The science fiction film was a popular genre in the 1960’s and it continues to be so now. In the 1960’s however the sci-fi movies would often deal with scenarios and situations that were sci-fi as in had not happened or were thought not to be possible as in space travel to other planets, talking to people on hand held devices where you could see the person you were talking too, driverless cars, robots performing tasks that humans would normally carry out etc, many of these things have now become science fact. So, the sci-fi movie as a genre has like science itself evolved over the years. Films such as PLANET OF THE APES are iconic pieces of cinema and remain relevant and maybe in these uncertain times the events depicted could come to fruition, soon. Who knows?
Things such as time travel however is still not something that has come close to being practised, or has it? We do not actually know, do the authorities tell us mere mortals anything, no not really, they feed us what they think we want to hear giving us drips of information and basically pacifying the multitudes, so let’s say with time travel as far as we are aware no its not possible. Alien invasions, nope that’s an area I am pleased that has not come to pass. But a visit from an Alien, well maybe. So, science impossible in films produced some fifty years ago has become science possible in the 21st Century in certain cases. Many sci-fi movies dealt with the end of the world, whether via natural or ecological means or by man made destruction, this is still a scenario that is a contender for the possible as far as I am concerned, because the human race is a selfish one and will take and take until there is no more to have, but then will blame others for destroying our fragile and delicate environment, letting loose devastating diseases and creating unstoppable germ warfare chemicals and releasing them into this already dying Earth’s atmosphere. Remember the words of the law giver as read by Cornelius (Roddy McDowell) at the end of the original PLANET OF THE APES.
“Beware the beast Man, for he is the Devil’s pawn. Alone among God’s primates, he kills for sport or lust or greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother’s land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him; drive him back into his jungle lair, for he is the harbinger of death.
Wise words? Well so far in my life I think all the evidence points to them being so. Ok, I know it’s a film, I know its not real life I am just using it for an example, and also to paraphrase a line from a later APES movie, I think I would rather be dominated by apes than live with other humans.
“Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape”!
I will never forget the sight of an ape soldier clad in black brandishing a rifle on horseback in the HUNT scene of the original APE movie accompanied by the chilling, foreboding and somewhat grotesque sounding rams horn that composer Jerry Goldsmith utilised for his innovative and iconic sounding score. I think that scene in particular will stay with me forever, and it still makes me shudder today. I was just twelve years old at the time and I had managed to get into a cinema on a crafty day off school I am not sure what I was expecting but let’s just say I was surprised, a little scared but most of all excited and intrigued. Charlton Heston was marvellous as the cynical Taylor an astronaut who with a crew of three others two male and one female had crashed landed in a lake on what they thought was an alien planet sometime in the future. They had been put into a deep sleep and on impact realised that the Female member of the party had passed away, her aging body seen decomposing in the pod she was laid in. They escape from the space craft and start to explore the inhospitable terrain which is predominately desert they eventually find a green area and take advantage of fresh running water to refresh themselves and bathe, whilst doing so however they become aware that they are not alone on the planet and have their clothes and also their scientific apparatus stolen they give chase but it is too late the apparatus is smashed and they see that the inhabitants of the planet are human like but are mute.
Taylor thinks it is not a bad thing as if this is the best that the planet has to offer it won’t be long before they will be running the place. But he could not be more wrong, an ominous sounding cry is heard and the mute humans freeze for a few seconds and then begin to panic and run, not knowing what is wrong the three astronauts do the same, running in the same directions, but from what or whom?
It is not long before the watching audience and the astronauts find out and from that moment on the film is a rollercoaster ride in a topsy turvy world where talking intelligent apes are the masters and primitive humans are reduced to being guinea pigs for surgeons or target practise for the ape army. Taylor is injured in the hunt and as a result loses his voice after being wounded in the throat by an ape bullet. So the ape elders are not aware that he is different from the others, he becomes close to one of the mute females Nova, played by the beautiful Linda Harrison, and is also befriended by two doctors who just happen to be chimpanzees, Zira and Cornelius, played by Kim Hunter and Roddy McDowall, who were most convincing in their respective roles. The cast list is quite impressive, with Maurice Evans, James Whitmore and James Daly with superb direction from film maker Franklin J Schaffner an entertaining screenplay by Michael Wilson and Rod Serling that was adapted from the writings of Pierre Boulle and produced by Arthur P Jacobs, with that highly original neo avante garde score by Jerry Goldsmith and convincing make up created by John Chambers.
Released by 20th century fox it was to be the first of five movies in the first series and also spawned the TV series and an animated series. It was a compulsive motion picture that is not only visually outstanding and intelligently constructed but also sent chills down ones spine when it eventually reached the final scene which along with the ape on horseback brandishing a rifle must be one of cinemas most iconic moments. The sight of the statue of liberty or at least part of the statue rising out of the beach as Taylor makes his getaway with Nova is an imposing, sobering and memorable one, because the audience at this point realises as does Taylor that he is actually back on earth back home to the place that he was so desperately trying to get away from, the upside down planet ruled by apes is his own planet, which has been destroyed by war or some natural or man mad disaster.
Of, course a handful of sequels were produced in the original Apes film series, but none matched the impact that the original movie had. It was not until in recent years that the franchise was given a new lease of life, in the re-boots of the series that intelligent storylines again emerged from PLANET OF THE APES movies.
“When I speak of time, I’m speaking of the fourth dimension.”
From a world that has been turned on its head and inside out with Apes as tyrannical overlords, we go to a scientist creating a new form of travel, not simply to get from A to B but to go back in time and also more importantly forward to the future. THE TIME MACHINE or as it was sometimes called H. G. WELLS, THE TIME MACHINE as it was based upon his novella from 1895.
The movie was released in 1960. produced and directed by George Pal, this is a classy and quite plush looking motion picture. It starred Rod Taylor, Alan Young, Yvette Mimieux and Sebastian Cabot. Director Pal had already made a motion picture based on the writings of Wells in the form of WAR OF THE WORLDS which hit cinemas in 1953. Taylor plays the part of an inventor who is living in Victorian England.
He constructs a machine that he thinks will travel into the far-off future and it takes him on a journey that not even he could have imagined. He arrives in the future where he discovers that the descendants of the human race have been divided into two groups, one the Eloi, who are gentle and passive and eat fruit and vegetables not having to work but lounging around and playing all day.
Then there is the Morlocks who are underground dwellers descended from people who hid underground during a terrible and destructive ware time traveller soon discovers that the Eloi are being bred for food for the Morlocks in very much the same way that we raise cattle and other animals now. The film won an academy award for Tim Baar and Gene Warren who were responsible for its special effects in particular for their ingenious use of time lapse photography which showed the earth and its environment changing as the time machine hurtled through time and space. The musical score was the work of composer Russel Garcia, his music was not issued onto a compact disc and LP record until 1987, which was released by Neil Normans GNP CRESCENDO label, this contained twenty tracks from the soundtrack and also one cue which contained a selection of music from ATLANTIS THE LOST CONTINENT also penned by Garcia. The soundtrack was re-issued onto compact disc in 2005 by FSM and then in 2012 by Hallmark entertainment.
All re-issues containing the same tracks as the original release. Garcia was born on April 12th 1916, in Oakland California, he became popular as a composer of both film and television music and was also active in the world of theatre and radio. Although born in the United States the composer spent a lot of time as a resident of New Zealand, he was self-taught and got his first break into writing music for a radio show when a friend of his was taken ill and could not work on the project. After this initial foray into writing for radio he became a composer and an arranger for NBD and worked on a number of television series such as LAREDO and RAWHIDE in the late 1950;s.
He also worked for MGM and UNIVERSAL studios, which is where he came into contact with George Pal and was offered THE TIME MACHINE and ATLANTIS THE LOST CONTINENT. He also worked as an arranger and orchestrator for the studios and was involved with the orchestration of the music for films such as FATHER GOOSE (1964) and THE BENNY GOODMAN STORY (1956). He also worked with many artists including Ronald Reagan, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Orson Welles, Judy Garland, Oscar Peterson and Stan Kenton to name but a few. He passed away on November 11th 2011. His score for THE TIME MACHINE was an accomplished one, filled with melodious interludes but also having to it an ominous and dramatic edge. Although scored in 1960, the score had to it a luxurious and lavish persona that we often associate with the scores of the Golden Age of Hollywood by composers such as Newman, Steiner and Korngold.
I know I’ve made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal .
I suppose the big sci-fi movie of the 1960’s was 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY, directed by Stanley Kubrick, this was a movie that one either hated or loved and also one that you either fully understood or failed to even comprehend what was going on but pretended that you did. I think or rather I know I was one of the dumb ones, well not dumb but just a little confused even after sitting through the movie more than once, I was still jot really aware of what the hell I had just watched, so yep dumb. But saying that I was around 13 years old at the time. The film for me at the time of watching in the cinemas was really slow, it was also something that I thought of as being, its ok I suppose. But it did not float my boat or fire up my rockets at all. The use of classical music in the movie was also a disappointment for me as I would always think what a great job a composer such as John Barry, Ennio Morricone Jerry Goldsmith or even Alex North could have done on it, Ok maybe North is a bit of a longshot, (LOL).
The story I was told about the music was that Kubrick had been using the classical stuff throughout the production, so when it came to an original score which had been submitted by Alex North the film maker had like a blind spot for anything apart from what he had already been using and I suppose when one is watching a film that you have made over and over and editing it and cutting it etc, its only natural that you become comfortable with the music you have been using, and as we all know film makers are pretty insecure and after all its their work on the screen that could have taken years to put together.
So, its natural they will be somewhat nervous and suspicious about handing it over to a composer who could in effect ruin it or not understand it (glad I was not doing the score). A composer could miss the directors point or angle completely, swamp the film with inappropriate music in the eyes of the filmmaker and put months on the release date because of re-scoring. Kubrick took the easy route or at least the one that suited him and his movie, so he thought. North’s original score was rejected or not used, and the film was released with the music of Strauss and others installed on its soundtrack, did it work, well that is something that is down to personal preference, but in my opinion yes it did. The now famous scene with the space vehicle docking with the massive space station is the perfect example, Kubrick looked at the sequence and compared the two space vehicles docking as a waltz a grand dance which is in effect what we are witnessing, and with the opulent and sweeping BLUE DANUBE which was penned by Strauss some 102 years before the film was released playing over it, it became even more apparent to audiences, that the director had got this right. But the soundtrack to 2001 was not all Viennese waltzes and romantic sounding interludes drawn from the Strauss family’s canon.
There were also several complex and intricate pieces of music tracked onto the movie. Which were written by composers who many were and still are not that familiar with. Such as the off-beat and modern sounding ATMOSPHERES by Gyorgy Ligeti and the symphonic poem by Richard Strauss entitled ALSO SPRACH ZARATHUSTRA. Which was heard over the impressive opening of the movie. That majestic and at times imposing theme is now part of film music history going down as being one of the most recognised and iconic pieces utilised on the soundtrack of a movie. Gyorgy Ligeti’s music was also used on the film THE EXORCIST because it is so dark, ominous and complex, it can literally make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up but other times it is music that one listens to and lets your imagination run away with you. Many think that the soundtrack for 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY is a masterpiece, which when you think about it, is a fair enough opinion, simply because of the composers that Kubrick selected to utilise. That also included, Khachaturian.
But as a soundtrack or a film music fan I personally am more interested in scores that have been specifically written for a movie or a TV show, rather than already known or written music that is basically tacked onto the film’s soundtrack. Alex North’s original score is in my opinion just as varied and diverse as the one that Kubrick eventually decided to install, in fact in many ways it is more polished and suited to the film.
North’s modern and leaning towards avante garde style creating romantic and also thematic moments within in a sea of atonal and less melodic sounds. Years after the release of 2001 North’s score was recorded and released with Jerry Goldsmith conducting, so as a film music collector and maybe as a critic if that is what I am I would say that North’s soundtrack his original score is the masterpiece. I tried watching the movie with the North score playing but it does not really work, maybe because Kubrick re-cut the movie to suit his classical soundtrack, who knows?
“IF I TOOK THE FLASK THAT CONTAINS IT AND EXPOSED IT TO THE AIR. EVERYONE HERE WOULD BE DEAD IN THREE SECONDS”.
From a film that is considered a classic and has a score that is known by nearly everyone, to something that is a lesser known movie, released in 1965 THE SATAN BUG, was directed by John Sturges, it starred George Maharis, Richard Basehart, Dana Andrews and Anne Francis, and had a score composed by Jerry Goldsmith. Composed three years before his landmark score for THE PLANET OF THE APES, this is one of the composers more accomplished and inventive soundtracks from the 1960’s. The movie which was based upon the novel by Alistair Maclean who wrote it under the name of Ian Stuart is a harrowing and tense affair with the action on screen is matched perfectly by Goldsmith’s, powerfully disjointed and at times discordant score, which maintains an underlying air of the sinister and has to a dark and menacing aura.
The relentless and all-consuming music although being largely atonal, does still have to it thematic qualities and its commanding and slightly quirky musical persona combines electronic elements with fully symphonic moments, it is a score that not only enhances the on-screen scenarios but underlines and punctuates the fast paced and suspense filled storyline. It has to it that typical Goldsmith trademark sound, with its percussive elements creating a sinister and apprehensive sound supported by brass, woods and strings, in many ways it was I suppose a pre cursor to his experimental approach on THE PLANET OF THE APES and also was the inspiration for so many of his later scores, THE OMEN trilogy and CAPRICORN ONE included. The opening theme possess a sound and style that oozes dread and foreboding. It is an edgy and unsettling sound that sets the scene perfectly for the film’s ever changing and edge of the seat storyline. This bio terror sci fi, was adapted for the screen by James Clavell and Edward Anhalt.
It attempts to and succeeds in showing the audience the workings of secret government facilities, and also takes a look at what could have been the world of the deadly viruses that were supposedly being developed. Weapons of mass destruction that in this case can kill every living thing in a city the size of Los Angeles without destroying any infrastructure, just people and animals. It is also a pretty good story about investigation and the discovery of these virulent and destructive viruses.
The director managing to fashion a convincing and entertaining movie and motivating the cast into giving some convincing performances. A very different subject matter from Sturges previous movie which was the highly successful war drama THE GREAT ESCAPE. So that concludes the look at SCI-FI but it’s a subject as I said is always evolving and developing, with science fiction, more often than not these days becoming science fact. Maybe we will re-visit this again at another time.