Thursday, December 10, 2015

Throwback Thursday: A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas

A Very Hard-to-Read 3D Christmas Stub
Usually on Throwback Thursday, I randomly pull out from my desk cabinet--with my eyes closed--a movie ticket stub I saved. Then I discuss the movie on the stub and maybe a little bit of its score, which might be now streaming on AFOS. Today, instead of drawing some random ticket, I'm going to focus today's TBT piece on a Christmas movie whose stub I've kept. This is the final post of the AFOS blog's year-long TBT series. A TBT piece was the blog's first post of 2015, so this final TBT piece is the blog's final post of 2015. The blog will resume with all-new posts some time in 2016.

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas is a triple Christmas miracle. It's a threequel that actually doesn't suck, a slapstick holiday comedy that doesn't suck and the hard-R Asian American Christmas comedy movie I--an Asian American who prefers his Christmas movies to be either irreverent (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Nightmare Before Christmas) or non-sentimental (The Ref)--always dreamed of.

Tired of comedies that don't reflect the diverse Jersey milieu they grew up in, writing partners Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg came up with Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle--starring John Cho as Harold (company man by day, pothead by night) and Kal Penn as Harold's more laid-back best friend Kumar--as an antidote. Hurwitz said, "Eventually we decided, wouldn't it be different if we wrote a movie where the Asian guys weren't the 'best friend,' and they were front and center." The hilarious and unabashedly crude Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle delivered a French fry grease-covered middle finger to Asian American stereotypes, placed Asian American men in non-stereotypical roles and gave them well-rounded and genuinely funny characters to play--11 years before Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang entertainingly did the same on Master of None and Fresh Off the Boat did the same with a Chinese American family very loosely (while some have viewed as way too loosely) based on restaurateur Eddie Huang's real-life fam.


I've also always wanted to see an Asian American version of Lemmon and Matthau anchoring a buddy movie. Thank fuck for the Harold & Kumar movies, in which Cho and Penn are our Lemmon and Matthau (I wish Cho and Penn would do 11 movies together like Lemmon and Matthau did, and in these buddy movies, they would get to leave behind Harold and Kumar and play other characters, like maybe an Ice Cube type of character for Cho, who does a dead-on Cube). Hurwitz, Schlossberg and director Danny Leiner broke new ground with the first Asian American pothead buddy comedy. In 3D Christmas (spelled with no hyphen between the 3 and D), Hurwitz, Schlossberg and director Todd Strauss-Schulson attempt to break some new ground with the first hard-R Asian American Christmas flick, and the result is both a more consistently funny Harold & Kumar sequel than Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (unlike Guantanamo Bay, it doesn't recycle gags from the first movie) and a much more visually inventive installment than the previous two.

The visual flair of 3D Christmas--despite an evidently low budget that has Detroit attempting to pass itself off as New York--is mainly due to the addition of Strauss-Schulson, a more visually adventurous director than Leiner and the duo of Hurwitz and Schlossberg, who shared directing duties on Guantanamo Bay (Strauss-Schulson's currently receiving good notices for his horror comedy The Final Girls), and the work of Laika, the great Portland stop-motion animation studio behind Coraline, ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls, during the 2011 threequel's Claymation drug trip sequence. Laika's sequence is a raunchy and gory parody of Rankin-Bass holiday specials that has Harold and Kumar seeing nothing but Rankin-Bass when their search for a Christmas tree for Harold's house gets disrupted by hallucinations caused by hallucinogen-spiked eggnog. In addition to a Claymation sequence, 3D Christmas treats the audience to a spoof of hyper-stylized heist-movie planning sequences, parodies of Sin City and Zack Snyder movies, a holiday musical number (and it too is raunchy, of course, with Kumar's '90s TV idol Neil Patrick Harris, once again playing a hyper-masculine, constantly-high-on-E version of himself, appearing to have orally satisfied a female dancer right in the middle of it) and sight gags about the ridiculousness of the film's 3-D gimmick.


The 3-D sight gags still manage to be funny even in 2-D. There's an especially crazy 3-D gag involving both a Christmas tree and Danny Trejo, who plays the tough and occasionally racist father-in-law Harold wants so badly to impress ever since he married Maria (Paula Garces), his love interest in the previous two movies. The Trejo/Christmas tree gag is classic Harold & Kumar.

Like the movie itself, the original score by William Ross isn't much of a game-changer, but it's a lot of fun. Ross, who frequently scored episodes of Tiny Toon Adventures, gets to revisit his Warner Bros. Animation scoring past for this Warner Bros. movie that's basically a live-action Warner cartoon, and the best parts of his 3D Christmas score are not the faithful covers of Christmas standards like "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" but Carl Stalling-style parodies of scores like James Horner's Mask of Zorro score ("Merry Christmas!"), any score where Lisa Gerrard's wailing ("Eggtion") and Don Davis' Matrix score ("Super Baby").



Ross' spoof of Davis' work on The Matrix is especially amusing because he was an orchestrator on The Matrix Reloaded. He wrote the Matrix-style motif for a scene where a toddler (triplets Ashley, Chloe and Hannah Coss) who's been accidentally high on weed and cocaine somehow develops superhuman strength and prepares to attack a famously vicious Ukrainian gangster (Elias Koteas). The brief motif is a great misdirect too: it tricks the audience into thinking the film is going to bust out yet another hacky parody of The Matrix's bullet-time scenes, but instead, the hacky bullet-time parody we're all expecting (fortunately) never happens.

Thomas Lennon's coked-up toddler daughter was the least favorite part of 3D Christmas for film critics who bizarrely cry foul over making humor out of kids inadvertently getting high. Like critic Stephanie Zacharek--a fan of White Castle and Guantanamo Bay who found 3D Christmas to be underwhelming but enjoyed its coked-up baby scenes--said back in 2011, the coked-up baby gags are a pretty daring move in a contemporary culture where kids are mini-potentates who must be protected from bad influences at all costs. Without the toddler's accidental encounters with drugs, 3D Christmas would have been deprived of one of my favorite scenes in the movie: Kumar's choice of "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing ta Fuck Wit" as a lullaby to calm her down.

(Photo source: The Nihilistic Cinephile)

RZA, whose voice is all over "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing ta Fuck Wit," even makes a cameo as a Christmas tree salesman who likes to fuck around with customers and role-play with his business partner (Da'Vone McDonald), who, at one point, desperately pleads with RZA's character to "play Angry Black Guy this time." Their scene is another great example of the Harold & Kumar movies' playful approach to racial stereotypes, which is basically "Yes, they're terrible, but you can't let them get you down, and the only way to cope with them and various other forms of racism is to laugh about them or mock them." It's not surprising why Harold and Kumar toke up a lot. Weed helps them get through the racism they have to put up with.

But in 3D Christmas, Harold has given up the herb because it lowers sperm count, and he's trying to have a baby with Maria (meanwhile, Kumar has distanced himself from an increasingly money-grubby Harold, dropped out of med school and replaced Harold with a bong--and sometimes Amir Blumenfeld--as his best friend). So in a deleted scene where an old Jewish lady at a Chinese restaurant mistakes the Korean American Harold for a Chinese waiter, Harold reacts not with a stoned laugh but in a way that's typical for those of us when we don't have a joint or a blunt to cope with racism: silent, world-weary resignation.


Hurwitz and Schlossberg frequently get criticized for the huge amounts of naked women and gay-panic jokes (fortunately, 3D Christmas has none of the gay-panic jokes that were all over White Castle and Guantanamo Bay) during their trilogy. But they've remarkably gotten two things right--and they've never gotten praise for it--in their three attempts to give Asian Americans the kinds of leading comedic roles they never previously got, which, if Hurwitz and Schlossberg hadn't been so careful or understanding, could have turned into self-serving, one-sided or clueless acts of white saviordom: 1) the way that race is an intrinsic part of the lives of people of color and affects everything we, as people of color, do; and 2) the many different ways we deal with racism, as opposed to just one way. A lot of us prefer to laugh about it, like Harold and Kumar do when they see the police artist sketches of themselves on TV at the end of White Castle. Meanwhile, the two Christmas tree salesmen in 3D Christmas prefer role-playing and running cons as their way of dealing with it. Or there are others who prefer to be more Zen about it, like the Gary Anthony Williams character in White Castle, who tells Harold that he realized long ago that there's no sense in getting riled up by racism, plus he has a really large penis, and that keeps him happy.

Those two things these two Jews managed to get right in these movies they've written as tributes to their Asian American friends (they named Harold after a real-life friend of theirs, Harold Lee) are perhaps the greatest gift the Harold & Kumar franchise has presented to us, even more so than crazy Neil Patrick Harris cameos, clever Claymation sequences, naked nun shower scenes or a waffle-making sentient robot named WaffleBot.


Nah, wait a minute. Nothing can top WaffleBot. Okay, they're the second greatest gift.

None of William Ross' score cues from A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas are currently in rotation on AFOS, but the triumphant-sounding "WaffleBot Rescue" ought to be. The AFOS blog resumes in 2016.



Wednesday, December 9, 2015

With "Love Crime," Brian Reitzell and Siouxsie Sioux somehow surpassed Manhunter's use of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" for Graham's fight with Dollarhyde when Hannibal musically tackled that same moment

Former Hannibal composer Brian Reitzell and the recently unretired Siouxsie Sioux (Photo source: EW.com)

Brian Reitzell's eerie score music from Bryan Fuller's now-defunct Hannibal is completely bonkers. It's largely non-melodic and is more like sound FX rather than traditional-sounding score music. Think the horror equivalent of Gil Melle's similarly creepy and non-melodic synth score from The Andromeda Strain, but performed with bronze percussion instruments or old-fashioned oddities like a Newton's cradle--which, as the Hannibal composer and music supervisor pointed out to interviewer Hrishikesh Hirway on 99% Invisible, was chosen to represent the synapses firing inside the brain of FBI profiler and "empathy disorder" sufferer Will Graham (Hugh Dancy)--and a bullroarer (a piece of wood on a string, spun around to produce a roaring noise and used in Aboriginal religious ceremonies).

During Reitzell's Hannibal score albums (the kind of score albums that are made to be listened to only on headphones in order to catch all the various intricacies of Reitzell's nifty soundscapes), you're more able to notice how bonkers the sound design in Reitzell's score music is because your attention isn't drawn to either the gruesome prosthetic makeup on Raúl Esparza as the disfigured Frederick Chilton or the shots of misshapen corpses in grisly crime scenes that look like art installations created by the world's most fucked-up sculptors. A couple of lengthy excerpts from the score albums for Hannibal's first two seasons (the nearly 12-minute "Trou Normand" and the eight-minute "Tome-wan") are currently in rotation on AFOS, and, like Reitzell once warned about his own music from Hannibal, they're "not something to play alone in the dark while driving!"




Will Graham deduces why a murdered musician was transformed into a cello in the Hannibal episode "Fromage."

Aside from the occasional use of Bach and Mozart compositions as source cues (Hannibal Lecter may be a cannibal, but his tastes in dinner music lean towards the classy and erudite), Reitzell refrained from conventional melodies for so long that when the time came for Fuller and Reitzell to close the book on Hannibal, Reitzell wanted to say thank you to the show's small but passionate audience--known as the Fannibals--for expressing their love for the show by finally treating them to a conventional melody at the end of "The Wrath of the Lamb," the series finale. The final six episodes of Hannibal were loaded with fan service, whether they were fast-forwarding the series timeline to retell Red Dragon, the 1981 Thomas Harris novel that started it all and introduced Dr. Lecter, heightening the homoerotic tension between Will and Mads Mikkelsen's Hannibal (but, as Hannibal regular Scott Thompson points out, never really getting them to consummate it) or gifting the Fannibals with an original song that intriguingly carries several different meanings, from the most obvious one, the bizarre love between Will and his frenemy, to the possibility that the song is also about the post-NBC future of the show itself.

I'm no Goth, and I've never cared for Goths, but I've always liked the music of Siouxsie and the Banshees, whose songs have been discovered by a whole new audience after The Weeknd sampled the band's "Happy House" for "House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls" back in 2011. "Love Crime," Siouxsie Sioux's first recording in eight years, is a perfect way for Reitzell--a Banshees fan who co-wrote the tune with Sioux, a fan of Fuller's show--to musically conclude Hannibal, as well as one of Sioux's best songs, a hypnotic ballad in the mold of "Face to Face," the Siouxsie and the Banshees tune that was such a musical highlight of Batman Returns.



The Sioux/Reitzell tune, which I've added to AFOS rotation this week, is also a far better Bond song than "Writing's on the Wall," Sam Smith's official Bond theme for Spectre. Even though "Love Crime" is a ballad and the "I will survive" refrain is an especially resonant and bittersweet lyric for viewers and TV critics who are heartbroken over NBC's cancellation of Hannibal and are hoping Fuller will get his wish to someday revisit the Harris characters in some form or other, "Love Crime" is thankfully devoid of the sappiness of "Whining's on the Wall."

Like "Face to Face" before it, "Love Crime" feels like the Bond song Sioux always wanted to perform but will never get to because she's too weird for the Top 40 radio-obsessed Broccolis. Sioux isn't quite Sade. Now Sade's the performer I've always wanted for a Bond theme, more so than anyone else, even Sioux--"Smooth Operator" would have been perfect for opening a Roger Moore-era Bond flick--yet the Broccolis have stupidly ignored Sade all these years. But with "Love Crime," Sioux proves she was always worthy to join the likes of Shirley Bassey and Shirley Manson. She and Reitzell also prove what a folly several of the Broccolis' choices for Bond main title themes have been ever since Lulu's voice cracked at the end of 1974's "The Man with the Golden Gun," and that high note Lulu clearly had trouble powering through helped cause "The Man with the Golden Gun," a tune even the late John Barry admitted to being ashamed of producing, to become the first of several main title themes in the Bond catalog that are painful to listen to.

That's not all that "Love Crime" surpasses. Will's confrontation with serial killer Francis Dolarhyde (oddly spelled as Dollarhyde by Michael Mann and played by Tom Noonan) to the tune of Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" during 1986's Manhunter--the first time Red Dragon was brought to the screen--remains a classic musical moment in a Mann movie, especially when Iron Butterfly drummer Ron Bushy's drum roll accompanies the William Peterson version of Will badassedly smashing through the window to stop Dollarhyde. Sioux and Reitzell actually recorded "Love Crime" way before "Wrath of the Lamb" episode writers Fuller, Steve Lightfoot and Nick Antosca came up with the scenes "Love Crime" ended up being paired with in the final cut: Will and Hannibal fighting Dolarhyde (now back to one L and played by Richard Armitage) together; a badly wounded Will experiencing a baptism in blood and taking a gutshot Hannibal along with him in his plunge off the cliff; and a drugged Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson) being served her own severed and roasted leg by an unknown dinner guest (could that guest be her former patient and partner-in-crime Hannibal?). But after hearing what Sioux and Reitzell accomplished with "Love Crime"--and seeing how beautifully the tune fits with those striking images of Dolarhyde, Will, Hannibal and Bedelia--I prefer "Love Crime" over the drunkenly sung "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" as cathartic music for the defeat of Dolarhyde.

(Photo source: endlessly fascinated)

The lyrics during "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" were always dumb anyway. They're the "I'mma take her ass down when she bring her friend around/Fuck 'em both like ayo" of 20-minute makeout songs for white people. The lyrics are so distractingly inane they make you wish Mann's music editor carved up "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" into an instrumental like how Hannibal carves up his victims for dinner.

Plus "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" doesn't have the aforementioned layers of meaning "Love Crime" carries. In addition to the subject matter of the bond between Will and Hannibal (notice the double meaning of "I will," which could also be interpreted as "I, Will"), "Love Crime" is also about Hannibal and Bedelia. Fuller pointed out to TV critic Alan Sepinwall that "what's so fun is that... we hear [Sioux] say, 'I will survive, I will survive,' as we're pushing in on Bedelia, and that could mean she's singing from Hannibal's perspective and it means he has survived and will eat this woman now, or Bedelia's point of view that it's like, 'You may have cut off this leg, but I've got this fork and I'm gonna do some damage before it's done.'"


"Love Crime" could also be interpreted as an anthem for the show itself and its existence in the "deadly game" known as network TV. I'm amazed that a show with so much gore, cannibalism, dark humor and bizarre dream sequences and such a thoughtful approach to mortality and morality managed to last this long on a network like NBC.

Three seasons are a ripe old age for a Fuller show about the subject of death. It's the longest a Fuller creation has lasted on TV (Wonderfalls, the first time many of us developed a crush on Hannibal regular Caroline Dhavernas, lasted only one season, while Pushing Daisies managed to stay alive for two, just like Dead Like Me, which Fuller also created, but he quit Dead Like Me early on due to creative differences). Fuller, who devised the ending of "The Wrath of the Lamb" so that it could be both a satisfying conclusion and the start of a possible new chapter, may think that "the most interesting chapter of Will Graham's story has yet to be told"--Sioux's "I will survive" refrain is basically what must be playing inside Fuller's head whenever he tantalizes the Fannibals with the possibility of a miniseries or movie where Dancy and Mikkelsen would reprise their roles--but personally, I think Will's story ended at the right point.


Plus the continuation of Hannibal would have gotten in the way of what I think Fuller--who's now showrunning the Starz adaptation of Neil Gaiman's American Gods and is attempting to revive Steven Spielberg's Amazing Stories--is destined for: returning to the franchise that gave him his start, Star Trek, and bringing it back to TV (c'mon, CBS All Access, let Fuller have the conn). Three seasons are the perfect lifespan for shows about serial killers who are superhumanly able to get away with so much heinous shit for so long, as opposed to the 38 seasons of Dexter and the 67 seasons of Criminal Minds. Sometimes the feasts with smaller portions are the better ones.

"Love Crime" is now in rotation during the AFOS blocks "AFOS Prime" and "New Cue Revue." Lakeshore Records will release the Hannibal Season 3 Volume 1 and Volume 2 score albums digitally this Friday and on CD in early 2016, just in time for yesterday's DVD and Blu-ray debut of Hannibal's third and final season.



(Photo source: Eliosu)

Monday, December 7, 2015

Attach the block: Netflix's Black Mirror: White Christmas imagines a cold future where people can be blocked in offline relationships like on Twitter

Tonight on Channel 4, it's Black Mirror: White Couch.
The following is a repost of a piece from December 17, 2014. It was published right after Black Mirror: White Christmas had its British premiere on December 16, 2014. White Christmas had its American premiere on DirecTV's Audience Network on December 25, 2014 and will finally be added to Netflix this Christmas day.

Goddammit, Black Mirror! Why do you have to be so amazing? Black Mirror isn't just the best anthology franchise currently on the air. It also contains some of the craftiest sci-fi storytelling on TV in 2014, as exemplified by Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker's feature-length Black Mirror: White Christmas, a delightfully twisted piece of non-traditional holiday entertainment that premiered in the U.K. on Channel 4 last night. White Christmas, which guest-starred Jon Hamm and a couple of Game of Thrones alums, Oona Chaplin and Natalia Tena, feels more like a feature film than a typical Black Mirror episode, which is why I'm writing the title in italics instead of in between quotation marks.

I've written about Black Mirror before, after it was added to Netflix in America, and as someone who stubbornly refuses to become a smartphone zombie like the male smartphone zombies in my family, I just love how much twisted and subversive fun the show has with exploring the dark side of technology. Want to live inside your phone? Well, you get your wish, but you have to part with a little thing called free will. Want to block your significant other from your marriage or any future interactions you have with him or her, just like how you can block some anonymous troll on Twitter? Well, here's the tech to block that bastard, but that person's going to be driven so crazy by being blocked that the bastard will come back later to murder your entire family.

The block isn't hot.

I'm making it sound like Black Mirror is the kind of completely technophobic piece of shit Michael Crichton used to crank out. But the writing in the six previous Black Mirror episodes and White Christmas is more nuanced than that. Black Mirror's attitude isn't "Technology is evil." The show's attitude is more like "People are evil and fucked up, and when they have all this technological power in their hands, they don't know what to do with it." Not every gadget on the show is a detriment. There's one gizmo from the show I'd want to have, and that's the digital drawing board Hayley Atwell uses to create illustrations and graphic designs in "Be Right Back." But as for all the other gadgets, they seem appealing at first because of the immense power they give their users--like the "Entire History of You" device known as "the grain," which allows people to record everything from their workdays to their bedroom sessions with an implant in their skulls--but then they lose their appeal for me because of the horrible mistakes Brooker's characters make with these devices.

The first and third segments in White Christmas' triptych of interconnected horror stories about technology made me notice that there are never any healthy romantic relationships on Black Mirror. They all end badly. (At times, Black Mirror feels like the serious sci-fi version of many of Aziz Ansari's more recent stand-up routines, which have been based on extensive research he did about how much technology has changed relationships and romantic interactions.) Mankind's inability to contain its greed or keep its addiction to technology in moderation poisons everything, especially relationships. Even the original Twilight Zone, a huge influence on Brooker, was less cynical about relationships impacted by machines. When William Shatner and Patricia Breslin escaped the clutches of Satan's fortune-telling machine at the end of "Nick of Time," you knew their marriage was going to turn out okay. That's never the case with any relationship on Black Mirror.

The star of Mad Men, who portrays in White Christmas a futuristic dating coach who, of course, is unable to control the horrible outcome of one such ill-fated relationship, is the Kendrick Lamar of both American and British TV. He appears on everything. (Oh, look, he's on The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret! Now there he is on Parks and Rec, as the only employee of Leslie Knope's who's more incompetent than Jerry!) In White Christmas, I like how Brooker and director Carl Tibbetts got Hamm to tap into his comedic side, as seen in countless comedy podcasts, his 30 Rock guest shots and Bridesmaids, instead of doing nothing but brood a la Don Draper for the entire Christmas special (all the brooding during the special is left to Rafe Spall as a man who receives the aforementioned "block" from his girlfriend, who's played by Salem star Janet Montgomery). Hamm's so skilled at both anchoring Brooker's stories and injecting levity into them (his unreliable narration is the funniest part of the first White Christmas segment) that had Brooker wanted to go old-school instead and have a host introduce each story on Black Mirror, Hamm would have been the perfect Black Mirror host/narrator.

As a viewer of several comic book-inspired shows that are attempting to build shared universes of their own by dropping one reference to either the source material or a sister project after another (with his giddy habit of giving criminals colorful villain names that are the exact same names as their DC Comics print counterparts, Cisco from the CW's The Flash should be called "Mario Sue," as in "mare-ee-oh"), I'm getting kind of Easter-egged out. White Christmas is full of Easter eggs that reference previous Black Mirror episodes--at one point, Spall is seen flipping through TV shows that were featured in "Fifteen Million Merits" and "The Waldo Moment," as a sort of stocking stuffer from Brooker, in addition to this whole feature-length Christmas present he's written--but I don't mind those Easter eggs.

The possibility in White Christmas that all these Black Mirror stories take place in the same universe is interesting, and it reminds me of how the '90s version of The Outer Limits used to take its most well-received episodes and create sequels to them or intertwine those episodes' self-contained continuities with other episodes' continuities. In fact, Black Mirror is essentially an Outer Limits for the age of Google Glass and digital footprints, but better, stronger, faster. And--despite not containing any bug-eyed monsters or Cronenbergian creatures--scarier.

The first two seasons of Black Mirror--just three episodes each--can be streamed on Netflix, and they'll be joined on December 25 by the long-awaited addition of White Christmas to the streaming service. A 12-episode third season was commissioned by Netflix earlier this year and has not yet been given a premiere date.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Frances McDormand's finest hour as an actress
Every Throwback Thursday, I randomly pull out from my desk cabinet--with my eyes closed--a movie ticket stub I saved. Then I discuss the movie on the stub and maybe a little bit of its score, which might be now streaming on AFOS. The AFOS blog's year-long TBT series concludes its run on December 10.

That skydiving scene in 3-D was amazing.

The rest of the movie can go fuck itself.

They should toss Shia to his death while they're at it.

Thinking outside the Fox: A speculation over how The Force Awakens will open without the Fox fanfare (accompanied by my older brother's doodles in the 1978 Star Wars Storybook from when he was six)

When Star Wars: The Force Awakens premieres in just two weeks, it will be the first live-action Star Wars film to open without composer Alfred Newman's majestic 20th Century Fox fanfare, due to Disney's 2012 acquisition of Lucasfilm and the transfer of the role of distributor of the Star Wars films from Fox to Disney. The last Star Wars film that played in theaters actually didn't open with the Fox fanfare either: 2008's CG-animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars, a prelude to the CG-animated TV show of the same name, was distributed by Warner Bros. instead of Fox.

Yet some Star Wars fans are still experiencing separation anxiety in regards to Newman's fanfare, a familiar staple of previous live-action Star Wars installments, even after learning to live without it when they saw the Clone Wars film.








If a Star Wars fanboy you know or tolerate is saying something along the lines of "It just ain't Star Wars without the Fox logo music," it's time to get him to rip that Band-Aid off. It's time to tell him to get over the absence of the Fox fanfare and grow up, fuzzball. To borrow the words of Jacob Hall over at ScreenCrush, are we really going to get sentimental and worked up about a movie studio's theme music being removed from a film franchise the studio no longer owns? "We shouldn't," said Hall. "That would be silly. But we are!"

Well, I'm not. There are other things I'm much more concerned about than the disappearance of a corporation's fanfare. Those things include the original score music within the new film, provided once again by the beloved John Williams (meanwhile, Hamilton mastermind Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the film's new cantina music?: that's what I call a coup), and the ways the George Lucas-less Force Awakens will handle the much-needed return of the kind of character who was missing for too long from the Star Wars films and whose absence was the biggest reason why I despise the Lucas-directed prequel trilogy. That would be the character who takes a gander at all the mysticism and craziness surrounding him and says, "Yeah, this is bullshit. But I'll just go along with it. For now." In other words: Han Solo.

My older brother was a calligraphy nerd in grade school, and his 1978 copy of The Star Wars Storybook, which I unearthed from our parents' garage a couple of years ago, was clearly the beginning of that.

The prequels badly needed a foil to gruffly react to "hokey religions and ancient weapons." In the classic trilogy, Han--the reluctant hero who will be played once again in The Force Awakens by similarly reluctant Star Wars star Harrison Ford, who once famously grumbled to Lucas that "You can write this shit, but you can't say it"--served that purpose entertainingly, and to a certain extent, so did Princess Leia, whose barbs were directed at walking carpets and nerf herders rather than hokey religions and ancient weapons.

Without a character like Han (and occasionally, Leia) to break up the monotony of the ultra-solemn Jedi characters (the prequels clearly intended Ewan McGregor's slightly cranky version of Obi-Wan to be the new Han figure, but it just wasn't the same), the similarly solemn politician characters and the mostly dour Sith characters, as well as supply to the proceedings a certain dose of grown-up comedic energy (as opposed to the brand of humor that was written for six-year-olds like Jar Jar's puerile and Fetchit-y bits of comic relief during The Phantom Menace), the Star Wars films unfortunately turned into a stuffy BBC costume drama in space. Or as Screen Junkies announcer Jon Bailey astutely summed up Attack of the Clones during the Honest Trailer for that prequel, "People sitting and talking, standing and talking, walking and talking, one person standing and talking while another is sitting and talking, people standing and talking, then taking a seat for more talking."



Back to things that aren't as lethargic. Look, I agree that Newman's rousing 1954 arrangement of his own 1933 Fox fanfare--an extended update that was designed to herald Fox's CinemaScope logo for films shot in the CinemaScope widescreen format Fox introduced in the '50s to compete with square-shaped TV--is a great little piece of music. It's so great it inspired Williams to write the Star Wars opening title theme in the same key. In fact, the studio suits so enjoyed hearing again the 1954 version at the start of a Fox film when Star Wars brought it back to accompany the "A Lucasfilm Limited Production" card--by the way, the demise of the CinemaScope label caused the studio to revert to the shorter 1933 fanfare for most of the '70s, while the studio's Planet of the Apes franchise opted to completely ditch studio artist Emil Kosa Jr.'s animated Fox logo--that the 1954 version became the permanent arrangement of the fanfare after Star Wars. (That move by Fox resulted in two of my favorite takes on the 1954 fanfare: musician Bennie Wallace's Dixieland funk version at the start of White Men Can't Jump and Ralph Wiggum's rendition of the last few notes of the 1954 fanfare at the start of The Simpsons Movie.) But it's time to move on, man. Star Wars is not going to fall apart without that 1954 fanfare (and if you really can't let go of that fanfare, bring your phone or mp3 player along with you to the theater like they suggested over at the A.V. Club, put on your earbuds and cue up either the fanfare or "20th Century Foxney" when The Force Awakens begins). However, I'm curious about how The Force Awakens will open without it.

When Disney reissued the previous six live-action Star Wars films on digital platforms earlier this year and replaced the Fox fanfare with Lucasfilm's fanfare on five of those films (but with no Disney castle logo, much like how movies produced by Marvel Studios, another arm of Disney, never open with the Disney logo), that Lucasfilm fanfare wasn't favorably received. "The new score will now accompany all Star Wars films going forward, with the only exception being the original film, which 20th Century Fox still hold [sic] distribution rights for," wrote Kwame Opam about the Lucasfilm fanfare over at The Verge. Opam is kind of incorrect. The Lucasfilm fanfare isn't a newly written piece. It's merely some Skywalker Ranch grunt's Pro Tools re-edit of the last few notes of Williams' end title music from The Empire Strikes Back.

Illustration by six-year-old Jonas Aquino

Illustration by Aquino

Illustration by Aquino

Many fanboys assume The Force Awakens will open with the same fanfare that's been tacked on to The Empire Strikes Back and the four subsequent Star Wars films for their digital releases. I have a feeling The Force Awakens won't use that chopped-up fanfare. I think the new film should open with complete silence before the classic Williams theme kicks in--it's more powerful that way and it's preferable over some old Williams fanfare from 1980 or even a new Williams fanfare--and I think it will.

Disney's Force Awakens marketing campaign has been effective at building suspense and excitement and not giving too much of the film away. I have a feeling the film itself will continue in that vein by opting for silence right before the return of the classic Williams theme. But whatever Disney, Lucasfilm and Bad Robot decide to do at the start of The Force Awakens, like my older brother cornily scrawled in pencil about the Rebels inside the Death Star when he was six, the Force will be with them.


And whatever they do will be far better than "People sitting and talking, standing and talking, walking and talking, one person standing and talking while another is sitting and talking, people standing and talking, then taking a seat for more talking."

The music of Star Wars is part of "AFOS Prime" and "Hall H" on AFOS. Star Wars is represented in both those blocks by the Empire Strikes Back score cues "The Battle of Hoth" and "The Rebel Fleet/End Title," which was, as mentioned earlier, later compressed and re-edited into the Lucasfilm fanfare at the start of the digital releases of the Star Wars films.