Thursday, September 15, 2016

My Top 12 Favorite Movie Scores

    There are several details that go into the quality of a great movie, and for me one of the most important things to get right is the instrumental music track. Music adds so much to the experience, it can heighten the emotion, rev-up the excitement or submerse us into the films other worldly atmosphere. Granted, there are a lot of classic movie themes to choose from, but I’m not aiming for the most recognizable and well known. This is a countdown of my personal favorite movie music tracks I’ve personally heard. Now I’m only going to list one score pure music composer, that way it’ll be easier to add some variety to this, and highlight the artist along with what in my opinion is their best work. With that said, turn up the volume and enjoy my top 12 favorite movie music tracks.  

#12 Harry Gregson-Williams score for “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

I’ll admit, I haven’t had much exposure to this artists work, but I absolutely love his score for the 2005 motion picture “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe”. Not only does it sound beautiful, but also very other-worldly, which only adds another lair of atmosphere to the films setting. The track also has some very grand and sweeping instrumentation, like something from out of a timeless epic. Combining both beauty and grandeur into one sold music track is no small accomplishment, but Mr. Williams hit’s it right out of the park with this enchanting music track.  

 #11 Alan Silvestris score for “Back to the Future” 

Oh, who doesn’t get excited listening to this music theme? This is the kind of score that makes me want to go on an adventure, something fast paced and exciting. In fact, the score itself is like a short story of adventure told through music. It has the whimsical build up, the action packed exhilaration, the suspense, the strength being built and it all closes with musical notes that embody a great taste of victory. What else can I say about this score, it’s just really exciting to listen to. It fills you with hope, it fills you with pride, it fills you with excitement, and it’s just plain awesome music that I can’t get enough of.   

#10 Basil Poledouris score for “Conan: The Barbarian” 

While I’ve never been a fan of the movie, this soundtrack has always stood tall as one of my all time favorites. The stand out track tilted “Riders of Doom” is arguably one of the most epic pieces of music ever put to film. It has size, grandeur and it gets me exhilarated every time I hear it. Another stand out track titled “Riddle of Steel” has some great atmospheric notes, and cares a nice theme that really highlights the hero. For such a corny movie, this track gives the false impression that you’re about to watch a grand and glorious motion picture phenomenon. 

#9 John Williams score for “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” 

Good old John Williams, is music is so iconic and well known that it’s hard to rank any one of his scores as his best work, but I do have a personal favorite. John Williams’s iconic Harry Potter theme has always been a staple for my favorite fantasy franchise, but in my opinion, it’s the third film in the series that provides the best instrumental sound track of them all, and John Williams best work. The music from “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” has very distinct medieval influences in the instrumentation, which fits the setting beautifully, and I especially love the smaller, individual scores of the film. Buckbeak’s flight music is a particular favorite score of mine, the climactic battle with the Dementors features some especially exhilarating instrumentation, and the films triumphant finally music is downright sensational.

#8 George S. Clinton’s score for “Mortal Kombat” 

If you want to hear a music track that’ll get you pumped for action, it’s George S. Clinton’s score for “Mortal Kombat” all the way. The 1995 movie was average good, but the theme music is unbelievable. Just hearing the announcer cry out “MORTAL KOMBAT!” gets me hyped as hell, and the track perfectly blends a video game style techno beat with rhythm and energy. The stand out track titled “The Immortals: Techno Syndrome” is a pure overload of awesome! This is the kind of track that needs to be playing at a tournament, whether it be video games or karate or anything else, it’s just that sweet. 


#7 Danny Elfmans score for “Edward Scissorhands” 

If you’re a long time fan of Tim Burton movies, you know your share of music composed by the great Danny Elfman, as he usually does the music in all his films. My favorite work of his by far is the score for “Edward Scissorhands”. This is the classic Danny Elfman score that just hits all the right notes, its gothic and foreboding but it’s also whimsical and enchanting at the same time. There’s just no other movie score like it, combining both haunts and magic into one captivating track. It’s just over flowing with atmosphere, wonder and it always submerses me into the movie experience whenever I hear it.  Danny Elfman will always be a legend to us movie music lovers, and it’s his captivating score for “Edward Scissorhands” that I’ll always remember and admire him for the most.  

#6 Don Davis score for “The Matrix Revolutions” 

So, “The Matrix Revolutions” has this reputation for being the worst film in its respected franchise, but even if it is the worst, that still doesn’t mean there’s nothing of value in it. The one thing this movie truly got right by far was its epic finally score composed by Don Davis. This has got to be the most sensational, larger than life finally music I’ve ever heard, combining an epic quire with a stylized techno beat and fast rhythm into one unforgettable track. It has the buildup, it has energy and it closes on the most sensational of final notes that give me goose bumps every time I hear it.       

#5 Shirley Walker’s score for “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” 

Batman is no stranger to having unforgettable music tracks in his movies. Personally, of all the talented artist to compose music for Batman’s films, nothing thrills me more than the late Shirley Walker’s score for “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm”. It’s dark, brooding, mysterious, then gradually elevates with a cryptic quire and finally launches into a tempo that just screams “This is the real Batman!” Her music just embodies everything great about my favorite superhero, and it’s always stood out to me as his classic sound track. It just adds so much size and weight to the character, while also keeping the gothic and haunting tones in check. The opening theme alone always gives me chills, and sets the tone for an epic Batman experience. Like I said, many artists ranging from Danny Elfman to Hans Zimmer have brought credible music to the dark knight’s movie legacy, but personally it’s Shirley Walker who got it perfect with the most riveting score Batman has ever had.  


#4 Tom Tykwer’s score for “Run Lola Run” 

Arguably the most energizing music score I’ve ever heard, Tom Tykwer’s track from “Run Lola Run” will make you want to get up and run with the main character of the movie. It’s got the cool techno beat, the energy, the rhythm and it’s a rare case in which the music actually plays a part in the story telling experience. While the beat remains the same, the style and rhythm is constantly changing depending on each new direction the film takes. The whole film follows one character running to various locations, there’s very little dialogue, and a very simple story, but it’s a highly entertaining work of art, especially with the pumping techno soundtrack that keeps us engaged throughout.

#3 James Horner’s score for “The Land Before Time” 

The late James Horner is one of my personal hero’s, and created the music of my child hood. I can’t even begin to count how many films I grew up with that were blessed with his music talents, so I always looked at him as the guy who planted the seed that eventually grew into my love for music. Personally, no other score of his touches my heart, or takes me back to my child hood more than his score for “The Land Before Time”. His instrumentation of the track “The Discovery of the Great Valley” is the stuff of sheer beauty, like listening to music that came right to us from heaven. It’s a track where every single musical note leaves just the right impact for each scene in the film, and those final notes always bring grown man tears to my eyes every time I hear them. 


#2 Basil Poledouris score for “The Hunt for Red October” 

When it comes to epic music tracks, some may think of “Lord of the Rings” or “Gladiator”, but for me personally, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a more epic score then Basil Poledouris “Red Army Choir” from the 1990 picture “The Hunt for Red October”. It begins with subtle buildup, it accelerates into a Choir that feels grand and mighty, then it segues into a choirs of what sound like Christmas Carolers, and then finally it settles back into the quiet yet atmospheric chanting. It’s just an awesome track that gives audiences the impression that they’re about to watch something grand and massive unfold. This may be a little miss leading for some, but I think it fits the tone of the movie perfectly, and is without a doubt one of the films great highlights.  

Before I reveal my #1 favorite, here are some Honorable Mentions ...

Randy Edelman's score for "Dragonheart

John Carpenter’s score for “Halloween” (1978)

Bill Conti’s score for “Rocky” (Gonna Fly Now)

Clint Mansell’s score for “Requiem For A Dream

Hans Zimmer’s score for “Pirates of the Caribbean

#1 Jerry Goldsmith’s score for “Star Trek First Contact” 

Of all the great movie composers out there, the late Jerry Goldsmith is my personal favorite. His music has touched and inspired me for years, and I think the biggest credit to his success is his music composed for Star Trek. His iconic music theme for “Star Trek: The Next Generation” is unforgettable and a testament to his talents. However, I think his greatest score, and my personal favorite movie theme of all time is his opening score for “Star Trek First Contact”. This is one of the most beautiful and captivating things I’ve ever heard. It’s so good that I’ve often said if I were to ever get married, this is the music I’d want to have playing at my wedding march. It gives chills and makes me feel all choked up inside every time I hear it. It’s almost too good for the movie, as it puts me in a mindset that I’m about to watch something inspiring and grand, like a real classic. It’s upon listening to this score that my respect for movie themes really took shape, and where my love for Jerry Goldsmith’s music was set in stone. Everything inspiring and emotional is felt in this score, and it’s one that I highly recommend viewers listen too, weather their Star Trek fans of not.  

The End

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Space Jam (1996) (Movie Review)

       Time passes, people grow up, and it’s once again time to re-evaluate something I loved from my child hood. Today's topic is the 1996 animated sports comedy “Space Jam”, and I'm curious if anything really holds up after all these years. The short answer is ... it’s by no means a great movie ... it isn’t even good ... but dang it all ... I still “LOVE” this film! This goes to show the power of nostalgia, because as I’ve grown up, I can see just how stupid, and one-note the film is ... yet, it’s also a special time capsule of a film that takes me back to a treasured time from my youth. So, I just can’t bring myself to hate it, or say that its completely awful. I mean, I grew-up with the 90's, and this movie is about as 90's as they get ... honestly, I think it's the most obvious product of it's time, it's actually quiet amusing in just how dated it is. The movie is based on Nikes marketing ads for their “Air Jordan” shoes.
Their advertisements were big hits, with the main attractions for their campaign being Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan paired together. With these two iconic titans at high points in their popularity, it’s no wonder that Warner Brothers came up with “Space Jam” to bank on their success, and boy did they make “bank”. You could call it a corporate sellout, but so was “The Lego Movie”, and that film was outstanding. As far as sports movies are concerned, “Space Jam” still remains the highest grossing Basketball themed movie of all time. Now, ever sense 1975, there have been several theatrical animated movies themed around the classic Looney Tunes cast, most of them being compilations of their episodes, with additional scenes added in. “Space Jam” by contrast was the first real feature length movie to star them, and the first of their films to utilize a similar style to “Who Framed Rodger Rabbit”, namely the concept of combining live-action with cartoon characters.

       Well, if you’re going to have a movie starring the Looney Tunes, then you’re going to have a pretty loony plot to go along with it. Here’s the set up, a group of small aliens are looking for fresh new forms of entertainment for their theme park, and their evil leader decides to have the Looney Tunes abducted, and brought to their Moon to live as slave entertainers. Naturally, the most iconic of the Looney Tunes being the clever Bugs Bunny, is able to trick the aliens into a wager. The challenge is a Basketball Game, if the tunes win, their free, but if they lose, then they’ll be comedic slaves. The aliens don’t pose much of a competition at first, but then they steal the talents of five NBA champions, transforming them into formidable creatures colorfully called “Mon-Stars”. This is where Michael Jordan enters the picture, to give the tunes the winning edge they need. Thus, the game is on, and the fate of the Loony Tunes is in the hands of Basketballs most iconic 90's sports champion. It’s a ridiculous plot to say the least, but the concept of Michal Jordon teaming up with Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tunes to battle aliens is just too cool to pass on. 

       Lets first look at the Looney Tunes, and how their portrayed in this film. Truthfully, all my real child hood love, and nostalgia for these characters actually begins and ends with “Space Jam”. Having said that, I’m very aware that the films portrayal of these characters is very distant from their cartoon show counterparts. Long time Loony Tune director Chuck Jones hated the movie, and found the films portrayal of these characters downright offensive.
He stated that Porky Pig for example would never stoop so low as to “wet himself”, and Bugs Bunny would never need help getting out of any situation, be it invading aliens or Michal Jordon’s family dog. I can definitely respect this criticism toured the film, and I’ll definitely talk about the juvenile hummer later in this review, but like I said, I’ve never been a real fan of these characters. I certainly don’t think there’s anything wrong with them, and I even respect their impact on the overall legacy of cartoon animation, as well as influences on modern comedy. However, I didn’t always enjoy their shorts, and I never even liked Bugs Bunny that much when I was a kid, as he just lacked the traits I loved in other iconic childhood mascots. He didn't have the same warm heart of Kermit the Frog, or the mischievous innocents of Mickey Mouse, or the adventure prone heroism of Super Mario. Now, I’m not saying that Bugs Bunny needs to be any of those things ... he is who he is, and others can find him perfectly appealing, and humorous by his own distinct merits ... he just didn't appeal to me and what I looked for in my cartoon characters. As such, the changes to him, and the Loony Tunes in general really didn’t bother me in this film. In fact, minus the juvenile comedy, I was actually very open to some of the movie’s character changes.

      There’s one stand out moment for me that really highlights why I liked "Space Jam's" portrayal of Bugs Bunny, and why it was the only portrayal of the character that appealed to me as a kid. Said moment being when Bugs Bunny risks his life by pushing Lola Bunny out of harm’s way before getting body slammed by one of the Mon-Stars. This scene, while short, and admittedly out of character, was just plain awesome, and made Bugs Bunny look good.
It was my impression that Bugs Bunny in general was a smart, but very “Care Free” individual, who had no real feelings for anyone, or even himself, he just needed to outsmart whoever he came across. However, this one little scene told me that the rabbit dose in-fact have a heart, and would put his own life at risk for someone he cared for. Congratulations “Space Jam”, you actually got me to respect Bugs Bunny in a way that none of his other incarnations did before. Again, I can respect that this action wasn't in his character ... but it's the one time I really fond myself liking him.
I suppose I should quickly comment on Lola Bunny, as this was a character created specifically for the film. Just to further emphasize how little I knew about the Looney Tunes, I was always under the impression that Lola was a classic cartoon character from the Looney Tune's roaster, and that this story marked the moment when she first meets Bugs. Well, that’s not the case at all, as she was an original character, and one solely tied to the popularity of this film. Something I never noticed as a kid was just how "extra" the character is. Like, the movie has a run time of 88 minuets, and her total screen time is just under five minuets. Seriously, Lola actually comes very late into the film, and aside from being the only cartoon character who can actually play Basketball, she just sort of posses there in the corner, has minimal screen time, and doesn't contribute as much as I'd like her too. In Lola's defense, she had team spirit, she obviously contributes to my favorite scene in the film, and she looks great among all the different Looney Tunes. Honestly, I feel the Looney Tunes need a female character like her as a figurative Minnie Mouse to his Mickey ... just need to work on that personality, characterization, and I could see her fitting in just fine.

      Let’s finally talk about Michael Jordan, who’s respectfully an icon in his own right. Some have complained that his acting is a little stiff ... which is a fair point ... but at least he's a good looking stiff. In his defense, Jordan isn't playing a character, he’s just being himself. To be honest, there’s something charming about his laid back, every-man performance, which appropriately counterpoints the zany nature of the tuns. Most celebrities are written as over the top versions of themselves, so I admire the restraint in Michael Jordan’s portrayal.
He does in fact have a captivating screen presence, and he feels like a living Superman whenever he’s in front of the camera. It should be noted that ... while the plot is themed entirely around the Looney Tune characters ... the focus of the movie is all on Michael Jordan. The movie even begins with a flashback scene when Michael as a child is shooting hoops one night with his dad, and it’s a great little scene that kind of gets me in the feels. In fact it's almost too good, as this scene puts me in a mind set that we’re about to watch an honest biopic movie revolving around the life of this legendary Basketball player. Then when the cartoon characters come into play, it really feels out of place. Seriously, this film does not set itself up as a Looney Tunes movie at all ... they just sort of pop up, and it clashes with the real world. At least “Who Framed Rodger Rabbit” set-up its cartoon mixed with live action world from the beginning.         

   The main villain called Mr. Swackhammer is nothing too special, but he is still kind of memorable in his own simplistic way. He’s voiced by Danny Devito, which is great, as he never fails to give villains a menacing charm. Actually, if it wasn't for Mr. Swackhammer, I probably wouldn't have been as interested in watching "Space Jam" back when I was a kid. My first exposure to this film was through a colored comic book, and I remember being intrigued by his unique alien-monster design, and I so badly wanted to see what animated movie this villain was linked to. Granted, I was disappointed by his short screen-time, but he gave me just enough to be satisfied.

   The Mon-Stars were also some of my favorite animated villains from the 90’s, and I even had a small collection of their action figures. Admittedly, the smaller versions of the aliens are extremely annoying, and even in their monster forms, there still subject to some really stupid jokes. Never the less, they still look cool, and the animation on them is terrific. Actually, one of my favorite animated highlights is the scene when the aliens make their first transformation into the Mon-Stars. It’s a short animated spectacle, with some terrific creepy imagery, and it definitely hearkens back to my nostalgia for “Night on Bald Mountain” from “Fantasia”.

    On that note, the animation in this film is outstanding, and a perfect combination of CGI laced with traditional hand drawn animation. Looking back, I forgot just how colorful the film looks, as every frame of animation just pops before my eyes. I love that there’s a lot of dimension to the animation, as it creates an environment that the characters can really move around in.
I also love all the little details, like when the tunes are playing basketball, and we can see ruff reflections of them on the floor as they move. That must have cost some extra money to animate, but it looks terrific. One minor complaint is that the cartoon characters mostly stay in their own cartoon world. One of the many charms of “Who Framed Rodger Rabbit” was seeing these cartoon characters in the real live action world, and moving real props. There is at least one great scene where Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck venture into Michal Jordon’s house to retrieve some of his Basketball equipment. This scene has all the good stuff, animated characters interacting with a live action environment, and on a side note, even though I’ve never been a fan ... I still love seeing Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck together, exchanging witty remarks, and getting into comedic situations. 

       Unfortunately, this leads me into my biggest issue with the film ... the comedy, for the most part in this film is plain awful! It’s a shame too, because this movie was produced by Ivan Reitman, the same talent who gave us films like “Ghostbusters” and “Stripes”. Well, something just went wrong with this film, as the hummer is about as juvenile and childish as they get. It’s clearly hummer aimed at little kids ... toddlers actually, and even though I never really watched any of the original Looney Tune shorts, I still know there methods of comedy were much smarter than this.
In fact, from what I understand, their style of comedy was a main influence for modern day cartoons like “The Simpsons”. Again, compared to “Who Framed Rodger Rabbit”, that film had a charm, and sense of hummer that could be appealing to kids and adults alike ... this film doesn’t. Even worse, the bad comedy doesn’t stop with the Looney Tunes, it actually gets more unbearable with the live action cast. Comedian Wayne Knight, who I’ve loved in other films and TV shows, is reduced to an annoying side character. Bill Murray makes an appearance, which isn’t that funny, but it is amusing as he clearly doesn’t care about the movie he’s in. Also, I love how he refers to Lola as just “the girl bunny”. There’s also a sub plot revolving around the NBA Basketball players who lost their talent, and their scenes are the worst parts of the movie by far. There acting is terrible, their dialogue is atrocious, and we even have to sit through long ... LONG ... montage of them just acting like losers.

     I will admit that the basketball elements of the film were done fairly well ... but keep in mind, this comment is coming from someone who doesn’t really like sports movies. I will say that whenever I watched this film as a kid, it made me want to go outside and play basketball or other sports games. I was not a sports kid at all, so I’ll always have fondness for this film, as it made me want to go out and play sports.
Even at the climax of the film, when Michal Jordon scores the final shot, it still gives me a little thrill inside, and a triumphant feel of satisfaction afterward. Although, I did hate how abruptly the movie ends. After winning the game, the aliens return him back to the human world, no one questions where he’s been, or why he was on a space ship, then he rejoins the Chicago Bulls, and the film just stops ... like the plug was just pulled out. Even the Looney Tunes just seem to drop-out of the film, as they don’t get a proper good-bye scene. Although, there is an amusing little after credit scene with the characters parodying the famous “That’s All Folks” closing statement. On a side note, I do love the ending credits themselves, as we see still photos of the movie in the backdrop, as opposed to the more traditional and boring black background. Someone in Hollywood needs to bring this cliché back into form, because I love it. It’s kind of a nostalgic way to reflect on the experience we had, and I wish more movies would do it.

      Now, let’s talk about the soundtrack, because for me, this was the best thing about the movie by far. In fact, much like “Batman Forever”, this is one of those cases where the soundtrack to the movie is better than the movie itself. I listened to this soundtrack all the time as a kid, and these songs were every bit as memorable as any of the popular Disney songs of the time. I think most of us still remember the “Jam” theme song that played during the flashy opening credit sequence, and it certainly did it's job getting me excited. My personal favorite song is “Fly Like An Eagle” performed by Seal, which is one of those songs that really got me pumped to go outside and play. Of course the big song that we all still remember is “I Believe I Can Fly” performed by R. Kelly. Completely putting aside the many debated controversies of R. Kelly, this song on it's own still remains a classic product of the 90’s, and still gets me in the nostalgic feels every time I hear it.

     As a kid, I always wanted to see a sequel to “Space Jam”, but it never happened. There was however another theatrical live action crossover with animation movie in 2003 titled “Looney Tunes: Back in Action”, which I found to be very forgettable in comparison to “Space Jam”. There are rumors of a “Space Jam 2” in development, and that Lebron James would star in it. This idea has some potential, but I think the novelty of a “Space Jam” sequel has worn out its welcome.
It was something special for us kids in the 90’s, and a nostalgic gem to look back on, but unlike “Who Framed Rodger Rabbit”, it wasn’t a film to last over the ages. It’s a perfectly harmless film to entertain kids, but there are obviously better movies out there to show them instead. I will say that the “Looney Tunes” have become less popular for the newer generations of children, and maybe something like “Space Jam 2” could be a nice way to re-introduce Bugs Bunny, and his classic ensemble of cartoon characters to future generations of kids. What more can I say, "Space Jam" is undeniably a silly film, not for adults, or anyone that didn’t grow up with it, but the movie still brings a smile to my face, takes me right back to that special era that was the 90's, and leaves me feeling warmly nostalgic.     

I give the 1996 time-capsule “Space Jam” ... 3 ½ stars out of 5.