Just Enjoy: Why I Have Tried to Stop Theorizing About My Favorite Media

By Michael W. Harris

Sad Matt Smith is Sad

It was around the time when Matt Smith was leaving the TARDIS in the epic three-part “The [blank] of the Doctor” episodes that I began to realize that it was sort of pointless to endlessly theorize. In those episodes, there were so many aspects and moving parts that Steven Moffat had to pay off, not to mention the longstanding issue of how many regenerations Time Lords had, plus the epic reveal of the “War Doctor,” that the creeping sensation of inevitable let down began to sink in. In the months in between “The Name…” and “The Day…” my friends and I had numerous conversations about what we thought was going on and where it was going to lead. For my own part, I injested classic episodes of Doctor Who in order to track down the sources of Whovian lore that Moffat was pulling on. And for all of the hints that he laid out in “The Name,” and for all of the awesome fan service found in “The Day,” the final installment, “The Time of the Doctor,” just sort of limped along and barely paid any of it off. A problem that was compounded by the Peter Capaldi era and its hints of some awesome meta story of how Capaldi had appeared in early parts of the Who franchise. And as I sat in the theatre watching Star Wars: The Last Jedi, it hit me: I need to relearn how to just enjoy my favorite media properties. This isn’t to say I will stop writing about and analyzing what has already come, not by a long shot. It means that I will try to stop speculating about what might come next. Continue reading “Just Enjoy: Why I Have Tried to Stop Theorizing About My Favorite Media”

Not The Films We Need, But the Films We Deserve: Safe vs. Daring Yet Flawed Films

By Michael W. Harris

I really wanted to love Pacific Rim. Like, unabashedly, giggling like a little kid at a silly joke, deliriously love it. And the trailers set me up for such a love! I mean, the plot was something that two eight-year-olds playing with their toys would dream up on a weekend: giant robots fighting giant monsters. It was a live action anime. It was every nerdy “what if” conversation you would have as an undergrad when you finally found “your people.” And that line from the trailer was perfectly hammy yet earnest: “WE ARE CANCELLING THE APOCALYPSE!”

So what happened? Why didn’t I have that complete rush of joy when I left the theatre? I liked it, sure. I even enjoyed it. But the giddiness I felt at the first trailer didn’t materialize. And the “apocalypse” speech fell flat. It was too short and didn’t earn its tag line, like “TODAY IS OUR INDEPENDENCE DAY!” did during the summer of 1996. And I think that is a good point of comparison, as I view both films similarly as to what I wanted: a fun, goofy, science fiction romp that doesn’t take itself too seriously. That is what Independence Day is and what I thought Pacific Rim was going to be. So where did PacRim go wrong where ID4 went right? Well, the latter went for broke with the goofy one-liners and tongue in cheek remarks, whereas the former played it too safe and didn’t lean into its silly, kids playing with toys premise. Continue reading “Not The Films We Need, But the Films We Deserve: Safe vs. Daring Yet Flawed Films”

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”

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”

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”

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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 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”

From Kurosawa to Evangelion: Ma –or– Leaving Space for Thought

By Michael W. Harris

Author’s Note: This is probably, by far, the longest post I have written for this blog. There is a lot to discuss so please, just stick with me. It will be worth it, I promise! For those who make it through, there is a special treat waiting for you at the end. Also, see the end of the post for a disclaimer about the videos (or lack thereof in one case) in this post

Part I: By Way of Beginnings

It has been a while since I turned my critical lens on Japanese cinema and culture in this humble blog space, so let’s dive back into the realm that constituted so much of my dissertation research.

At the recent 2016 edition of Music and the Moving Image, I was chatting with a good friend about future projects we might collaborate on. As is want to happen when two Japanese film music scholars talk, the subject of Kurosawa’s use of sound bubbled to the surface and I remembered two scenes from his early post-war films (No Regrets for our Youth and One Wonderful Sunday) that had always intrigued me. While these films are not all that highly regarded in the Kurosawa oeuvre, I do find many aspects of their treatment of music and sound (both on- and off-screen) interesting, and I mentioned these two specific scenes to my friend as ones that she might want to take a look at.

Fast forward a few days and a notion pops into my head: not only is Kurosawa probably playing with the Japanese aesthetic principle of ma (literally meaning “space” or “the space between”), but also by looking at these Kurosawa scenes through the lens of ma we might give ourselves a new way of looking at two rather infamous scenes from the 1995-96 anime Neon Genesis Evangelion. Scenes that are infamous for their lack of movement and are usually pointed to as examples of the production’s rather constrained animation budget.

So with that in mind, let’s dissect the concept of ma, watch some Kurosawa, and then talk some Evangelion. Continue reading “From Kurosawa to Evangelion: Ma –or– Leaving Space for Thought”