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Re: The 'Roald Dahl' Musical Odyssey - Part TWO
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• Posted by: Jonathan Broxton   <Send E-Mail>
• Date: Monday, August 1, 2022, at 2:20 p.m.
• IP Address: godless.professorbroxton.com
• In Response to: The 'Roald Dahl' Musical Odyssey - Part TWO (Clint Morgan)

This is terrific. Both Danny Champion of the World and the animated BFG were big parts of my childhood - we read both books during English Literature classes in junior school, and i watched both films numerous times growing up. David Jason will always be the BFG to me. I really wish they would release Myers's score for Danny... he's a very underrated composer, and mostly unknown these days, which is frustrating considering his importance to Zimmer's career.

I was never allowed to watch Tales of the Unexpected when I was a kid - much too saucy! - but I do remember that whenever Grainer's jazzy sax theme came on, with those opening titles of a gyrating dancing woman, that would be time for me to be sent to bed big grin

Jon

> Part 2: Twisted TV 'Tales' for Grown-Ups (and Superior
> Offerings for Their Offspring)

>


> Roald Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected (1979-1988)
> • TV anthology series, featuring several episodes based on various short
> stories by Roald Dahl
> • Episodes aired from March 24, 1979, to May 13, 1988 (9 series in total)
> • Main title theme and score composed by Ron Grainer

> NOTE: For the purposes of this review, I will only be rating music from
> the show's 'Series 1,' the first 9 episodes of which are based on various
> Dahl short stories. IF time allows, I'll get around to watching the later
> seasons.

> In the same vein as 'Way Out, The Twilight Zone, and
> Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Tales of the Unexpected was a
> long-running anthology series on ITV that dramatized many of Dahl's
> macabre stories, with the author himself introducing each episode from his
> cozy study. Regarding the first group of episodes, Dahl nicely sums up his
> approach: 'When writing [adult] stories, I cannot seem to rid myself of
> the unfortunate habit of having one person do nasty things to another
> person.' As such, the darkly funny Tales all end with a shock twist
> of some kind while also commenting on social themes like domestic abuse,
> infidelity, and obsessive-compulsiveness (to list a few). If any of that
> intrigues you, then this show just might be a worthwhile guilty
> pleasure.

> Australian composer Ron Grainer contributed the show's original music as
> well as its peppy main title theme. Grainer later commented: 'The theme
> for the series is a cheekily innocent counterpoint to [Dahl's] wicked
> sense of humor.' Indeed, the theme sounds exactly like something you would
> hear on a carousel calliope at the circus, but when you hear the music in
> conjunction with the psychedelic opening credits montage of James
> Bond-worthy female dancers, casino parlor imagery, and grinning gargoyles,
> you know you're in for a trip. For film score listeners, it's important to
> remember that this was a show in the late '70s and '80s, and the score
> epitomizes that sound. The style of the music also varies considerably
> from episode to episode; in some cases, it's debatable whether or not
> music was even necessary. This is perhaps no more obvious than in the
> series' premiere episode 'The Man from the South,' a visually pleasing but
> somewhat pointless retelling of a story about a simple wager gone dark
> that was already masterfully adapted in a 1960 episode of Alfred
> Hitchcock Presents
. The newer adaptation, while beautifully filmed in
> Jamaica, strongly acted, and backed by a more characteristically
> ethnic-flavored soundtrack, sorely lacks the deep-rooted sensuality of the
> 1960 version starring Steve McQueen and a brilliantly deadpan Peter Lorre
> as the titular antagonist. (The earlier version, consequently, is almost
> completely unscored, and remains all the better for it.)

> As such, the remaining 8 episodes of 'Series 1' are a mixed bag with some
> horribly dated music, especially those that exploit the romance genre (the
> cheesy sax solos in Episode 2 'Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat' are the
> worst offender). Intrusively meandering mellotron solos are not uncommon
> either, often risking deflating tension in some episodes (e.g. Episode 3
> 'William and Mary,' in which Elaine Stritch makes for an effectively
> sympathetic and hilariously droll Mary). Grainer occasionally infuses the
> music with classicism, notably classical guitar solos in the terrifying
> Episode 5 'The Landlady,' and Scarlatti harpsichord sonatas in the
> excellent Episode 6 “Neck.” The skittish, prickly sound of that instrument
> can be a great choice in the right circumstances. A wonderful
> exception to the norm is Episode 7 'Edward the Conqueror,' in which music
> actually serves a central, diegetic role in the narrative. That episode
> follows an elderly woman who's convinced that the feral cat she rescued
> from a fire is the living reincarnation of Hungarian composer Franz Lizst,
> much to the chagrin of her doubtful husband. The soundtrack features the
> solo piano works of Lizst, Bach, and Schumann—call me biased, but it's my
> favorite episode of the lot.

> The only commercially available music from Tales of the Unexpected
> is the show's main title theme, which was included on a 1980 compilation
> LP record entitled 'The Exciting Television Music of Ron Grainer' along
> with several other popular themes at the time. (Adorably, the front cover
> displays the mugs of thirteen actors from the show's 'Series 1' in a
> circle, while the back cover lets you match the stars' names with their
> faces*.) That swinging title theme is the show's lasting
> identity, its counterintuitively upbeat personality a challenge to
> appreciate—much less tolerate—outside of context. Unless you were alive
> during the late '70s and '80s and have nostalgia for that theme and the
> show (or you're just morbidly curious to see what all the black
> comedy/macabre genre has to offer), you could skip this without much harm.
> Perhaps it's time for a reboot...

> (True story: Last week, as I was watching a scene from Episode 8 and
> simultaneously typing this, my older brother—who coincidentally was born
> in the early '80s—overheard the background music in a separate room and
> casually commented on his way to the kitchen, 'Boy, soundtracks
> have come a long way, haven’t they?' Thank goodness.)

> Music as heard in 'Series 1': **½

> Listen to the Main Title Theme here: https://youtu.be/yVWb_irrAYQ

> All 100+ episodes are available to watch here:
> https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLHhXWiFsHMttgtmrS6vqHNjHU8lGLxkuj

> *This 'bonus feature' would have been welcome on
> any of the Lost TV soundtrack albums of the 2000s.

>


> Danny, the Champion of the World (1989)
> • Live-action TV movie, with a screenplay by John Goldsmith (based on the
> 1975 children's book by Dahl)
> • TV premiere date (UK): April 29, 1989
> • Music by Stanley Myers

> Ever since he publicly condemned the 1971 film adaptation Willy Wonka
> and the Chocolate Factory
, Roald Dahl became extremely apprehensive
> about the idea of another one of his children's books being adapted for
> the medium. So it was somewhat of a relief when, in 1989, Thames
> Television finally brought one of his most personal stories, Danny, the
> Champion of the World
, to life on the small screen with the author's
> own stamp of approval. In fact, it was one of three Dahl
> adaptations to premiere on TV within the same year. An update on Dahl's
> own 1959 short story 'The Champion of the World,' Danny follows the
> adventures of a clever young lad and his mechanic father in the English
> countryside. Together, they conspire to overthrow a local businessman's
> nefarious plans to buy their land by poaching his game pheasants. The book
> features the necessary tropes that define nearly all of Dahl's stories for
> children: horribly nasty grown-ups, an empowered young protagonist, and an
> underlying dark sense of humor. Likewise, the movie—directed by the late
> Gavin Millar and starring Jeremy Irons and Robbie Coltrane—is both
> wholesome and charmingly inoffensive, but not essential viewing by any
> means. Thankfully, it is elevated by an excellent cast—led by a memorably
> villainous Coltrane as the greedy Mr. Hazell (long before he famously
> played a certain 'big, friendly giant' in an alternate magical
> universe)—and the naturally heartwarming chemistry shared between co-stars
> (and real-life father and son) Jeremy and Samuel Irons*.
> Despite comments I've read from other reviewers, I loved seeing Jeremy
> Irons approach his role in such a clearly supportive manner as he did,
> allowing his son's natural talent to carry the day as the titular hero
> (this is Samuel Irons' only screen acting credit to date).

> The score for Danny, the Champion of the World was composed and
> conducted by BAFTA-nominated composer (and Hans Zimmer's mentor) Stanley
> Myers. Not shockingly, the score embodies pleasantly melodic, purely
> orchestral, inoffensive children's music of a generically classical
> spirit, with a flighty main theme that doesn't quite congeal until late in
> the movie when Danny and his father set about overthrowing Mr. Hazell.
> Hazell and his goons are treated with a cheeky 4-note motif
> ('up-and-then-dowwwn'), usually played by the bassoons and double
> basses. (Is it on-the-nose? Sure. Does it owe inspiration to a certain
> opening motif from a certain Beethoven Symphony? Absolutely, but 'ey,
> why not? It's a kids' movie!
) Many of the character-building bits for
> Danny are left unscored, which didn't bother me at all, frankly; Irons'
> acting in general is good enough to convey necessary pathos. The climactic
> scenes when the heroes prevail and the villain gets his comeuppance are
> the highlight of the film, and Myers' music plays to the humor and triumph
> in these moments equally sufficiently. The score remains unreleased on
> album, but as this was a small, made-for-TV movie, it's unlikely to
> happen. Anyone who appreciates flighty yet competently rendered children's
> orchestral music will find little fault with Myers' safe approach to this
> family-friendly adaptation, but it's not the end of the world if you miss
> it. This general style would inform Myers' subsequent music for yet
> another Dahl adaptation the following year in The Witches, but with
> frustratingly mixed results.

> Music as heard in the film: ***

> Listen to the End Titles cue here: https://youtu.be/-I_eNQvsBsE

> *An early scene between the two lead actors
> includes a bedtime-story reference to the titular character of Dahl's
> classic The BFG—a convenient tie-in for the British-animated TV
> movie from the same year.

>


> Breaking Point (1989)
> • Live-action TV movie (a remake of the 1965 MGM film 36 Hours,
> loosely based on Dahl’s 'Beware of the Dog')
> • TV premiere date: August 18, 1989
> • Music by J.A.C. Redford

> A not-so-great remake (judging by lukewarm reviews) of the already
> less-than-great 1965 WWII thriller 36 Hours, Breaking Point
> was a major broadcast event for the emerging Turner Network Television
> channel that quickly faded from memory after its late summer premiere in
> 1989. Assuming the roles previously played by James Garner, Rod Taylor,
> and Eva Marie Saint are Corbin Bernsen, John Glover, and Joanna Pacula,
> respectively. As such, the movie remains a 'rare find' on home video
> nowadays and is unseen by me. (Fun fact: The movie was directed by Peter
> Markle, who went on to direct several other movies and episodes for
> television, including CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and The
> X-Files
*.) From what I have read, this version of the
> story focuses more on the 'forbidden romance' subplot of the original
> (between the American and the refugee nurse), with an added subplot
> involving the American's wife.

> The music for Breaking Point was written by J.A.C. Redford—a
> talented, Emmy-nominated composer whose résumé also includes
> orchestrating, arranging, and conducting duties for James Horner, Thomas
> Newman, Danny Elfman, Rachel Portman, and several others. Redford's
> assignment for Breaking Point was likely one to 'cut his teeth on,'
> so to speak, and since this was for a fledgling cable TV network that
> failed to garner any critical recognition, no soundtrack album was ever
> issued. A couple of extended clips from the movie can be found on YouTube,
> but the only music I heard in those consisted of synth-dominated suspense
> filler. Based on that material alone, I would venture to guess that the
> rest of Redford's score is nowhere near as impressive as Dmitri Tiomkin's
> appealing music for the 1965 film. (To anyone who has actually seen the
> movie, feel free to comment.)

> No rating.

> *Of those episodes directed by Markle, 'Redrum'
> from The X-Files Season 8 is a standout.

>


> The BFG (or The Big Friendly Giant) (1989)
> • Animated TV movie, adapted by John Hambley (based on the 1982 children's
> novel by Roald Dahl)
> • TV premiere date (UK): December 25, 1989; subsequently released on home
> video throughout the 1990s
> • Music and songs by Keith Hopwood and Malcolm Rowe; orchestral
> arrangements by Brian Ibbetson and David Cullen

> I have only two regrets in my lifetime. One of them is taking too many
> shots of Crown Royal Whisky the night of the first U.S. Presidential
> Debate of 2020*. The other is not finding out sooner that
> there was a movie adaptation of The BFG in existence until I was
> already past the age of 18. (Fortunately, YouTube had become a thing by
> that time, which made it easier to track this sucker down and take in all
> its nostalgic glory.) I confess, The BFG is my favorite Roald Dahl
> book—one I highly recommend to all kids and their parents—and I will
> forever cherish the memories of my Dad reading it to me at bedtime as a
> kid before I began reading novels solo. (The story itself started out, as
> many often do, as a bedtime story told by Dahl to his children before he
> eventually wrote it down.) For those who are still in the dark, The
> BFG
tells the story of an orphan named Sophie who befriends a
> benevolent giant, simply named 'BFG' (short for 'Big Friendly Giant').
> With the help of BFG's 'dream magic,' the two hatch a plan to save the
> children of the world from vicious, human-eating giants. It's one of
> Dahl's funniest, most imaginative, and uniquely empowering tales that
> merits repeat enjoyment for all ages.

> Not long after its 1982 release, the novel was adapted as an animated TV
> movie by Cosgrove Hall Films, airing in the UK on December 25, 1989
> (unbeknownst to '8-months-old Clint' at the time). It wouldn't be
> available to own on home video in the U.S. until the late '90s, and even
> then, it's not something you ever hear come up in current conversations
> about 'the greatest animated movies of all time.' Still, based on merit
> alone, 'adult Clint' finds the movie both charming and impressively
> faithful to the novel ('7-or-8-year-old Clint' would have gone nuts over
> it), and the film's strengths thankfully outweigh its weaknesses. While
> not in the same camp as concurrent animated features from either Disney or
> Don Bluth, the animation in The BFG is certainly good as far
> as kids' cartoons go, reinforcing the opinion that Dahl's stories and the
> characters described therein are all tailor-made for the medium. It still
> manages to scare on occasion, particularly the opening scenes leading up
> to Sophie's kidnapping and the latter sequences involving the more
> gruesomely threatening Giants. By far, the movie's strongest assets are
> its terrific vocal performances, notably TV actor David Jason as BFG and
> Amanda Root as Sophie. Their scenes together, which constitute about 90%
> of the movie's runtime and retain much of the original dialogue from the
> book, are staged in a way that perfectly conveys Dahl's humor and pathos.
> It's a joy to watch such an unusual portrayal of friendship in a kids'
> movie being brought to life as genuinely and carefully as it is here. The
> screenplay is well-paced and only rarely gets bogged down by one or two
> inexplicable musical sequences (more on that later). Also effective is
> Angela Thorne as the Queen of England, whose pristine royal inflection and
> unaffected one-liners are sure to amuse anyone outside the movie's target
> audience. (According to multiple sources, Dahl himself stood up and
> applauded the film after one screening of it, which is probably the
> highest praise it ever needed.)

> Bringing any fantasy world to life, especially one as sweeping as The
> BFG
's, is something most film and television composers dream of. In
> this case, the talents of pop/rock musician Keith Hopwood and TV composer
> Malcolm Rowe were involved with creating the movie's soundtrack, one that
> blends '80s synth-dominated 'dream music' with traditional orchestral
> fantasy elements. The resulting soundscape is not unlike something you'd
> hear from Joe Hisaishi or even Vangelis at the time (I wonder if Vangelis'
> music specifically was temp-tracked). Thus, one's tolerance for music that
> frequently resembles 'mock-up' demos, however accessible in their mix,
> will determine your enjoyment of this score. Furthermore, those quick to
> dismiss the film and score entirely might miss out on some smart attempts
> at narrative cohesion, which alone gets kudos from this listener. The
> themes in The BFG are easily identifiable, albeit rather simplistic
> and anonymous in their constructs. Sophie is represented by a simple yet
> beautifully tender idea for solo piano (introduced in 'The Owl's Flight'),
> and is occasionally rendered on oboe or pan flute in the opening scenes
> (the bubbly 'Sophie's Bath'). An ominous, repeated 4-note 'Danger' motif
> is hinted at on eerie synths at the outset of 'The Owl's Flight' and on
> hammered dulcimer in the following 'Giant in the Street.' It 'sounds the
> alarm' in many moments involving Giant peril thereafter (it becomes
> aggressive by the finale sequence in 'Giant Awake' and 'Return to the
> Choppers'). Representing Sophie and BFG's 'Great Plan' to save the world
> is an emerging, heroic theme indicated by a rising 6-note melody; hinted
> at in 'Flight to Buckingham Palace,' it finally takes off with symphonic
> gusto in 'Helicopter Flight to Vortex' before a disappointing fade-out
> closes that cue. A broadly magical 'Journey' theme accompanies the BFG's
> launch back into Giant Country in 'The Getaway' and reappears later in
> 'The Fishing Village' as Sophie and BFG return to embark on their first
> 'dream-blowing' adventure together. A secondary, nebulous 'chase' theme
> plays over the opening credits ('The Vortex') and again in the first half
> of 'The Getaway.'

> Not featured in the film are the songs 'Two Worlds,' which forms the basis
> of a recurring 'Friendship' theme, and 'Mirror, Mirror,' which is an
> arrangement of Sophie's theme. The primary 'Two Worlds' melody reveals
> itself in 'The Fishing Village,' and again in 'The Boy's Dream,' as Sophie
> and BFG bond over their shared adventures. (Its rising and falling melodic
> line merits comparison to Joe Hisaishi's song contributions in his
> concurrent Studio Ghibli soundtracks, namely My Neighbor Totoro and
> Kiki's Delivery Service.) Sophie's theme, the 'Danger' motif, the
> 'Great Plan' theme, and the 'Friendship' theme all rotate in whirlwind
> succession in the cool, ethereal 'The Queen’s Dream,' a pivotal moment in
> the film in which the Queen learns of the terrible crimes of the
> human-eating Giants in a dream specifically concocted by Sophie and BFG.
> It is in the score's second half where the energy of the orchestral
> performances really makes an impression on all of the themes, thanks to
> the robust arrangements by Brian Ibbetson and David Cullen. (Cullen, as it
> turns out, worked extensively as an orchestrator for several of Andrew
> Lloyd Webber's musical productions and subsequent adaptations.) Cues like
> 'Helicopter Flight to Vortex,' 'Giant Awake,' and 'Fleshlumpeater 1 &
> 2' contain some engaging action-adventure material suitable for a
> children's feature film score. The triumphant finale of 'Return to the
> Choppers' and 'The End' provide satisfactory closure to the 'Great Plan'
> and Sophie themes, highlighted by gorgeous solos for English horn and
> flute before full strings elevate Sophie's theme in the latter cue. One
> last send-off of the magical 'Journey' theme and a triumphant statement of
> the 'Great Plan' theme conclude the score on a high note. The music for
> the end credits scroll are culled from various score highlights but not
> included on the album.

> While the score earns its emotional moments, the songs unfortunately
> represent children's film music at its most cloying and forgettable. Only
> two made it into the actual movie, but even then, they just pad out the
> running time, ultimately cheapening an otherwise solid adaptation. (The
> primary melody in the dreadful 'Sometimes Secretly' does reappear during a
> 'dream-building' scene.) Admittedly, the infectiously goofy
> tongue-twisters in 'Whizzpopping'—complete with tastefully applied
> flatulent noises—solicited a half-hearted chuckle from this listener
> thanks to the enthusiastic performance of David Jason as BFG. (Once you've
> heard it, though, you'll have no need to hear it ever again.) Regardless
> of any melodic potential therein, all of the songs beg to be skipped,
> their unbelievably cheesy instrumental backing enough to make you want to
> stuff your ears with giant pickles. Lame songs aside, the score serves the
> movie well enough, but the soundtrack's dated rendering and overall
> anonymous personality fail to really engage the listener's imagination.
> Adequate thematic development as well as a few robust action highlights
> for the full ensemble save the score, thankfully, which ultimately merits
> a weak three-star rating from this listener.

> Luckily, master of orchestral film music John Williams would eventually
> have the opportunity to give the concept the magic touch it deserves in
> Steven Spielberg's 2016 adaptation.

> Score: ***
> Songs:
> Overall: **½

> Just to get it over with, listen to 'Whizzpopping!' here (at your own
> risk): https://youtu.be/4qZfUSa63-Q

> *For anyone wondering, it involved a drinking game
> and the number of times Donald Trump interrupted both Joe Biden and Chris
> Wallace during the debate. I lost count… and consciousness soon afterward.
> It wasn't even good whisky, come to think of it. If only I could be
> convinced that it was all just a terrible dream!

>


> Stay tuned for Part 3! To quote Angelica Huston: 'You are in for a
> treat!'
wink

> Previous entries in this series:
> Introduction: https://www.filmtracks.com/scoreboard/forum.cgi?read=112127
> Part 1: https://www.filmtracks.com/scoreboard/forum.cgi?read=112195



Movie Music UK



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