Sunday, June 19, 2005

Who Will The Next John Williams Be?

For anyone who bothers to pick up the Star Wars: Episode III soundtrack as I did, there's a delightful little bonus: a DVD with samplings from all six Star Wars movies, which essentially narrates the entire saga to selected cues of John Williams' immortal music. In a few short weeks, it's made my son Apel's most played list, topping former perennial favorites like the Spider-Man movies, Finding Nemo, and Ice Age. I can't help but be mesmerized by it myself. It's got all the great stuff: the Skywalker theme, the Imperial march, Princess Leia's theme...even Duel of the Fates.

The man is incredible. He's a living institution: the most Oscar-nominated person in history. He's also the one with the most blockbuster films having his name on them. No one, not Spielberg or Lucas or any of the big-name producers or directors can make such a claim, because Williams has worked with all of them.

And it's gotten me thinking: John Williams is 73 years old. One of his contemporaries, Star Trek maestro Jerry Goldsmith, has already gone on to meet the big composer in the sky. I can't help but wonder who could possibly succeed such a giant as contemporary filmmaking's premier composer? Who, for one, would compose Spielberg's movies, given that this task falls exclusively on John? Who would score Episodes VII to IX of Star Wars, if they were ever made? I came up with my own list of guys who might fit the bill, just for the sake of it...

1) Hans Zimmer. This guy is one of Hollywood's more prolific composers. I choose him because next to Williams, he seems to be Spielberg's go-to guy for music, given that he's the musical director of Dreamworks Pictures. The only thing he has going against him is that his stuff tends to sound generic, especially since Jerry Bruckheimer (who's also been known to lean on him) has apparently given the directive to every non-Zimmer composer of his films to write scores that sound exactly like Hans'.

2) James Horner. The first of film music's premier Jameses, this guy is quite prolific and has collaborated with a lot of high profile directors, like Ron Howard, James Cameron and Mel Gibson. He's also worked on Spielberg productions, though never any of the ones Steve directed. Problem with this guy is that when he doesn't sound like a Williams knockoff, he sounds like he's recycling his own old scores. I nonetheless consider myself a fan of his, his Braveheart being the most memorable of his scores. Powerful stuff that made Hans Zimmer's Gladiator sound like a Bruckheimer film. Oh, wait, it already did anyway.

3) James Newton Howard. The other major James in the music industry, this guy doesn't quite have the bombast of the Hornster but his stuff sounds a bit more innovative. And he doesn't have a tendency to lean on his winds the way Horner does. He's associated with a lot of good films and has lent the mood to all of M. Night Shyamalan's major Hollywood works. His most recent work was a team-up with Hans Zimmer for Batman Begins, and while I generally favor Zimmer's work, I have to say that it was JNH who came up with the more memorable cues, giving more life to the scenes with Bruce Wayne than Zimmer did with his driving, albeit seemingly recycled action cues for Batman.

4) Danny Elfman. Not quite in Williams' league (as if any of these guys really is...) but capable of some rather haunting melodies. He is in the list primarily because of his world-famous "Batman" cue, which has proven, if nothing else, that he has the chops to write major themes. Though he has yet to top that, he has since written music that seemed more nuanced and mature. For example, while his score for the Spider-Man movies disappointed with its lack of truly distinctive heroic cues, it compensated with character driven music and well-rendered tender moments.

5) Howard Shore. Four words are the reason this man is on this list: Lord of the Rings. This guy shows he can compose on a par with the scope that characterizes Williams' work. And his versatility blows the mind. He's collaborated of such cerebral filmmakers as Barbet Schroeder, David Cronenberg and David Fincher, and in Jonathan Demme's Silence of the Lambs helped make the name Hannibal Lecter synonymous with scary. But with Peter Jackson , Howard appears to have found his Spielberg. Truth be told, when I first heard he was composing the trilogy I didn't think he could pull it off, but the man has successfully scored not just one but three of the greatest movies of all time. That's something Steven should remember if he feels like making movies after John Williams has passed on.

And then of course there's the others...

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

In Praise of the Mid-Range Jump Shot

I am one of the taller members of my high school class. In this country, if you're over six feet people tend to assume you're a basketball player. Well, I was, in fact, a frustrated (and I use the word emphatically) track star, not really a cager, although I think one would have to be either handicapped or gay to be able to go through four years of high school without playing a single basketball game, at least if you're five foot nine or taller (I started high school at about five nine and graduated at roughly six feet).

I had a respectable vertical leap, so in the games with classmates and friends it was easy enough to monster the boards, unless I went up against the real basketball players, who more often than not outhustled me for rebounds. I was also a "low-post" kind of player, which I liked given that at one point, with my leap, I could grab a secure hold of the ring, a talent I carried all the way to my early years in law school.

Things pretty much went downhill about midway through law school, with my exercise time dwindling and my metabolism suddenly stalling bigtime. Since 2001, I've gained about fifteen pounds which have proven very, very difficult to shed, so my ring-grabbing days are all but over. I still like to shoot hoops, though, since my cousin has had a basketball ring installed in the backyard of the compound my family shares.

And it was there that I discoverd the jump shot.

The beauty of the jump shot is that just about anyone can master it. There is still a level of fitness involved, to be sure, but nothing like the kind that's needed to slam dunk or lay-up or even shoot three-pointers. It's just a matter of knowing how to shoot, which, in my older years, I seem to be a little better at.

I'm still taller than many of my friends, but now I don't feel like an overweight goofball moving in slow motion whenever we shoot some hoops. I have an asset to offer now; I can shoot the ball. It's fun to actually play and do something other than wave your arms in the air or wait under the ring for missed shots to recover.

The jump shot has saved the joy of basketball for me, which I almost lost going into adulthood. As a matter of fact, I think I even enjoy it more now than I ever did as a teen. Now I don't have to feel like a 40-year-old fart who's altogether lost zeal for sports, and while I'll never be eighteen again, at least 29 is now a fun place to be when it comes to basketball games, which are as useful in keeping friendships alive in one's older years as they are during one's adolescence.