BAG

It has been great to hear from many of you over the last few months, so this time out I thought it'd be a good idea to use the cyberforum as a way of exchanging ideas and comments on my wacky internet rants...or, more precisely, to clarify and expand on what we've been talking about on The Aisle Seat. So, without further adieu, here's our very first Aisle Seat reader response section...


From Howard Liverance...

    Caught your scuttle on the E. Bernstein/Isham "River Runs..." business. Last night I saw "The Horse Whisperer" and while I found T. Newman's music pleasurable, it certainly is not going to produce what LK calls a "lasting document". I understand Barry's score was rejected. What gives with Redford and this penchant to reject masters like Bernstein and Barry? Barry is only good enough when he's just starring ("Out Of Africa") and not starring/ directing? I can but imagine the depth of emotion Barry's music could enhance re Whisperer, what with the breathtaking pastoral setting and all. I'd love to see Whisperer again, this time with Barry's music. We're talking John Barry, for goshsakes! The thing that always gets me with rejected scores is that, in most instances, there's no reason for a score to be replaced. Often times it's just the studio tinkering with a movie they feel is "less-than-good" just because they can!

    How else to explain why Georges Delerue's music was taken out from SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, or Elmer Bernstein's music rejected from THE JOURNEY OF NATTY GANN. In both of those examples, the studios and filmmakers KNOW what they're getting when they hired those composers to score the films---when you hire Bernstein, for example, you know what Bernstein's music sounds like and have an idea of how the music will work with the film. Was anyone surprised at Disney when they heard his JOURNEY OF NATTY GANN? It sounds like any other Bernstein score, lyrical and stirring, just as Delerue's flowing melodic thematic lines dominated his score from SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES. I can't imagine that anyone was "shocked" upon hearing those scores, since they sound like what we'd expect a Bernstein or Delerue score to sound like in those situations. Obviously, there were other reasons as to why those scores were dumped than we know of--unless the finger-pointing to the films' inadequacies landed on the music scores, which HAS happened in a number of cases.

    If studios really did want to reject scores on the basis that they didn't work for a movie, it would be logical to think they would make drastic changes to the music in terms of its entire sound---like bringing in Tangerine Dream to replace Jerry Goldsmith on LEGEND, substituting a classical sound with a new age/rock one. Not that I agree with that decision, but it makes more sense to me to change an entire musical score with an entirely different genre of music than it is to have a new score commissioned that sounds just like the old one.

    What we usually get, however, are replacement scores that usually sound EXACTLY LIKE the originals! Horner's SOMETHING WICKED score wasn't all that different from the kind of music Delerue composed, nor was his NATTY GANN score massively different in conceptual terms than what Bernstein originally wrote. Ditto on A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT. We can only imagine the kind of music Bernstein wrote for the film, having heard TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, etc., so Mark Isham's music often sounds like a Bernstein type of score without his thematic signature--small orchestra, lyrical thematic tone, etc. So, then, why bother changing the music at all?

    THE HORSE WHISPERER appears to be along the lines of having Bernstein's music removed from A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT. John Barry would be a natural choice to score this movie, and you're right, Howard, the picture's pastoral setting seemed ideally suited for Barry. More over, when you hire John Barry, you know probably more than any other composer alive today what the music will sound like. But why does Barry's music get rejected from movies, paticularly recently? It doesn't make any sense.

    The only thing on THE HORSE WHISPERER is that, in this instance, it sounds like Redford fell in love with the temp-track, which was undoubtedly filled with Thomas Newman compositions (THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION was prominently featured in the temp-track, apparently, even though Barry's INDECENT PROPOSAL was in the film's teaser trailer!). So, Redford ended up going with Newman for the score, bypassing Barry, who was most likely contracted initially because he scored OUT OF AFRICA, another scenic travelogue from the director. As much as I would have perferred THE HORSE WHISPERER to have the emotional strains of a Barry score, I can see where Redford made the switch in this instance...at least it makes more sense here than what he did in A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT, replacing Bernstein with Mark Isham. What could that film have been temp-tracked with that he liked so much? Isham's COOL WORLD?

    If what I just wrote makes little sense, it's because there's so little sense involved in the decision to have a movie score replaced to begin with.


From Roger Grodsky:

    I have owned FUNNY LADY in many formats (including pre-recorded reel-to-reel!) and I can assure you that it has never sounded this good. The numbers have been reordered to match the film. It would have been nice to have some additional tracks, such as the Main Title, but you can't have everything. Interestingly, this is the first incarnation that doesn't have the printed disclaimor: "Barbra Streisand appears through the courtesy of Columbia Records." I wonder if she herself was involved in this release.

    Here's some REAL minutiae about some forthcoming Rykodisc releases. For "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum", music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, most of the songs from the show were cut. A lot of the soundtrack contains music by Ken Thorne (some original and some arrangements of songs from the score).

    And, the recording of "How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying" (music and lyrics by Frank Loesser) is partially a Nelson Riddle album. He arranged and conducted the film. If it's anything like the original release, it will contain "Coffee Break", which was recorded but cut from the film. (Strangely, there's a picture from this number on the cover of the laserdisc and a snippet from it is in the trailer.) It also includes a slow version of "I Believe in You" performed by Broadway replacement Michele Lee (and not recorded for the original cast recording). It will be nice to hear these tracks in stereo (the movie itself is in mono).

    Am I the only Film Score Monthly subscriber who is also a show queen?

I'm sure you're not, though I don't have a list of the subscribers we designate as such on hand right now. (Just kidding, of course.)

As for HOW TO SUCCEED..., I have checked with my own "show queen" source and you are absolutely right, the "Coffee Break" song was filmed but cut from the movie. It only appeared when the film was first screened at Radio City Music Hall during its premiere engagement run (also the first--and last--time the film was heard in full stereo), but then only for a portion of that run! In order to expand the Rockettes' live show running time, United Artists had the number cut from the movie after its first week, in order to get the running time down to under two hours. Subsequently, when UA rolled the movie out nationwide, they insisted on releasing the print exactly as it was playing at Radio City Music Hall. So, despite opposition from director David Swift, the number remained cut, and it hasn't been seen since.

Apparently, when MGM/UA Home Video released a letterboxed laserdisc of the movie earlier this decade, the UA people tried to restore the "Coffee Break" song and the film's original stereo tracks from the premiere engagement. Alas, neither the scene nor the stereo tracks could be found, though there's always hope that somewhere...out there...a copy exists!

As for A FUNNY THING HAPPENED..., that was one of a number of musicals, as I'm sure you're aware, that saw many of its songs dropped on the way to the big-screen. At least some of them remained intact, even if Richard Lester's replacement of Sondheim songs with Ken Thorne score left something to be desired! Thanks for your comments.


NEXT TIME OUT... More reviews, thoughts on SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, and video tips. Until then, Excelsior!


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