Lost’s final season was entertaining and in some ways emotionally satisfying. However it failed to provide a cohesive explanation for all of the show’s mysteries. It was evident that the writers and producers did not a hundred percent know what they were building. The on-island stuff, despite some ridiculousness, is very engaging, but the new flash-sideways are a sore point for me (more on that in a couple paragraphs). Any flaws in the season were helped by Giacchino’s wonderful score. After focusing more of his creative energies on major motion pictures in 2009, he came back with a vengeance, capping off his television masterpiece with suitably amped up material. While the story was not resolved to viewers’ satisfaction, Giacchino successfully weaved all of his thematic material for an epic conclusion. Almost every theme of note appears across the four discs (the outlier is the Freighter theme from Season Four, which did have a brief iteration in the series finale but not on disc; same for the heartwarming Rose and Bernard theme).
The release of music for season six was both surprisingly extensive yet also confusing. The Season Six soundtrack itself only contains material from the first 13 episodes (12 if you count the first two as one like the album booklet). This was soon followed by a limited “Lost: The Last Episodes” release. However Varese Sarabande, the record label, neglected to clearly state that there would be two double-disc albums and many buyers were legitimately concerned that an abundance of great material would not be released. Not helping is the presence of two “bonus tracks” on the first set. These include “The Hole Shebang” and “Moving On,” the action and emotional climaxes of the series finale. Varese Sarabande likely intended these for those who would not buy the limited edition Last Episodes release. This is curious thinking as anybody who picks up the first album would likely be familiar with the show’s music and not be worried about shelling out more money for the epic conclusion. I will not be covering the two bonus cues until my review for the Last Episodes album. As always there will likely be spoilers. Continue reading →
Season three of Lost was the last of the show to run for a full 20+ episodes. From what I recall it’s my favorite season, though it also sported the single worst episode in “Stranger in a Strange Land.” In this season the show digs deeper into the mysterious Others, the other inhabitants of the island. At the same time more aspects of the greater conflict start to appear, of course in mysterious tidbits. Giacchino’s music definitely went on an upswing this season. With the dramatic stakes escalating the emotional cues have more power. There’s also a lot more in the way of action scenes and a couple smoke monster attacks, so in contrast to season two there’s more excitement and intense rhythms to be had. In a welcome surprise, Varese Sarabande opted to release two jam-packed discs. There were so many musical highlights and thematic development that this was definitely a wise move. The first disc contains music from the first 20 episodes, while the second has the complete score for “Through the Looking Glass,” the season finale, and an abundance of material from the preceding episode.
The first disc is definitely superior, featuring selected highlights. By this time the music was much more lush and exciting and at certain points positively cinematic. The second disc is a different story. It is fascinating to get a complete score from one of the episodes, but the end result is a good amount of material that simply isn’t that engaging, from slow, underdeveloped emotional signatures to ambient suspense. There’s lots of slow string twanging and long pauses between notes. The sound quality on the second disc also seems to be hastily taken from the initial recording sessions. A better release would have had both discs be highlight-centric, with a few more cues from the first 20 episodes and a more rounded 40-50 minute presentation of music from the last 3. Still, it’s hard to complain when one considers how much great material would have been left off a single disc. Continue reading →
Lost, conceived by J.J. Abrams, became an instant television phenomenon. The show sees a plane crash on an island. The survivors realize that there is something odd about the island, such as how no rescue seems to be coming even after weeks of waiting. A mystery show, Lost kept audiences engrossed with its seemingly endless string of mysteries and surprises. But the true appeal comes from the interesting cast of characters (ranging from the mysterious John Locke to the loveable Hurley) whose stories are equally interesting and absorbing. Each episode would focus on a character, providing flashbacks to their pre-crash lives. One aspect that greatly helped the story along was the fantastic music by Michael Giacchino. Giacchino had previously worked on J.J. Abrams’ Alias. Giacchino’s music for that series was heavily electronic and Bond-inspired. But for a show as big and ambitious as Lost, Giacchino and the brains behind the project knew that an orchestral score was needed. And so the composer embarked on an incredible musical journey. His work on the six-season show produced an incredible array of themes and motifs which by the later seasons worked with each other in a complex web. While Giacchino had some fairly high profile work with the Medal of Honor franchise and the Incredibles, this show really launched him into the major leagues. It further helped usher in what I consider the golden years of TV scores, alongside Bear McCreary’s Battlestar Galactica and Murray Gold’s Doctor Who. Whereas they were previously cheap, often synthetic filler, they were now rich orchestral scores that often outshone film scores with easier production schedules.
My reviews for the Lost soundtracks will of course be guided by the album production. I can say right off the bat that Giacchino’s music for the series as a whole hits a 10/10 rating. Album releases for television scores, moreso in those days, would contain about an hour to a full disc of highlights, sometimes from more than one season. Therefore I rate each season’s score by how it was put on album, not in the show itself. I will also try to give brief spoiler-free summaries before launching deeper into the music, for the benefit of anyone who plans on seeing the show for the first time and wants to be surprised. The album for the first season is about 65 minutes and spans material from 25 episodes (roughly 1,050 minutes of running time though much of season one is unscored). The first season only scratched the surface of the island’s mysteries and was often more about survival and learning to get along. The music is thus less complex than what would be heard in later seasons. Many of the earlier cues featured ethereal synthesized-backed moments or low-key suspense. The album is full of short but frenetic action cues that, given the isolated jungle island setting, sound primal. The various percussive effects give even softer cues a distinctly tropical feel. The music in later seasons would get showier. Giacchino’s music actually has a bit of a throwback feel, sometimes evoking Bernard Hermann’s suspense scores (“Kate’s Motel”) or The Twilight Zone (“Proper Motivation”). Continue reading →
Godzilla vs. Hedorah, or Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster, is the most bizarre entry in the series. While producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was in the hospital, director Yoshimitsu Banno concocted a plot about a space born organism that feeds off earth’s rampant pollution. The organism becomes the towering pollution monster Hedorah. The film has an odd, uneven tone. Godzilla is a full-fledged anthropomorphic superhero and engages in some pretty goofy behavior. At the same time the film is rife with images of death and decay. To its credit it was the first franchise entry in a while to actually show the human consequences of the monsters’ rampages. Adding to the cinematic acid trip are animated sequences, reportedly put in to compensate for a low budget. Once he learned what Banno had created, Tanaka was furious. However in the past decade the film has received a more positive appraisal. It undeniably strives to distinguish itself. Even better, there is no stock footage and the monster battles are unique, if given to an occasional bizarre moment.
Adding to the off-kilter atmosphere is Manabe’s score. Manabe’s music is divisive. Some like its unique tone, but for many it’s too weird and unlistenable. So what do I think of it? Godzilla’s theme (heard most fully in “Godzilla and the Polluted Ocean”) is memorable in the wrong ways. Manabe uses blaring horns that do suggest scale, but also sound more appropriate for a drunk or a comedic scene. The horns usually lead into an equally obnoxious wailing crescendo. Towards the end Manabe introduces a more traditional heroic fanfare (“Godzilla in Flight” and “Ending”), albeit one that is still cartoonish and backed by the blaring horns.
The music in general presents a bleak atmosphere. Some of it is actually quite effective in underscoring the dread horror induced by rampant pollution and the smog monster Hedorah. Some of its appearances are downright unsettling. Hedorah’s material is first president in “Opening” after Godzilla’s horn fanfare graces the Toho logo. One motif is pounding horror strikes followed by a long, eerie, and undulating note. This motif accompanies Hedorah’s earlier appearances as a sizeable tadpole. His more general theme is a repetitive ponderous piece, conveying both the monster’s towering height (taller than Godzilla’s) and the muck of pollution. This theme is also often interspersed with horns when it clashes with the Big G, first in “Two Giant Monsters in the Factory Town.” One of the more bizarre cues is “Sulfuric Acid Mist,”, which sounds like it has a man groaning underneath the music (it indeed comes from the film’s most nightmarish scene).
Of course one cannot discuss the score without mentioning “Give Back the Sun!” It’s a title song literally sung on-screen by Mari Keiko during the opening titles. About half-way through its first appearance the Keiko’s vocals are echoed by a male chorus. Its inclusion adds to the film’s oddball nature, but it is strong and memorable. The song is used diagetically in a nightclub sequence and makes a reappearance, with male vocals, when Hedorah is finally destroyed. The song was actually given an English dub in its American release, enabling more audiences to understand its on-the-nose lyrics and message. However, later releases have used the original Japanese version and I can’t seem to find the English dub. There are a couple other pieces that get diagetic use. “Arano’s Guitar” is downbeat lament while “Our Energy” is wild party music with electric guitar.
Manabe’s music is simultaneously appropriate and inappropriate, appropriate for the weird film and inappropriate for the franchise as a whole. The biggest flaw is Godzilla’s theme, which blares onto the scene to ruin the dismal atmosphere created by the Hedorah and pollution motifs. Of course, the stand-out is “Give Back the Sun.” Overall the soundtrack, like the film, is a fever dream and will probably do more for Godzilla fans who want to relive the atmosphere through music.
Final Rating: 4/10
Give Back the Sun! I
Bizarre Incident at Suruga Bay
Investigation at the Bottom of the Sea
The Giant Tadpole
Terror in the Water
The Mysterious Monster
Godzilla and the Polluted Ocean
Hedorah Comes Ashore
Give Back the Sun! II
Smokestacks and Hedorah
Godzilla Launches an Offensive
Give Back the Sun! III
Hedorah in Pieces
Two Giant Monsters in the Factory Town
The Factory that Strips Away The Green
Sulfuric Acid Mist
Anti-Hedorah Masks Hit the Market
Identifying the Weak Spot
The Transforming Pollution Monster
Preparing for the Electrode Plate Experiment
Arano’s Guitar I
Arano’s Guitar II
Our Energy I
The Flowers Die, The Water Dies
Our Energy II
Telepathy from Godzilla
Showdown at the Foot of Mt. Fuji I
Showdown at the Foot of Mt. Fuji II
The Youngsters Die
Godzilla’s Bitter Struggle
Showdown at the Foot of Mt. Fuji III
Operation “Lead the Way”
Hedorah Approaches (Ending)
Godzilla in Flight
Give Back the Sun! (Male Chorus Version)
Godzilla Heads Off
Give Back the Sun! (Male Chorus Version) II
Give Back the Sun! (Male Chorus Version) III
Give Back the Sun! I (Karaoke)
Give Back the Sun! II (Karaoke)
Give Back the Sun! III (Karaoke)
Give Back the Sun! (Male Chorus Version) II (Karaoke)
Give Back the Sun! (Male Chorus Version) III (Karaoke)
Give Back the Sun! (Male Chorus Version) I (Karaoke)
Godzilla vs. Hedorah (Give Back the Sun! [Record Version])
With King Kong vs. Godzilla a roaring success, Toho had another epic crossover duel. Instead of grabbing a popular foreign character like King Kong, they went for their other homegrown mon-star, the giant butterfly Mothra. Unlike the other members of Toho’s growing stable of titans, Mothra was a good guy (or good girl?), only causing havoc when her faithful foot tall twin fairy priestesses are abducted by an unscrupulous businessman. Mothra vs. Godzilla concerns her egg washing ashore on a Japanese beach. Quickly the egg is claimed by a corporation, despite the pleas of the twin fairies. Days later Godzilla emerges and, despite the flaws of modern man, Mothra rushes out to defend Japan from the dinosaur’s latest rampage. Mothra vs. Godzilla is often considered one of the greatest films after the original. It’s not hard to see why. Godzilla is really built up as a threat, there is some actual depth to the story, and the battles with Mothra are satisfying in that she is a total underdog using her wits and specialized powers. Continue reading →
Godzilla actually took a long hiatus after his second film. Toho instead put its resources into other solo monster films, introducing the likes of Rodan and Mothra. In 1962 it finally brought back the King of the Monsters, but only after acquiring the rights to American icon King Kong. In a rare event, two characters would cross universes to fight each other (or more accurately King Kong would enter Godzilla’s universe, as the big G starts the film encased in his prison from 1955). The end result was a pretty goofy film, shockingly butchered in its Americanization. The King Kong costume is terrible, but the final clash itself is one of the best fights of the entire series. Much of the crew from the first Godzilla film were brought over, including Akira Ifukube. Ifukube would have the chance to develop the Godzilla theme further, as well as introduce some other memorable tunes. Continue reading →
Toho, one of the major studios of the burgeoning Japanese film industry, decided to get into the giant-monster-created-by-nuclear-energy genre popularized in America. However, the Japanese actually had suffered the effects of nuclear weapons at the end of World War II, not to mention massive fire-bombing, so their film had a lot more weight and gravitas. Gojira, Americanized as Godzilla, King of the Monsters, is actually a deep and heavily thematic film. It’s incredible how the series progressed to kiddie superhero fare by the 70s. Imagine the Godfather turning into an over-the-top gangster action series. The film was even able to maintain some of its atmosphere in the Americanized version, which cut out much of the film and inserted scenes of Raymond Burr as an American reporter (all things considering, the Americanization did a good job linking him to pre-existing Japanese characters).
Godzilla himself is one of Japan’s most iconic exports, an amphibious dinosaur who looks like a mix between a tyrannosaur and stegosaurus and breathes atomic fire. His distinctive roar was actually produced with musical instruments by his first composer, Akira Ifukube. The roar was so linked to the franchise and its sound that it often appears on soundtracks. Ifukube himself is regarded as the franchise’s primary composer, scoring eleven of the thirty or so films. Though never having scored a film since the mid-90s and his death, each recent Godzilla film has featured at least one of his compositions. Continue reading →
Towards the tail-end of its Renaissance era, Disney released an ambitious fully CGI dinosaur film simply titled Dinosaur. Visually the film is great, but the story and characters are so clichéd and predictable that it becomes a surprisingly forgettable experience. It’s telling that the best part of the movie is the first five or so minutes, when there is no dialogue. The plot itself concerns an orphaned Iguanodon named Aladar who is raised by lemurs. Displaced by the meteor that supposedly wiped out the dinosaurs, he teaches a herd of migrating herbivores on how to work as a team. One of the positives is James Newton Howard’s score, one of the best of his career. Howard had a brief tenure as a lead composer for Disney as it shifted its animation department towards non-musical action-adventure films. While he does not have the songs to make his scores iconic as, say, Beauty and Beast or Lion King, I have to say that the actual instrumental scores are generally superior to Alan Menken’s. Continue reading →
The second installment of the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy is a very good middle, although some of the meddling with the characters and storyline of the books felt uncalled for. On the more overwhelming positive side, The Two Towers introduced the awesome Riders of Rohan and Andy Serkis’ groundbreaking role as the twisted creature Gollum. Howard Shore wrote a score that matched and also developed the material from The Fellowship of the Ring. Shore has often stated that The Two Towers was the hardest of the three films to score due to the need to create a beginning that carried over from the previous film and a cliffhanger ending. He need not have worried because he does a great job. The actual original one-disc soundtrack doesn’t live up to the previous film’s thanks to some questionable edits, but the score taken as a whole is on the same level.
Most of the new themes and motifs can be separated into two sets. The first centers around Gollum. Gollum uses the Shadow theme, also referred to as the Gollum Pity theme, but this takes a backseat to two new identities. The first is a mischievous ditty heard in “The Taming of Smeagol.” It is used to represent the scheming, more sinister side of the Gollum. It’s quirkier, more playful variations are present on the complete recordings. The second theme is a tragic motif that plays at the start of the “Forbidden Pool,” from a memorable inner dialogue sequence. Continue reading →
Following up his Mummy sequel, Stephen Sommers moved on to Universal’s European stable of horror figures. The result, Van Helsing, is more of a superhero action flick, devoid of any true horror elements. The overstuffed plot is about a member of the legendary vampire-hunting family, Gabriel van Helsing, and his war against Dracula. However, he must also contend with Mr. Hyde, several Werewolves, Frankenstein’s Monster, and even the lab assistant Igor. Alan Silvestri also re-partnered with Sommers moving away from his adventurous, desert-tinged Mummy material to a gothic action extravaganza. Continue reading →