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James Horner

It is no exaggeration to say that James Horner was one of the greatest film composers of all time.

Such measures are seldom objective, but Horner was the rare composer who could match critical and commercial success across a wide range of genre and material. Understandably, coverage around his death has focused on the biggest hits in his extensive filmography. He won two Oscars out of ten nominations. He occupied two of the five nomination slots in 1996 for his soundtracks to Apollo 13 and Braveheart. It is quite something to compete against yourself for an Oscar.

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Titanic tends to headline such discussions of Horner’s work, as one might expect given that it was “the biggest selling primarily orchestral film score in history.” More than that, Horner wrote The Heart Will Go On, the love theme that sold more than 15 million copies to become one of the biggest selling singles of all time and the biggest selling single of 1998. The Heart Will Go On is credited with revitalising the “spin-off hit” in the late nineties, prompting lots of movie-launched love ballads like Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing or There You’ll Be.

Horner enjoyed no shortage of commercial success. He provided the soundtracks to two movies that could claim to be the biggest movies of all time upon their release. Titanic was the first such example, becoming the most successful movie of all time upon its release in 1998. Horner also provided the soundtrack to Avatar, the movie that would claim the title in 2009. However, the most impressive aspect of Horner’s extensive filmography is the sheer scope of his work.

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Star Trek: The Klingon Dictionary (Review)

This June, we’re taking a look at some classic Star Trek movie tie-ins and other interesting objects. Check back daily for the latest reviews and retrospectives.

Something absolutely fascinating happened around the release of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

It seemed like the entire Star Trek universe suddenly got wider and broader. While alien races and cultures had always been a part of the franchise, they seemed to exist as little more than mirrors of human society – a prism through which we might view the modern world. While episodes like Amok Time and The Day of the Dove teased the idea of elaborate and truly alien civilisations, in most cases the show wasn’t committed to building a universe so much as telling an engaging story on its own terms.

This is, of course, a valid approach. Producing a weekly television show, it makes sense to focus on entertaining an audience with each and every episode. A fully-formed universe is a little pointless if nobody is actually watching it. However, around the release of The Search for Spock, something changed. All of a sudden, the cultures occupying the shared Star Trek universe seemed to take on a life of their own – they began to develop into more than just mirrors or reflections.

This is apparent in The Search for Spock itself, albeit obliquely. Kruge is not the most well-defined of adversaries, but he has a point. He is worried about what the Genesis Device means from outside the context of the Federation. He’s reacting to cultural imperialism, rejecting the right of the Federation to remake worlds in their own image. The Klingon Empire suddenly existed as more than just a convenient foe when the episode needed some stock communists, but an adversary with legitimate concerns and perspectives.

This change was mirrored outside The Search for Spock as well. Directly before the publication of Vonda N. McIntyre’s novelisation of The Search for Spock, Pocket Books released John M. Ford’s The Final Reflection. The novel was an in-depth look at Klingon culture, one that went on to influence Ronald D. Moore’s development of Klingon culture on Star Trek: The Next Generation. The novel published following McIntyre’s novelisation of The Search for Spock was Diane Duane’s My Enemy, My Ally, an exploration of the Romulans.

Perhaps the most interesting example of this trend and development can be seen with the publication of the Klingon dictionary, as written by linguist Marc Okrand, based on his work for The Search for Spock. All of a sudden, Klingons were developed enough that they needed their own language.

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Star Trek (DC Comics, 1984) #1-6 – Errand of War! (Review)

This July, we’re taking a look at some classic Star Trek movie tie-ins. Check back daily for the latest reviews and retrospectives.

After Marvel lost the Star Trek license in 1982, there was a period where no monthly Star Trek comics were being published. One of the consequences of this was that Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan didn’t receive an official comic book adaptation, until IDW decided to go back and fill in the blanks in 2009. Eventually, DC comics managed to secure the license for Star Trek comics, and they began publishing in 1984, the year that saw the release of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. DC would maintain the license into the mid-nineties, making it one of the most stable licensing agreements ever reached about Star Trek comics.

Unlike Marvel’s 1979 agreement with Paramount, DC reached an agreement that allowed them full access to the Star Trek mythology. Marvel had been restricted to using characters and concepts from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, a rather restrictive agreement. In contrast, DC had access to the whole of the Star Trek canon. Indeed, reading Mike Barr and Tom Sutton’s run on Star Trek, it seems like their opening six issues were designed to showcase the sheer breadth of continuity available to them.

At the same time, Barr’s scripts have a pulpy charm that makes them highly enjoyable, even as trying to tell an unfolding Star Trek story set between the events of The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock seems ill-advised.

Warp speed ahead...

Warp speed ahead…

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Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (DC Comics, 1984) (Review)

This June, we’re taking a look at some classic Star Trek movie tie-ins. Check back daily for the latest reviews and retrospectives.

In 1984, DC secured the license to print Star Trek comics. They retained the license into the nineties, allowing the publisher to release their own comic book adaptations of each of the four remaining classic Star Trek movies. They even got to publish an adaptation of Star Trek: Generations before the rights transferred to Marvel. Mike W. Barr and Tom Sutton got to produce 64-page adaptations of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, lending some consistency to the last two instalments in the trilogy that began with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

While its impressive visuals and relaxed pacing meant that Star Trek: The Motion Picture leant itself to a comic book adaptation, The Search for Spock is not quite as nice a fit for the medium. The movie’s plot is quite complicated, with lots of things going on at different times with different characters in different locations. One of the joys of the film is the way that it tries to turn Star Trek into an ensemble piece in Spock’s absence, with each of the main characters getting a moment in the sun during the Enterprise jailbreak. The comic simply doesn’t have the space to do this, and the result is an adaptation feels a little compressed.

At the same time, though, writer Mike W. Barr does get to showcase his love of the franchise, and his deft technical skill.

Let's see what's out there...

Let’s see what’s out there…

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Star Trek III: The Search for Spock by Vonda N. McIntyre (Review)

This June, we’re taking a look at some classic Star Trek movie tie-ins. Check back daily for the latest reviews and retrospectives.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home form a loose trilogy following the death and resurrection of the franchise’s most iconic character. The events of each leads into the next, and there’s a very clear pattern of cause and effect that brings you from Saavik’s Kobayashi Maru test through to Kirk’s assignment to the Enterprise-A. The start of each of the three films picks up from the end of the last one. It brings the characters involved on a full arc.

However, despite this, there is a bit of a disconnect between the feature films – perhaps inevitable for three movies conceived separately one-after-another. The Wrath of Khan is a story about how Kirk is perhaps broken, too old and too reckless to keep doing the stuff that he does; The Search for Spock shrugs that off by having Kirk joyride on the Enterprise. The Wrath of Khan introduces a next generation of characters in the form of Kirk’s son David Marcus and Spock’s protégé Saavik; The Search for Spock kills David and The Voyage Home dismisses Saavik.

While The Search for Spock might begin with the Enterprise limping back to Earth following the confrontation with Khan, it seems to gloss over every part of The Wrath of Khan that isn’t directly related to the death of Spock. Genesis is carried over as Spock’s final resting place, but Khan isn’t mentioned, nor is the Reliant; Carol Marcus doesn’t appear; the deaths of the cadets on the cruise and the staff of Regula I are somewhat glossed over.

The most interesting aspect of Vonda McIntyre’s adaptation of The Search for Spock is the way that it makes a point to carry over elements from The Wrath of Khan into the story. Indeed, McIntyre is almost a third of the way into the book before reaching the actual plot. The result is an interesting novel that feels more like a sequel to The Wrath of Khan than a direct rebuttal, as the film had been.

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Star Trek (DC Comics, 1989) Annual #2 – Starfleet Academy!

This August, to celebrate the upcoming release of Star Trek: Into Darkness on DVD and blu ray, we’re taking a look at the Star Trek movies featuring the original cast. Movie reviews are every Tuesday and Thursday.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the movies with tie-ins around (and related to) the films. We’ll be doing one of these every week day. This is one such article.

Multimedia franchises tend to have very strange lives. These iconic pop culture characters rarely seem to ride off into the sunset in any real way. Their story might end, but there’s always a new beginning just waiting for them. When veteran Star Trek writer Ronald D. Moore took charge of the reboot of Battlestar Galactica, he even wove the idea into the fabric of the show. “All of this has happened before and will happen again,” the characters repeated.

It’s been a Hollywood fad for the last decade, with high-budget reboots like Batman Begins and The Amazing Spider-Man suggesting that icons never die, they just get reinvented. However, it has always been a feature of the pop culture landscape. Think of how many adaptations of Batman have run their course, or how many times in how many different media Sherlock Holmes has played out his game of wits. Life for these iconic properties is something of a spinning wheel. It seems that no sooner are you off one side than you are back on the other.

So, with the release of Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country in 1991, it seemed the ideal time for Star Trek author Peter David to venture back to the very beginning, and to explore Kirk’s time at Starfleet Academy!

"By the way, I like David as a name..."

“By the way, I like David as a name…”

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Star Trek (DC Comics, 1984) Annual #1 – All Those Years Ago…

This August, to celebrate the upcoming release of Star Trek: Into Darkness on DVD and blu ray, we’re taking a look at the Star Trek movies featuring the original cast. Movie reviews are every Tuesday and Thursday.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the movies with tie-ins around (and related to) the films. We’ll be doing one of these every week day. This is one such article.

It’s weird to think that the original cast of Star Trek didn’t get a proper on-screen origin story until JJ Abrams rebooted the franchise in 2009. The show produced two pilots – The Cage and Where No Man Has Gone Before – and even the pilot episode that wound up airing was broadcast as the third episode of the first season. Given the realities of sixties television, it’s probably not too surprising. Rather famously, Gilligan’s Island scrapped its origin story pilot, reworking some of the footage (along with re-shot footage) into a later episode – deciding to skip the story of how everybody got here and just get to the meat of the story.

And you can understand why this approach worked with the original Star Trek. Structurally, the series was a product of its time, largely episodic. Sure, there were recurring alien races and even a few recurring guest stars outside the senior staff, but there was a sense you could jumble the viewing order of most of the episodes up and not notice anything strange.

At the same time, the lack of an origin leaves a vacuum. After all, each of the four following spin-offs opened with a two-hour special about putting the crew together to take their place on the final frontier. In hindsight, having had years to grow old with these characters and watch their friendships (and personalities) deepen and broaden, it occurs to us that we never really say them come together for the first time.

All Those Years Ago... isn’t nearly as elaborate or as sophisticated as Vonda M. McIntyre’s Enterprise: The First Adventure, but it does hint at a growing curiosity about how the team came to work together.

Second star on the right...

Second star on the right…

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Star Trek – The Movies (Review)

This August, to celebrate the upcoming release of Star Trek: Into Darkness on DVD and blu ray, we’re taking a look at the Star Trek movies featuring the original cast. Movie reviews are every Tuesday and Thursday.

It’s interesting how radically different the Star Trek feature films were from the show that spawned them. All were anchored in the classic science-fiction series. Star Trek: The Motion Picture felt like it was heavily influenced by The Changeling. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan obviously drew on Space Seed. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock evoked The Menagerie. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home featured the same plot device (and time travel technique) as Tomorrow is Yesterday. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier had Kirk defeating one final god-like being. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country had the crew finally make peace with Klingons.

However, they were quite clearly a very different animal from the original television show. Which makes a great deal of sense. After all, there’s a world of difference between a fifty-minute adventure produced for weekly television and a big theatrical event. However, what’s interesting about these changes is that they weren’t necessarily in the direction you might expect. The television show was a collection of episodic adventures, but what’s really striking about the films is that most of them have a reasonably clear serialised arc.

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Star Trek – In the Name of Honour by Dayton Ward (Review)

This August, to celebrate the upcoming release of Star Trek: Into Darkness on DVD and blu ray, we’re taking a look at the Star Trek movies featuring the original cast. Movie reviews are every Tuesday and Thursday.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the movies with tie-ins around (and related to) the films. We’ll be doing one of these every week day. This is one such article.

The Klingons changed rather dramatically, between the classic Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Part of the changes were physical – most obviously, advances in make-up allowed Klingon characters to be shown with their now-iconic forehead ridges. However, there was another interesting change. Somewhere between The Turnabout Intruder and Encounter at Farpoint, the Klingons went from generic communist stand-ins to a fully-formed alien culture with a wealth of ritual and tradition.

To a large extent, this shift took place during the movie era. Klingons wound up being the focus of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and were a significant presence in each of the films that followed. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, produced at the same time as the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, suggested that it wasn’t necessary for the Federation and the Klingon Empires to be mortal enemies. The final movie featuring the original cast, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, tied up Kirk’s adventures with the promise of galactic peace.

Still, it’s hard to reconcile the differences in characterisation between the Klingons seen in the classic Star Trek television show and those from the later spin-offs. With In the Name of Honour, Dayton Ward tries to explore this radical shift and also to bridge The Final Frontier and The Undiscovered Country. He does the former much better than the latter.

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Star Trek – Unspoken Truth by Margaret Wander Bonanno (Review)

This August, to celebrate the upcoming release of Star Trek: Into Darkness on DVD and blu ray, we’re taking a look at the Star Trek movies featuring the original cast. Movie reviews are every Tuesday and Thursday.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the movies with tie-ins around (and related to) the films. We’ll be doing one of these every week day. This is one such article.

Saavik is an interesting character, for several reasons. Most obviously, there’s the behind the scenes manoeuvrings involving the new character. Everything from her origin to the recasting of the role between Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. There’s the inclusion of a short scene in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and the fact that the last time we see Saavik, she’s watching the reunited cast of the original Star Trek continue their galactic adventures.

There’s her complete absence from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and then the weird pseudo-return of the character in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, where the role that would become Valeris was originally considered for Saavik, before being cast with Kim Cattrall, an actress who had originally been considered to play Saavik. It’s interesting to consider the conceptual history of the character, given what she was supposed to represent upon her introduction in The Wrath of Khan.

Margaret Wander Bonanno does an excellent job exploring Saavik’s life in the wake of her decision to remain on Vulcan in The Voyage Home, with Unspoken Truth doing an excellent job playing with the character in the grand scheme of the shared Star Trek universe.

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