Veni Creator Spiritus: Musical Quotations in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

By Michael W. Harris

One of the items I acquired over Christmas 2016 was the recent Funimation box set of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, a 2006/2009 anime based on a series of popular Japanese light novels. I had heard many recommendations for this series, and the basic idea of it sounded both weird and fascinating: a high school girl who is an unknowing all-powerful being who might accidentally wipe out existence if she gets bored. The trailer for Funimation’s release of the series gives a decent overview:

This clip also gives a hint at a fascinating scene that occurs in episode six (of the chronological ordering…yes there are various viewing orders and it is somewhat confusing so just read this) when Haruhi has created a “closed space” dimension and sucked our poor, snarky protagonist Kyon into it with her. During a climactic moment when Kyon realizes what he needs to do to escape with Haruhi the closing minutes of the first movement of Mahler’s Symphony #8 kicks in. The sequence lasts for almost 4 ½ minutes and features a seemingly unbroken stretch of the movement. Continue reading “Veni Creator Spiritus: Musical Quotations in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya”

Borrowing Beyond the Stars: James Horner’s Music for Star Trek II and III

By Michael W. Harris

N.B.—This is a lightly edited form of my remarks delivered at the 2016 Society of Cinema and Media Studies conference held in Atlanta and the 2016 Music and the Moving Image conference held at New York University. Hence why this is nearly twice the length of my normal post.

James Horner has been a divisive figure in the film music community, fandom and scholarship alike, for many years. The cause of this division stems from Horner’s predilection for not only lifting material from other composers—Sergei Prokofiev and Dimitri Shostakovich to name but two—but also from routinely recycling material from his own scores. But the legal debate over copyright and plagiarism is best left to the Hollywood lawyers, but understanding the debate surrounding Horner is important. Continue reading “Borrowing Beyond the Stars: James Horner’s Music for Star Trek II and III”

There and Back Again: A New Viewing Order for The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit Films

How do you solve a problem like viewing order?
How do you solve a problem like viewing order?

By Michael W. Harris

Well, I finally did it. I watched all six Hobbit and Lord of the Rings films back to back to back to back to back to back, and all in their Extended Editions (the only way to watch the films, as will be assumed throughout this post). That’s almost 21 hours of movie, to say nothing of breaks for cooking food, taking periodic walks, let alone sleep and other necessities. But throughout my viewing, the question lingered: what is the right viewing order of these six films? A film series I hereby dub the Tolkien Hexalogy, for lack of a better term.

Back when the final Hobbit film was released, an article on Medium.com was published that gave a number of possible viewing orders outside of the obvious options of story chronology option (Hobbit followed by Lord of the Rings), which is the how I watched them over two days this past week, or the release order (Rings followed by Hobbit). But none of the orders in the Medium article really resonated with me, and I mused if there was a viewing order that solved some of the viewing issues with the Hobbit films (somewhat bloated storyline, spoilers and foreshadowing for Lord of the Rings that might not make sense without seeing those films, etc.) the way that the rightfully famous Machete Order makes the Star Wars prequels watchable.

So what I will present in this post is my Machete inspired Tolkien Hexalogy viewing order, but just as Rod Hilton starts off his Machete Order post with some disclaimers, I feel like I must first tackle the elephant in the room… Continue reading “There and Back Again: A New Viewing Order for The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit Films”

Jeff Buckley and Baroque Music

By Michael W. Harris

N.B. – This was written the Sunday after the election, after Leonard Cohen’s death, and after Saturday Night Live’s masterful blending of so much of the country’s reaction to both. It is going up a week later only due to my writing schedule.

It was just one of those weeks. When it seemed like the universe just knew what was going to happen and have a plan. Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen died in November 7th but it was not announced until the 10th. Regardless, it was a double whammy to many coming so close to the American presidential election, and indeed one of Cohen’s most famous songs, the wistful, gospel like “Hallelujah,” seemed to sum up so much of our somber reaction to the news that Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States.

So it was that Saturday Night Live opened their post-election episode with Kate McKinnon performing “Hallelujah” as Hillary Clinton, white pantsuit and all. Continue reading “Jeff Buckley and Baroque Music”

Just a Matter of Time: Musings on Arrival

By Michael W. Harris

Warning: Spoilers lie ahead. Just go see the movie first and then return to ponder its meaning with me.

arrival-posterTwice now in one week have I not fallen asleep until 2AM or later. The first was Tuesday night while still in shock from both the election and my ill-advised whiskey toast to the end of the American experiment. I should really never drink whiskey. Nothing good comes from whiskey.

The second time was Saturday night after seeing Arrival, the new film from Denis Villeneuve. I had only recently seen any of Villeneuve’s films, having watched Sicario about a month ago, though I had wanted to see Arrival since I had seen the first trailer.

It looked intriguing and most importantly seemed positioned to be a good thinking person’s science fiction film. One that asks big questions, and also asks more than it answers. Continue reading “Just a Matter of Time: Musings on Arrival”

How to Score Japan on Film: Kubo and the Two Strings vs. 47 Ronin

By Michael W. Harris

kuboBack in August I went and saw Kubo and the Two Strings for my birthday and was struck by how well the score, by Dario Marianelli, balanced traditional Hollywood scoring techniques with an aural evocation of Japan’s traditional music culture. This was certainly helped by the fact that the titular Kubo is a shamisen playing, orgami folding, magic wielding boy, but so many times Hollywood films have substituted “vaguely Asian, but not Indian” instrumental sounds for any film set in China, Japan, or Korea. And the truth is that there are some very distinctive differences between the musical cultures of these countries.

This can be clearly demonstrated by a simple comparison between Kubo and the 2013 big budget adaptation 47 Ronin that was simultaneously awful, offensive, and also strangely entertaining. Continue reading “How to Score Japan on Film: Kubo and the Two Strings vs. 47 Ronin”

On Monsters and Music: The Music for Shin Godzilla

By Michael W. Harris

shin_godzilla_posterLet me just get this out of the way: Shin Godzilla is great. It is a worthy successor to the Godzilla mantle in every way, and most importantly makes Godzilla relevant again for modern Japan. If you read any number of reviews or essays, you’ll inevitably see people compare the events of the film to Japan’s response to the triple disasters of March 11, 2011, when Japan was rocked by an earthquake, the resultant tsunami, and then the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant caused by the coinciding of both. The government’s slow response, conflicting reports, and the general chaos that followed was certainly touched upon in the 2014 US helmed Godzilla film, but in this newest, entirely Japanese produced film, it takes center stage. Continue reading “On Monsters and Music: The Music for Shin Godzilla”

Musical Spock

By Jessica Getman

Note: This post is part of The Music of Star Trek Blogathon hosted by Film Music Central and comes to the The Temp Track courtesy of guest blogger Jessica Getman.

“Being split in two halves is no theory with me, Doctor. I have a human half, you see, as well as an alien half, submerged, constantly at war with each other. Personal experience, Doctor: I survive it because my intelligence wins out over both, makes them live together.”
Spock (Leonard Nimoy), “The Enemy Within”

Spock makes this profound statement in “The Enemy Within.” It succinctly and powerfully illustrates the tension at the heart of the Spock character: he is neither human nor Vulcan, but somewhere in between.1This quote bears a striking resemblance to W.E.B. DuBois’ description of double consciousness: “two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches (Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., 1903), 3. His struggle as a biracial character is part of what makes him such a compelling character. The fact that he lives in an unresolved space between human and non-human made him a particularly rich locus of creativity for the franchise’s founders, a fact made audible in his relationship to music–both the music that underscores him and the music he makes on screen. Continue reading “Musical Spock”

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. This quote bears a striking resemblance to W.E.B. DuBois’ description of double consciousness: “two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches (Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., 1903), 3.

Star Trek (2009): The First Sixty Seconds

By Brooke McCorkle

Note: This post is part of The Music of Star Trek Blogathon hosted by Film Music Central and comes to the The Temp Track courtesy of guest blogger Brooke McCorkle.

Star Trek (2009) Movie Poster
Star Trek (2009) Movie Poster

With Star Trek (2009), director J.J. Abrams faced a challenging task. First he had to guide the reboot of a series that has long been branded nerdy, weird, and too cerebral for mainstream audiences (as opposed to George Lucas’s Star Wars universe). Second, Star Trek hadn’t done so well in the preceding decade. The television show Enterprise (2001-5) received harsh criticism and low viewer ratings (see here for a graph visualizing this drop). Star Trek: Nemesis (2002), the last Star Trek film before 2009, remains the lowest-grossing entry into the franchise.1Box Office Mojo Data Finally, the characters appearing in the Abrams film are popular culture icons strongly associated with the original actors, most notably William Shatner as James Tiberius Kirk and Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock. How would Abrams, along with writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, reinvigorate Gene Roddenberry’s world and attract audiences? Continue reading “Star Trek (2009): The First Sixty Seconds”

Footnotes   [ + ]

Only Kirk Could Go To Qo’noS: Cold War Allegory and the Title Theme for Star Trek VI

By Michael W. Harris

Note: This post is part of The Music of Star Trek Blogathon hosted by Film Music Central.

star_trek_vi_ver2
Star Trek VI movie poster

Coming off the critical and commercial failure of The Final Frontier, the future of another big screen adventure for Kirk and Crew was in doubt. Sure, The Next Generation was setting ratings records in first-run syndication, but would anyone go to see another big screen adventure of the Original Series crew? Indeed, the first idea batted around for a Trek VI was something that is much more like what became the 2009 reboot: a younger version of crew set during their days at Starfleet Academy. But with the 25th anniversary of the franchise looming, along with negative fan reaction to this early pitch, the decision was made to give Shatner, Nimoy, et al, the big screen send-off they deserved. Continue reading “Only Kirk Could Go To Qo’noS: Cold War Allegory and the Title Theme for Star Trek VI”