Tag Archives: John Williams

Jaws – still top of the blockbuster food chain

Jaws is released on Bluray for the first time in the UK on Monday 3rd September, I look back to my first viewing of this newly spruced up print of the classic Spielberg thriller on the big screen back in June. And yes, I’ll be buying it again, adding it to my pan and scan VHS copy, my widescreen VHS copy and both the 25th and 30th anniversary DVDs.

My journey to see Jaws, my all time favourite film, has been 10 years in the making and after all that time, all those viewings, it didn’t disappoint. Put simply it was Jawsome.

It is somewhat fitting that Jaws has been re released as part of the centenary celebrations of Universal Studios in June, smack bang in the middle of the summer blockbuster season, as Jaws is the grandaddy of them all, the first film to have such a large (at the time) opening, and the first to hit that magic $100 million mark. In more ways than one it is the big fish.

37 years have passed since Jaws first swam onto our screens but it still more than holds its own against today’s output, in fact it is the filmic equivalent of what Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) calls the shark, ‘the perfect eating machine’.

As a piece of cinema Jaws was always the near perfect piece of cinema and now, cleaned up frame by frame and looking like it was practically shot last week, this lean mean thriller machine became the closest to cinematic perfection it has ever got.

Put simply, you can forget your Star Wars, forget your toying with special effects, nipping, tucking or even adding here and there (yes you Mr Cameron, Mr Lucas – sounds like Are You Being Served – and Mr Scott), this is cleaned up but otherwise untouched, and still has the same shark and still has that primal fear in buckets, along with the chum.

Spielberg has clearly learnt from his ‘walky talky’ medling with E.T. and left Jaws exactly as it was, save for giving it a fresh lick of paint and thankfully modification free.

It may sound obvious but never having seen the film on the big screen the first thing that hit me was that it all looked so big, from the (thankfully) old fashioned Universal logo to each and every character introduction, counting the fictional Amity Island in that.

With such a large canvas, that had also expertly been cleaned up, we are able to feel even closer to that (really rather sunny and bright for the most part) world and see and notice so many small things in the background that I hadn’t done before. It was practically like seeing the film for the very first time.

Jaws still packs a punch (or should that be bite radius) of a juggernaut. The opening Chrissie attack sequence has never looked so uncomfortably clear, her nakedness making you almost feel voyeur like – making it even closer akin to the shower scene it Psycho in that respect – right up until that moment of impact when the John Williams score and sound effects really kick into high gear. If anything its heightened more than ever with the Alex Kitner lilo attack, which in many ways seemed even more powerful. They both form part of my article, Death Becomes Them, charting the ‘best’ death scenes in the Jaws series.

It’s not the 25 foot shark, all three tonnes of it, that dominates the film though, each and every piece of the film he is in is dominated by Robert Shaw as Quint. Scheider and Dreyfuss are no slouches for sure and the way the threesome ping off each other is a joy to behold (the script coupled with the beauty of the extra rehearsal time due to operating problems with the shark et al – read Man vs Beast for my take on the making of) but Quint has never been so dominant, so alive. He chews scenery like the shark chews his boat, the Orca, at the end of the film and his eyes, his eyes are just so piercing a blue that they make Daniel Craig’s look practically dull in comparison. It confirmed to me that more classic Shaw films should be viewed on the big screen but also left a genuine feeling of loss, for the man, Shaw died only three years after the release of Jaws, and for cinema generally as he carved such an impression up their on the big screen, seen as he should be and not on a box – no matter what its size – in the corner of the room.

Jaws never puts a foot wrong, it still has fantastic pace, still thrills and scares a little in all the right places and also makes people laugh in all the places that it is meant to do. Rubber shark or no rubber shark it, like Alien after it, which after all was pitched as Jaws in Space, still taps into that primeval fear and when each and every person bringing that to life is working at the top of their game you can’t go wrong, critically,commercially or for longevity.

The decade wait was well worth it, and I’m pleased that Bruce, as the shark was nicknamed by Spielberg, came back for his noon feeding to mark the hundredth anniversary of Jaws,it mattered not that most of us in that small screening room had seen it hundreds of times, knew exactly what shot or line of dialogue came next we were all in awe of the remastered Jaws and to paraphrase Chief Brody at the end of the film as he blows the great white shark out of the water as it races toward him, we were all smiling like sons of bitches. 

 

Bond and beyond: Remembering John Barry part 2

Dean Newman continues on his musical journey with John Barry expert, Mike Copping, as he talks about two of his favourite Barry scores.

The Black Hole

MC:     The Black Hole for me is one of Barry’s best, although I know a lot of people don’t like it but from a from a Barry fan’s point of view it was one of those scores that seemed to cross over to the people who loved Jerry Goldsmith or John Williams, it crossed that kind of bridge where a lot of his work just doesn’t. Incidently The Black Hole was the first digitally recorded film score with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, by the aforementioned Goldsmith was hot on its heels. Sadly though, because of its rather dubious reputation and it wasn’t quite as successful as the first Star Trek film so the master tapes are perhaps not as well looked after as those stored at Paramount, which is a crying shame.

Goldfinger

MC:     From Bond you would have to include Goldfinger as apart from its impact in the film, that is the album that knocked The Beatles off the number one slot in the US, a soundtrack album knocking The Beatles off number one is just plain crazy, but it happened.

Like many elements of that film the music also pretty much set the standard and was the blueprint for every ensuing Bond adventure since. That was where everything gelled. Monty Norman had written a score for Dr No that Terrence Young (the Director of Bond’s first outing) called ‘mining disaster music’, a phrase which I love, and of course Barry’s total restructuring of the Bond theme firmly established something that had never been heard of before and was completely fresh.”

Although Monty Norman wrote the Bond theme he always credits Barry with creating the definitive arrangement, but my own personal feeling is that Barry created more than just an arrangement, he extended the melody and created the bee-bop section and all that.”

As the title suggests the thing that makes James Bond forever James Bond, over and above everything else, is not the actor, it’s that score.

David Arnold himself, who is obviously Barry’s replacement, has said that without the music it is just another action film. True there are various Bondian elements such as M, Moneypenny, the gadgets and the globetrotting, but so many films do that these days so the music adds tremendously to the whole character and atmosphere of the thing.

We also have to remember that Barry was also responsible for the title track, sung by Shirley Bassey, again creating the quintisential Bond theme that all others are in the long shadow of.

Because of all of that it has to be Goldfinger, but from a personal point of view I would have said The Living Daylights, Barry’s Bond swansong, or On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.”

Musically, at least a lot of the Bonds take place outside of what was happening at the time so Barry was almost working in his own bubble but setting trends at the same time and being very influential because it worked.

Put simply, that is one of the reasons the Bond films are so successful and why they are still making them. The music’s importance should not be underestimated.

DN:     Barry never did return to the Bond franchise, bowing out with an exceptional score to Timothy Dalton’s debut, The Living Daylights (1987), but he did ensure that his musical legacy lived on and helped shape Bond for a new generation  personally recommending David Arnold, who had previously worked on Stargate and Independence Day, to Bond Producer Barbara Broccolli for Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) a score that is largely Barry in tone and feel, something that Arnold, who has helmed the music for the series ever since, has returned to with flashes of Barry in The World Is Not Enough and Casino Royale.

MC:     If you look at his first Bond venture,Tomorrow Never Dies, that is a blatant emulation of Barry in style, especially the pre-credits sequence. Most of that is pure Barry with its blasts of swaggering brass. Since then Arnold has moved away a little from that and given it a bit more punch, a bit more edge adding synth elements and drum machines etc. But it is something he keeps on returning to with for example the ski sequence in The World is not Enough, which is epic and broad, Vespa’s theme in Casino Royale and of course THAT familiar tune at the very end. Bond is only complete when that theme is heard. No theme, no 007, literally.

DN:     What now for the future of film music and what of Barry’s legacy?

MC:     For the latter half of the 90s and the Noughties melody was out of fashion and above everything else Barry was a melodist, he wrote just fantastic melodies and sadly they’ve been out of fashion for a number of years. It’s only recently with people like Alexandre Desplat, New Moon,  and Michael Giacchino, Star Trek, actually creating thematic scores that have been successful, which has meant they have come back to the fore and has seen them create dense thematic scores and not just ambient tonal pieces with no real structure.

DN:     Barry, who crushingly had not completed a score for a film in over ten years, was what was known as one of the four key silver age movie composers, pretty much helping shape and influence the last 50 years of film music, alongside John Williams, Ennio Morricone and Jerry Goldsmith, who passed away in 2004. You can’t help but feel that wherever Williams and Morricone where in the world a part of them died along with Barry as the fantastic four (or should that be score) of film music became an even more select group.

MC:     David Arnold did once say if you are going to bring someone new in as Bond then you want to surround him as much of the Bondian elements as possible. With that in mind, in spirit at least, the music of John Barry will return.

John Barry 1933 – 2011

Batons Beyond the Stars

In space no one can hear you scream, that’s because there is no sound. But when you think of your favourite science-fiction films and what makes them so special it’s rather ironic then that one of the things that stays with you forever is the music.

Sure, there’ll be other factors: favourite scenes or memorable dialogue, but the music is the life and soul of the movie. They say that you can’t make a great movie without a great script but equally the right piece of music can elevate a good movie, or scene, to greatness.

I spoke to movie soundtrack enthusiast, Mike Copping, a member of the John Barry Appreciation Society from its inception, who was first bitten by the movie soundtrack bug, aged ten, viewing the sci-fi tinged Bond-movie You Only Live Twice in 1967, scored by Barry, about what he considers the five greatest sci-fi movie scores of all time.

The following list is chronological and takes in several notable mentions along the way so lets (tap, tap, tap) strike up the orchestra for the greatest movie sci-fi soundtracks of all time.

Saying that purists will ‘wrap him in the mouth’ for not saying King Kong (1933), which saw composer Max Steiner arguably define the modern film score, Mike plumbs for fellow German composer, Franz Waxman.

He said: “Waxman holds equal claim to laying down the template to what we recognise as the modern film score as he was working at pretty much the same time on a wide range of films, so I’m going to have to say The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) as my first entry.”

“I see the score for the James Whale directed movie as a far more accomplished piece that works better with the film, is melodic and for me is the first really truly memorable, influential science fiction/ horror score that I would hold in that esteem, over and above Kong.”

There is no question for Mike in his second choice, Bernard Herrmann’s score for The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).

Hermann is mostly associated with his collaboration with Hitchcock and his fantasy scores for Jason and the Argonauts, and The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad.

Copping said: “A lot of people might pick Louis and Bebe Barron’s Forbidden Planet but if you listen to that away from the film, ‘Planet’ sounds like beeps and electronics noises, whereas ‘Still’ is a properly orchestrated score in the traditional sense, but what makes it groundbreaking is the melodic way it uses the Theremin, an electronic instrument, as an evocative, other worldly voice, which was the first time it had been used that way.”

Mike continued: “It’s a hugely influential score that is heavily imitated, fantastically constructed and is just wonderful, unlike the entirely forgettable remake, which doesn’t hold a candle to or honour the original in any way.”

Sticking with ‘Earth’ for his third choice is Jerry Goldsmith’s landmark score for Planet of the Apes (1968), which Mike lists as being groundbreaking.

He said: “Again it is a hugely influential score that has been copied ever since (elements cropping up in his later score for Alien) and features some wonderful experimentation and is outstanding as it works dramatically, sounds alien and other worldly and to this day people think he used electronics, but it was all done acoustically, and still sounds fresh 41 years later.”

Goldsmith was Oscar-nominated for his outstanding work but bagged his only golden statue for the creepy chorals of The Omen (1976), which Copping, along with many people see as a huge injustice and a failing of the Academy.

As an honourable mention Mike also suggests Goldsmith’s Alien (1979). He says: “It works so well in the film and contributes to that terrible unease that you get whilst you are watching it, which is just disturbing, although not as disturbing as Director Ridley Scott’s treatment of it, something he would do to Goldsmith several year’s later on the fantasy movie, Legend, which also deserves a mention.”

The US print of Legend saw Goldsmith’s score excised completely and featured totally new music by Tangerine Dream, whilst the longer European cut retained the superior Goldsmith score.

Fittingly, the fourth is with Mike on his penultimate choice. He said: “Star Wars arrived in 1977, roughly a decade after ‘Apes’ and during that period pop songs had wormed their way into films and become a marketing tool.”

“So when Star Wars came along it blew (rather like an operational deathstar) everyone away, it did more than underscore the film, it reastablished the traditional symphonic score, something virtually unheard of at the time, as a viable entity that could sell very well in its own right if it was the right film and Star Wars just happened to encompass all that.”

“It’s a beautifully orchestrated and complex score that is thematically structured; it’s just wonderful stuff and heralded the return of the composer as artist. For Williams, it was a triumph.”

The composer honed his craft on Irwin Allen sci-fi TV epics laying the groundwork for his development. Mike enthused: “If you listen to his TV scores for ‘Lost in Space’, ‘Land of the Giants’ or ‘Time Tunnel’ you can hear hints of the shape of things to come. He had a great training ground in writing the most outlandish things, so Star Wars was just so fitting, cementing his position, one that he hasn’t lost since.”

From 77 to 82 Williams had such a prolific period, encompassing Star Wars, Close Encounters, Superman, The Fury, Raiders, Empire and E.T. Encounters is something that Mike prefers listening to rather than Star Wars. He said: “It almost surpasses Star Wars. The idea that aliens were communicating via music, which is a pretty universal thing from an emotional level, I thought was just great. Williams took that idea and ran with that five note theme.”

Mike’s final choice takes us to the final frontier which sees us back with Jerry Goldsmith and Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979).

He asserts: “This is one of the finest scores written for film, let alone for science-fiction. The early sequence where the Klingon ships are taken out by the approaching alien entity is fantastic scoring.”

“That kind of instrumentation and barbaric quality in the music instantly conveys Klingon culture and at the same time drives the sequence adding immeasurably, just what Goldsmith did best. The main theme is also one of the best ever, being so successful that Trek creator Roddenberry used it as the title music for The Next Generation.”

Goldsmith revisited the Trek movie franchise several times, but for Mike he never bettered that original score, which he said: “Is beautifully constructed, melodically driven, incredibly evocative and helps save the rather leaden pacing in the second part of the film.”

If there was one moment that stands out where vision and music work perfectly with one another, it would be the scene where Scotty first shows off the Enterprise to Kirk, and the audience, from a shuttle craft.

Mike concludes: “The cue, just called The Enterprise, sustains its entire length and is just a superb example of what Goldsmith did with his music, he’s sorely missed.”

Have your orchestral soundtrack hunting manoeuvres left you in the dark?

Unlikely to find much beyond ‘songs inspired by the movie’ albums in the high street try the following for limited editions and new releases.

Intrada

Film Score Monthly

Varese Sarabande

eBay is also worth a look, but be warned as there are plenty of bootleg copies out there as well as bargains so be sure to read the description.