Thursday, February 21, 2019

Top 5 Terrible SF Movies with Great Musical Scores

When it comes to watching movies, there are few things worse than sitting through a colossal stinkfest of a flick and hating every minute of it, but then being drawn back to it — sometimes almost immediately — by an ear worm. Oh, sure, the plot was stupid, the dialogue corny, the acting perhaps laughable, and the special effects (if any) clumsy, but for some reason the director and producers managed to hire a composer that created music of the truest beauty to accompany it. Music that's so good, it forces you, railing against it with every fibre of your being but dragged back none-the-less, to rewatch that cinematic obscenity.

These days, it's easy to dodge the suffering of the rewatch by just going to iTunes (or wherever you get your music) and downloading the soundtrack or one or two particular pieces of music from the score. But even so, anytime you see mention of that film on Netflix or somewhere on the net, or hear about it in conversation, there's that little self-loathing corner of your brain that still reflexively wants to find it and watch it again, just for the music.

This is something that came to mind the other day when I was having a conversation with a friend about some of our favourite movie soundtracks, and who the good composers were. But there was a twisted part of me that examined the issue further, and had to separate out into their own category the good scores that unfortunately were married to great steaming shitpiles of movies.

Here, for your listening pleasure — and movie-going derision, are my picks for the Top 5 Terrible SF Movies with Great Musical Scores:


5) The Time Machine (2002 version)
I wanted to like this movie. I really did. When the buzz first started going around, and the trailers hit the theatres, I was excited. Finally the time had come when filmmakers had the special effects technology to do The Time Machine justice! And at the dawn of the 21st Century, HG Wells' story of a Victorian inventor's adventures in time, acting as a metaphor for socio-economic-political and socio-sexual commentary, seemed more relevant than ever. And then I went to the theatre and endured the stink that Simon Wells had shat upon the audience: Morlocks erupting from the soil like pimples; Eloi who were intelligent, compassionate, socially organized, and technologically sophisticated enough to build some pretty interesting housing, but who didn't have the will to fight back against their predators; a seemingly vindictive universe determined to see a young woman die horribly and repeatedly; Guy Pearce cast as the Time Traveller and somehow looking more creepy and alien than the Morlocks themselves; and Jeremy Irons as a pasty, rapey brain Morlock intent on breeding with an Eloi woman in spite of what appears to be millennia of speciation; and on and on and on.

And yet, Klaus Badelt's score for the film is a thing of beauty. Its main theme, played with in different ways throughout the movie, is full of wonder and sometimes sadness, but also a breathless exuberance which is perfect for a grand adventure that kicks off in the Victorian era.




4) Terminator 3 — Rise of the Machines
Another flawed film centred around time travel, Rise of the Machines was the sign that after the brilliance of the first two films, the Terminator franchise was starting to flatten like a Cyberdyne Systems cyborg in an industrial press (although I will give credit where credit is due: Terminator — Salvation was reasonably good, and the Terminator — The Sarah Connor Chronicles TV series was absolutely amazing). Its supposed hero, John Connor, was whiny, Arnold as the titular terminator seemed tired, the absence of Sarah Connor dragged the film down, and, unforgivably, the action sequences were unimpressive.

In spite of all of all that, there was at least one track from Marco Beltrami's score that really stuck with me. Admittedly, most of the film's music was forgettable, but the "Radio" theme playing gently and sadly beneath the nuclear apocalypse at the end was quite touching, if perhaps a little on the nose. Certainly a piece of music I enjoy listening to every now and again.




3) Walt Disney's The Black Hole
Ah, The Black Hole, Disney's attempt in the late 1970s (when it was scrambling frantically in all directions to try to make good movies again — and failing miserably) to make a kid-friendly, science fiction horror movie somewhat inspired by Moby Dick and The Tempest. A glorious trainwreck of a movie so spectacularly awful for having plot points that made no sense, bad science (which can be forgiven in a sci-fi flick, but still bears noting), an ending (apparently made up on the spot at the last minute) that was confusing and weird and disturbing, a robot that kills another robot by essentially fucking it to death, and Ernest Borgnine flying around on a wire.

But it's not completely a lost cause. I loved the design of Space Probe I — USS Cygnus and (to a lesser extent) of the Palomino. The big mattes in the background were gorgeous. Robert Forster does an understated but very believable job as Palomino's captain. And then there's John Berry's big, powerful score that drags the listener in as inevitably as a collapsar. The main theme is a relentless dirge that's perfect for the tone of the film, while he also offers a rollicking score for the heroes, and even a sweet, brief little number at the end for B.O.B.'s death. Apparently there were plans to reboot The Black Hole years ago, around the time of Tron: Legacy, but they were shelved when Disney went on its Marvel & Star Wars binge. But if there's ever a movie that would be well-served with a remake, The Black Hole is it — as long as it would include John Berry's score.




2) The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension
I hated Buckaroo Banzai. I should have liked it: a big, brassy, gonzo mashup of influences trying to bring a comic-book-esque, rock'n'roll, science fiction adventure to the big screen. But it was utterly awful. Peter Weller just wasn't the hero that this flick needed, and most of the rest of the cast fell flat (though I'll give credit to John Lithgow for doing what John Lithgow does, and for Clancy Brown playing — refreshingly — a good guy). I never want to see this film again.

But there's that score. A bouncy, synthesizered epitome of 1980s music I just fucking love. It's one of those soundtracks that becomes an instant ear worm, and after watching the film for the first time way  back when, I found myself whistling Michael Boddicker's theme from the end credits for days. And so did you. Admit it. You know you did. You probably still do from time to time. Now that I've made you remember it, you're probably doing it right now. Fuck, that's a catchy tune.




1) Krull
Let's all just agree that Krull was an abomination of a movie that probably set fantasy back for years in the eyes of studio execs who where looking to make big budget films. What was supposedly originally intended to be a Dungeons & Dragons movie became a sort of fantasy, sort of science fiction hodgepodge, crushed like a turd beneath the landing Black Fortress under the weight of bad writing, overacting from its lead actor, occasionally cheesy dialogue, and unforgivably shoddy special effects for its signature bad guy, The Beast.

I will grudgingly admit that Krull isn't entirely without merit. Some of the supporting players do their best with what they're given, it's interesting to see Liam Neeson and Robby Coltrane in early roles, moments with Ergo the Magnificent (the shapeshifter) and Rell the cyclops are worth watching, and I've always thought that every woman should watch the scene between Ynyr and The Widow of the Web in front of the mirror (Society tends to convince many women to feel bad about their appearance as they age — to think that others see them as ugly. This scene does a great job of showing the truth: when a man, or, let's be fair and say a woman too... when a person loves a woman, she is always at her most beautiful in that person's eyes. If only women could see themselves as their lovers do.). But what's inarguably magnificent about this botched cinematic effort is James Horner's score. It's a love letter to classical music, especially Gustav Holst, and shows Horner's abilities at their absolute best (even if, from time to time, there are bits in some of the pieces where it's clear he's reusing some of his earlier work). You can't help but be swept up in the rush of the main theme in the opening, and enjoy its resurgence later in the scene with the ride of the fire mares. Krull was terrible, but its soundtrack is a treat.




Honourable mentions:

Star Trek the Motion Picture: Not a completely bad film (I call it a 30 Minute Film — you can enjoy the hell out of the first half hour or so, then forget about the rest), but certainly not a good film. Jerry Goldsmith's score is very good though.

Alien3: Again, not a terrible film at all, but not up to the standards of the first two instalments in the franchise. Elliot Goldenthal's score was arresting though, and, at times, quite moving.


So what are the movies that you love to hate, but really, on some level, secretly love because of their musical scores?

Don't have any mixed feelings like this? Fine. You can go back to writing your operatic adaptation of The Vindicator.



Friday, February 15, 2019

Invaders From Planet 3 - Ep 28 - Farewell to the Herald of the Invasion, Mike Cleaver




Sad news: Mike Cleaver, a veteran broadcaster and the man who provided the opening voiceover for the Invaders From Planet 3 podcast — becoming the herald for our Invasion — died on Sunday, February 10, 2019. In this episode, we pay tribute to a good friend.


Let the Invasion begin!

Friday, January 18, 2019

Invaders From Planet 3 - Ep 27 - Nalo Hopkinson


Author, editor and professor Nalo Hopkinson joins us for our first episode of 2019. Nalo talks about her first loves in speculative fiction, including Harlan Ellison's "Shattered Like a Glass Goblin", Michael Crichton's The Andromeda Strain, and Kurt Vonnegut's "Welcome to the Monkey House". And she shares what it was like having the freedom to read what she wanted when she was growing up, with her library technician mother loaning Nalo her library card and letting her explore the stacks at work; and her mother and actor/poet/playwright/high school English teacher father letting her choose from their collection of books at home. We also talk about an early reading experience that didn't work out so well: her encounter with an Alfred Hitchcock anthology. And she tells us how her desire to become a writer was first sparked by a collection of Clarion short stories.

Our conversation then turns to the subject of diversity, with Nalo reflecting on Caribbean voices in the stories she encountered growing up. She talks about representation in speculative fiction, and the importance of seeing herself (or the effect of the absence of people like her) in the sf she was reading. She then discusses how this affected her own writing and her choices of how she populates her stories.

Next, we talk about Nalo's experiences working with publishers and artists to get the look of her book covers — and specifically the characters on them — right. She then goes into detail about what this has been like recently in her role as a writer contributing to the expansion of Neil Gaiman's Sandman universe at DC-Vertigo Comics. This leads to an examination of what it's like to step into a world created by another author and to make parts of it her own.

From there we move back to a discussion of what it was like to move from the Caribbean to the US and Canada, and how that shaped Nalo's writing. Here, she also reflects on her time working at Bakka-Phoenix Books, Toronto's sf specialty bookstore. Nalo talks about meeting sf legend Judith Merril during her time in Toronto as well. We also discuss what it's like in her current role teaching sf writing at the University of California Riverside.

Our discussion wraps up with a look at what Nalo's working on for 2019, including more House of Whispers stories for the Sandman comics, and her new novel that's in progress, Blackheart Man.
Our interview took place in October 2018 at the Surrey International Writers' Conference.

You can learn more about Nalo Hopkinson and her stories on her website:
https://nalohopkinson.com/index.html


To listen to Invaders From Planet 3, or subscribe, visit LibsyniTunes, Stitcher, Overcast and Spotify. Be sure to rate and review the show while you're there!


Let the Invasion begin!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Muddling the House Words as Game of Thrones Goes Game of Whisky

I was reading a story earlier today in the Richmond News (thanks to Thor Diakow for passing it along) about how the producers of Game of Thrones are celebrating the coming final season of the show by trying to drown fans in a new wave of merchandizing (cue Yogurt from Spaceballs: "Merchandizing, merchandizing, merchandizing! Where the REAL money from the movie is made!") with the release of a GOT-themed line of whiskies. Apparently the BC Liquor Distribution Branch will be carrying the line (Or is the correct term "flight"? Flight of whiskies for a flight of dragons [yes, I just did that] — but Daenerys' pair doesn't really constitute a flight, does it?) in a couple of its stores. The Westerosi noble houses that have been included (along with the Night's Watch) are represented by different whisky brands (Talisker is doing the Greyjoy bottle, Oban's taking the Night's Watch, etc).

Personally, I think this was a bit of a missed opportunity: BCLDB should have held a launch event for this hooch in partnership with White Dwarf Science Fiction Books in Vancouver, with the government offering a tasting and selling bottles on one side of the room, and the bookstore selling copies of the A Song of Ice and Fire series along with George RR Martin's other, related books from that world.

As much as I'm a fan of the books and TV series, I'm not sure that I'll be buying the booze (then again...). But it got me thinking along silly lines (without the aid of any other brand of Scotch), and I started reworking the house words (using their original mottos as inspiration) of the big players of the Seven Kingdoms (along with the Black Brothers) to reflect their new alcohol affiliation... and the inebriation that will surely follow. I only wish that I was an artist, so I could retool the house banners to also reflect their new whisky-soaked reality. Anyway, pour yourself a dram or two (or three, or four — I'm not judging) of your favourite brand of water of life, and prepare to say the new house words:

Stark: "Whisky Is Coming"

Greyjoy: "We Do Not Slurp"

Arryn: "As High as Single Malt Can Make Me"

Baratheon: "Ours Is the Furry Tongue of the Hangover the Morning After"

Lannister: "Hear Me Ralph"
*or: "A Lannister Always Pays His Bar Tab"

Martell: "Unsober, Unhinged, Unrepentant"

Tyrell: "Growing Shitfaced"

Targaryen: "Fire and Blood — with Notes of Honey, Tangerine, Peat, Pine and Chocolate"

The Night's Watch: "And Now My Bottle Has Ended"


So what other great — or minor — houses of Westeros need their their own whisky words? What should they be?


Thursday, January 10, 2019

Belated Happy New Year!

A belated Happy New Year, everyone! I hope all of you had an enjoyable holiday season, and, if you don't celebrate anything, that you were able to relax and enjoy yourself in the manner of your choice for a few days.

One of the things I did over the holiday season was to (finally!) go the Capilano Suspension Bridge park in North Vancouver on New Year's Eve to see their holiday light display. I haven't been up to the bridge in more than 30 years, and when I heard they were stringing the whole place with lights — including their treetop walk on the far side of the gorge — a few years ago, I wanted to go. Couldn't do it previously since my ex is afraid of heights, and most especially of suspension bridges. But since I'm a bachelor once again, I figured I'd pay a long-overdue visit.

And it was definitely worth it! The whole park is a galaxy of colours glowing in the dark, from the road-side entrance, to the swaying suspension bridge across the gorge, to the trails on the far side, the cliff-face walkway, and the network of smaller suspension bridges and platforms of the treetop walk 50 feet up or more among some of the bigger trees.

In fact, it was the treetop walk that I enjoyed the most, especially as a nerd. The infamous Star Wars Holiday Special may have predated the addition of the Ewoks to the saga, but if they had been around  to celebrate Life Day, they might have decorated their village like the catwalks above the Capilano park. Or maybe the elves of Lothlorien in The Lord of the Rings, if they'd wanted to make their treetop kingdom a little more colourful. Here are some pictures I snapped on my phone:













And just to round things out, here are a few other shots from around the park:


A carpet of blue lights below a grove of white.

The lights along the cliff-face.



A little stream running beneath the trees of blue.

An arch along one of the boardwalks.

Waterfall in blue.

The lights dancing on the pond.




Sunday, December 23, 2018

Invaders From Planet 3 - Ep 26 - Charles Stross


In this episode, we're joined by author Charles Stross who talks about discovering his love of sf when he was 5 and started reading Andre Norton's books at his local library. By the time he was 15, he'd read everything in the genre. Charlie also reflects on how growing up in Britain of the 1970s — a place he describes as a "malfunctioning society" — affected his perception of the American speculative fiction he read. He also discusses the shift that took place in British culture  in the 80s, and how that steered him towards a career as a pharmacist — at least until he shifted to computer science and then technical writing.

Charlie tells us about his development as a writer, from his beginnings at age 12, to his first attempts to get published in his teens, to selling stories in his 20s, including a novel. He goes on to discuss how working as a pharmacist and in computers gave him insight into how organizations of different sizes function (or malfunction), leading to an understanding of bureaucracy as a villain. He also talks about his ideas around artificial intelligence and the Turing Test, and its relation to the Fermi Paradox.

And Charlie also shares some details about his new novel, The Labyrinth Index, as well as an upcoming book, Invisible Sun (in the Empire Games series), and a space opera story called Ghost Engine that's in the works.

Our conversation took place in October 2018 at the Vancouver Science Fiction, Fantasy & Games Convention (VCon).

You can learn more about Charles Stross and his stories on his website:
https://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/

To listen to Invaders From Planet 3, or subscribe, visit LibsyniTunes, Stitcher, Overcast and Spotify. Be sure to rate and review the show while you're there!


Let the Invasion begin!

Friday, December 14, 2018

Invaders From Planet 3 - Ep 25 - Matthew Hughes


We're joined by author and editor Matthew Hughes in this episode. Matt talks about his first love in sf: Jack Vance's "The Dragon Masters", as well as Galactic Derelict by Andre Norton, along with his discovery of Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury and AE van Vogt. He also discusses some of the historical fiction novelists who influenced him, such as Geoffrey Trease, Henry Treece and Rosemary Sutcliff.

Matt talks about being "a guy just passing through" as he shares stories from his early years, starting with an unstable home life where his father, trying to stay one step ahead of money problems, occasionally uprooted the family at a moment's notice — sometimes in the middle of the night to move half-way around the world. There's the story of his teenaged knife fight. And he tells us how taking LSD made him a nicer person.

We also hear about Matt's evolution as a writer, from the teenager writing stories, to the newspaper reporter and editor, to the go-to speechwriter for Canadian federal politicians, their provincial counterparts in BC, and business leaders as well. He talks about his first sale of a fictional story, "Fishface and the Leg", and how he developed his career writing crime stories, and science fiction and fantasy.

Matt also shares details of the new speculative fiction novel he's developing, about a man in his Jack-Vance-Dying-Earth-inspired world who wakes up with amnesia and finds himself on the road to a confrontation with wizards.

Our interview took place in October 2018 at the Vancouver Science Fiction, Fantasy and Games Convention (VCon).

You can learn more about Matthew Hughes and his stories on his website:
https://www.matthewhughes.org

To listen to Invaders From Planet 3, or subscribe, visit LibsyniTunes, Stitcher, Overcast and Spotify. Be sure to rate and review the show while you're there!


Let the Invasion begin!