Tag Archives: John Williams

My Thoughts on: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

(author’s note: I’m BACK everyone!!)

2019 will definitely be remembered as a time of endings in cinema. Not only did this year see the 11 year Infinity Saga come to an end with Avengers: Endgame, it also saw the Skywalker Saga come to a close with the release of Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker.

And what an ending it is! This is a movie that I’ve been looking forward to for two years and after the teaser trailer revealed that the Emperor would be returning (a moment that completely blew my mind I assure you), I was more eager than ever to see how the final installment would play out. And while my many theories all proved to be woefully incorrect, that didn’t change the fact that I loved this film. Don’t let the critics turn you off from seeing The Rise of Skywalker, it IS a good story and a great conclusion…provided you go in with a completely open mind as to how the story can end.


Now, I will admit that The Rise of Skywalker isn’t a perfect film by any means. Could the film have done better in explaining how the Emperor returned? Yes, it could’ve. Could a certain plot point with a certain First Order spy (name withheld because spoilers) have been expanded upon? Oh most definitely. And could we have had a lot more Force ghosts? Yup, no doubt. But really these are minor nitpicks and not gaping plot holes. Of course no movie is going to be completely perfect, and I wish people would remember that more often.

One thing this film gets completely right is its treatment of Carrie Fisher’s final appearance. As you’ve probably heard, all of her footage (minus one scene) was taken from deleted footage created for Episode VII. I wasn’t sure what that would look like going in but it works. It doesn’t feel awkward, but it does make certain scenes very emotional when you remember that Carrie isn’t here anymore. Well done to J.J Abrams and company for getting this right.


The lightsaber battles were everything I hoped for and more. My favorite is the fight between Rey and Kylo Ren among the ruins of the second Death Star. It’s full of such raw emotion, as all the fights in the sequel trilogy have been, and the ending of this particular fight had me in tears. I have to say that it will be hard not seeing Adam Driver in Star Wars movies anymore (note: I’m not spoiling anything, Driver has said he’s moved on from the character), he’s quickly become one of my favorite parts of the sequel trilogy, and his style of lightsaber combat is a lot of fun to watch. I will admit I didn’t see his character arc going where it did, but Abrams did a really good job with it, so I’m okay with it too.

Another thing I liked about The Rise of Skywalker are the many surprises littered throughout the film. Some you’ll know about from the previews, and some you will not see coming. Of course there is one BIG spoiler that is likely dividing fans as I write this, but I for one am okay with it, even though it did torpedo my “Rey is a Skywalker clone” theory into oblivion. If you take a moment and think about it, this particular reveal is entirely plausible, and it does make a lot more sense than some of the theories I heard. Also, on a random note: D-O is my new favorite Star Wars droid.


And it wouldn’t be a Star Wars review if I didn’t take a minute to talk about the music. For one final time, John Williams knocks it out of the park with a fantastic score that ties everything together. Since this is the final entry in the Skywalker Saga, there are a lot of musical callbacks, especially to the original trilogy. There isn’t nearly as much prequel trilogy music as I would’ve liked, but it’s also entirely possible that Williams tried to incorporate some of those themes and it just didn’t work out.

I will close by stating again that The Rise of Skywalker is a good film and a good conclusion to the nine film saga. Having rewatched Episodes I-VIII before seeing this film, I can say that this film fits in perfectly with all the rest. I’m still a little sad that there won’t be any further adventures with Rey or Poe or Finn, but at least now I can go back and watch the complete saga whenever I want. Bravo to everyone who worked over the last 42 years to bring not only The Rise of Skywalker, but all the Star Wars saga films to life.

Let me know what you think about The Rise of Skywalker in the comments below (keep it civil please) and have a great day! I’m happy to be back blogging once more!

See also:

My Thoughts on: Solo: A Star Wars Story (with spoilers!) (2018)

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), My Thoughts!!

My Thoughts on: Star Wars (1977)

My Thoughts on: Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Film Reviews

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SpaceCamp “The Launch” (1986)

John Williams has done so many film scores over the years that it’s no surprise some have fallen through the cracks. One example is his score for the 1986 film SpaceCamp, which in my opinion is one of his more underrated scores mostly because very few seem to know it exists.

For those who don’t know, SpaceCamp is a space adventure film that follows a group of misfit kids at (you guessed it) Space Camp. The adventure revolves around an incident that leads to the kids and their instructor being trapped in the Space Shuttle when it’s suddenly forced to launch (I’m oversimplifying but that is in essence what happens). The shuttle launch scene is one of the big moments of the film, and I wanted to talk about the way John Williams scores this moment (cue starts around 1:17 and stops around 2:25).

The first thing to note is that there is no music whatsoever before the cue in question starts. The only major background sound comes from the rumble of the booster. As the second booster is ignited to initiate launch, the background noise “crescendos” as the launch system activates, with the music beginning the moment the shuttle lifts off the pad.

Listen carefully to the music as the shuttle lifts off, because I think what Williams is doing here is brilliant. This is a layered situation, and the music reflects it perfectly. On the one hand, now that the shuttle has launched, it’s important for the launch to go perfectly so it can reach orbit. But on the other hand, the shuttle has launched with a bunch of kids on board and there’s a general feeling of “oh my God what did we just do?” Williams reflects both sentiments in this single cue: it starts with what I can only describe as a “moody” trumpet fanfare (well, fanfare is admittedly a stretch but I can’t think of a better word) as liftoff commences. It’s the type of music you’d expect to hear when a space shuttle launches, because it’s admittedly an awe-inspiring sight. But the normally triumphant music is almost immediately dampened by a minor-sounding intrusion (after the line “My God, we have liftoff”) that reminds us that, while beautiful, this launch shouldn’t be happening.

This is one of my favorite musical moments in the entire film, and I love how Williams funnels several conflicting emotions into a single cue. I’ll conclude with a bit of bonus trivia: Max (the littlest kid in the shuttle) is played by Joaquin Phoenix (credited here as Leaf Phoenix) in only his 2nd film appearance.

Let me know what you think about SpaceCamp (and the launch scene and its music) in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Film Soundtracks A-W

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Michael Giacchino talks Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

I’ve been suffering from franchise fatigue as of late, which is why I didn’t go see Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom when it came to theaters in the summer of 2018. However, I have heard good things about Michael Giacchino’s score for this film (he’s one of my favorite film composers since he is almost incapable of composing a bad film score). In looking through the behind-the-scenes videos linked at the top of this post, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Giacchino took inspiration from the scores that Bernard Herrmann wrote for several Ray Harryhausen films (among them Jason and the Argonauts and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad). Given that those are some of my favorite film scores, I almost feel bad that I didn’t give this film a chance.

Behind the scenes of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Part 1

Behind the scenes of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Part 2

Behind the scenes of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Part 3

Michael Giacchino also discusses how he pushed the envelope in how little he could get away with musically. The best film composers can do a lot with minimal music and Giacchino is good at drawing you in with a series of low, minimal notes before suddenly BOOM! the music explodes and you’re literally jumping in your seat. While I’m still not 100% sure how I feel about the Jurassic World franchise as a whole, I do think they made the right choice in picking Michael Giacchino as the composer. His scores retain the sense of wonder (and extreme danger) that John Williams established with the original Jurassic Park film. I hope you enjoy watching these behind-the-scenes videos looking at the score of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

Let me know what you think about Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Michael Giacchino talks The Incredibles (2004)

Michael Giacchino talks Mission: Impossible 3 (2006)

Michael Giacchino talks Ratatouille (2007)

Michael Giacchino talks Up (2009)

Michael Giacchino talks Star Trek (2009)

Michael Giacchino talks Super 8 (2011)

Michael Giacchino talks John Carter (2012)

Michael Giacchino talks Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)

Michael Giacchino talks Jupiter Ascending (2015)

Michael Giacchino talks Jurassic World (2015)

Michael Giacchino scoring Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Michael Giacchino talks Zootopia (2016)

Film Composer Interviews A-H

Film Composer Interviews K-Z

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Contenders for Best Original Score: a first look

It seems like the Oscars were only a short time ago but believe it or not it’s already time to start looking at contenders for next year. As always, the award that means the most to me is the Oscar for Best Original Score and while there’s still several months left in 2018 there are already several front-runners emerging.


The first front-runner I have to talk about is Solo: A Star Wars Story. I know it doesn’t seem like a viable candidate but hear me out. First of all, the score was composed by John Powell, an accomplished composer perhaps best known for creating the Oscar-nominated score for How To Train Your Dragon (2011). Not only that, the main theme of Solo was composed by the legendary John Williams who has been nominated for an Oscar 51 times. While the film undoubtedly has problems, the score is not one of them and I would not be surprised if it received a nomination.


Another composer sure to get a nomination is Alexandre Desplat, the composer of Operation Finale, a Munich-esque film that recounts the hunt for Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. And if that doesn’t garner an Oscar nod, his work on Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs just might. Desplat has collaborated several times with Anderson and two previous films, Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Grand Budapest Hotel both earned nominations for the composer.

However the odds-on favorite to win the Oscar, according to SportsBettingDime is Marco Beltrami for his work on The Quiet Place. As the plot of the film requires the main characters to evade vicious aliens by remaining completely silent, the music needs to do a lot of the storytelling. Beltrami’s score is a large part of why The Quiet Place was so successful.

In my opinion, any of these composers have a fair chance at winning Best Original Score next year, but what do you think? Do any of these composers stand a chance at winning the Oscar? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and have a great day!

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My thoughts on: Jurassic Park (1993)

*the links in this post contain affiliate links and I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on my link.


Given my well-known aversion to scary films, it often surprises my friends when they find out I enjoy watching Jurassic Park. While it’s true that this film has its own fair share of insanely terrifying moments (including one in particular that still scares me quite a bit), my lifelong love of dinosaurs as well as my appreciation of Spielberg’s storytelling abilities overrides my fear (John William’s excellent score helps as well). I dimly remember seeing advertisements for this film on TV and being super excited that there was a “dinosaur movie” being made.

And given I was all of 5 years old when the film came out, I couldn’t understand why my parents wouldn’t let me see the movie with the dinosaurs in it (dinosaurs were my first obsession, I couldn’t read enough about them). Of course now I understand that they kept me far away from this film because it was full of scenes that were not appropriate for a 5 year old kid, but unfortunately for my psyche, I didn’t know that when I was 9 and finally managed to see the movie for the first time at my best friend’s house.


“Welcome to Jurassic Park”

If you haven’t seen the film, Jurassic Park is adapted from Michael Crichton’s 1990 novel of the same name and follows the development of a theme park being built on (fictional) Isla Nublar off Costa Rica that is filled with genetically engineered dinosaurs resurrected from ancient DNA samples. After a deadly accident, the park’s creator John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) needs a group of experts to sign off on the park before the investors will fully commit to opening the island to the public. To that end, the following group is invited to the island to tour the facility:

  • Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neil): an archaeologist who focuses on velociraptors and also subscribes to the (then-new) belief that dinosaurs were the direct ancestors of modern birds.
  • Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern): a graduate student studying with Dr. Grant (and also his girlfriend). She specializes in paleobotany.
  • Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum): a mathematician who specializes in chaos theory. He’s firmly against the entire concept of Jurassic Park, correctly predicting that they will be unable to control the dinosaurs they have created, insisting that “life finds a way.”
  • Donald Gennaro (Martin Ferrero): a lawyer working on behalf of Jurassic Park’s investors. He’s initially skeptical of the project but quickly changes his mind once he first sees the dinosaurs in person.

This group is also joined by Lex and Tim Murphy (Ariana Richards and Joseph Mazzello respectively), Hammond’s grandchildren. Tim is obsessed with dinosaurs (and is a big fan of Dr. Grant’s work), while Lex is a tomboy and a would-be computer hacker.


This first part of the film shows the dinosaurs in all of their positive glory: we see a giant herd of dinosaurs gathered around a lake, feeding from the trees, even a triceratops (albeit one that’s in pain). But things start to become menacing almost straight away: we see the velociraptor enclosure and how they have to be fed by lowering whole (Live!!) cows into a brush-filled space, the only sign of their presence being the rustling of the branches. And then there’s the threat of a hurricane moving onto the island that threatens to cut the tour of the park short and oh yes, there’s also the sub-plot of programmer Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) plotting to steal various DNA samples for a rival company.

One part of this film I like is how Hammond and most of his staff are in complete denial of how completely in-over-their-heads they are in regards to the dinosaurs they’ve created. The more you hear them talk, the more you just know something is going to go terribly wrong and does it ever! Due to a series of events, the power is cut to the electric fences surrounding each enclosure and the T-Rex is among the first to get out (and did I mention the group touring the park is right in front of that area??)


“The T-Rex Attacks”

The T-Rex is a masterpiece of early-90s CGI that has held up surprisingly well over the last 25 years. Originally, the dinosaurs were going to be realized with traditional stop-motion animation until a computer test demonstrated that the dinosaurs could be almost fully created with CGI. But what really puts the T-Rex over the top is the real-life component of the creature. For the epic sequence where the dinosaur stalks the human characters, a full-size animatronic head, arm and two feet were created. Shots of these components were interspersed with the CGI creation to create a spine-tingling moment.

But as scary as the T-Rex scene is, it’s nothing compared to the kitchen scene. You know the one I’m talking about: it’s late in the story, most of the surviving characters have made their way back to the main park building…but so have the velociraptors, who begin stalking Tim and Lex as they run and hide in the kitchen. This sequence terrified me as a kid because I was about the same age as Tim and Lex (give or take a few years) so I could completely identify with them as they hid from the velociraptors. Like the earlier T-Rex scene, the footage of the raptors is a combination of animatronics, live-action puppets (with human performers) and CGI. In fact, there were so many wires required to make the puppet and animatronic components work, that Tim and Lex had to repeatedly jump over them to keep from tripping on them (it’s a wonder they filmed that scene without any of that becoming visible). This scene is so well done that, even though I know it’s all part of a movie and no one is in any actual danger, I still feel terrified that the raptors are going to find and eat the kids!

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And then there’s John William’s beautiful score for this film. When you run through a list of Williams’ most recognized pieces, the main theme form Jurassic Park is almost always included and rightfully so. It was the composer’s intention to create music that embodied the sense of awe a person would feel if they really did see dinosaurs walking in front of them as the characters in the film do and the score definitely succeeds with this.

And now for some random thoughts and trivia:

  • Wayne Knight gives an absolutely hysterical performance as Dennis Nedry, it’s almost a shame he gets his comeuppance so early in the story. That being said, his scene with the Dilophosaurus is so funny because he’s talking to a dinosaur and saying “I don’t have any food for you” when it’s patently obvious that the dinosaur considers him to be the food!
  • The T-Rex animatronic was the biggest creation of its time (even bigger than the Alien Queen created for Aliens which gives you an idea of its size).
  • When the T-Rex charges through the sunroof of the Jeep, the glass was supposed to come out, but it was NOT supposed to crack (so note carefully how Tim and Lex’s screams jump up about an octave as they suffer a genuine and unexpected scare).
  • Exactly who was going to die or not changed several times throughout filming. At one point, Mr. Albert (Samuel L. Jackson) was going to live, the lawyer was going to live, but Hammond was going to die (as his counterpart in the book does).
  • When the group has sat down for lunch after arriving on the island, watch the images playing in the background carefully. One of the “concept art” images is an exact match for the Mosasaurus enclosure seen in Jurassic World (2015)

And those are my thoughts on Jurassic Park! I still like watching it from time to time when I want to have a day to myself (usually during a weekend). What do you think of Jurassic Park? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

For more film reviews see also: Film/TV Reviews

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Film Music 101: Borrowing

*the links in this post contain affiliate links and I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on my link.

Borrowing is a tricky subject to discuss in the world of film music. Almost all composers do it, but hardly anyone will talk about it (officially that is). And that’s a shame because borrowing is one of the most interesting things to look at in a film score (or group of scores).

Borrowing is what happens when a composer takes a theme from another score (usually one of their previous works, but not always) and places it in the score they’re presently working on. There are many reasons why this might need to happen. A composer might be working on several scores in a single year (i.e. James Horner in 1995) and instead of creating a wholly original score for each film, it might be more convenient to borrow and re-use several themes, particularly if the music fits in the new film.

As a general rule of thumb, if a composer scores at least two films in the same year, it’s likely you can listen to both soundtracks and find at least several identical cues.

Jerry Goldsmith talks about Alien

Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Alien (both from 1979) both provide a good example as well. In this case, the similarity is slight, but unmistakable. First, watch Alien and listen to the music in the opening of the film (after the opening title), when the camera is panning around the empty ship. Then, go to Star Trek: The Motion Picture and fast forward to the scene where Spock steals a spacesuit. It’s the exact same music!

John Williams is equally guilty in my opinion. While not identical, compare Princess Leia’s theme from Star Wars (1977) to Marian’s theme in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981); they are suspiciously similar.


Elmer Bernstein (of The Ten Commandments (1956) and The Magnificent Seven (1960) fame) borrowed a fragment of his Magnificent Seven theme and placed it in the opening for The Great Escape (1963) (it can be heard during the opening credits).

But why doesn’t anyone talk about this if everyone does it? Well…while borrowing is a fact of musical life (classical composers have been doing it for centuries), many (outside the industry) view the practice as tantamount to “cheating.” The feeling is that it’s not right to re-use parts of a film score because it “cheapens” the new product. Of particular irritation are the moments when composers borrow themes that they did not originally create. For this reason (I believe), composers choose not to talk about this process very often (though that’s not to say they never talk about it, I just don’t think they discuss it enough).

First of all, I need to point out that this is NOT plagiarism. Once a theme has been written, it belongs to the studio and NOT the artist. So if a composer needs to borrow a certain theme that another composer created, they are free to use it. Case in point: John William’s theme for Superman: The Movie (1978) being reused in Superman Returns (2006) (the first attempt at rebooting the franchise). Also, in a similar vein, John William’s main theme for Jurassic Park (1993) makes a prominent reappearance in Jurassic World (2015).

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*all images are the property of their respective film studios, they are only being used for illustration

See also:

Film Music 101: Arranger

Film Music 101: Anempathetic sound

Film Music 101: Empathetic Sound

Film Music 101: Foley

Film Music 101: Montage

Film Music 101: Compilation Score

Film Music 101: Leitmotif

Film Music 101: “Stinger” Chords

Film Music 101: Dubbing

Film Music 101: Diegetic vs. Non-Diegetic Music

Film Music 101: Underscore

Film Music 101: Sidelining

Film Music 101: “Test” Lyrics

Film Music 101: The First Film Score

Film Music 101: Orchestration and cues

A Random Thought on “The Force Awakens”


Property of Disney

So considering Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out almost two months ago, I’m fairly certain we’ve all seen it at least once by now (I’ve seen it twice myself). As I eagerly began to discuss the film with my friends, I began to notice a trend in the comments people were making about John William’s score. To get to the point, a lot of the people I talked to didn’t think it was very good.

I know everyone can have their own opinion, but I feel this is something I should address, so here goes: I don’t believe that Williams’ score for The Force Awakens is any weaker than the earlier Star Wars scores. I do admit that Williams hasn’t created the equivalent of “The Imperial March” from The Empire Strikes Back…but I don’t think the film called for such a musical statement.

Here’s my take on the music (and the film in general): As we are being introduced to a new generation of Star Wars characters, The Force Awakens was very much about “passing the torch.” Rey is now flying the Falcon, Kylo Ren is the new bad guy, etc. In that vein, a good chunk of the characters and situations are echoes of what was found before: The First Order is an echo of the old Empire, the Resistance is the Rebellion, etc, and so on. Because all of these things and characters are “echoes” of the original, it makes sense that the music would not be as intense as before, not yet at any rate. Keep in mind that “The Imperial March” was not introduced until The Empire Strikes Back. I firmly believe that Williams has a few musical surprises up his sleeve (unfortunately we have to wait until the end of 2017 to find out what they are.)

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