V – 30 Years On

v3The Visitors arrived 30 years ago this week.

Kenneth Johnson’s aliens who came to earth posing as our friends while hiding not only a horrible appearance but an equally terrifying agenda premiered with the original mini-series V.

The sad thing is, I wasn’t allowed to stay up and watch all of it, and we certainly didn’t own a VHS recorder in 1983, too expensive!! I got glimpses of red uniforms, and wraparound sunglasses, strange voices, giant saucers hanging over cities, cool laser guns, and these pristine white wedge shaped shuttles that could be augmented to larger sizes or reduced to a fighter capacity.

I was intrigued.

There was a news reporter, Mike Donovan (played by Marc Singer), a pretty scientist Juliet Parrish (Faye Grant), and a seductive Visitor who was alternately frightening and oh so attractive… Diana (Jane Badler).

V_mike_julietI could piece some of it together, I talked about it on the playground with my schoolmates who helped me piece together everything I missed. They told me that the Visitors were actually lizards underneath their human masks. That freaked me out. I knew they were bad, but I’d been sent to bed long before any of these revelations.

But then, I got to see the opening of the next night’s episode, and when we got that “Last Time on V” and there’s Diana’s jaw extending, there’s Mike Donovan fighting with a Visitor and his face tears away to reveal that reptilian visage… just wow!

This was huge to me.

At that age, I hadn’t been introduced to, or even been able to seek out any of the old alien invasion movies of the 50s. THIS was my first experience of aliens coming to Earth in an aggressive way. Sure there had been Star Wars, but that was in a galaxy far, far away. E.T. was just lost, those aliens in Close Encounters just wanted to talk to us.

Jane-BadlerThese things were coming to Earth with ulterior motives. And when I learned one after another what they were, our water, and us as food… my imagination was afire! This was amazing storytelling as far as I was concerned at all of 11 years of age. These aliens were here! And we were going to fight them for our planet…

But I had to wait…

At about the time we heard we were being posted to Bermuda, the second mini-series V: The Final Battle (this and the series did not have Johnson’s involvement as the story was not going the way he had originally planned it), was starting to air. Again, I wasn’t allowed to see all of it, but I knew there were human sympathizers and a fifth column (though I had no idea what that meant) amongst the Visitors. There was the likable Willy (Robert Englund) and Martin (Frank Ashmore) both of whom worked with the resistance led by Julie and Mike.

Then there was Ham Tyler (Michael Ironside), who as far as I was concerned was only exceeded in coolness by Han Solo, Captain Kirk, and Indiana Jones, and not necessarily in that order (usually depended on the day of the week). He was a badass!

vbookI was desperate to see all of it, to know the story. Final Battle? Did we win?

As we prepped for our departure to Bermuda, I was allowed a book for the plane. I chose A.C. Crispin’s adaptation of both miniseries into one big book, which at 400 pages was the longest book I had read at that time (and I devoured it voraciously a number of times).

I didn’t get the Nazi overtones of the invasion, the insignia, the camps, I didn’t know about those things in any real context at that age, I just knew they were bad.

Then after the move one of the necessities of living on the island was a VHS player (when we moved there Bermuda didn’t have a television broadcast of any kind, it was only with the Olympics that we were given ZBM, with a second channel being added about a year later) it was revealed that my friend Tony, a fellow Canadian whose family had been posted to Bermuda, had a copy of V: The Final Battle recorded from its original broadcast.

hamI watched it repeatedly, and by the time Tony was asking for it back, I’d done something I’d only done with Star Wars, Star Trek II and an episode of Tales of the Gold Monkey… I held my tape recorder to our Zenith television and recorded it to audio tape. Yup, the entire thing. And I listened to it. A lot.

Then, through good old Starlog magazine, I learned that a television series was in the offing.

Great… and no way for me to watch it.

There had to be other venues I could follow for what would have to be an awesome show. There was no doubt in my young mind that it was going to be amazing.

VEastCoastCrisis1984In fact I was browsing the Annex on the American base and there were 2 books! I spent my hard-earned babysitting money to buy The Pursuit of Diana (Allen L. Wold), based on the series opener, and The East Coast Crisis (Howard Weinstein and A.C. Crispin), which told the story of the Visitors but from the perspective of those in New York.

I’ll be honest, when I first read East Coast, I didn’t like it. It was all new characters, a complete coast away from those characters I knew and loved, except for an appearance by Tyler and his cohort Chris. But as more novels came out, giving tales of other places experiences with the Visitors, I revisited it, and greatly enjoyed it.

It also inspired me.

I had been dabbling with creative writing for a while, and as I continued to collect each book as it arrived for sale on the book racks, I started penning my own, filling 108 pages of a notebook with an adventure called V: The Bermuda Invasion. It featured myself, my friends Sean, Kerri, Trevor, Gina, Tara, Leah, my sister, all of our parents, my crushes Stephanie and Teresa, we fought the invasion as best as we children could, amazing our parents with our skills and abilities, and I even gave myself a glorious death, which was, of course, suitably mourned by all the girls.

vcomicI still hadn’t seen any episodes of the new show (totalling 19), though new friends, as they arrived on the island, warned me that they didn’t like it, and for some reason the aliens voices no longer reverberated when they spoke (budget restrictions meant nothing to me at that age).

But there were other venues, the books, a short-lived comic series from DC (18 issues),and if I thought the series was bad when I finally got to see it on its release to DVD, these comics were equally horrid, though it still wouldn’t curb my love for the show and its concepts.

They even had their own trading cards and stickers released through Fleer. V was everywhere, though I tend to think that they missed out on a great marketing opportunity by not releasing the toys that Donovan’s son, Sean (Nicky Katt) plays with in the original mini-series.

V_Second_Generation_Rev-400x600In 2008, original series creator revisited the world he created in the novel V: The Second Generation, which picked up 20 years after the invasion on an occupied earth, the Resistance all but quashed, and the signal Juliet sent into space at the end of the first mini-series being answered…

Then, in 2009, we got a chance to be invaded again, overseen by Scott Peters (the creator of The 4400), with a re-imagining of the original series, which saw Morena Baccarin as the face for the Visitors this time around (with the equally lovely Laura Vandervoort as her daughter), able to control her crew and even people by ‘blissing them.’ This series was cut short way too quickly, just as things were beginning to come together. There were appearances by original cast members in new roles, the series was nicely updated and reflected the worries and political climates of our time, and just as we’re truly preparing to fight back led by Erica Evans (Elizabeth Mitchell)…




For all that, the world Kenneth Johnson created, and the characters that came to life in it still have stories to tell, there are some of us, who even 30 years on, want more.

There are days I look up at the sky, and wonder what we would do, if we saw a giant saucer slide in over the CN Tower… and what if we found out that they weren’t as friendly as they pretended to be. Who would fight? Who would aid them? Who would win?

I think it’s definitely time to revisit the original mini-series the sequel, the first series, and the re-imagined series…

What were your favorite moments? Characters?


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E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) – Steven Spielberg

e_t_the_extra_terrestrial_ver1Welcome to 1982, one of the biggest years for number of science fiction films EVER! And an amazing number of good ones! In fact the next 5 titles being visited on the 101 Sci-Fi Movies list are all from 1982, and I saw all but one of them in the theater that year, and the one that I didn’t has since become one of my faves.

E.T., I was Elliott’s (Henry Thomas) age when it came out, and I saw it at my local Cineplex Odeon in Kingston, and it was me on the screen.

Melissa Mathison wrote the screenplay about an intergalactic visitor who is left behind on earth and the young boy who befriends him.

There is so much to love in this movie, the purity of the story that still to this day speaks to my heart and can make me cry, John Williams’ stirring score, which quite rightly one an Oscar, Drew Barrymore who is so precocious as Gertie, Elliott’s little sister, Dee Wallace as Mary, the divorced mother of three amazing children, kids I would recognize from my own friends.

kidsThe always great Peter Coyote is Keys, who like all the adults in the film, but for Mary, isn’t shown above the waist until the government takes over the house in latter part of the film. The thought process behind that is that everything is from a kid’s height point of view.

There is a realness to E.T. that is lacking in the CG characters today, because he was actually there on set, one could interact with him, and yes, I get that he was part puppet, part animatronic, and part actor but he was, is real to me.

Cineplex currently ran their annual Digital Film Festival, and E.T. was one of the films that was screened this year. I hadn’t seen it on the big screen since it’s theatrical run back in 1982. Despite the fact that I knew the film backwards and forwards, knew all the musical cues, all the dialogue, seeing it with an audience in a darkened theater, that shared communal experience, is still awe-inspiring in the way that it affects the viewer.

chaseThis for me is a near-perfect film, there isn’t a missed beat, the editing and pacing is brilliant, it’s a perfect marriage of image and sound. I love that Spielberg re-edited the ending of the film to match the score that Williams created for it, and that last section of the film, from the moment they steal the van, the bike chase, flying, saying goodbye to the end credit roll this is one of my favorite film sequences, and film scores ever.

This is a wonderful science fiction film, and an wonderful family film, and it’s not so very often that those two categories meet and mesh so well. It’s filled with hope and light, and despite the fact that it makes me cry at the end, every single time, it’s happy crying.

We’re better for having known E.T. for the short time he was on Earth, and I dread to think what my life would have been like if he had never come along. I have a stuffed E.T. toy atop my computer, sharing space with a stuffed Yoda, I still have puffy stickers from the 80s featuring the lovable alien, and when I first toyed with sketching (something I really do need to pick up again) at the age of 10, E.T. was one of the first things I drew, working off a promotional picture of him peeking around Elliott’s door.

This is one of the true gems of cinema, not just science fiction, and should be treasured and revisited often.

To use a line Sue and I have gleefully stolen from the film, “I’ll believe in you all my life, every day… E.T. I love you.”


5-25-77 – Patrick Read Johnson

5-25-77Every now and then a movie comes along that speaks to you, that defines you. A movie, that as you watch you can not only relate to the characters of the film, you recognize yourself upon the screen.

On this site I’ve told the tales of my first experiences that helped define the movie geek (some say snob) that I am, I’ve shared the story of my first encounter with a shark named Bruce that has become my favourite film of all time. I’ve recounted my first trip to that galaxy far, far away and how it changed everything about my childhood from that point on to this very day. Raiders of the Lost Ark, Empire, Jedi, E.T., these films still continue to define who I am and are a touchstone for not only me but countless fans.

Patrick Read Johnson’s new film 5-25-77 is going to go down as one of those films for me. I’m going to remember where I saw it, when and who I was with.

At its core it’s a film about following your dreams, and anyone who has been reading this blog since its inception knows Sue and I are doing that very thing.

But 5-25-77 is more than that, it’s a love story about film, about geekdom and an ode to science fiction.

jfdAnd as Patrick Read Johnson, the film’s writer and director of this autobiographical tale says, it’s all true, except parts that are even more true.

Shown as part of TIFF’s Next Wave Film Festival at the Lightbox, the film follows Pat (John Francis Daley) a lone sci-fi fan in the tiny town of Wadsworth, Illinois (pop. 750), who dreams of going to Hollywood and making movies, a dream he fosters in his own big back yard by shooting films like Requiem For The Planet of the Apes, 2002: The Return of HAL, and Jaws 2. His best friend Bill Holmes (Steve Coulter) helps him out in everything, though doesn’t understand Pat’s passion for it.

As Jaws is for me, 2001 is for Pat. It was the first movie he saw that touched him, that resonated, and created a love for the big screen. In a small town, that can make you unusual, and different, and as it so often does, being different, especially as a teen, keeps you separated from everyone else, it makes you an outcast of sorts, and outside his small group of friends, and a tolerant, if occasionally bemused family, Pat leads a rather solitary life.

He spends evenings sitting in Donny’s car discussing the meaning of the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey, building models of Eagles from Space:1999, turning his pool into a blood-filled shooting tank, creating special effects, foreground miniatures, and reading American Cinematographer and Starlog magazine.


When love finally springs for him in the form of Linda (Emmi Chen) his love of everything he’s known encounters the pains and joys of first love.

His divorced mother, Janet Johnson (Colleen Camp) never stops wanting the best for her oldest son, and when he comes up against a brick wall, or monolith, in trying to get in touch with his idol, special and visual effects wizard, the legendary Douglas Trumbull, she comes at the problem from a different angle.

She gets in touch with the editor of American Cinematographer Herb Lightman (Austin Pendelton) and as only a mother can, arranges for son to go out to Hollywood to meet Herb and hopefully Douglas.

alienA visit to Trumbull’s company Future General Corporation leads to a chance meeting with the wunderkind director of Jaws, Steven Spielberg, (Kevin J. Stephens) watching over the special effects shots for his new film Close Encounters of The Third Kind. Meeting both Spielberg and Trumbull leaves Pat literally speechless, but it’s on a visit to a small burgeoning effects company, Industrial Light and Magic that things really change his life. Shown around by effects master John Dykstra (Michael Pawlak), Pat is introduced to X-wing fighters, land speeders, a freighter called the Millenium Falcon, and then is allowed to view a work print of the movie they are featured in, Star Wars.

It changes everything, and returning home, like a traveller from the future, he knows everything is about to change, but no one wants to listen to him. He knows that maybe if everyone sees it, the communal experience of viewing and sharing a theatrical experience like the one of Star Wars, he might finally belong.

That’s a painful concept to deal with, the concept of belonging when you seem to be the eternal outsider. It’s different for geeks now, we’ve all grown up in a world that has allowed geekdom to become more mainstream, but back then, film fans, kids who wanted to know how effects were created and make their own, they lived on the edges of their peer groups. Never understood, creative, but alone.


The version of the film we’ve seen, still a work in progress with some shots still needing color correction, upgrading, or VFX added ran almost two hours, something Johnson spoke about in the Q&A after the film, saying he may still want to streamline it a bit, and while it could be argued to reduce the runtime, I loved its length. I loved the fact that it takes its time telling the story, letting you get to know the assortment of characters that populate Pat’s life.

It also, currently, as it’s a temp soundtrack, has a kick-ass line up of 70s sounds, this is a soundtrack I would buy in seconds, even knowing I already have all of the songs that would be featured on it on my ipod.

There were so many moments that resonated with me personally that I was misty-eyed more than once (it really got me when Pat visited ILM, and also when they were creating the clouds that encircle Devil’s Tower from the climax of Close Encounters of the Third Kind). Despite the fact that Pat was a teen when he saw Star Wars, and I was only 6, I totally recognize a kindred spirit in his character. There were moments I recognize from my own life.

watchAs a work -in-progress the frame size changed constantly, and yet, it didn’t seem to steal anything from the film, it actually seemed to be a reflection of Pat’s character conjured in cinematic ways. It would change from full, wide images, to standard-definition middle of the screen smaller ones, there was temporary viz effects, and matting, all giving us an impression of the frenetic, active mind within the character, not a schizophrenic presentation of self, but a reflection of the continual flow of style and images in one’s own mind.

Daley (Freaks and Geeks, Bones) turns in an honest and enjoyable performance, bringing all the joy and wonder one can take from the cinema, the heartbreak of first love, and passion for all the things that make being a geek so cool.

endAfter the presentation, which was greeted roundly with enthusiastic applause, and Sue and I leaned over to one another and said simultaneously, “THAT WAS AWESOME!”, Patrick Read Johnson gave us a Q&A, and much as I did with his character on the screen, I recognized a kindred spirit. This is someone who still loves the magic of movies, even after some less than pleasant experiences in Hollywood, he is still a geek. He regaled the audience with great stories, revelations about the friends he portrayed on screen, and where they actually appeared in the movie. I love stuff like that.

The film is littered with recognizable pieces of pop culture, the spaceship from Planet of the Apes is sticking out of the pond in the backyard, there are models of Japanese Zeros hanging on zip lines over dog cages ready to make kamikaze runs on the battle fleet in the background, Hooper’s torso, a wall of photos of famous 70s creators and directors, Lucas, Spielberg, Henson…

They are hoping to have this film finalized and ready for distribution in time for 5-25-14, but the film is out there, making the rounds if you can find it, traveling festival circuits, being tinkered with between screenings, and showing all viewers that it’s good to dream, and that you can make them come true.

prjWe were also treated to a look at a documentary that was made in conjunction with the film’s touring of festivals and the tinkering going on around it called Hearts of Dorkness, which looks to contain even more geeky goodness, and deserves to be seen as well.

It was an amazing screening, and I’m totally in love with the film, which brings me to my one big problem with it…

I can’t turn around and watch it again right now.

See this movie if you can! Find screenings talk it up! You don’t have to be a Star Wars fan, you just have to love movies, or be a dreamer!

Follow Heart of Dorkness on twitter @DorkHeart , follow Patrick @moonwatcher1, check out the website here… http://www.heartsofdorkness.com/dorkheart/52577.html – Just get out there and see it! You won’t regret it.

Thank you TIFF Next Wave for bringing it to me!

Did you get a chance to see it? And if you haven’t check out the trailer below…

Got It, Need It, Got It…

TOPPS13I can remember the waxy feel of the paper as you opened up a fresh package of trading cards, and shoved the cardboard-like stick of gum in your mouth, it would be good for a couple of chews and then it would just lose all taste and just take up space, but I still love that smell. That scent speaks of ball fields, hot summers, late evenings, tee shirts, when those miraculous films portrayed on those cards were still new and they could fire your imagination for days, if not seasons of play. I remember carefully selecting from my triples pack, attaching it to a clothes-pin, the card flapping through the spokes of my back wheel with a rat-a-tat-tat and riding around on my red bike with its banana seat, affectionately referred to in my own mind as The Falcon.

swcard1When I was a kid everyone collected Topps cards. There was a strong elastic band wrapped around your premier deck, and then another held your doubles, triples, and you would consult your checklist card before getting down in the dirt and grass of the schoolyard to haggle and trade to complete your sets.

superman-movie-cardAnytime I could dig up a quarter (can you believe they were only fifteen cents when they first started making Star Wars cards?!), I would head off to the store to get a fresh pack, carefully shifting through them until I felt I found just the right one, slapping down my quarter and then go outside, sitting on a curb in front of my sprawled bike, it’s chipped red paint glistening in the sun, and I would thumb through them rapidly, my fingers describing a dance worthy of a croupier, tumbling from my lips the card collector’s mantra “Need it, got it, need it, need it, got it, got it, got it, need it…”

raidersI tried to get them all, but from ages 7 to 11 it was tough to come across change, even between the sofa cushions. I missed out on a lot of the original Star Wars (and the seemingly countless series they released, I remember the red and orange series) and Superman cards (I even completed some of the huge pictures using some of the puzzle cards), but by the time The Empire Strikes Back (another one with like three series I think – I remember the silver/blue, silver/red, and the yellow) and Raiders of the Lost Ark rolled around, my collection was starting to grow, and my desk was covered in the doubles and triples of the stickers that came with them.

falcon_cardThere were puzzle cards, trivia cards, story cards, I learned about model work, matte paintings, and I know it’s tough now, as those movies have completely saturated the culture, but can you imagine the excitement and joy as you slipped your fingers through all these promotional pictures, film images, and art work, and came across something you had never seen before? What a rush those moments were, to discover some little corner of that universe you weren’t aware of yet…

lukeBy the time The Return of the Jedi rolled around, I easily had two shoe boxes full of trading cards (including my treasured E.T. cards), with even a couple that I wasn’t sure how they had come into my possession; there were a couple of Grease cards, Dukes of Hazzard, Moonraker, and Charlie’s Angels!

jediWe were living in Kingston when Jedi hit the big screens (I remember one of my friends was lucky enough to have gotten one of the Revenge of the Jedi posters before the title was changed, and it was taped to his wall over his bunk beds – we had no concept of them being collector’s items, not like we do now when we look at movie memorabilia).

And here’s a terrible thing to admit, though I think both my parents may have suspected something… They had a change keeper atop the fridge, with slots and towers for quarters, dimes and nickels. I would regularly pillage that for card money, I would ever so carefully unwrap the twist tie that held the two tiny keys, and then unlock the quarters’ tower, and pour out $1 or $2 worth at a time.

etThen, primary deck, and doubles/triples in hand, we’d head down to the little beach area that we had (though having seen it in recent years, I can’t believe I actually went in THAT water). There was a little snack shack there, with a broad counter, and there on the right hand side, sidled right up against the wall, was the brilliantly, some may even say garishly yellow box for the Return of the Jedi trading cards (red series).

I would throw down my ill-gotten coinage, and pick out the packs that felt lucky for me, and I would hope to get the missing pieces I needed…

jedi1By the time I was done I had every single one of the 132 cards (twice), I can’t say the same for the stickers… In fact I don’t have any of the stickers from those or any other card series any more. Sigh. I remember they were not only on my desk, but all over my bike’s fenders, and my first walkman (which seemed to only want to play the soundtrack for Return of the Jedi, Thriller or Seven and the Ragged Tiger), slowly fading from sun and rain.

soloI remember laying out each card, face up, on the rug and floor of my bedroom, piling doubles, triples, and quadruples up on top of each card, leaving spots to be filled in by missing numbers, and then, slowly taking each card, examining each of them to find the best possible version of that card, and then sliding the extras over into their own pile. Then I would look at the keeper card, looking at the pic, reading the back, memorizing facts, character and ship names, story points, and slowly begin to pile them up, face down, one atop the other, until my collection was complete.

In the early 80s I was fascinated by the idea of 3-D movies and images, I had never seen one, but had a couple of Dynamite magazines with the glasses (red and green) and images within. I’m not sure how I discovered it, or why I thought it was so amazing, but I realized that if I held up the image of one of my cards to the window of my bedroom, or when I was outside, the window of the family car, you got a double image in the reflection! It was like the card was 3D, it wasn’t Viewmaster cool, but it held my attention for longer than I care to admit now.


When 1984 rolled around, my family and I pulled up stakes and resettled for the remainder of the decade in Bermuda, and while I had access to Marvel’s Star Wars comics which were coming to a close, there was no access, anywhere that I could find, to get trading cards.

batmanSo for a time, card collecting fell by the way side for me, until I got back to Canada in the summer of 1989, and Batman had been unleashed on the public, and there I was in Nova Scotia, and they had trading cards!

kirkI jumped right back onto the card collecting train and I think I completed both the 1st and 2nd series of those (I should really see if I have those around my apartment somewhere – I know I have all my Wars ones in a card binder, alongside a Looney Tunes series of cards my friend Rob got for me before I left Halifax).

On the down side, as much as I loved getting cards again, it just didn’t seem to be the same experience anymore, and it was never more clear to me than when Impel released its 25th Anniversary Star Trek series. Instead of buying individual packs I went out and learned that you could just buy them by the box.

That’s what I did, and I think that kind of ended my love of collecting cards, or at least put a stay on it.

leiaIt kind of removed the randomness and the excitement of buying packs, and working to put your collection together. I know that trading cards are still a huge thing, and that people still go out looking for specific cards, even if they buy them by the box, hunting down that elusive chase, autograph or foil card, or just one last card to complete a set.

greedoI still love them, and I keep toying with the idea of starting up again, but that same sense of wonder and marveling at the images just doesn’t seem to be there.

I collected the first series of Star Wars Galaxy (have them all but for some foil and chase cards, of course) and even bought the companion book, and the art for this series is fantastic unleashing artists in this wide wonderful universe and letting them create new images or interpret familiar ones in new ways… Apparently Topps is up to Series 7 currently, so I think if I were to start again (I’m awfully close to it), that would be where I would start with, the Galaxy cards, and then I’d be able to start hunting down series 2 on.

iron manI’m also hoping that now that Upper Deck has the Avengers trading cards, that maybe they’ll expand and start something akin to a Marvel Galaxy (Universe?) similar to the series that were released in the early 90s by SkyBox, I could probably get caught up in that…

Course, if I tried to put one of the cards through a bike’s spokes people would lose their minds, asking me if I knew how much they were worth…

But oh man, looking back through my cards, some of which still smell of the bubblegum, it brings back so many memories.

My sister, who totally knows how much I love my geeky movie memorabilia actually tracked down an unopened pack of Raiders of the Lost Ark cards for me a few years ago. It’s still sitting, all wrapped up, a rectangular shape signifying the unchewable stick of gum that is still inside. A monument to my love of movies, and the collecting of memorabilia around it.

raiders1Topps cards were a huge part of my childhood, and helped foster my love of collecting.

It was never stamps.

It was never coins.

It was always trading cards.

Thanks for the memories that still echo in my mind, I can still remember the excitement, the joy, the despair at another double, the ecstasy of a much-needed card, the feel of the wrapper under my fingertips, the smell and taste of the gum stick.

And the sound of that card thrumming across the spokes as I rode into the sunset of another summer…


The Moment

My friend from The Matinee, Ryan McNeil and I, were talking today about films that impacted us, made us realize there was more to them than we’d realized.

He was talking about The Moment.

It happens to every cinephile.

There’s a moment when you realize that there’s more to movies than what s up there on the screen and there’s another one, when you realize that a film can be more than just popcorn entertainment.

I wish I could say that both instances were in the same film, but then I would have to make something up, and that would never do.

The first film that made me realize there was more going on than I knew, the idea of special effects, the idea of production design, model-work, matte paintings, musical scoring, locations and sets was The Empire Strikes Back.

It was just before I saw the movie, while I was living in CFB Borden that I got my first issue of the sci-fi classic magazine of Starlog!

Where had this magazine been my entire life? I read the entire issue cover to cover, learning stuff about the movie Alien as well, way before I ever got around to seeing it (I had a problem with horror movies for the longest time). I leafed through the pages, and for the first time ever, put up some different pictures up on my wall. Until that time the only things I had on my wall were two huge pull out posters I’d gotten from National Geographic magazines, one of the move, and the other detailing the Apollo missions.

My first Starlog, issue 34 just had everything I wanted to know about the movies and tv series that I loved. I couldn’t believe that there were all these things going on behind the story that was being shown on the screen.

I was hooked.

I had to know more.

For awhile, Starlog was my monthly fix, as soon as I could scrape together the money (read as plead for an allowance). I simply had to know how these films and stories were getting made and told.

It blew me away. I was 9 about to be 10, well aware that the movies and tv I watched were just stories, but hadn’t made the connective leap entirely to realize that they had to be made. That there was so much effort going on behind the scenes to get these moments to the screen. It boggled my young mind, and i just couldn’t stop thinking how cool that was.

So, while I still viewed movies as simply entertainment, and didn’t understand why people wanted to see movies that didn’t have chases, or action, or things blowing up, I was learning about the work that goes into making these movies. And each and every time it enhanced my viewing experience of the film.

It was a long time though before I started to realize that I got just as much enjoyment, and sometimes even more satisfaction from films that weren’t action movies. Movies that could have a message, or change the way you see the world, movies that could make you think, feel and cry.

A couple of movies flirted with the idea, the first one was Dances With Wolves. I lost count of how many times I saw that film in the theater. It simply struck something within me, perhaps it planted the seed.

It wasn’t quite enough to convert me off of things other than action movies. Two movies, two years apart, did that.

The first was my all time favorite western, directed under the able hand of Clint Eastwood, Unforgiven.

Here was the tale of an aged, widowed, gun for hire, a murderer of men, riding out on one last ride.

It was unlike any western I had seen until that time, and had a realism, to it, a reality, that I hadn’t seen before.

It showed consequences of actions, the impact of violence, the need for redemption, and the desire for something more from life. It took what you thought were the typical western stereotypes, the sheriff, the gunslinger, and grounded them, made them accessible and human.

I was stunned.

Two years later, it happened again, and settled in to stay this time.

Frank Darabont made me a convert in 1994 with The Shawshank Redemption.

I couldn’t believe how much a movie could get inside you, move you so emotionally. Don’t get me wrong, I cried at the end of E.T., I was a wreck the whole way through Schindler’s List, but that’s Spielberg, I watch everything he makes, because he’s Spielberg.

Shawshank was the first movie outside of a Spielberg film that I actively sought out, just from the word of mouth I’d been hearing.

And it lived up to every word that I had heard.

Here was a story about pain, suffering, and ultimately friendship and hope.

This movie opened up the world of film to me. I was working in a video store in the time, but had mainly stayed in the horror (having gotten over my fear of it – perhaps through the knowledge of how these movies were made), sci-fi, and action. Now I actively sought out different films, things I’d never thought to watch before, learning new directors, finding new actors.

These films showed me that there was more to movies than entertainment, there was the creativity behind the camera, there were more stories, there were films to be discovered from around the world, there were tales that I had never seen, and some that I’ve yet to see.

There’s a huge world of film out there, don’t confine yourself to one genre, you could be missing something amazing!

What films impacted you the most?

What films made you realize there was more to cinema than what you originally thought?

Film Scores – A Whistler’s Tale

I’m a whistler, and a dreamer… and “Binary Sunset” is one of my favorite thoughtful, hopeful and slightly sad things to whistle, especially when I’m thinking about my future, and watching the horizon.


I do it all the time, and I carry a huge repertoire in my mind, and on my ipod.

In the case of my whistling, film scores tend to be my default setting.

Since I was a child, they have been playing in my head. In point of fact, before I even owned my first LP or cassette tape I can remember playing in my school’s playground on a weekend. I had brought some of my Star Wars figures, and I can remember being on the edge of the merry-go-round playing with them, whistling a never-ending medley of themes and cues from a film I had only seen once at that point, whistling over and over music by a composer whose name I didn’t even now yet, believe Mr. Willilams (can I call you John?) I have more than made up for that slip.

When the 1980s rolled around and I got my first walkman as a birthday present (I think it was my birthday, it may have been for Easter). One of the very first cassettes I bought to go with it was the score from Return of the Jedi.

I wore that tape out.

I would listen to it over and over, I knew every moment of that score.

I also played my soundtrack LPs repeatedly as well, I introduced myself to John Barry through his fantastic score for The Black Hole, and James Horner through his stirring compositions for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (and I would wear out my Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger and Braveheart soundtracks.

But cassette tapes were my passion, before I had my own CD player, I had tons of them. Anytime my meager allowance came along, or babysitting money, or my small income from working as a stock boy at the CanEx I would find yet another soundtrack or score to add to it (or a pop tape, but more often a soundtrack).

It was during this accumulation of tapes that I discovered the wonderful compositions of Jerry Goldsmith. My favorite scores of his continue to be the soundtrack for Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Alien. Both of these soundtracks just keep circling in my head.

I’m well aware that he has composed so many more other scores, and I even have some of them, but his work for sci-fi films seem to resonate the most with me.

John Williams of course, seems to have scored my entire life, and I think I actually have most of his collaborations with Steven Spielberg, and none of them disappoint.

For me, one of the highlights of knowing that there were new Star Wars movies coming out, when the rumors of prequels started, was that no matter what the films were like, there would be three new soundtracks filled with music from the Star Wars universe by the man who wrote the original music (specific tracks are Duel of the Fates, Battle of the Heroes, and the Main Titles & Revenge of the Sith – Williams is the man!).

That is saying nothing about the impact he had on me with the Raiders March, the piano end titles of E.T., the music cues mentioned in my Raiders of the Lost Ark post, the theme from Jurassic Park, any cue from Jaws, the ebullient tones from Close Encounters, Hedwig’s theme, the violin work in Schindler’s List…

It goes on and on…

I was also lucky to discover Alan Silvestri, who turned in fantastic work for the films of Robert Zemeckis including  Romancing the Stone, all three Back to the Futures and of course, the amazing score for Contact.

I especially love the cue/track, “Good to go.”

I have always loved films scores, and composers who use a full orchestra. It can give you huge sweeping moments, stirring strings, and then quiet tiny cues that can break your heart.

Howard Shore’s work on the Lord of the Rings films are great examples of that. He composes music that serves the film, and never over powers it, it simply enhances the viewing experience, and I do like when my brain just randomly cues one of those tracks in my head to whistle.

I can’t wait to see what he does with the Hobbit!

There are some composers who use a combination of synthetic and orchestral sounds, Hans Zimmer (whose score on Gladiator is his best in my opinion), Daft Punk’s score for Tron Legacy, the Chemical Brothers use of tones and electronica for Hanna.

But for me a score stands on whether I whistle it or not, and Silvestri, Williams, Barry and Goldsmith are for me, the titans in composing circles.

I have one more name to add to that list, and this compose seems to be the hardest working composer in film today. Or at least he seems to be, his name seems to pop up everywhere.

His name…

Michael Giacchino.

He’s everywhere, and he doesn’t keep his work merely on the big screen, he’s scored videogames, as well as TV series, most notably Fringe, Alcatraz, and Lost. He has a healthy working relationship with J.J. Abrams, and scores his films, amazingly I might add.

His standout scores for me currently, are his turns on The Incredibles, filled with homages to superhero films as well as a bit of an old school James Bond feel, and my favorite, his highly whistle-able score for Star Trek.

His brassy, up-tempo score for Trek simply sunk into my subconscious, even more than I realized. I had seen the film once, and purchased the soundtrack, loading it onto my ipod, and by the second time I saw the film in the theater, I was stunned to find myself whistling themes and cues from the soundtrack already.

I am constantly delighted now when I read a film’s credits, or am watching the opening or closing titles and see Michael’s name pop up. I always know I’m in good hands.

I know I don’t know as much about writing or composing music to talk tech about it, but I know what I like, and I am quite happy to welcome Mr. Giacchino into the ranks of Williams, Goldsmith, Barry, Silvestri, Horner and Shore. I can’t think of a higher compliment to pay than my continued whistling, so that’s what I’ll do…