The film industry all over the world relies on having successful films to entice more people into cinemas and then after the film is not showing in the theatres it hopefully has an even more successful and enduing run on dvd and blu ray and streaming sites. But studio also looks beyond the perimeters and the popularity of the movie as it sometimes thinks that maybe it could introduce a sequel, a prequel or even a whole series of movies based upon the original characters and scenarios from the first film.
Star Wars is a prime example, the first three movies being classics in my opinion and also the most entertaining of the entire series(but maybe that is just an age thing) these three movies spawned two more trilogies and stories related to Star Wars, they even produced two films based on the cuddly but fearsome Ewoks,
Battle for Endor and Caravan of Courage, which at the time of their release seemed a little feeble but over the years have grown on many of us. Then Disney got the rights from Mr Lucas, and as always as they do with anything they went to town and well,,,,Disney-fied it, releasing further chapters and also off shoots, and origin tales based on characters in the original trilogies.
These it seems are a weekly occurrence and no sooner has one begun another is announced on Disney+. So, the franchise as it’s called is something that some filmmakers look to, and with another Indiana Jones movie on the not-too-distant horizon we see it happening again and again.
The new Indiana Jones movie stars Harrison Ford, as the central character a character he has after all made his own. But this time Spielberg is not helming it, so not sure how this one will turn out, but there again we must give it a chance, even if the initial trailers and clips do look rather hammy and cliched. But that I suppose is the appeal of Raiders films, the action, the comedy, and the mediocre acting. (that’s my opinion-complaints please on a postcard and send via Royal Mail as they will never get here, to Indiana Jones wooden acting department a jungle somewhere in South America). Right back on track the series as in the franchise of films, or as we used to say years ago the follow up. There have been many successful series of movies take The Magnificent Seven, The Planet of the Apes, (the original movies), The Dollar Movies, The Airport movies and oh yes that series that was mildly successful about a secret agent called James Bond. In fact, yes, the series or franchise has probably been responsible for galvanising people to go to the cinema, but not all sequels, prequels etc are good, some being bad, others being Ugly and also a few being downright pitiful.
So, let’s start with The Magnificent seven, a story based on the Seven Samurai, the original movie was great it was at the time different for a western, and contained lots of twists and turns and an interesting storyline, the film was an instant hit and earned brownie points for Elmer Bernstein who composed and infectious and highly thematic sounding score, that literally overflowed with haunting and stirring themes.
Then came The Return of the Seven, ok not too bad kept to the same formula, but because it did just that was a little predictable, again Bernstein provided the score. After this the franchise started to slide a little, when in 1969 The Guns of the Magnificent Seven hit the cinema screens, hang on where’s Chris? Oh there he is but this time played by George Kennedy, Yul Brynner not available or maybe he took a look at the script and thought I am washing my hair that day? In this movie Chris is the only surviving member of the original Seven. And mobilises six gunmen in order to help a group of Mexican rebels free their leader from a prison run by the ruthless Colonel Diego (Michael Ansara). Diego will go to any lengths to prevent the rebel leader from being freed but the Seven are also just as determined. Yep, it was a flimsy storyline and had to it the look of a very low budget Spaghetti western. Bernstein returned but the score this time was below par (again my opinion).
Finally The Magnificent Seven Ride! came to cinemas in 1972 and is set when the various heroes are all either too old to fight or languishing in jail. Chris Adams is newly married and trying to settle down with his wife but decides to help his buddy fight bandits after they kidnap his wife. Lee Van Cleef stepped into the role of Chris, but never quite made the mark. Music again by Bernstein, well I recognise that theme and that track from other Seven movies so did Bernstein compose a score or just track library cues to the film. (I am saying no more). What is evident with the Magnificent Seven series of movies is as they moved on, they got worse, and after the second movie maybe the producers should have stopped and retired the gunfighters to a gunslinger retirement home or wherever they go to. The formula for the Magnificent Seven movies has been used again and again, and it still seems to attract the attention of even the most critical cinema goers and film buffs. The Five Man Army for example was directed by Don Taylor and mixed elements of the Seven stories with that of Mission Impossible, and even starred Peter Graves to give it a little more support. Also, The Dirty Dozen, could I suppose be looked upon as a similar type of movie, and The Revengers with William Holden. But a western series or trilogy that improved with each movie was the Sergio Leone western’s that were dubbed the Dollar Trilogy, the films as we all know were A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and The Good the Bad and the Ugly. These did just the opposite and with each instalment or sequel they improved, probably because Leone was given bigger budgets after the first movie.
A Fistful of Dollars was like a breath of fresh air when it first screened in cinemas, it had a simplicity a rawness and an inventiveness that appealed to everyone it seemed. For A Few Dollars More, I have always regarded as the most entertaining of the trilogy,with The Good the Bad and the Ugly, really establishing Leone as not just a filmmaker but a historian because of his attention to details in the period of the American civil war. All three films had stunning scores by Ennio Morricone, which are easily put into the category of being iconic.
Leone returned after the dollar saga with Once Upon a Time in the West, which is said to be one of the best westerns produced, even though at the time of its release it was panned by many. It is often referred to along with Once Upon a time in the Revolution, (A Fistful of Dynamite) and Once Upon a Time in America as a kind of unofficial trilogy by Leone, but in my mind at least it was a trilogy that culminated in one of the greatest gangster movies ever made. Let’s head away from the west now and to a world that has been turned upside down after a devastating nuclear war, The Planet of the Apes.
Now again I think this series of movies should have stopped at the second film Beneath the Planet of the Apes, or maybe at the end of the first movie, that stunning end scene I think was a fitting ending to the movie and yes it still now leaves some in a stunned silence. So why bother with sequels, (money I guess) In Planet of the Apes (1968) a group of astronauts, led by George Taylor (Charlton Heston), crash lands (remember this) on a strange planet where mute humans are treated as slaves by intelligent apes. Taylor is hunted down and captured by horse-riding gorillas, and then taken for experimentation by chimpanzee Dr Zira (Kim Hunter). When Zira discovers Taylor’s intelligence, she and her fiancé, Cornelius (Roddy McDowall), appeal to the governing council on his behalf, but the appeal fails, leaving the astronaut no choice but to go on the run. Making a break for his freedom, Taylor soon makes a shocking discovery about the provenance of this strange planet, as he is back on the Earth he despised, but an Earth that is lightyears away from the society he left, this was a thought-provoking movie, different from anything else that was in cinemas at the time, it also contained an innovative score by composer Jerry Goldsmith.
In Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) astronaut Brent (James Franciscus) is on a special mission to rescue Taylor (Heston) and his crew. After travelling to the ape village where he was imprisoned, he meets Dr Zira (Hunter) and learns that Taylor was last seen in the Forbidden Zone. Setting off in pursuit he soon discovers that his colleague has been taken prisoner by an underground society of telepathic mutant humans who worship an atomic warhead, he is accompanied by Nova (Linda Harrison) a mute inhabitant of the planet who is seen as Taylor’s companion and the love interest in the movie. I for one would have said ok that’s it, enough here, but good old tinsel town don’t think like that.
And despite the planet being destroyed by the doomsday bomb at the films climax, that also saw Taylor and Brent killed. Music for Beneath was the work of Leonard Rosenman, who created a soundtrack that perfectly enhanced the storyline and provided the ape army with a lumbering march as they headed towards the forbidden zone.
The franchise continued with the farcical and cringeworthy movie Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971). In which we see Dr Zira (Hunter), Cornelius (McDowall) and Dr Milo (Sal Mineo) escape the nuclear devastation of Earth by travelling back in time in Taylor’s spaceship, (remember the one that crash landed in a lake and was seen going down in said lake in the opening twenty minutes of the original movie). Any way true to Hollywood tradition the chimpanzees recover the spaceship, dry it out and then proceed to repair it and learn how to fly it all in a very short space of time and head back in time as the Earth blows up before their very eyes. (its ok go with it everyone else did in 1971). They arrive in Los Angeles in the year 1973. And are initially held in captivity in a zoo, where Milo is attacked and killed by a savage gorilla. When Zira and Cornelius prove their intelligence, they are released and hailed as celebrities, but some resent the ape’s arrival, seeing them as a threat to human supremacy, the film was filled with hammy jokes and stupid scenarios, seeing the two apes Cornelius and Zira murdered at the end of the movie, it’s one that I like to forget, apart from the opening theme by Jerry Goldsmith.
In Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) the year is now 1991. Caesar (Roddy McDowall), the son of Zira and Cornelius, has been sheltered for 18 years by circus owner Armando (Ricardo Montalban). Following a plague which wiped out all cats and dogs, apes have been adopted as pets by humans, but when Caesar sees them being treated as slaves, he leads his fellow simians in rebellion against their overlords. Music was by Tom Scott who produced a serviceable score which included some music culled from Goldsmith’s original 1968 score. Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973) opens in the year 2670 with the ape Lawgiver (John Huston) relating how, following the 1991 simian rebellion, mankind embarked on a terrible nuclear war. In the devastation which followed, Caesar (McDowall) and the apes seized control, ruling benevolently over the human survivors, and working to rebuild society. However, civil war was being planned by ambitious gorilla general Aldo (Claude Akins), and when Caesar ventured into the devastated city to seek out recordings of his late parents, Cornelius, and Zira, he incurred the wrath of a group of mutant human survivors. The score was by Leonard Rosenman who basically arranged much of his music from Beneath for the movie.
So, another case of the series or franchise taking a downward trajectory in both content and quality, this last movie in the series having the appearance of a TV movie. There was also the TV series, which was initially popular, but soon tailed off in the popularity stakes in the UK, music for this was by a handful of composers with a theme composed by Lalo Schifrin. Of course, in later years the franchise has been added to in Planet of the Apes (2001),which was Tim Burton’s ‘re-imagining’ of the 1968 original, the year is 2029, and Capt. Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) is aboard a spaceship trying to teach apes how to become space pilots. During a routine reconnaissance mission outside the mothership, Leo is sucked into a space-time hole and minutes later makes a crash landing on a strange planet where humans are subjugated by talking apes.
Just as a quick death at the hands of the violent ape leader General Thade (Tim Roth) seems inevitable, Leo is rescued by the ape scientist Ari (Helena Bonham Carter). I found this entire movie confusing, but like most re-imaginings some of the original story is shed and new scenarios which are often thought to be a good idea are added and invariably fall a little flat. Music was by Danny Elfman, who did a sterling job I think, his music being percussive and dark.
A decade later in Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) James Franco heads up the cast as Will Rodman, a genetic engineer working in present-day San Francisco who is performing scientific tests on apes in his attempt to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. His first test subject is Caesar (Andy Serkis), the prototype of a new breed of ape with human-like intelligence. But when Caesar breaks free, a revolution is triggered and an epic war for supremacy breaks out between humankind and the primates of the world. Music was by Patrick Doyle who composed a very good score with gentle nods to Jerry Goldsmith. In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), Caesar, the hyper-intelligent ape produced by human experimentation, is now the leader of a growing band of cognisant simians as a fragile truce prevails between the apes and humans. Many consider the outbreak of war to only be a matter of time, however, since the human population has been vastly reduced by a devastating virus their role as the dominant species on Earth is in question. As tensions rise, it may only take a single spark to trigger an explosive war that will pit the humans against the apes in an all-out battle for survival…In 2017 War for the Planet of the Apes was released, Caesar and his apes are forced into a deadly conflict with an army of humans led by a ruthless Colonel. After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind.
As the journey finally brings them face to face, Caesar and the Colonel are pitted against each other in an epic battle that will determine the fate of both their species and the future of the planet. Music for both Dawn and War was by Michael Giacchino, who penned two average soundtracks. The films in the reboot series from 2011 through to 2017 are good movies and did in fact improve and become more addictive viewing as the series progressed.
Let’s head back to 1970, when this movie began a series of films that numbered five in total. Airport, was seen as the original star-studded cast disaster movie, a precursor to later epic 1970s disaster films such as Earthquake, The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure, it follows a 12 hour period in the lives of the staff and passengers at the busy Lincoln Airport. Endless problems, professional and personal, are thrown at the various characters responsible for the safe and proper administration of air traffic, airline management, and aviation at a major airport. Then add to the po a severe snowstorm, multiple schedules out of the window; an elderly Trans Global Airlines stowaway; shortages; an aging, meretricious pilot; unreasonable, manpower issues, fuel problems, frozen runways; and equipment malfunctions, and you get just a sample of the obstacles faced by weary, disgruntled staff and passengers at the Airport.
Also add to this one long-suffering pilot’s wife, several stubborn men, office politics and romance, and one passenger with a bomb, and you have an exciting and tense storyline, that at the time of its release kept audiences on the edge of their seats. Well, you can’t wonder at it there is so much going on I am getting stressed writing about it. Great movie, with an even greater score and powerful main title theme by Alfred Newman.
In 1974, the sequel Airport 1975 was released, When the pilot of a small aircraft has a heart attack and crashes his plane into the cockpit of a Boeing 747, several members of the flight crew are killed, and the pilot is blinded. Miraculously, the 747 stays in the air on auto-pilot with flight attendant Nancy Prior(Karen Black) at the controls. Ground controllers, including her boyfriend Alan Murdock, try to teach her the basics but they soon realize they will have to get a trained pilot into the cockpit. Their first attempt fails and Murdock realizes he will have to do it. Meanwhile, various passengers have their own problems including a young girl who is destined to have a lifesaving operation. Again a movie with lots of tension and lots of little stories going on inside the main one, music was by John Cacavas.
The score was slightly more contemporary sounding than the original work by Newman, the opening theme sounding like an easy listening track at certain points, but nevertheless the movie seemed to entertain audiences and was filled with familiar faces such as George Kennedy, Charlton Heston, and Linda Blair (who is now recovered from her demonic possession).
Three years later the Airport series re-emerged with Airport 77, in which we see an aeroplane filled with V.I.P.s invited by Mr. Philip Steven’s to the grand opening of his art collection in Florida. But the plane is hijacked when a trio knock out the passengers with gas and try to steal the priceless cargo of art treasures. But everything goes wrong for the hijackers when the low flying 747 clips an oil rig and crashes in the Bermuda Triangle (that’s always happening isn’t it). While the passengers remain alive in the shallow water, a daring rescue operation is planned to bring the plane up without breaking it in two. So, you see as the franchise progressed the storylines start to become a little OTT.
Next, you will be telling me a Concorde is hit by a missile, (no that’s just a joke). Oh! so that is the scenario for the next in the franchise The Concorde–Airport 79, ok tell me more. This last film in the Airport series has at its core an SST (supersonic transport); Concorde.
The ever resilient Joe Patroni (George Kennedy) deals with nuclear missiles being fired at the plane as a passenger on-board is carrying documents which can bring down the titan of a large military contractor, and in order to prevent this, the CEO tries to arrange for the plane’s mid-air destruction, and blames the French air force who are under the impression they’re bringing down a compromised plane. The movie did not do well, and the cast list was less impressive, with an over-the-top gushy score by Lalo Schifrin. In fact, I would say avoid this one it’s not good at all and the worst of the series, again the franchise maybe should have stopped after the sequel, but Hollywood love a disaster, and Airport 79 certainly was one. The soundtrack album was advertised on posters of the movie, but because the film was so bad and bombed at the box office the release was cancelled and has only just in recent years been issued.
From the wide blue yonder to the depths of the ocean and to a movie that began a series of four movies, with none of the sequels matching the original. Jaws, is a movie that instilled terror into many and also apparently even made it difficult for kids to take a bath, (ummmm, that’s a real good excuse for not applying soap and water).
Jaws was a movie I heard so much about there was a buzz or a big hype on it, but it’s a movie one of many that I never went to see on the big screen, it was the mid-seventies and I was working as a DJ in a club so there was not time really and cinemas during the 1970’s rarely opened during the day. I do remember the music of course I had the LP of the score or excerpts of it on MCA records.
The John Williams penned lumbering and quite clumsy sounding theme for the shark was everywhere, it even was given a disco funk/jazz vibe by Lalo Schifrin which is a track that was filling dance floors all over the world at the time, with some people even doing a “special” dance as in pretending to be swimming and then trying to avoid being attacked by the shark on the floors of discotheques. (yes, I thought that was a bit weird too).
Anyway, the story for the original Jaws was pretty feasible, a great white shark decides to cause havoc and carnage on the beaches and waters surrounding a small holiday resort, just because it can, and with so many people on the menu well it would be rude for the shark to refuse these delicacies.
I think John Williams theme had a lot to do with the popularity of the movie, because if you mentioned the title of the movie straight away people would start to hum the Mr Shark theme, it’s a weird thing that Steven Spielberg, hated the music when he first heard it and thought that Williams was pranking him, but it obviously grew on the filmmaker. The original movie basically opened the innings for a further three sequels, none of which were any where as good as the first film.
Jaws 2, (1978) I thought was a teen movie, very much like the later productions of Scream, and The Faculty etc, or maybe like The Breakfast Club at sea? Hysterical young women (who went to the school of over-acting) and young men who seemed oblivious to the fact that there was a blood thirsty man-eating shark out there (oh now I get it, man eating shark- so they were boy’s and were not in any danger then- ok). Things went from bad to worse to ridiculous to be honest but thank God for Police chief Brody who swings into action to protect the citizens of Amity after a second monstrous shark begins terrorizing the waters. Four years after the traumatic episodes at Amity Island that was terrorized by a 25-foot-long great white shark devouring beachgoers until it was destroyed, Amity Island is at peace and opened a hotel at the Holiday Inn. Days after the opening, beachgoers start to disappear, along with a beached, half-eaten killer whale. Brody becomes concerned about these incidents (well yes one would) and fears that another Great White Shark is on the loose (really?). Directed by Jeannot Szwarc, it’s a rather weak sequel in my opinion, but Hollywood loves a sequel, and the money that comes with it. Music was again by John Williams and would be his last as main composer on the Jaws franchise.
Jaws 3-D came next, and was even worse than the second movie, if that is at all possible, well it is because it was. So again we see a pattern with sequels after the second instalment the storylines become far-fetched and over the top, Jaws 3-D, was farcical, with a weak/farcical storyline, acting that was much to be desired and scenes created just for the FX 3-D effect, which when the movie was shown on TV just looked pathetic, the film never made it to cinemas, it was released straight to video. So why oh why did Jaws 4 or Jaws the Revenge as it was titled get the green light?
The storylines for both 3 and 4 were not good, so I will relate them too you in case you may have forgotten, (no sorry I know you forgot them there was nothing any good to remember). So, are you sitting comfortably away from any water? Jaws 3-D was released in 1983 and directed by Joe Alves, it takes place several years after Chief Brody electrocuted the shark at Cable Junction, (sorry did I spoil the end of Jaws 2 for you) his sons, Mike and Sean, are now working in different roles at Sea World Orlando.
Mike is working as a park engineer and considering marriage to his girlfriend, killer whale biologist Kathryn Morgan. Sean is also involved with one of the park’s water skiers, Kelly Ann Bukowski. Sea World is about to open a massive ‘Undersea Kingdom’ which will bring visitors closer to marine life than ever before. The park is accessible from the ocean by a series of gates, one of which malfunctions. A young Great White Shark swims through the gate, and when a maintenance diver heads down to fix the gate he does not return. The young Great White is captured and placed in a tank but soon dies despite Kathryn’s best efforts to save it. More alarming though, is the young shark’s massive, thirty-five-foot mother which has followed the baby shark into the lagoon and killed the maintenance diver, whose body is recovered. It isn’t long before the huge shark begins wreaking havoc, and Mike and Kathryn, along with Sea World manager Calvin Bouchard and photographer Phillip Fitzroyce, must find a way to eliminate the shark before they – or the guests become the shark’s next meal.
Jaws The Revenge, was released in 1987, with filmmaker Joseph Sargent at the helm. After the encounter with the shark at Sea World, Sean Brody has returned to Amity. Here he has assumed his father’s role, working for the police department, and is engaged to a young woman named Tiffany. His mother, Ellen, still lives in Amity as well. Mike Brody is now married to Carla and is researching conch snails with his friend, Jake, in the Bahamas. One night, while repairing a buoy in Amity harbour from the police boat, Sean is ambushed from below and killed by the Brodys’ old enemy, a Great White shark. After the funeral, Ellen wants Mike to stay off the water, but he refuses, and takes Ellen back to the Caribbean with him and his wife and daughter, Thea.
Ellen starts trying to enjoy life again, meeting charming pilot Hoagie (Michael Caine) after having been a widow for some time. Mike and Jake encounter the Great White shark in the water, and tag and track it for research. But the shark soon starts causing problems and comes after Thea on a banana boat ride. Now, Ellen, Mike, Jake, and Hoagie will face the shark on his terms. The tag line for the movie was Now its Personal. Well maybe so but how did the shark know who was who and where they were, (an e mail memo maybe?) confused I am.
But its ok if you go see the movie or watch it at home you won’t have to think too much about the plot. Music for Jaws 3-D was the work of Alan Parker, who incorporated the familiar theme by Williams into his score, whilst writing a serviceable soundtrack. The music for Jaws the Revenge was by Michael Small who in my opinion is a great composer, he too worked the original Jaws theme into the fabric of his score whilst providing the movie with probably the best non-Williams soundtrack for the franchise. It’s surprising that a TV series did not materialise, but I think that the Jaws franchise was certainly floundering (sorry) and losing its appeal with cinema audiences already, so maybe not, after all a weekly show would have possibly decimated the entire great white shark population.
From the horrors of the deep blue sea, to a story of friendship, a journey, dark powers, the fight of good against evil and some Hobbits. I must admit to never fully reading the tome that is Lord of the Rings, I know it is something that needs to be done at some stage, (and I will do it I promise) but I suppose before the movies I either lacked the concentration or maybe did not really understand it fully, or maybe was just lazy? So, seeing the movies for me was the next best thing. After watching the first in the series, I was left rather cold and even more bemused, why end it here, what happens next and it was at this stage I thought read the book, but again no time and everything got in the way, I did start the book again and after a few hours that was it something distracted me. So, when the next movie was released, I was so pleased, and after seeing the animated version I was grateful that Peter Jackson had stepped up and made these live action versions of the famous story about Hobbits, Heroes, Wizards and Orcs.
First came the animated film in 1978 which was not exactly a runaway success was it, the animation I felt was lacking, at times resembling a fusion of anime and Disney. Plus the way in which the story was diluted and condensed down was also rather disappointing. But this was all down to a limited budget, the producers being restricted because of the lack of enough funds or so they told us. The film had its high points and more interesting sections where the animation did look amazing, but, and remember this is just a personal opinion, I always felt a little let down by the movie, at the time they said it was made as an animated feature because they could not afford to make the story or stories as live action pictures, of course a lot of things have changed and we have the advanced technology to make it seem as if we are seeing tens of thousands of Orcs on screen, but back in the period when the animated version of Lord of the Rings was produced these techniques were unheard of or at least in their infancy.
Turning to the score for the animated movie by Hollywood composer Leonard Rosenman, well, apart from the central theme or the stirring march theme, I felt this too was feeble, the composer not really taking on board the storyline and scoring the production with music that at certain points was ill fitting or seemed to have just been tracked onto certain scenes. I remember getting the LP record of the score, and later the CD but why I got the CD I am not entirely sure as it was a soundtrack I very rarely played if ever. Rosenman’s score was like listening to his work on the two Planet of the Apes movies, mostly non-thematic, the composer adopting an Avante Garde or discordant, harsh and rather jarring approach.
The Peter Jackson trilogy of movies was far superior and also was so far removed musically even though when I heard Howard Shore was to be the composer, I had some doubts. But, the proof of the pudding as they say, and yes, I certainly had my fill of Shore’s proud and romantic sounding scores, the composer creating dark and fearsome themes and sounds to accompany and underline the story of Frodo and Sam the brave Hobbits, evil Orcs, evil warlocks, fearless Wizards, talking trees, elves, dwarves and humans that are fighting for good attempting to put a stop to the evil that is spreading like a cancer. Shore created a whole new sound and style to enhance and support the storylines and their many characters and scenarios. The music mirrored the darkness and light that was present within the movies and had to it an otherworldly aura and persona that was thick with the mysterious, the magical, the foreboding, the fearful and the romantic. The composers work on the trilogy and to a degree the following Hobbit movies, was as important and influential as the music John Williams composed for the Star Wars series of movies, and as innovative as the works of Morricone and his like. The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King, all contained complex compositions yet at the same time simple themes that were supportive and haunting, filled to overflowing with a wonderful power and a brilliant thematic core on which the composer built his score’s, and with each successive film we heard his themes expand and the inventiveness grow. The songs such as the affecting May it Be performed by Enya, are enthralling, entrancing, and beguiling.
With cues such as Gollum’s Song being expressive, affecting, and haunting, the Icelandic vocalist Emiliana Torrini bringing a certain ghostly sound to the piece, with Shore’s music creating a superbly otherworldly ambience. The vocal performance becoming intertwined with Shore’s mystical strings introducing and accompanying the voice and the lyrics wonderfully.
The action pieces for the great battles such as The Riders of Rohan, and The Shieldmaiden of Rohan, are nail bitingly entertaining and push the watching audience to the edge of their seats as Shore adds another dimension to the proceedings and ingratiates and underlines each scene adding layers of tension, drama, and fearfulness via pounding percussion, imposing choral work, and rasping brass and swirling strings. Then there is The Lighting of the Beacons, which is a commanding and powerful piece that builds and gathers pace and urgency as the fires are lit throughout the Kingdom calling all forces together to face one common enemy.
To say that Shore’s scores for the trio of movies are monumental is an understatement, because they are grandiose, gigantic, and totally consuming. Shore’s music for the trilogy of movies is a powerhouse collection of themes, that are hauntingly effective and also have to them the sinister, relentless, fearful and at times charming qualities of the characters and personalities that we associate with the Lord of the Rings stories, each film contains core themes that the composer fashioned for central characters at the outset and he has in later productions as in the two sequels developed these and expanded their musical content, by either adding nuances and making extensions to them or arranging the already established and familiar thematic content into something that is fresh and striking. His artistry and Masterful handiwork shines through and although at times these changes or arrangements are subtle the music is still an integral and of paramount importance to the action being acted out on screen. We are aware of course of the music, but although it is playing an important role it never seems to get in the way of the scene or dialogue, instead it enhances the elements of these and brings them to the forefront and emphasises the situations, giving them even more depth and stature. Shore opens the first score with the piece entitled The Prophecy, a slow and initially quiet opening, but the composition soon builds into something that is grand and powerful with choir and brass being pushed along by strings and supported by percussion, until it reaches its foreboding and, in a way, tormented crescendo. Shore then, alters direction, and utilises a softer approach, strings again are centre stage, as we hear the wistful and slightly apprehensive theme take shape, with Shore adding solo trumpet as the cue evaporates and eventually closes.
Track number two, Concerning Hobbits is a homely and slightly quirky Gaelic infused composition for flute and fiddle, with underlying strings that enhance it further and add to it a delicate air of sophistication and lushness. It is in cue number three that we first hear the first hints and flourishes of darkness and menace, The Shadow of the Past, is at first brooding and ominously shadowy in a subdued way. But, its persona alters soon building into a commanding and fearful sounding piece, with the composer utilising pounding percussion and growling brass that is at times overpowered by choir, there are also swirling and sinister and icy strings present, and when Shore fuses all of these elements together it is an intimidating and raw sound that we hear.
The composer conjuring up an atmosphere that is thick with virulence and rich with a sense of danger. The Treason of Isengard, is another cue that displays moments of light and darkness, Shore employing low strings and booming brass that is underlined by both strings and percussion, the composer then introduces the commanding sound of voices, which are given support by an array of symphonic richness, percussion again working overtime to embellish and enhance. The same can be said for the cue, The Black Rider, Shore’s music purveying a real sense of fear and chaos which is totally unnerving and absorbing. At The sign of the Prancing Pony is one of the more prominent cues for me but saying this the scores are wonderfully compelling and affecting. The composition is a fusion of all we have heard before, the composer compiling elements of the other cues into one grandiose and potent piece, which involves all sections of the orchestra, including choir, which has to it a celestial but at the same moment satanic and virulent sound.
A Knife in the Dark, displays Shore pulling out all the stops to create a lumbering and crashing composition that is filled with dread and is relentless in its persona. Mid-way through however the chaos and formidable sounds come to a halt, and give way to a lighter and more serene sound, initially introduced by strings and woodwind, we hear above everything a pure and spiritual boy soprano, which in the movie and also whilst listening away from any images causes one to stop and focus even more intently. It is one of those rare moments in film when the music says everything, there is no need for words or any earth-shattering events, it is the beauty of music and image working as one. I think my own personal favourite is the score for The Two Towers, I cannot really say why I just prefer this score to the other two but saying this I must also say that all three are excellent examples of film scoring.
The Return of the King, is probably the most grandiose and in places also the most complex, with The Fellowship of the Ring, coming in third, but that is just my rating. Howard Shore is we all know an accomplished and highly respected composer, An, innovative Maestro, who’s ability to create, invent, and realise music for any situation and any genre of film is second to none. Shore returned to the Lord of the Rings in 2022, when he wrote the theme for the TV series, Rings of Power, which was a popular series from Amazon, the scores for the episodes was the work of Bear McCreary.
From magic and mystery to something even more sinister and chilling in the form of the three movies in the Exorcist series, the first which was released in 1974, was and still can be terrifying, based on fact the film soon became something that everyone wanted to see thanks to the power of the hype. I hold my hands up here and now and admit I did not like the movie, well I don’t think I did because I never actually saw it all the way through, the crucifix and the spinning head scene did it for me I was out of there ASAP. As the years passed, I made myself watch it, and basically Exorcised The Exorcist from my nightmares and thoughts. Since I saw it on the cinema it has been shown so many times on TV and had release and re-release on video, DVD etc, and is also available to stream in its directors’ cut edition which includes the spider walk scene. The film was to have an original score by Lalo Schifrin, but it was rejected,
Director Friedkin opting to go for classical music of sorts by modernistic composers and of course it was partly due to the film utilizing a brief section of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells that catapulted that recording into the stratosphere. The soundtrack as curated by Friedkin is itself a terrifying experience without any images to unsettle you. Many people were up until a few years ago unaware that Shcifrin had originally been hired to write the score, and the original work turned up on a compact disc that came as part of a video box set which was released. The story is that the director threw a tantrum over something to do with the trailer that the composer had scored and literally tossed the tapes of the music out of a studio window, whether this is how it happened I can’t say, but let us just say the score was rejected. The trailer that had been put together was shown to audiences with the composer’s music and because the audience had such a violent reaction to it, ie; vomiting, fainting, or running out of the cinema screaming, it was decided that it was the music that was to blame, even though Friedkin had said ok to the score previously. Warner Brothers had a lot riding on the movie so demanded a new score, which the composer has often said was not a problem, but Friedkin did not pass the studios request onto Schifrin who carried on writing the remainder of the music in the same style, thus leading to Friedkin rejecting it, and replacing it with tracks of his own choosing.
The original score written by Schifrin is a complex and highly disturbing one. When, listening to it as just music it does have the ability to make one feel uneasy and unsettled. It is said that the composer re-used some of the music in The Amityville Horror which was released in 1979. Whatever your opinion of the film, it is without a doubt, an iconic production and one that will in my opinion have a notoriety forever within Cinema history and will also maintain the tag of being the scariest horror movie of all time, no matter what else Hollywood serves up for consideration. Does it still scare you? It does me.
Exorcist II: The Heretic was released in 1977, directed by John Boorman and written by William Goodhart, it starred Linda Blair, Richard Burton, Louise Fletcher, Max von Sydow, Kitty Winn, Paul Henreid and James Earl Jones. The film is set four years after the original film and centres on the now 16-year-old Regan MacNeil, who is still recovering from her previous demonic possession. The movie was a critical failure at the time of its release, Exorcist II is often considered to be one of the worst films ever made. The best thing about the second movie must be the stunning musical score by Ennio Morricone, it is a work that stands head and shoulders above the film it was written for. The wonderfully lyrical yet unsettling Regans theme, the superb Interrupted Melody, the ominous and chaotic Pazuzu, and the deeply troubling Little Afro Flemish Mass and Exorcism, are all triumphs of composition that still resonate with fans of Morricone and film buffs alike today.
Exorcist ll was the last film to feature veteran actor Paul Henreid, and despite a good return at the box office, the negative reception meant that the next film in the series would not come until 1990 in the form of The Exorcist III which was written and directed by William Peter Blatty, the film totally ignored the events that took place in The Heretic. Blatty it seems choosing not to acknowledge that the movie was even made. The third instalment had the tag line Do you Dare Walk these Steps Again? Exorcist lll was I thought a more interesting movie than the original even.
Dealing with what seems to be a seemingly endless series of grisly killings that bear the trademark of the mass murderer the Gemini Killer. To further complicate matters, although it’s been nearly two decades since the killer’s execution and that fatal night of pure terror in The Exorcist sceptical police officer Lieutenant William F. Kinderman (George C Scott) is still obsessed with solving the baffling case, as the death toll continues to rise. In the meantime, in the city’s high-security psychiatric institution, a cryptic inmate who bears an uncanny resemblance to the late Father Damien Karras emerges from his deep unresponsive state, claiming that he has all the answers Kinderman needs. But, who is the mysterious Patient. Does the same unholy force that tormented Regan MacNeil have something to do with the brutal demonic murders. More of a thriller than a horror it is a movie that works on many levels, and one which I found to be interesting as well as entertaining.
The musical score which as far as I am aware has never been released, was by Barry de Vorzon. After this third movie there were no plans to revisit the Exorcist, but in recent years there has been a TV series, which was mildly successful, and a prequel to the events of the trilogy in Exorcist the Beginning (2004). In which we see archaeologist Lankester Merrin travelling to East Africa to excavate a church that has been found completely buried in sand. Merrin is also an ordained Roman Catholic priest who, still haunted by what he was forced to do during World War II in his native Holland, eschews any religion or belief. He’s fascinated by what he finds and that it dates hundreds of years before Christianity was introduced to the area. Accompanied by a young priest, Father Francis, to keep an eye on the religious elements of what they find, Merrin makes his way to the camp. There he meets a young doctor, Sarah and soon realizes there is an air of gloom that envelops the entire site. Workmen go mad and a young boy is mauled by a pack of hyenas while completely ignoring his younger brother. Inside the church itself they find signs of desecration. Merrin is forced to re-examine his lack of faith and come face to face with the devil. Directed by Renny Harlin, Its an interesting take on the story, with a score by composer Trevor Rabin. The Exorcist will rise again in 2023, with a new movie that is said to be a re-boot of the original, we will have to wait and see what horrific delights are in store for us when it finally comes to screens.
Let’s stay with horror, shall we? To a British company then, who would break the mould and create an entire new way of scaring audiences during the late 1950, and through to the mid-1970’s with a series of movies that centred upon one infamous and evil character Dracula.
The Hammer studios have become synonymous with the horror genre and are fondly remembered for their Dracula cycle of films which began with actor Christopher Lee as the virulent Count in the 1958 movie Dracula or The Horror of Dracula as it was entitled in the USA. The first in the series was helmed by filmmaker Terence Fisher, who had already had success resurrecting Frankenstein for the studio in 1957 in The Curse of Frankenstein, also starring Christopher Lee. Fisher was more or less Hammer’s star director and Dracula was given an atmospheric musical support by James Bernard who would become a name that is so readily associated with the house of horror. Dracula was a runaway success for the studio, but it would not return to the story until 1960 when actor David Peel made an appearance in the classy and colourful movie The Brides of Dracula, Peel portraying not Dracula as was suggested in the title of the film, but as Baron Meinster.
A young teacher on her way to a position in Transylvania helps a young man (Peel) escape the shackles his mother has put on him. In so doing she innocently unleashes the horrors of the undead once again on the populace, including those at her school for ladies.
Luckily for some, Dr Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) is already on his way. In many ways I preferred Peel as the vampire Lord, he seemed to ooze class, and took to the role like a duck to water. It is a shame that Hammer did not further explore the life of Baron Meinster, as The Brides of Dracula is a consummate and entertaining horror with impressive performances from all involved.
Directed by Terence Fisher, the musical score was in a word excellent and came from composer Malcolm Williamson. Brides of Dracula is said to be one of the favourite Hammer’s with audiences.
Hammer returned to Dracula in 1966, with the movie Dracula Prince of Darkness, and Christopher Lee also returned to don the cloak and ring of the Vampiric Count along with James Bernard who composed the score. Maybe not as good as the two previous movies, but still an entertaining horror and certainly much better than some of the films that would follow.
In 1968 Dracula Has Risen from the Grave came to cinema’s, and as the 1970’s dawned Taste the Blood of Dracula also came to a cinema near you, this is I think where the quality of the cycle began to Frey a little. The storylines become rather thin, with the studio heading down a more sexual route to attract audiences. By this time, it was evident that Hammer had to do something to either re-invent or kick start the cycle, either that or maybe just end it?
In the same year as Taste the Blood, came the dismal effort The Scars of Dracula,
then two years later Dracula AD 1972, followed in 1973 by The Satanic Rites of Dracula, the last two titles being set in contemporary London,Hammer thinking that by placing Dracula in a modern day setting that younger audiences would automatically become interested-not so. Even composer James Bernard was not on board with these, the studio opting for Mike Vickers and John Cacavas respectively. Vickers is said to have run into difficulties on the score for Dracula AD 1972, and Hammer’s MD Phil Martell had to call upon Don Banks to write a lot of music for the movie. So, the curse of the one sequel too may again hit with this series of movies becoming laughable.
Both AD 72, and Satanic Rites, being totally out of sync with the rest of the movies.
But that’s not all folks, nope not content to see how they had really painted themselves into a corner by placing the Count in modern day England, the studio decided to team up with the Shaw Brothers for The Legend of The Seven Golden Vampires, where horror meets kung fu, in a film that attempted to mix the gothic horror of the west with that of the mystical stories of the East. Well, it was not good but there again it was ok in a funny sort of way. Christopher Lee refused to play the Count as by this time he had decided the role was dead (or should that be undead)?
Anyway, Dracula was only seen at the end of the movie, and actor John Forbes Robertson stepped into the role voiced by David De Keyser. Music for this last Dracula outing was by James Bernard. Directed by Roy Ward Bake and Cheh Chang, the film begins in Transylvania in 1804, a lone figure makes his way through the countryside and into the towering Castle Dracula, where he summons Count Dracula. The figure announces, in his own language, that his name is Kah, a Taoist monk and the high priest of the Temple of the Seven Golden Vampires in rural China. He goes on to tell the Count that the Seven Golden Vampires’ power is fading and he needs him to restore them to their former glory. Dracula considers the offer and accepts on one condition: that he uses Kah’s body to escape his castle, which has become his prison. Despite Kah’s pleas for mercy, the vampire displaces himself into Kah’s body and then triumphantly leaves the tomb for China.
A century later, Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) gives a lecture at a Chungking university on Chinese vampire legends. He speaks of an unknown rural village that has been terrorised by a cult of seven known as the Seven Golden Vampires. A farmer who had lost his wife to the vampires trekked his way to their temple and battled them. He was unsuccessful, as his wife was killed in the fight, but in the chaos he grabbed a medallion from around one of the vampire’s necks, which he saw as the vampires’ life source. The farmer fled the temple, but the high priest sent the vampires and their turned victims after him. About to be cornered, the farmer placed the medallion around a small jade Buddha statue before the vampires killed him. One of the vampires spied the medallion around the Buddha and went over to collect it. However, the moment that the vampire touched the Buddha, the creature was destroyed in flame. Van Helsing goes on to say that he is positive that the village still exists and is terrorized by the six remaining vampires; he is only unsure of where the village lies. Most of the professors he has gathered disbelieve the story and leave, but one man, Hsi Ching, informs Van Helsing that the farmer from the story was his grandfather. He proves it by producing the dead vampire’s medallion and asks Van Helsing if he would be willing to travel to the village and destroy the vampire menace. Van Helsing agrees and embarks with his son Leyland, Hsi Ching, and his seven kung fu-trained siblings on a dangerous journey, funded by a wealthy widow named Vanessa Buren,(Julie Ege) whom Leyland and two of Ching’s siblings saved from an attack by the tongs. On the journey, the group are ambushed by the six remaining vampires in a cave, along with their army of undead. The group are quickly engaged in battle and soon kill the three vampires. The remaining three retreat, taking their army of undead with them. The following morning, the party reaches the village, partly ruined but still populated, and prepares to make their final stand. They use wooden stakes as barriers and dig a large trench around them filled with flammable liquid.
In the temple that evening, Dracula, still disguised as Kah, calls on the remaining vampires to kill Van Helsing and his party once and for all. The vampires reach the village, and soon Van Helsing’s group once again do battle with the last of the golden vampires and their army of undead, resulting in a brutal fight that kills two vampires, many undead servants, several villagers, and several of Van Helsing’s companions. During the fight, Vanessa is bitten by one of the vampires and quickly becomes one herself. She bites Ching, who throws himself and Vanessa onto a wooden stake, impaling them both. Elsewhere, the last remaining vampire captures Ching’s sister Mai Kwei and takes her back to the temple in order to be drained of her blood. Leyland steals a horse from one of the dead vampires and pursues. The army of undead defeated, Van Helsing and Mei’s remaining brothers follow to help Leyland at the temple. Having reached the temple, the vampire straps Mai Kwei to one of the altars. It is about to drain her blood when Leyland intervenes.
Just before Leyland is about to be drained, Van Helsing and Mei’s brothers burst in, and Van Helsing destroys the last vampire. The survivors depart from the temple, save for Van Helsing, who feels a familiar presence and comes to face with Dracula in Kah’s body. Discovered, Dracula reveals his true form and attacks Van Helsing. In the ensuing struggle, Van Helsing succeeds in stabbing Dracula with a silver spear through the heart, causing the Count to turn to dust. Thus ends the film and the Hammer Dracula cycle.
Another little franchise of movies which has been quite successful is the one with that secret agent in them, 007? Heard of him, yes, the James Bond franchise is probably just about as big as it gets. But here is an admission, I don’t like James Bond movies, (whoaaa hang on no need for that). It’s a series I have never really got on with, for me it has always been the music for the films that was the attraction. The bombastic, jazz, and big band sounds employed by Barry alongside lilting melodies and powerful songs. The Barry tribute sound of David Arnold, which I miss a lot. There were a few composers who I thought we could have done without as far as James Bond scores were concerned, Newman for example with his wishy-washy understated approach, Zimmer with his I am going to copy everyone attitude and still take the credit. And the original films composer Monty Norman, who I thought could have done better,
I like most Bond scores, but still consider OHMSS the best, it was just something different at the time. But it is one Bond soundtrack that I return to frequently, although I do like to go back and have a listen to most of them at some time, I say most but probably not the Newman’s and certainly not the Zimmer, I even take a dip into unofficial Bond music from time to time such as the original Casino Royale, and Never say Never Again, because they are like old friends, I can remember where I was and what shop I got every one of them in. Other film franchises that have been successful include Batman, Superman, a whole bunch of Marvel characters, Star Trek, and Jurassic Park, but even these examples have duff entries, so maybe we can talk about these in The Film Franchise article, The Sequel, or is it the Prequel? Not sure, thanks for reading…