Tag Archives: Disney

TRON: Legacy (2010)

Note: This film was the main topic of discussion on Episode 1 of my podcast, The Cinescope Podcast. Give it a listen for a more in-depth discussion!

Tron-Legacy-movie-image-new-collider

Back in 1982, Disney released a film that proved to leave a lasting impact in the world of film, making strides in advanced computer graphics technology and laser trail bikes. One of the more notable effects this film had in the industry was showing John Lasseter the possibilities of computer graphics and leading to the eventual success of Pixar. Nearly 30 years after the release of TRON, first-time director Joseph Kosinski was hired to direct the almost $200 million sequel to the dated film, challenged with continuing the story and dazzling with another technological marvel…and he succeeded.

TRON: Legacy opens with young ENCOM CEO Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) explaining to his son Sam the origin of The Grid – a “digital frontier” that resembles a city, a place where programs are anthropomorphized and live their own lives, and where Tron, a protector, and a clone of Flynn called C.L.U. – Codified Likeness Utility  – work together to create and to explore this digital landscape. However, later that night, Flynn disappears from the world without a trace. 20 years pass, and now Sam (Garrett Hedlund), who has distanced himself from his father’s company save for an annual prank, has received a tip from his father’s friend Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) that something may be going on in his father’s office at the now-abandoned arcade that he owned. Upon investigating, something extraordinary happens, thrusting him into the very world that his father described to him as a boy. It becomes a race against time to escape back to the real world, with new faces Quorra (Olivia Wilde) and Castor (Michael Sheen) showing up along the way during Sam’s journey home.

*mild spoilers ahead*

To get it out of the way, I’ll start with the obvious: this film is quite the spectacle to behold, from the glowing blue skyscrapers, to the intimidating flying Recognizers (appearing as a significant upgrade from their original appearance 30 years ago), to the fantastic score composed by Daft Punk and Joseph Trapanese (my review). These are the things that people agree on regarding this film: that it is a visual and auditory treat, showing that every cent of the $200 million budget was put to good use. Concepts introduced in the first film – disc wars, light cycle races, a world that pulses with a vivid energy – are magnified to the nth degree here and, paired with Daft Punk’s infectious music, provide some of the more extravagant action sequences made with digital effects in the last decade. In this movie and in his second feature, Oblivion (my review), director Joseph Kosinski proves he has an talent for creating visuals that are wonders to behold

What people agree on less when it comes to this movie is everything outside of what appeals to the senses: that is, to put it simply, the story and acting. But I would disagree with the majority in saying that there are some great, moving performances that feature here.

At its core, TRON: Legacy is a father/son movie. Garrett Hedlund’s Sam exudes a confidence that masks his vulnerability; after all, this is a character who lost his father when he was 7 years old, and as the film goes on, it is revealed how much he misses him. In a scene where Alan tells Sam of a mysterious message he received from Flynn’s former office, Hedlund’s face expresses so well the pain he feels in wishing that his father was around but knowing that he’s gone forever. Likewise, Jeff Bridges as Kevin Flynn portrays a father who is willing to sacrifice anything for the protection and well-being of his son. In their heartfelt reunion, it’s difficult to not feel a pang when Flynn turns around to instantly recognize his son who was only a child the last time he saw him, collapsing into his arms in a deep embrace. It’s a powerful moment. As the film progresses, so does their relationship, and though they face some tough moments, they prove that they’re there for each other and, more importantly, that they love each other.

Most of the emotional core of this movie comes from those two characters, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Jeff Bridges’ other character, C.L.U., who is our villain. As mentioned before, he is essentially a clone of Flynn, and as such he represents Flynn’s flaws at the time of his inception, namely an inability to recognize that perfection is not an attainable goal. It’s this flaw that helps us to empathize with the character – he’s only doing what he feels is right because it’s what he was created to do, even if it’s contrary to what Flynn himself came to realize as he aged and matured. Despite the motion capture work that doesn’t age quite as well as the rest of the effects in the film, Bridges communicates this conflict very well, culminating in the final bridge scene that shows C.L.U.’s desperation to fulfill his purpose.

It would be a shame if I didn’t give a shoutout to Olivia Wilde’s wonderfully naïve Quorra, who represents the childlike wonder in all of us. One scene has her asking for the description of the sun because she’s never had the chance to experience it, and this pays off in the end of the film when we see her basking in the glow of a warm sunrise. Worth mentioning is Michael Sheen’s quirky Castor, who does little more than strut around talking strangely, but he’s a fun character who appears during one of the film’s dry spells to further along the plot.

TRON: Legacy isn’t a masterpiece of a film that delves into the human condition or anything “deep” like that, but it does have characters whose interactions with each other give us something to connect with. The concept of The Grid and the activities that lie therein are fascinating to me – the very concept of the world is *concept* itself – and the execution of these are what pushes this film into the realm of “enjoyable” for me. While the main attractions certainly are these spectacles and the outstanding soundtrack, if you look for it, there are some great human moments that might make you feel something along the way.

-Chad

RECOMMEND!

MPAA: PG – for sequences of sci-fi action violence and brief mild language


Top Ten Films of 2013

The delay in me typing this up comes from the fact that there are still a few major films from 2013 that I have yet to see – American HustleHerInside Llewyn Davis, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Wolf of Wall Street (though I’m thinking I won’t see the latter due to excessive sexual content). That being said, I wanted to go ahead and tackle what I have seen before too much of 2014 passes, so just know that, if I see these films and find them worthy of this list, I will update it and let you all know.

2013 was a pretty great year for me. I saw more films than ever before, largely due to my involvement in The MovieByte Podcast with my friend TJ. If I totaled everything correctly, I saw 40 new films this year in theaters, so this list is drawing from a pretty wide selection.

An important note: this is a list of favorite films, which may conflict with my ratings. My ratings are usually based on a combination of both quality and enjoyment, whereas this list will mostly be based on enjoyment with quality mixed in just a bit. Click on the titles to see my reviews for each film. With that said, let’s get started with number 10:

thor the dark world

Honorable Mention – Thor: The Dark World

After the mediocre first Thor film, I was hoping for a much better second film, which we thankfully got in Thor: The Dark World. Chris Hemsworth is an excellent Thor, made better by the fact that we’re not establishing an origin anymore. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki continues to impress as well, this time as an ally, bringing an interesting twist to the character and allowing for a fun and occasionally potent brother-to-brother relationship. Brian Tyler’s score is just as fun as the movie itself, and Christopher Eccleston’s villain Malekith is appropriately menacing, if a bit vague in intention.

frozen

10. Frozen

I love Disney films, especially musical ones, because they remind me of my childhood, when The Lion KingBeauty and the Beast (my review), and Aladdin were supreme. Frozen reminds me of those 1990s Disney movies, but this time with a nice twist at the end – which I won’t spoil for you. The voice cast is incredible here, namely Kristen Bell as Anna and Josh Gad as Olaf the Snowman, with Idina Menzel’s “Let It Go” set to be a surefire nominee for Best Original Song at this year’s Academy Awards – and, I’ll call it now, it’ll win too. The animation is beautiful, the story is touching, and you’ll walk out whistling the songs, wanting to watch it again and again.

12-years-a-slave

9. 12 Years a Slave

This film is difficult to rank because, while it’s certainly a 5-star film, it’s also difficult to watch. Chiwetel Ejiofor gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Solomon Northup, a free black man who is kidnapped and sold into slavery for twelve long years. The film covers his incredibly painful time spent on a plantation in Louisiana, where he meets good people, bad people, and fellow slaves who are also struggling for their lives. Director Steve McQueen doesn’t shy away from the harsh truths of slavery and how brutal the slave owners often were, making this film exceptionally powerful and a must-watch – if you can stomach it.

Enders-Game

8. Ender’s Game

I read Orson Scott Card’s classic book in anticipation of this film, so it was fresh on my mind when I walked into the theater. As expected, the book is much better and much of the content in the film is watered down, but that doesn’t stop the film from being pretty excellent on its own. For the most part, it keeps the themes of morality and unnecessary violence intact, and Asa Butterfield as the eponymous Ender does a fantastic job of capturing the character, from his calm control in stressful situations to his intense emotional outbursts upon the realizations of what has happened to him. The visuals in this movie are gorgeous, with scenes from the book, such as the armies in the Battle Room, flying right off the page in a great way.

book-thief

7. The Book Thief

I also read Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief before seeing the film based on it, and many of my criticisms are the same as for Ender’s Game in regards to the watering down of content and such, but that doesn’t stop this film from being an emotional punch to the gut. Sophie Nélisse is outstanding as Liesel Meminger, as are her parents, Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson. The period setting of the film is well-done, and John Williams delivers as intimate and beautiful a score as ever. Bring a box of tissues for this one…maybe two.

Tom Hanks

6. Captain Phillips

In this film, Tom Hanks has the best performance of his life…for, what, the fifth time now? Man, he continues to prove that he’s one of the best actors out there. Captain Phillips tells the true story of how Somalian pirates attacked the Maersk Alabama but were thwarted by Captain Richard Phillips, who not only protected everyone on board with his actions but also offered himself as hostage to continue that protection. Barkhad Abdi plays the lead pirate, who isn’t portrayed as a bad guy but rather as a guy forced to do bad things due to unfortunate social circumstances. There isn’t a bad guy here, not really – at least, that’s not how the film portrays the pirates – but there is simply reality and suspense that rises from it. The long run-time never feels too long as you are caught up in the action from start to finish, and if Tom Hanks doesn’t win the Academy Award for Best Actor, it’ll only be because he lost it to Chiwetel Ejiofor.

SAVING MR. BANKS

5. Saving Mr. Banks

Emma Thompson shines in this historical film about the making of the 1964 Disney film, Mary Poppins, based on the book series by P. L. Travers. Thompson’s portrayal of the stubborn author is both quirky and humorous, but it’s also heartbreaking in her remembrance of moments in her childhood that inspired her books. Colin Farrell plays her father in these flashbacks, juxtaposing a happy-go-lucky father with a down-on-his-luck drunkard, giving us insight into Mary Poppins and the Banks family that I was not previously familiar with. Tom Hanks plays an admirable Walt Disney, even if his performance doesn’t convince me enough that I am watching Walt himself rather than Hanks playing him. Still, the charm of the movie as a whole as well as Thompson’s performance knock this film out of the park. (You should probably bring tissues to this one as well.)

oblivionstarringtomcruise

4. Oblivion

I had a self-imposed boycott on Tom Cruise’s films for quite a long time, but since lifting it for 2011’s Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (my review) he has quickly become one of my favorite actors. His performance here is great, as is Andrea Riseborough’s performance as his partner, but it’s the themes and questions raised by the film that bring Oblivion so far to the top of my list. Themes of asking questions, seeking answers, and the thirst for knowledge vs. the fear of knowledge are brought to the forefront, and, for some reason, it really resonated with me. The script is smart, Tom Cruise is as great as ever, and the score by M83 is energetic and fun, in the same vein as Daft Punk’s score for TRON: Legacy (my review), which was directed by the same man, Joseph Kosinski. This film not only shows off Tom Cruise’s continuing capabilities as an action star, but his talents as a dramatic actor as well.

the hunger games catching fire

3. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

As far as book-to-film adaptations go, 2012’s The Hunger Games (my review) was one of the best I’d seen, but it still had problems. Director Gary Ross’ replacement by Francis Lawrence for the second film seemed worrying at first, but it seemed to pay off. Not only is Catching Fire a better film than the first one, but it’s also a better adaptation of its book counterpart, which is hard to believe. In fact, if I may be so bold, I think that I enjoyed the film more than the book, at least as far as the opening scenes involving the Victory Tour go, which I know is probably blasphemy. Jennifer Lawrence is surely one of the best actresses out there today as evidenced by her continued terrific performance as Katniss Everdeen. The stakes of this film are higher than in the first, and the character development is even better than the already-good character development of the first film. The shaky-cam is gone in favor of better choreographed action scenes, and, in fact, nearly every aspect of the first film is improved upon this time around. This is an excellent film whether you’ve read the books or not.

gravity

2. Gravity

If you didn’t catch this film in theaters, I’m sorry. You missed out. Maybe they’ll bring it back for a few extra showings before the Academy Awards, in which case you should buy a ticket as soon as they’re available. Though this film is great all-around, from the performance of Sandra Bullock to the music by Steven Price to the brilliant visuals of space, the real thrill comes from the thrill of total immersion. You seem to experience everything that Bullock’s character experiences, from spinning around in the vacuum of space to the rush of being trapped in a shower of incoming deadly space debris. The theater experience makes an already-great film even better by involving the audience fully in the action and atmosphere – or lack thereof – of space.

The Way Way Back

1. The Way, Way Back

I love, love, love this film. Love it. I caught an early screening about a month before it reached theaters and subsequently paid to see it twice more. I purchased it on Blu-Ray the day it became available and have watched it three times more since then, and I have yet to tire of it. The Way, Way Back is a coming-of-age film about Duncan, played by Liam James, who is the most perfectly, believably awkward person I’ve ever seen onscreen, which is exactly how his character should be. The growth of his character throughout the film is equally fun and touching, contrasted by Steve Carell’s portrayal of Duncan’s awful stepfather, a role refreshingly atypical of Carell’s usual fare. However, the standout performance in this film is that of Sam Rockwell as Owen, a local waterpark owner who befriends Duncan and helps him to make his summer one of the best of his life. Rockwell brings many laugh-out-loud moments, but he also brings the most poignant moments of the film. The moral is great, and the ride is a great one. I don’t think I could possibly over-recommend this movie.

Well, there you have it. Do you agree or disagree with my list? What were your favorite films of 2013? Sound off in the comments – I’d love to hear your opinions.

Here’s to 2014 – another great year for movies!

-Chad


Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

SAVING MR. BANKS

It seems that biographical films are often more dramatic and heavy than they are light-hearted and fun, and even rarer are they both at the same time, but Saving Mr. Banks manages to pull it off quite well without seeming forced or bipolar.

Saving Mr. Banks is the true story of the making of the Disney film Mary Poppins and the reluctance of the author of the books it is based on, P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson), to relinquish the film rights to her characters. When she visits Los Angeles to meet with the film’s creative team and with Walt Disney himself (Tom Hanks), heads clash as the fight to keep the heart of her story and her characters become flashbacks for Travers, revealing the events of her childhood that inspired her beloved Mary Poppins.

The obvious star of this movie is Emma Thompson as the stubborn P. L. Travers, whose money is disappearing and desperately needs for this film to be made in order to help her out financially. Unfortunately, she refuses even the slightest deviations from the way she had the story and characters composed in her head, and Thompson’s portrayal does a fantastic job of making the character both frustrating and, in the right moments, comedic. The character’s quirky way of dealing with various people and circumstances, such as the surprise of the endless Disney stuffed animals waiting for her in her hotel room, are often hysterical, but her moments of grief in response to various flashbacks to her father (Colin Farrell) are even more heartbreaking…in a good way. Farrell’s performance is the other highlight of the film, with his role as her father, Travers Goff, bringing even more joy and more heartbreak. There is a juxtaposition of a happy-go-lucky father with a down-on-his-luck drunk within the character, which Farrell does an outstanding job of portraying.

Tom Hanks does a pretty good job as well, but I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching Tom Hanks pretending to be Walt Disney rather than simply watching Walt Disney himself, probably through no fault of his own. I was impressed by the tiny details he got right, such as the tell-tale cough that hinted at the lung cancer that would lead to his death less than three years after the premiere of the film in 1964, but the fact that it was Hanks playing Disney just couldn’t get out of my head. Perhaps this is because he doesn’t look much like Disney, whose face I’m quite familiar with, which, as I said, isn’t his fault. Really, this is a minor complaint that doesn’t detract from the film – just a slight disappointment. Another petty disappointment was with the portrayal of the legendary Sherman Brothers, Richard (Jason Schwartzman) and Robert (B. J. Novak), the duo responsible for some of the most classic Disney songs of all-time, including but not limited to “it’s a small world (after all),” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (which I proudly just typed correctly without help), and “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow.” Aside from the fact that I thought that they could have hired better singers, I think part of my slight disdain for B. J. Novak, whose character in NBC’s The Office television series I dislike quite a bit. (Told you it was petty.) Again, though, this doesn’t really make me enjoy the film any less because, aside from the excellent performances of Thompson and Ferrell, we are treated with great performances from Paul Giamatti, Bradley Whitford, and Annie Rose Buckley, who plays P. L. Travers as a child in the flashbacks.

I purchased the soundtrack for this film a couple of weeks before I was able to see it in theaters, and I must admit that I was initially pretty unimpressed. Sure, it sounds pretty, but it’s a Thomas Newman score that sounds like a typical Thomas Newman score, in the same vein as his scores for Finding Nemo and The Help (my review). However, I reserved judgment as best I could until I had heard the music in the context of the film, and, thankfully, it works much better as a supplement to the film, which is what really matters. (As a brief side-note, the Deluxe Edition of this soundtrack is worth the buy as it includes original demo recordings of the Sherman Brothers singing songs they composed for Mary Poppins, as well as recordings by Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke.)

I can’t speak to the accuracy (or inaccuracy) of the film, but, as I’ve said before, I don’t think it matters too much. A film is meant to entertain or inform, and Saving Mr. Banks does both, whether it gets all the facts correct or not. It will have you laughing and crying from the very start of the film, largely thanks to Emma Thompson’s incredible performance. It’s certainly Oscar-worthy, but whether or not she will win the Best Actress award remains to be seen. Either way, this movie is worth your money to see before it leaves theaters.

-Chad

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for thematic elements including some unsettling images

-Chad


Frozen (2013)

frozen

I was born and grew up in the 1990s, which means that I was a child during the time period when Disney produced its most successful animated musicals, often referred to as the “Disney Renaissance” and featuring such renowned films as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast (my review), Aladdin, and The Lion King. While Disney has released a few more animated musicals over the years, the quality has generally not been up to the same standards as those set in the 1990s (though I’m certainly partial to their 2010 offering, Tangled – my review), but with Frozen they finally hark back to those animated films that I grew up with, making it quite an enjoyable experience.

Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of The Snow QueenFrozen tells the tale of Elsa, princess of Arendelle, and her younger sister Anna. Elsa was born with the power to control and create snow and ice, and an accident as children almost kills Anna. To protect Elsa and others from her powers, their parents (the king and queen) consult with magical trolls who remove Anna’s memories of Elsa’s powers and subsequently lock themselves away in their castle, with Elsa distancing herself from Anna to protect her. The king and queen are killed ten years later in a storm at sea, and, three years after, the now-21-year-old Elsa (Idina Menzel) must attend the coronation that will make her queen. When things go wrong and her powers are revealed to the kingdom and to Anna (Kristen Bell), Elsa flees Arendelle, leaving it trapped in an eternal winter…in the middle of the summer. Anna seeks Elsa out to get her to thaw out the kingdom, meeting friends Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his reindeer pal Sven, and a talking snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad).

The voice cast in this film is excellent across the board. Idina Menzel brings out the conflicted nature of Elsa nicely, and, as expected, her singing voice (especially in the track “Let It Go”) is outstanding. Kristen Bell also provides an admirable performance as Anna, bringing quite a bit of variety to the character both in terms of quirkiness and seriousness, and her singing voice also sounds great…I didn’t even know Kristen Bell could sing! A different kind of performance comes from Josh Gad as Olaf the snowman; though the trailers made the character seem goofy in a bad way, I really enjoyed his presence in the film, and most of his lines left me laughing. I liked Jonathan Groff’s Kristoff and his relationship with his friend Sven the reindeer as well.

(mild spoilers)

The film explores a few mature themes, which I really appreciated. The main one was the idea of too much control/containment leading to just the opposite, as evidenced by Elsa’s departure from Arendelle and solo “Let It Go,” in which she talks about letting loose and seeing what she’s capable of, a luxury not afforded to her while she kept her powers secret from the world. In that song as well, it’s suggested that her “kingdom of isolation” (of which “[she’s] the queen”) allows her to drop the good girl act that has been forced on her for so long, toying with the idea of her having a bit of evil in her, which actually begins to show just a bit in the film. It’s deep stuff! Another powerful theme is the idea of love, but, in what is sure to be a rarity in Disney films, love that is not necessarily of the romantic variety. No, the focus here is love between family, or, more specifically, between siblings, and its this love that is the focus during the climax of the film. It’s a twist on the usual Disney formula, though there’s certainly a bit of romantic love to be seen as well.

I did have just a couple of issues with this film, the first being with the character of The Duke of Weselton, voiced by Alan Tudyk. We know that his ultimate goal is to exploit the kingdom for profit – he tells us so with his very first line – but that idea is dropped as soon as Elsa’s powers are revealed, at which point his concern becomes to kill Elsa and…do what, exactly? Anna would be successor to the throne, and, if she were to die as well, she has placed Hans, a prince of a neighboring kingdom who Anna falls in love with upon their first meeting, in charge of the kingdom in her absence. So the Duke’s plans of exploitation as stated – again, LITERALLY in his first line – seem to simply be stated for the sake of making him an immediate antagonist. Sure, you could argue that it keeps focus on him in order to set up the twist that comes towards the end of the film, which, yes, sure, I agree with, but I don’t think that having him be an antagonist for the sake of having an obvious antagonist is the best solution. My one other complaint would be that every action by every character seems to be an overreaction, from the removal of Anna’s memories, to the royal family completely locking themselves away from the rest of the kingdom, to Elsa’s leaving the kingdom upon the reveal of her powers, among others. In all of these circumstances, I think that there might have been less severe paths to be taken to combat the situation rather than make everything a HUGE deal like they did.

(end spoilers)

But both of these complaints are altogether really minor when you look at the film as a whole. Frozen accomplishes what it set out to do, which is to provide good, clean family entertainment, and it even manages to ask some good questions and explore familial love better than Disney/Pixar’s 2012 film Brave did (my review). The voice cast is great, the animation is beautiful, and you might even walk out of the theater with some good music stuck in your head.

-Chad

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG – for some action and mild rude humor

P.S. – I should briefly mention the animated short that appears before the film, titled Get a Horse. It starts off as a sort of flashback to simpler times, with it first appearing to be a black-and-white cartoon in the style of older Disney cartoons, such as 1928 Mickey Mouse short Steamboat Willie, before incorporating today’s more standard 3D, colorful animation as well, providing a fun back-and-forth between the two animation styles. It’s a fun short film despite a couple of awkward moments (Clarabelle Cow is…strange, to say the least). Not as great as other Disney shorts, but it’s still pretty enjoyable, especially the juxtaposition of the two polar opposites of animation.


John Carter (2012) – Michael Giacchino

Note: This review is a short version of a more detailed look conducted in a post on my companion site, ChadTalksMovies, titled “My Adventures on Barsoom.” Check it out!
John Carter

I’ve made it clear in the past that Michael Giacchino is one of my favorite composers, and I might have even called him the best composer out there today; his ability to so effortlessly switch between genres is impressive, with him composing excellent scores for such contrasting films as Star Trek (my review), Up, and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (my review). My recent obsession with all things John Carter/Barsoom-related has introduced me to Giacchino’s score for the 2012 Disney film for the first time. As expected, it’s wonderful.

The soundtrack opens with Giacchino’s beautiful, sweeping theme representing the world of Barsoom; after listening to it for the first time, I walked away whistling it. In the theme, he has managed to capture the majesty and splendor of the planet, both as described by Edgar Rice Burroughs in the original A Princess of Mars novel (my review) and as shown in the film adaptation, but it also embodies both the adventure at hand and the romance between Carter and Dejah Thoris. This quickly fades into something more ethereal and otherworldly, led by a solo voice and eerie strings, serving as a backdrop to the opening scene that describes the plight of the dying planet.

There is a lot of diversity found in this score, with Giacchino switching between a larger, more triumphant sound (“Carter They Come, Carter They Fall,” “The Prize is Barsoom”) and something that is more mysterious and appropriately unearthly (“The Temple of Issus,” “A Thern Warning”). He also makes heavy use of voice, with either the choir or a single voice making an appearance in just about every track. The dexterity of the human voice gives it the ability to fit right in with the “unearthly” style of music mentioned as well as with the more tender, intimate moments of the score, such as at the start of the track “A Change of Heart.” They even fit in perfectly during the more aggressive, war-like bits of music, such as in the latter half of the track “The Prize is Barsoom.”

The Tharks are an indigenous species on Barsoom, not human-like in appearance, and they are represented well here by heavy percussion with a sort of tribal, primitive sound to it. It’s appropriately aggressive, just like the Tharks themselves. Giacchino uses strings to great effect, with the bowed instruments often acting as the driving force beneath the rest of the orchestra, usually playing an ostinato eighth note line, occasionally interjecting with a quieter version of theme heard in the other instruments. The strings also have many beautiful moments on their own, playing soft, warm melodies that emphasize the beauty of the world and the tenderness shown between Carter and Dejah Thoris.

The original John Carter stories as written by Edgar Rice Burroughs inspired many generations of scientists, writers, and even filmmakers. Among those was George Lucas, whose Star Wars saga borrows many elements of story and character from Burroughs’ work. It’s an ironic twist, then, for me to point out that there are parts of Giacchino’s score here that are reminiscent of John Williams’ score to Star Wars. No, nothing is ripped off, but there are certain points in the score when I can definitely hear the nod to Williams’ work, which is a nice touch that familiarizes the film a bit. You can even hear some of Giacchino’s Star Trek in here, though there’s nothing blatant enough to upset me. These three films all take place on foreign planets/in space, so the feel of them is similar (though Star Trek is definitely more sci-fi than the other two) and the music shares common elements of the genre.

Despite the fact that the film was not received very well, Giacchino’s score has received universal acclaim because, well, he’s awesome. With his score to John Carter, Giacchino has ventured into yet another new territory for him – that is, the territory of space fantasy – and has emerged victorious. His interpretation of John Carter’s Barsoom is on as grand a scale as the original book, but he also captures the more personal moments between our hero and Dejah Thoris. His ability to switch styles so quickly, from a majestic main theme to an aggressive percussion rhythm for the Tharks to ethereal strings/voices for the planet of Barsoom itself, makes the soundtrack just as epic as the film itself.

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

1. “A Thern for the Worse” 7:38
2. “Get Carter” 4:25
3. “Gravity of the Situation” 1:20
4. “Thark Side of Barsoom” 2:55
5. “Sab Than Pursues Princess” 5:33
6. “The Temple of Issus” 3:24
7. “Zodanga Happened” 4:01
8. “The Blue Light Special” 4:11
9. “Carter They Come, Carter They Fall” 3:55
10. “A Change of Heart” 3:04
11. “A Thern Warning” 4:04
12. “The Second Biggest Apes I’ve Seen This Month” 2:35
13. “The Right of Challenge” 2:22
14. “The Prize Is Barsoom” 4:29
15. “The Fight for Helium” 4:22
16. “Not Quite Finished” 2:06
17. “Thernabout” 1:18
18. “Ten Bitter Years” 3:12
19. “John Carter of Mars” 8:53

Total Length: app. 75 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad

P.S. – Read my review of the film here!


John Carter (2012)

Note: This review is a short version of a more detailed look conducted in a post on my companion site, ChadTalksMovies, titled “My Adventures on Barsoom.” Check it out!
John Carter

Directed by Andrew Stanton (of Pixar fame) and released by Disney, I became quite excited to see this film upon seeing the trailers, but I faltered when it was received poorly by critics and didn’t do well at the box office. Recently, however, I read Michael D. Sellers’ book John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood (my review), which talks about why the film failed the way it did, getting me re-interested in John Carter and leading me to read author Edgar Rice Burroughs’ original book, A Princess of Mars (my review). All the while, I became more and more excited to see the film despite its negative reception – I wanted to see this world come to life! –  and, now that I’ve seen it…what’s wrong with everyone? What is there to dislike about this film?

Here is Disney’s official plot synopsis:

The film tells the story of war-weary, former military captain John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), who is inexplicably transported to Mars where he becomes reluctantly embroiled in a conflict of epic proportions amongst the inhabitants of the planet, including Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) and the captivating Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins).

In a world on the brink of collapse, Carter rediscovers his humanity when he realizes that the survival of Barsoom and its people rests in his hands.

For the first half hour or so of the film, I was pretty skeptical. A confusing, not-from-the-book opening scene raises many questions right off the bat, and the first few minutes of the actual film are not much better. I began writing out a mental list of complaints, but I shoved that aside the farther I got into the film. Does it have its problems? Well, yeah, but every movie does. Does it deserve all of the negativity that it has received? Not by any stretch of the imagination.

Stanton takes plenty of liberties with Burroughs’ world and characters, but, looking back, I understand the reasoning behind every single one of them. While the John Carter of A Princess of Mars is a good guy just because he is a good guy and there’s no questioning it (it works great in the book), the John Carter of the film has issues; he’s stubborn, he’s selfish, and even disrespectful at times. However, all of this builds and builds to give Carter the opportunity to be the good guy, bringing a character arc that is needed for film. It is a pleasure to watch Taylor Kitsch as John Carter of Earth discover the part of him that is actually John Carter of Mars, willing to fight and die for the good beings of Barsoom. The Dejah Thoris of the book is not a warrior, nor is she a scientist, but she is both in the film, giving her a more active role in the story and letting her be more than just the romantic damsel in distress (which, again, worked really well in the book). Lynn Collins plays the character with an appropriate amount of spirit and energy, capturing both the romantic side of the character that would be required of a Princess of Mars, but she also brings the new feisty side of the character necessitated by the script. The addition of the mysterious Therns to the film is a bit confusing at first, and certain story elements and characters are removed, but all of it comes out okay, working for the film’s good.

The scope of the film is just as large as that of the book, with the choice of filming in real locations rather than using a green screen being something that I think humanizes it a bit, making it more accessible to the viewers. Sure, the original story is meant to be “out there,” but it’s more the characters who inhabit the world and how they interact with each other that create the scope of the story, not the world itself. That being said, the visuals in the film are fantastic, from the look of the Tharks to the design of the airships to the wide expanses of desert mountains. Composer Michael Giacchino’s score to the film is appropriately reminiscent of John Williams’ original score to Star Wars without being a copy, and you can even hear a bit of his score to Star Trek (my review) every now and again, though I’m not holding that against him by any means. Giacchino keeps a perfect balance between bringing out the largeness and epicness of the adventure and capturing the intimate moments between characters, and his main theme is one of my favorites by him.

There are certainly aspects from the book that I think would have worked well for the film, namely the story being told from Carter’s perspective or the more episodic style of storytelling, but the absence of these elements didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the film. In fact, the absence of these and other characters or story elements seen in the book helped to set the film apart as its own entity to be enjoyed. The important thing about this film is that it captures the heart of the source material without photocopying it from page to screen, and it does it in a way that is incredibly fun; the last half of the film, especially the few minutes just before the credits roll, are definitely my favorites. I should also mention that I liked Kitsch and Collins in the lead roles, but I also really liked Tars Tarkas as played by Willem Dafoe; he plays the character with a resolve that fits a character of his authority, but the compassionate side of the character also rings through, making him one of the best characters of the film. John Carter is not a perfect piece of cinema, but it’s good, old-fashioned storytelling at its best, with plenty of good humor, great action scenes, incredible special effects, and likable characters…and it’s certainly not deserving of all the negative criticism heaped upon it. If you haven’t seen it, give it a chance! I beg you!

-Chad

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for intense sequences of violence and action

P.S. – Read my review of this film’s score, composed by Michael Giacchino, here!


A Princess of Mars (1917) – Edgar Rice Burroughs

Note: This review is a short version of a more detailed look conducted in a post on my companion site, ChadTalksMovies, titled “My Adventures on Barsoom.” Check it out!
Princess of Mars

I was unfamiliar with Edgar Rice Burroughs or his character John Carter until the property came to my attention when Disney adapted the character for the big screen in the 2012 film John Carter. From the looks of the trailers, I was pretty darn excited for the film, but I never went and saw it, possibly due to the less-than-stellar reputation it was accruing at the box office, becoming Disney’s biggest flop ever. I gradually lost interest, but when Amazon offered the book John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood, by Michael D. Sellers, for free on my Kindle, I read through it feverishly, fascinated by the history of the film and its source material. Halfway through that book, I decided that I had to give John Carter and the people of Barsoom a chance…and, good gosh, am I glad I did!

A Princess of Mars is the first in an 11-book series about Civil War veteran John Carter, who is suddenly and inexplicably spirited to the planet of Mars, called “Barsoom” by its inhabitants. Carter soon realizes that the lesser gravity on Barsoom allows him to leap great distances and greatly multiplies his strength. However, he is soon captured by Tharks, Martians who have green skin, four arms, stand fifteen feet tall, and are known for being fierce warriors. His strength allows him to climb ranks among the Tharks and befriend Tars Tarkas, one of the Thark chiefs. Soon, an attack on the flying ships of Helium, a city-state populated by Red Martians who look identical to humans except for their red skin, introduces Carter to Dejah Thoris, princess of Helium and the most beautiful woman he has ever laid eyes on. Carter plans an escape with Dejah Thoris in order to return her to her people, but many obstacles stand in their way. Accompanied by Dejah Thoris and an ugly but faithful companion named Woola, John Carter faces friends, foes, and everything in between in his first adventure on Barsoom.

The first thing I noticed about this book while reading is the way Burroughs writes. His sentence structure, choice of words, and descriptive prowess all join together beautifully to form sentences that are almost romantic in their presentation; that is to say, not “lovey-dovey” romantic but expressive and artistic. All of these wonderfully composed sentences build into a story that carries with it the largeness of the world and the larger-than-life qualities of the characters within it. The story is more episodic than plot-based, with each chapter bringing Carter to a new place or introducing him to a new task or character, which makes sense since the story was originally published in monthly serials before being compiled into a book. These vignettes from Carter’s time on Barsoom aren’t disjointed, however, with everything flowing and connecting rather nicely.

There is a lot of appeal in this book, from the desire to be a hero like John Carter to the swashbuckling swordplay to the fantastical descriptions of Barsoom/Mars to the romance between Carter and Dejah Thoris. It’s a novel that transcends genres, with elements of science fantasy, romance, and Westerns all coming into play. A Princess of Mars gave me what is possibly the most fun experience I’ve had while reading in quite a long time, increasing my interest in the following ten sequels, the film (my review), and in Burroughs in general. If you want to have a great time reading, go read this. Now!

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

-Chad