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”

Scoring the Final Frontier: Celebrating 50 Years of Trek Tracks

By Jessica Getman, Michael W. Harris, and Brooke McCorkle

Welcome to The Temp Track’s celebration of Star Trek music, being held as part of Film Music Central’s Star Trek Blogathon. Seeing how The Temp Track will be hosting three entries for this blogathon, Temp Track editor-in-chief/owner/dark-overlord Michael W. Harris thought it would be useful to write this intro giving new readers some introduction, context, and also have some fun with getting a bunch of Trek nerds to listen to all thirteen film scores and compile a ranking-to-end-all-rankings of Trek film music…at least until a new film comes out and we all rewatch and relisten to all the previous films, and in the process completely change our minds. Except for Wrath of Khan. That film and music will forever reign supreme over all of Trek. Continue reading “Scoring the Final Frontier: Celebrating 50 Years of Trek Tracks”

The Music of Final Fantasy VI – Coda: Partings

By Michael W. Harris

NOTE: If you have missed any of the previous entries in this series, you can read them here: Prelude, Act I, Act II, Act III, Act IV, and Act V.

Just like all the popular movies these days, this blog series has its own after credits scene. Rather than setting up the next film, though, this post is meant to highlight a few albums and items that didn’t fit in well with the more cue-focused posts that made up this series, along with offering some final thoughts and links for more readings.

I did a lot of listening in preparation of this series. I wanted to get a feel for the breadth of Final Fantasy VI musical arrangements that are currently available. While this niche fan genre has quickly become more main stream, especially as professional orchestras are trying new ways to draw in diverse audiences, I obviously pulled on a small number of albums in this blog series. Continue reading “The Music of Final Fantasy VI – Coda: Partings”

The Music of Final Fantasy VI – Act V: Many Endings

By Michael W. Harris

The last scene of the end credits
The last scene of the end credits

Kefka is defeated. The tower begins to crumble around your party. But the player’s part in the game is over and there is nothing to do but set aside your controller and enjoy the game’s twenty-plus minute ending sequence.

While I don’t have the frame of reference to compare Final Fantasy VI’s ending to other video games (I have beat shockingly few games), I can say that it has always struck me for its length and depth. It starts by taking the player through short vignettes that help up wrap up every playable character’s story line as they escape the final dungeon, and it does so while the soundtrack plays each character’s theme for a final time. It is like a last good bye to old friends. Continue reading “The Music of Final Fantasy VI – Act V: Many Endings”

The Music of Final Fantasy VI – Act IV: “Dancing Mad” and the Insanity of Kefka

By Michael W. Harris

Every great tragedy or drama or opera needs a great villain, and boy does Final Fantasy VI deliver. It is almost a given that on any list of greatest video game villains that FFVI’s Kefka will make an appearance somewhere.

Part of what makes Kefka such a great antagonist is that he doesn’t actually start out as the main villain. Initially he is the evil second in command of the empire, but is secondary to the actual Emperor. He is the Vader to Gestahl’s Palpatine. However, all that changes when Kefka steals the power of the espers, becomes a god-like being and essentially brings about the apocalypse. It is the amazing mid-game shift where not only do you have a completely new world map to navigate, but the villain actually wins. Continue reading “The Music of Final Fantasy VI – Act IV: “Dancing Mad” and the Insanity of Kefka”