Archive for December, 2013

Tron

Nick Luscombe recently featured a series of science fiction movie scores on BBC Radio 4’s Late Junction, and a weird and wonderful collection of soundscapes it was. Understandably, a decent thread of visual ‘cool’ stitched the various tunes together, but it did get me thinking about Sci-Fi soundtracks that have created more credible audio environments than the films they represent.

Hardware immediately sprang to mind as Simon Boswell’s combination of country, industrial and reworked classics conjured up a much more impressive post-apocalypse than the slasher, B-movie imagery. Public Image Limited’s opening track remains an evocative anthem to anti-consumerism and environmental disintegration.

Danny Boyle’s Sunshine continues the trend of ambitious but flawed British Sci-Fi via John Murphy who generates a driving union of Arcade Fire-esque soaring themes with obvious nods to Brian Eno’s Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks. Interestingly – and stretching the SF connection a bit – Murphy’s Don Abandon’s Alice still remains one of the best things about the decidedly average 28 Weeks Later.

Finally, and apologies for anyone recognising a return to rant here… Tron Legacy. Daft Punk’s exceptional combination of orchestral scoring and electro pop still hints at something much more impressive than the sum of its raggedy plot. But, it has to be said, the same was also true of the original film. Remove the nostalgia and the rose tinted geek specs focused on early 3D graphics, and Wendy Carlos’ soundtrack exemplifies music’s robustness when it comes to the test of time.

Just a few aural delights then to please your audio receptors. Next post we’ll trawl through 2014’s filmic offerings and have a ponder about the best of 2013.

Solaris

A combination of Mark Gaitiss’ documentary about renowned ghost writer M R James, plus a troubled viewing of the woeful Prometheus led me to a seasonal pondering about spectres within science fiction. While the pulp genres regularly slip through the grey, wonderfully ill-defined boundaries at their peripheries, on examination there’s a distinct lack of the supernatural in space. This could well be the result of the interchangeable nature of the ‘magical’ with the ‘technologically advanced’, but there’s still a noticeable shortfall when the ethereal or psychological is compared to body and monster-based horrors.

Many appearances of spirits within the genre find easy association with the ‘alien’ – see Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars. Or, more recently, the entity represents the bizarre echoes of the self as a result of digitisation – Flynn’s rebellious avatar in the thematically weak sequel to Tron, or Dennis Potter’s Cold Lazarus (currently available on 4OD).

Ghosts ships are another great sci-fi trope that feeds off a long tradition of tales relating to mysterious disappearances. Event Horizon is probably the most recognisable of all the space hulks committed to celluloid, but Pandorum, despite the occasional plot hole, also did a credible job of generating a sense of suspense between the imagined and the supernatural. But the best of this slim and uncanny bunch has to be Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris. A planet that resists analysis while probing the observers’ dreaming minds and manifesting their deepest, darkest thoughts… If ever there was an extraterrestrial equivalent to Whistle and I’ll Come To You, it has to be this.

Despite the mixed critical reception to Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim, the return of humongous entities back to their natural habitat, the big screen, was welcome. But finding quality among the monster movie giants remains a herculean task.

The Host, from South Korea, was the first of a new slew of titles that condensed the flimsy structures of the original Japanese costume dramas into something much more sophisticated. What Joon-ho Bong’s tale of genetic mutation lacked in building sized creatures, it more than made up for in wonderful, family-driven pathos.

In the west, the shaky-cam, Blair Witch take that was Cloverfield, eventually brought the sub-genre up from the depths of the 1998 version of Godzilla – as Jamiroquai stated, it really couldn’t go any deeper underground. Matt Reeves ravaging of New York also delivered a healthy dose of inscrutable alien motivation, toxic horror and a depressing ending that any 1970s piece of Sci-Fi would have been proud of.

There was also a brief flash of genius coming from Studio Ghibli earlier this year, as Neon Genesis Evangelion director – Shinji Higuchi – teamed up with the kings of Japanese animation to produce this short homage to the original Godzillas. (Subtitle translations behind 1731298478 Shamshel’s spoiler ‘show’ button here.)

But it was Monsters in 2010 that held the most relevant hope for those favouring horror on a titanic scale. As well as unifying the earlier touches of Cloverfield with the social commentary of a Neill Blomkamp film, it also put director Gareth Edwards on Hollywood’s radar. Stomp forward three years and we now have him at the helm of the latest revision to the Godzilla myth. Just look at the John Martin apocalyptic scenes in the teaser trailer above, listen to Gyorgy Ligeti’s 2001 A Space Oddysey choral work, and try, really try, to remain cynical. There’s no indication that it’ll pan out – we’ve had a fair run of Sci-Fi disappointments in 2013 – but I sincerely hope its success matches the scope of this early statement of intent.