MMM: The Hand of Fate, Blade Runner, The Trio

James here with Movie Music Mondays.

A film is – or should be – more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what’s behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later.”

Stanley Kubrick

So say we all.


James Newton Howard’s collaborations with M. Night Shyamalan yielded some of my favorite film music, not the least of which being the theme from ‘Signs’, best exemplified in ‘The Hand of Fate, Part 2’, a piece better heard than described.


Vangelis’ score for the cult classic ‘Blade Runner’ is one of the most sought-after soundtracks among sci-fi enthusiasts. ‘Blade Runner Blues’ is a great, meditative piece that, in my mind, would communicate Philip K. Dick’s vision even without the music’s symbiotic relationship to this great film.


Ennio Morricone was a prolific film composer, and that’s a bit of an understatement. His best score, by most accounts, is ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’, and my favorite track from it is ‘The Trio’.

Batman Begins

Stars:  ***1/2 out of 4

Summary:  A splendidly dark little picture, which, like all good movies, led to a whole lotta imitators and the latest craze of rebooting everything.  Gee, thanks Chris.

Holy Batman, Batman!

Holy Batman, Batman!

Review:  The man in the batsuit had experienced some crummy luck in the cinema.  The ’80s and ’90s ‘Batman’ series had a promising start, but quickly fell into unentertaining garbage, leaving a bad taste in the mouths of comic book fans, cinephiles and the general movie-going public.  And even worse than being boring, the cinematic Batman was shallow.  No longer would the Bat-fans accept a simple hero in tights, no, they demanded the complexity and incredible writing that Alan Moore, Frank Miller and others had poured into the comic books.  Thankfully, the Bat-fans had an advocate in the ‘Wood who felt exactly the same way.  Enter Christopher Nolan — and let’s not forget David Goyer and Chris’ brother, Jonathan.  The Nolans were rising stars, having blown minds via their disturbing and visionary movie, ‘Memento’, and they now had the clout to do something about the state of Batman. Thank God that Warner Bros. had the wisdom to hire them.

‘Batman Begins’ pressed the restart button on the franchise, even disregarding the much-loved Burton’s ‘Batman’ from ’89.  This gave them the freedom to do whatever they wanted to do with the character and the series, and they milked it for all it was worth.  Christopher Nolan drew influence from one of the best dark sci-fi films in existence, ‘Blade Runner’, to construct the new Gotham and its accompanying tone.  Appropriately, then, ‘Begins’ feels downright dystopian, and could just as easily be set sometime in the far, apocalyptic future.  Though we are given clear indications that Gotham is part of the present day world that you and I know, at times it seems that the city could be an oasis in the middle of a destroyed America.  In contrast, Burton’s Gotham from ’89 and ’92 seemed more fantastical and gothic, almost storybook in quality.  For the ultragritty, post-modern Batman, the ‘Blade Runner’-esque anarchic structure works quite beautifully.  This structure isn’t just part of the set design.  It’s part of the psychology of Bruce Wayne and the story itself, harkening back to Nolan’s ‘Memento’, which was all about that same cinematic interplay.  But while ‘Memento’ was played almost entirely in chronological reverse, which mirrored the mental defects and self-deception of its protagonist, ‘Begins’ is fragmented, with Bruce’s tragedies, bittersweet memories, and journey towards creating his famous caped persona all slowly being put together until they become present.  He’s been shattered, and in picking up the pieces he overcomes himself and becomes the hero.  Brilliant stuff, that.

Christian Bale fills the role perfectly.  There are times I wished he’d shown more of Batman’s trademark maturity and inventiveness, but seeing that this is Batman, you know, beginning, it’s all right that those elements can be growing.  Michael Caine’s Alfred is great, of course.  There have been some complaints about how well Katie Holmes’ Rachel Dawes may or may not work in the movie, but I found her character performance really wasn’t lacking.  She’s a good romantic character and makes Bale’s Bruce feel more at home in Gotham.  The villains, unfortunately, were a bit weak, though not unmemorable or lacking in good qualities.  Because Nolan insisted on putting more emphasis on Batman this time ’round (again, contrast with Burton’s movie), he ended up putting the main villain, Ra’s Al Ghul, more in the background, so even though the bad guy’s played by the always kickass Liam Neeson, he doesn’t turn out as strong as, say, Nicholson’s Joker, or even DeVito’s abominable Penguin.

Now, onto the philosophy.  The Nolans do love their brainteasers and soul searchers, thankfully, and they more than happily filled the need for complexity.  The sum of the movie’s themes is (taking a deep breath, now!) that humanity has inestimable value even in the midst of moral degradation and chaos, and this value extends even to those playing the role of villain, therefore mercy is more powerful than vengeance, and true fairness and justice serve rather than manipulate.  Okay, breathing normally again.  So Batman, even though he uses fear and intimidation against the darker denizens of Gotham, shows surprising compassion and mercy throughout the narrative.  Early on, he refuses to kill a murderer while under the tutelage of Ra’s Al Ghul, and ends up having to betray the villain’s League of Shadows to keep his integrity (by blowing stuff up) when he learns of Ra’s plans to destroy Gotham.  On top of that, while turning against the villain, he ends up saving his life, even though he didn’t know it was him (watch the movie, it makes sense).  Ra’s later chides him for this, expecting better from a pupil of his.  This comes back to bite the villain in a big way, later, as Batman grants his wish to not be saved and lets him die in a train wreck.  Not only does this stay in line with Batman’s classic code of no-killing, it makes a pretty good point, even theologically.  According to Christ, Ra’s behavior is a good way to be self-damned. By refusing to embrace mercy and to show it, some people refuse it for themselves and end up destroying themselves.  “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”  The inverse, unfortunately, is also true.

‘Batman Begins’, of course, was a hit.  It is dark, gritty, dystopian, philosophical, and it is still pulpy fun.  If you’re among the aforementioned Bat-fans, this deserves your notice, and it certainly deserves to be on your movie shelf, and regularly spinning in the player of your choice.

Classic Review: Blade Runner (Final Cut)

Stars:  **** out of Four

Summary:  Brooding, foreboding, brutal, and brilliant.  A culturally significant picture not quite like any other.

I know it's nothing like the film, but my head gets the image of Harrison Ford shooting thousands of robots, as he runs across giant knives, from seeing this poster.

I know it's nothing like the film, but my head gets the image of Harrison Ford shooting thousands of robots, as he runs across giant knives, from seeing this poster.

Review:  Similar to my review of ‘Citizen Kane’, I ask this question: How can I begin to review one of the most influential films of all time?  Many science fiction films, some worth their own salt, have directly taken inspiration from ‘Blade Runner’.  This is, in my opinion and the opinion of many others, Ridley Scott’s magnum opus.  The film’s own inspiration comes from film noir, and of course the dark, hard science fiction of novelist Phillip K. Dick.  It was Dick’s popular work of sci-fi philosophy, ‘Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?’, that formed the basis of the screenplay.  Humanity, in the future, creates extremely close replicas (or, “replicants”, as they are dubbed) of themselves, putting them to work.  Suddenly, slavery is again acceptable, because these androids aren’t really human.  Right?

I mean, right?

If the influential philosopher Descartes is to be believed, if we think, that is how we know we are a thing.  “I think, therefore I am”, it is commonly translated, though that popular phrase is slightly off, but that’s beside the point.  The point is, how does this apply when so-called strong AI becomes frighteningly human-like?  Do we grant our machines equal rights with us, as a kind of offspring of the human race?  We have not yet devised a machine that blurs the lines between us, so all arguments over this question have remained theoretical.  Currently, we still put artificial intelligence against something called the Turing test, which so far has concluded that true strong AI is years, maybe centuries away, if at all possible.  But in the future that Phillip K. Dick and Ridley Scott transport us to, the Turing test has been passed by the replicants.  The Tyrell corporation, responsible for their creation and management, now has a “Voight-Kampff test”, which initially seems effective at identifying them.  But science marches on.

The film opens with two men in a darkened room.  One, a Blade Runner; that is, a policeman tasked with hunting down rogue androids.  The other, we don’t know.  The Blade Runner is giving him the Voight-Kampff test, but before a solid conclusion can be made, the replicant — ’cause that’s what he is — shoots him dead and flees.  A short time later, a former Blade Runner, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), is called by his old boss and set on the case.  There are four possibly dangerous rogue replicants on the loose, and it’s up to Deckard to hunt them down.  Teamed with Gaff (Edward James Olmos), he travels to meet Tyrell himself, hoping to find that the Voight-Kampff test still works on this latest batch of replicants, of which the rogues are members.  While at the Tyrell corporation, Deckard is surprised to find that they have just perfected — but not released — a type of android that can pass the test.  The first of her kind, Rachael (Sean Young) and Deckard form an uneasy attraction to one another, but Tyrell tells him to avoid revealing her identity as a replicant to anyone — especially her.

Without spoiling the rest of the plot, here’s my summary of the action.  Things are bleak throughout.  Many of the replicants act more human, more alive, than Deckard ever does.  The whole city seems dead, machinist, a necropolis of impostors.  The only people who care to challenge the status quo are — you guessed it — the escaped replicants.  Though their actions are indubitably brutal and hateful against the rest of humanity, it’s because they are escaped slaves without a guide.  Their “father”, Tyrell, is quite wicked.  They find no solace in him.

Now onto the question of Deckard.  If you’ve looked into this film, you’ve probably heard of the common theory that he is himself a replicant.  This is never stated, not even in the Final Cut version that was released on DVD/Bluray.  But it is a quite reasonable assumption.  Gaff, who basically disappears about halfway into the film, would seem to be the actual Blade Runner, the guy in charge of watching over him.  He seems like a guardian angel figure, and doesn’t really take sides.  He seems strangely aware of Deckard’s activities and location at all times, even of his secret romance with Rachael.

The violence of the film is very shocking, especially in the Final Cut.  A man’s skull is crushed with the bare hands of a replicant.  People are shot, stabbed, and otherwise bloodied.  Yet, despite the title and the R-rating for violence, this is not an action movie.  It’s a mystery thriller, a very slow burning, intentionally depressing contemplation.

The cinematography is amazing, and with it, the special effects.  They work in nearly perfect union to create a completely believable, nightmarish, and sometimes beautiful world.  The futuristic technology, remaining without enhancement even in the latest home video release, is seamless.  You will believe a flying car can in fact fly.

Philosophical and unquestionably adult, ‘Blade Runner’ has proven to be an elegant masterpiece.  It’s too bad that most science fiction pictures won’t approach its excellence… but then again, who does?