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.

No comments: