Sunday, March 23, 2008

New Hollywood Series: 2001: A Space Odyssey

New Hollywood Series:
The year 1968 is recognized as the start of the period sometimes called the Golden Age of American cinema. Whether that label is true is debatable, but it was a unique and special period of time between 1968 and 1980 where filmmakers had more control over their work than in any previous generation of filmmakers since the pre-studio era.

By 1968, the old studio system that had been in power throughout the 1940s and 50s was dead, ownership of the film studios was changing and there was an emerging independent film scene, although it would not be commercially viable for a couple more decades.

This time is often referred to as New Hollywood and it was a period that saw the emergence of filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, Peter Bogdanovich, George Lucas, Sydney Lumet, and William Friedkin, among others. The films of this crowd were marked by innovative film techniques and a willingness to push boundaries of sex and violence while also making deeply personal films. The filmmakers were products of the counter-culture generation and they carried the revolutionary spirit into the cinema.

Throughout the year of 2008 we’ll be taking a close look at the films from the New Hollywood era here on Maverick at the Movies, celebrating the 40th anniversary of this extraordinary period of American film making.

There are filmmakers who got their start during this period who are not often considered New Hollywood, but nonetheless made films that share New Hollywood traits and have continued to impact contemporary film. This is especially true in the horror genre where Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper, George A. Romero, and John Carpenter all made significant contributions to cinema but working outside of the mainstream system.

One filmmaker whose work from this period is extremely influential was Stanley Kubrick. Films like Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Spartacus, and Lolita, were released ahead of the New Hollywood movement but established some of the trends and auteur attitudes of their films.

The year 2008 marks the 40th anniversary of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. With the recent passing of screenwriter Arthur C. Clarke and the continued influence of the film, today’s episode of Maverick at the Movies is dedicated entirely to this film.

The Score:
Overture: Atmospheres (Gyorgy Ligeti)
Title Music: Also Sprach Zarathustra (Richard Strauss)
Music is a key way 2001 links old and new Hollywood. The film opens with an overture played over a black screen. Overtures were popular in classic Hollywood epics like Lawrence of Arabia, but Kubrick’s film puts it over a black image and chooses sounds that are creepy and do not establish a theme that is carried throughout the film. The film does use a big orchestral sound, which was largely done away with in the early years of New Hollywood and would not see a return until Star Wars in 1977.

From Earth to the Moon: The Blue Danube (Johann Strauss)
This music is used in scenes of space travel and gives a sense of beauty and wonder to the images. It contrasts with the scenes later in the film that have little or no sound, where space becomes a cold, empty, and dangerous place. But for now it’s full of wonder.

TMA-1: Lux Aeterna (Gyorgy Ligeti)
This piece starts out with an innocent sound but by the end it builds to distortion and becomes frightening and the first indication that something may go wrong. The piece also has a spiritual or religious component to it, embodied by the use of choir, that supports some of the themes of spiritual awakening in the film.

Discovery: Adagio (Aram Khachaturian)
This piece scores the music for space travel and is astoundingly similar to music by Jerry Goldsmith in Alien and James Horner in Aliens.

Star Gate: Requiem for Soprano, Mezzo Soprano, Two Mixed Choirs, and Orchestra (Gyorgy Ligeti)
Star Gate II: Atmospheres (Gyorgy Ligeti)
Transfiguration: Also Sprach Zarathustra (Richard Strauss)

The music of 2001 exits the same way it came in with Ligeti and Strauss. Stargate and Stargate II take us through the hell of spiritual and intellectual growing pains experienced by our protagonist; some of Kubrick’s visuals in the these scenes are akin to what he later did in The Shining, although to a very different end. The visuals get continuously more abstract and the music supports those visuals with rising dissonance.

The music selection bookends the film, taking a challenging film and making it more accessible by appealing to traditional storytelling principals. The use of Strauss’ music is interesting to the ending; "Also Sprach Zarathustra" is adapted from Friedrich Nietzsche’s work. One of Nietzsche’s key ideas was that a new breed of human being, the ubermensch or super people, would rise and lead humanity into a more enlightened age; the use of Strauss' interpretation of Nietzsche melds with the final images of the star baby.

Final Thoughts:
2001: A Space Odyssey has influenced nearly every major science fiction and fantasy film since its release from Star Wars and Alien to Star Trek: The Motion Picture and The Matrix, and for that reason alone it is worth viewing by film and science fiction aficionados. Concepts like hibernation, artificial intelligence, and realistic space travel were presented in this film in ways that have been alluded to, imitated, and downright ripped off ever since.

2001 represents an honest attempt to make an intelligent, pure science fiction film and the picture is able to reach into the possibilities of the genre. While many science fiction films deal with fantasies of intergalactic politics and warfare, the issue truly central to the genre is the relationship between humans, their civilization, and technology, and this is where 2001 shines. Spanning from the dawn of humanity to a future where humans take the next turn in their evolution, 2001 establishes themes of dehumanization and mechanization and a uses deep and sometimes abstract symbolism to take humanity to a new level where it is reaches a new beginning.

2001: A Space Odyssey demands a lot from its viewers and those who are willing to engage the film will be rewarded. It may take a second or third viewing to understand the film and even those who have viewed it multiple times debate the picture’s ultimate meaning. But what 2001 proves is that film can be a medium for serious intellectual and entertaining expression.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


This week has seen a number of deaths in the entertainment world. Here is a run down:

Arthur C. Clarke - Author of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Paul Scofield - Actor who appeared in Quiz Show, King Lear (1971), Hamlet (1990), and A Man for All Seasons (1966).

Anthony Minghella - Director of The English Patient, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Cold Mountain, and Truly, Madly, Deeply.

Ivan Dixon - Television and film actor who performed in Car Wash, A Raisin in the Sun (1961), Hogan's Heroes, Clay Pigeon, The Fugitive, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and The Twilight Zone. He also directed episodes of The A-Team, The Waltons, Magnum P.I.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

LA Times: Final Harry Potter Book Will Be Split Into Two Movies

By Geoff Boucher, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
March 13, 2008

For "Harry Potter" and Hollywood, eight is the magic number.

Warner Bros. Pictures and the producers behind the $4.5-billion film franchise featuring the beloved boy wizard will split the seventh and final novel in the J.K. Rowling series into two films.

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I" will hit theaters in November 2010, followed by "Part II" in May 2011, a decision that is being met around the world with fans' cheers but also plenty of cynical smirks. The publishing industry is learning to live without new "Potter" releases, but Hollywood just pulled off a trick that will keep its profitable hero on his broom into the next decade.

Any twist in the "Potter" universe is the stuff of global news bulletins. The books were a publishing sensation. And to an entire generation, the film saga has become a heartfelt touchstone on the level of "The Wizard of Oz" and as culturally and commercially ubiquitous as the "Star Wars" series. For all those reasons, everyone involved in the franchise is jumping forward to say an eighth film would be to serve the story, not the bottom line.

Daniel Radcliffe, the star of the franchise, said it was the dense action of the final novel that made the decision, not any executive or ledger.

"I think it's the only way you can do it, without cutting out a huge portion of the book," Radcliffe said. "There have been compartmentalized subplots in the other books that have made them easier to cut -- although those cuts were still to the horror of some fans -- but the seventh book doesn't really have any subplots. It's one driving, pounding story from the word go."

The same could be said about the relentless "Potter" franchise, which hit screens for the first time in 2001. The five "Potter" films to date have averaged $282 million in U.S. grosses, but the overall receipts go well beyond that. The faces of the stars stare out from DVDs, video games, tie-in books, toys, clothing, candy wrappers and a staggering array of other items. By some estimates, the brand represents a $20-billion enterprise, and that's without the planned "Potter"-themed complex opening next year at the Universal Orlando Resort in Florida.

Extending the "Potter" franchise is a boon to the studio and to its parent, media giant Time Warner, where recently named Chief Executive Jeffrey Bewkes is reining in costs with moves such as the recent gutting of New Line Cinema. Time Warner's stock price has stagnated since its merger with America Online eight years ago.

Right now, Radcliffe and his costars are filming the sixth installment in the franchise, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," at an old aircraft factory outside London. "It's been brilliant," Radcliffe said of the production. "It's also, I think, the funniest of the films so far."

Radcliffe is now 18 and, by the final film, will have spent half of his life in the role of the scarred orphan who finds friendship and danger within the stone corridors of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Each film (following the construct of the novels) has been framed by a school year. Producer David Heyman, a key figure in the films from Day One, was reluctant to depart from that and make the last book into two movies.

"Unlike every other book, you cannot remove elements of this book," Heyman said. "You can remove scenes of Ron playing Quidditch from the fifth book, and you can remove Hermione and S.P.E.W. [Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare] and those subplots . . . but with the seventh, that can't be done."

Rowling, who signed off on the idea of a two-part finale, has been a more frequent visitor to the sixth movie's set than with previous installments. One big reason is that she is no longer busy trying to finish the "next" "Potter" book; she walked away from her signature character in July, when the climactic "Deathly Hallows" hit stores and sold a record 11 million copies in its first 24 hours on shelves.

Alan Horn, president and chief operating officer of Warner Bros. Entertainment, will be in Las Vegas today to talk up the "Potter" plans at ShoWest, a key annual conference of movie exhibitors. Horn said Wednesday that "it would have been a disservice" to downsize "Deathly Hallows" into one film.

"This way, we have an extra hour and a half, at least, to celebrate what this franchise has been and do justice to all the words and ideas that Jo has put in the amazing story," Horn said. "This is the end of the story too. We want to celebrate it. We want to give a full meal."

David Yates, director of the fifth and sixth films, will return and make the final two films concurrently. Screenwriter Steve Kloves also returns, and, by the completion of the franchise, he will have written seven of the eight films.

They will be adapting a seventh book with 759 pages packed with action and twists and turns in the race toward the final conflict between Potter and the dark lord who murdered his parents, the serpentine Lord Voldemort. Reviewing last summer for The Times, Mary McNamara wrote: "What Rowling has achieved in this book and the series can be described only as astonishing. Just as her characters have matured, the language and tone of the books have grown in sophistication and lyricism. But she has never lost the sense of wonder that has propelled her into literary legend."

After the dust settles, the book ends with an epilogue that finds the main characters -- Harry, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley -- grown up, married and 19 years removed from Hogwarts. Horn said that particular denouement has the filmmakers fretting about how to keep the young familiar stars on the screen just before it goes dark.

"That," Horn said, "is something we will need to deal with. People have watched these kids grow up, and it's been very special to do so. That's important to us."

Heyman said splitting "Deathly Hallows" is the right narrative formula, but the next problem is figuring out the division. As he put it: "The question will be, where do you break it? And how do you make them one but two separate and distinct stories? Do you break it with a moment of suspense or one of resolution?"

Horn said that screenwriter Kloves has already latched on to an approach that might work. Rowling could not be reached for comment, but the most recent entry on her website journal declared that "Hallows" stands as her favorite among the novels -- and that saying goodbye to Harry is never easy.

"It was the ending I had planned for 17 years, and there was more satisfaction than you can probably imagine in finally sharing it with my readers," Rowling wrote. "As for mourning Harry -- and I doubt I will be believed when I say this -- nobody can have felt the end as deeply as I did."