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Andy's Soapbox: Random Closing Thoughts For 2003

An Aisle Seat Holiday Special
By Andy Dursin

No new DVD reviews this week, my friends -- the Aisle Seat is going "unplugged" for my final column of 2003. I have a few "Soapbox" items that need to be addressed, and hope you're in enough of the Christmas spirit to indulge me for a couple of minutes. Happy Holidays everyone!

*LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING (***) does, overall, a fine job wrapping up J.R.R. Tolkien's epic trilogy. This particular installment features some brilliant moments -- a marvelous climactic battle that surpasses anything in "The Two Towers," a chillingly effective confrontation with a giant spider, and a moving ending that sweetly concludes the adventure -- along with some of the same issues that have plagued each of Peter Jackson's films.

The first hour takes forever to get going, and along the way there are a few too many "operatic" slow-motion shots that build to an endless series of false crescendos. What's even more curious is that Jackson cut all of Christopher Lee's scenes because of time, and yet he retained an ultimately pointless subplot involving Borimir's father that feels like the sort of thing that should have been relegated to a DVD deleted scenes supplement.

Jackson easily could have trimmed the movie by a good half-hour (a problem that may pose a problem to some non-Tolkien die-hards), yet there's no denying that the film will surely be a mammoth success at the box-office. I also felt that Howard Shore's score was more balanced and introspective here than his work on "The Two Towers," with his new themes nicely complimenting an adventure that didn't quite capture my heart as much as it has for other viewers, yet remains an admirable stab at epic fantasy filmmaking few have attempted before.

*Once again, Liv Tyler should give her agent a hearty Christmas present, since after nearly 10 hours of the trilogy's running time, she ended up actually on-screen for -- what -- less than an hour?

*I have to give credit to my friend Paul MacLean for pointing out the striking similarities between the picture's climactic fight and the Battle of Hoth from "The Empire Strikes Back." This is especially noticeable when Miranda Otto dodges the legs of those giant elephant-creatures while Orlando Bloom pulls a Skywalker in taking one of the beasts of burden down.

*After reading about how awful the Sci-Fi Channel remake of "Battlestar Galactica" was going to be, I was surprised by how good it actually was. Yes, hard-core fans of the old show cried "blasphemy!" at the numerous alterations the producers made, but let's remember the original series was little more than a one-season, over-budgeted "Star Wars" clone in the first place (which I plead guilty to watching when I was younger, and currently owning on DVD). The new version was fairly intelligent and well-acted across the board, and despite being the target of criticism from original cast members like Richard Hatch, seemed to go out of its way to incorporate references to its predecessor (in particular the original pilot episode). Though Richard Gibbs' score is no replacement for Stu Phillips, there was even a brief reference to Phillips' classic old theme. Overall, I liked it, and look forward to seeing the story continued down the road.

*Alan Silvestri must be tired of Hans Zimmer & Friends, who replaced not one but two of his scores this past year ("Pirates of the Caribbean" and the new Jack Nicholson-Diane Keaton comedy "Something's Got To Give").

*Varese Sarabande's latest CD Club offerings were great and all (and I'm happy I snagged copies of "The Island" and "Predator" before the sold out sign came blinking on- screen), but so many of them came from music-friendly Fox that I hope those out there in the soundtrack community haven't forgotten about other great, unreleased scores that exist at other studios. Where are the actual "Right Stuff" tracks from Warner Bros., for example? I mean, if Robert Townson can find the means to release "Joe Versus the Volcano" (a wonderful Delerue score, don't get me wrong), then why not the Oscar- winning best score of '83 -- which still has never been properly released? (And while I'm at it, how 'bout either "Something Wicked This Way Comes" soundtrack, "Victory" by Conti, a full soundtrack to "CHIPS" by Alan Silvestri, and "Scrooge" by Leslie Bricusse. They're out there -- go get 'em!!).

*Maybe it's because of Sean Young in her prime, or the presence of that "Greatest American Hero" William Katt, but I've always had a soft spot for the 1985 adventure "Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend." Jerry Goldsmith's great score is another asset in this entertaining ride, which -- FINALLY -- has been given a proper DVD release -- in Australia only, however. The R4 Aussie disc boasts a gorgeous 2.35 widescreen transfer and 5.1 sound, while the lousy U.S. disc sports a hideous pan-and-scan transfer from the same master utilized for the 1985 VHS release! Those with international players should definitely track it down.

*Other excellent international DVDs worth tracking down: the "Conan the Destroyer" Special Edition from MGM overseas (two commentaries, featurette on Basil Poledouris, and more); Fox's "Legend" (the best transfer of the movie anywhere in the world, and the alternate European cut not included in the U.S. Special Edition); MGM's Special Editions of "Robocop," "Misery" and "A Bridge Too Far," available in many overseas territories; "The Muppet Christmas Carol," which is widescreen only in Japan, among other fine discs (and if you're looking for a multi-region player, head on over to the Nerd Out forum, www.nerd-out.com, for advice).

*Looking ahead to 2004, I'm holding out hope that "Van Helsing" is good.

*At least it has a better chance than "Catwoman," which I also hope provides solid comic-book escapism, but seems like the odds are stacked against it.

*Among similar lines: Michael Caine as Alfred, Katie Holmes as the love interest, and Christian Bale as Batman? OK, sounds like a neat alternate take on "Batman" -- but don't forget about Danny Elfman, who ought to be back doing the score.

*The odds are decent that "Alien Vs. Predator" is going to be a watchable mess. Director Paul Anderson's movies often look good but never come together, with parts always more satisfying than the whole ("Soldier," "Event Horizon," "Resident Evil"). At least Alan Silvestri is on-board to write the score, which for Anderson is a major step up from Orbital and Marilyn Manson.

*If they don't ruin it entirely, Disney's "Miracle" -- based on the U.S. Olympic hockey team's gold medal performance in the 1980 Lake Placid games -- ought to be terrific. Certainly the trailer looks authentic and promising, and should give Mark Isham a fantastic opportunity at writing a memorable score.

*The strangest trailer I've seen recently has to be "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow," an independently-financed WWII sci-fi adventure starring Jude Law, Gwyenth Paltrow, and Angelina Jolie (wearing an eye patch, no less). The movie -- with giant robots attacking New York, pseudo-B&W cinematography, and an old-fashioned premise -- seems to indicate a period adventure along the lines of "The Rocketeer" and "Dick Tracy." Definitely something to keep an eye on in the coming year.

*John Williams was sorely missed this past year (and with that said, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" looks great).

*At least it's better to look ahead than look back. What a terrible year for movies on balance. I can't imagine even thinking about the Oscars -- especially not if "Mystic River" goes in as the odds-on Best Picture favorite (no offense to Clint Eastwood or the actors, who did a marvelous job, but that's one film I don't need to sit through again anytime soon).

*You would have had to pay me to sit through "The Cat in the Hat," a film that looked like the worst parts of "The Grinch" crossed with the most annoying shtick in Mike Myers' repertoire. Only naughty children should have been forced to see it.

*Brian Tyler's "Timeline" is one of the better soundtracks of 2003, but Jerry Goldsmith's rousing rejected score is every bit its equal and then some. What a shame that one of Goldsmith's best scores in years was discarded by director Richard Donner (speaking of which, Donner has clearly gone south after a series of hits. He just hasn't been the same since the "Radio Flyer" fiasco).

*Don't pass up Laura Karpman's excellent score from "Taken," the hugely-successful Sci- Fi Channel mini-series of 2002 (recently released on DVD). Karpman's score manages to be moving, melodic, and complex, and signals the composer as a major talent to watch. Varese's CD also makes for a perfect 45-minute album.

And with that, I'd like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year out there. Thanks as always for reading and emailing (dursina@att.net), and have a fantastic, safe and healthy holiday season. Happy Ho Ho Ho to you!


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