Soundtrack Review – The Rings of Power (season 1)

The legendarium of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth begins with music in the Ainulindalë, and songs and poems fill his entire mythos. It is fitting that the first substantial release of material from the new Amazon series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is the soundtrack. Scored by Bear McCreary (with the main title theme by Howard Shore), this is a spectacular and substantial album, featuring 37 songs and running 2 hours, 29 minutes. Read below for my full review. ***MINOR SPECULATIVE SPOILERS***

Paid links help to support this blog.

Since I don’t usually review music on my blog, let me start with a little background on how I’m approaching this. I love soundtracks and I listen to a large number of fantasy-themed ones. I also love Tolkien. I have read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings more times than I can remember. I have read The Silmarillion multiple times, as well as Unfinished Tales, parts of The History of Middle Earth, The Atlas of Middle Earth, and more, and my copy of The Languages of Tolkien’s Middle Earth is in danger of falling apart.

This isn’t all of them. Note the four copies of The Lord of the Rings (two for reading, my red leather-bound precious, and one (gray) special edition signed by one of the Tolkien family. Gandalf guards them all.

I saw the Peter Jackson movies in the theater oh… dozens of times. They have their problems, but it was also amazing to see something of that scope on a screen for the first time. I can’t begin to guess at how many times I’ve listened to the Howard Shore scores. I’ve been listening to those even this week as I re-read the appendices to The Lord of the Rings and start again on The Silmarillion.

I’m also a classically trained flutist (albeit rather out of practice) and almost added a major in music to my college days. I’ve played solo, with band, with orchestra, and with small ensembles. I’ve even played a concert of soundtrack music. However, I know zero music theory so I’m not going to talk about any of that technical stuff.


Now on to the review….

I’ve listened to the entire thing twice now and I’ll repeat what I already mentioned in the intro: this is a spectacular soundtrack. If the rest of the show lives up to the music, I’ll be extremely happy. Bear McCreary captures exactly the right tone and atmosphere for what I imagine the story of The Rings of Power will entail.

My only criticism of the score is that I was a little underwhelmed by Howard Shore’s contribution of the main theme. It didn’t stand out, but perhaps this is because the other themes on the individual tracks are so strong.

The instrumentation is similar to what Howard Shore used – orchestra with vocal accompaniment. Some tracks feature heavier percussion and in one place (end of the Sauron track) the rhythm is the same one that I associate with Shore’s Uruk-hai music.

Other familiar themes are hinted at in a few select places. Chords and chanting reminiscent of a certain balrog feature near the end of In the Mines, while the final track, Where the Shadow Lie, evokes the sinister tones of Gollum’s Song from The Two Towers.

Bagpipes feature in a few places but are not intrusive (I like bagpipes anyway). And you’ll hear of singing in many of Tolkien’s languages.

You can find the full list of tracks here. I’m going to comment my favorites (slight spoilers):

Absolute favorites:

  • Númenor – the theme fits the gorgeous visuals of the island kingdom that I’ve already seen in the trailers. This is one of the best hooks on the soundtrack.
  • In the Beginning – this track starts calmly but is one of the longest ones, running 7:49. Just before the halfway point, it builds to a dramatic orchestral and choral crescendo, followed by the soaring strains of the Galadriel theme and a war march that accelerates and then finishes on sad notes. There are rumors that this accompanies a prologue depicting the corruption of Morgoth and the destruction of the two trees. There might even be something about Finrod’s demise in there.
  • This Wandering Day – this is a vocal track, presumably sung by Elanor “Nori” Brandyfoot and is wonderful. I had a hard time picking out my favorite lines, but I chose some below. This also references the well-known “not all those who wander are lost” quote.

“Of drink I have little, and food I have less,

My strength tells me no, but the path demands yes,

My legs are so short and the way is so long,

I’ve no rest nor comfort, no comfort but song.”

Other favorites:

  • Galadriel – I almost put this one in my absolute favorites, but I think her theme is stronger when it appears on other tracks (like Cavalry below).
  • Khazad-dûm – perfect for what I imagine Moria looked like in its prime.
  • Harfoot Life – I imagine this is one of the themes for the not-quite-hobbit Harfoots.
  • White Leaves – perhaps this will accompany a Numenor scene and a certain white tree? This is a very pretty piece that finishes with a dazzling fanfare.
  • A Plea to the Rocks – when the vocals start, this just screams tragedy to me. Haunting and gorgeous. This was reminiscent of the music from The Fellowship of the Ring when the fellowship is regrouping after escaping Moria and seeing Gandalf fall to the Balrog.
  • Scherzo for Violin and Swords – how fun is this title?
  • Sailing into the Dawn – I don’t know what’s happening here, but this starts with the Numenor theme and is 4 minutes of something epic.
  • Cavalry – this is another action-filled track, presumably with… cavalry in it. The strings drive it forward relentlessly and Galadriel’s theme swirls over the top.

Amazon is also offering two bonus tracks (Find the Light; The Promised King) through Prime music which I also have heard. I didn’t think these added anything special beyond the main tracks.

I hope this gets you as excited to see The Rings of Power as I am. If all goes according to plan, I’ll be seeing the first two episodes in New York in a few days.

Have you listened to the soundtrack yet? What are your favorite tracks? Let me know in the comments (above).

Book Review – How He-Man Mastered the Universe

This was a bit of an unusual read that I picked up through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. The book had actually been sitting on my Kindle for quite a while, but I’m trying to do better to catch up on my backlog of reading, so I picked it to read in the week leading up to New York Comic-Con.

HeManCover

I grew up watching the He-Man and She-Ra cartoons, so I thought that I might like How He-Man Mastered the Universe by Brian C. Baer, and I was certainly familiar enough with the cartoons and toys, even if I could no longer remember the names of every single character. This book was fun to read, but is probably only of interest to fans of the television show or toys, or to people who like to learn about film history, as a good portion of the book discusses the making of the 1987 movie, Masters of the Universe.

The first section of this non-fiction book was a little slow and repetitive, but I did learn that He-Man was a toy (with mini-comics) before he was a cartoon. Toy company Mattel developed the He-Man line of action figures in response to the success of the Star Wars toys by rival company Kenner. When the He-Man toys were a success, the television show was created and brought directly to local television networks at a time when Saturday morning cartoons were just starting up.

The book details several key episodes of the cartoon before delving into the history of the Masters of the Universe movie, produced by the notorious Cannon Films. I found this to be the most interesting part of the book, and I wish I had had time to go back to watch the movie recently, now that I know much more about how the casting, story development, and special effects were all created under the shadow of a failing production company.

HeManMovie

After the movie failed in the box office, a few additional cartoon spin-offs were released, but none of these ever achieved the same level of pop culture success as the original cartoon and toys. Overall, this was a reasonably fun non-fiction book to read, but the subject matter may limit its appeal to fans of He-Man.

 

New York Comic-Con 2018

 

I’m finally recovered from my days spent attending New York Comic-Con this year, so I thought I’d write a quick recap.

Unlike last year, I only had tickets for Friday and Sunday, and ended up working on Saturday, so I missed a couple of panels and guests that I would have liked to see. I still had a great time with just two days!

Exploring on Friday

So for Friday, I only had two panels that I was interested in, and those were both late in the day. My train getting in to the city was delayed, but I wasn’t in a hurry. When I did get over to the Javits Center, I headed to the show floor first to scope out the book publishers. That didn’t take me long because they’re in the same general area every year. I found out who was going to be signing books and made decisions about which ones I’d be back for.

Then I explored the floor in a random pattern. Much of what is on display at Comic-Con is the same from year to year. In the past I had methodically walked up and down every aisle. This time, I just went in whatever direction interested me. I looked at some graphic novels from Stephen King (Gunslinger), Game of Thrones collectibles, superhero art work, porg toys, and some fun socks. In the end, I only bought three more of The Walking Dead collections on that round through the hall.

Crowd

Next up was a visit to Artist’s Alley. This location shifted again this year, and was in a much better place than last year: on the lowest level where they formerly had autographs and photo ops. This space allowed wider aisles to accommodate the crowds. I wandered through half of the aisles, met up with a friend, and then bought another comic I had had my eye on.

I headed out for a quick lunch, and for Friday, at least, the lines weren’t bad at all in the cafeteria. I even found a seat with a table! After that, I bounced back and forth between book signings, wandering, and people watching.

DragonballZ

The first book I picked up at a signing was Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel, which is the first in a series. Second for the day was The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden, also the first in a series. I made a pretty good circuit through the show floor in between these signings, and then headed to my first panel.

Day 1 of Panels

Art & Arcana: The Visual History of Dungeons & Dragons sounded interesting, but it was held in a small room where I couldn’t get a seat near the front. This was a promotion for an upcoming book, but I couldn’t see most of what they had on screen, so I was disappointed.

I ended up in another panel because I was in line early for A Discovery of Witches. This one was for Tell Me a Story, a new television show coming out soon on CBS All Access. This show takes three classic fairy tales and uses the ideas in those to weave a story set in our era in New York City. The panel consisted of a viewing of a short clip from the show, then a discussion with the cast. From the little that they were willing to reveal, this fairy tale won’t have a happy ending.

TellMeAStory

The next panel for me was for A Discovery of Witches. This is the name of the first book in the All Souls trilogy by Deborah Harkness, and also a new television series. I’ve read the first book in the series and enjoyed it, but haven’t had time to get to the rest of it. Nevertheless, I’ve had my eye on the show since I first heard about it.

This panel was a viewing of the first episode of the show, followed by a brief question and answer session with the author. I liked the characters in the show and the details of the book instantly started to come back to me as I watched. It was a little slow to get started, but I was interested enough in the series that I wanted more. The series has already premiered in the UK, and will be available in the U.S. in January on both Sundance Now and Shudder.

Day 2 – More Panels and Shopping

I made it back to the Javits Center on Sunday for the rest of my Comic-Con excursion. I planned on two panels and a bit more shopping. I looked at book signings again, but no one that I was interested in had a signing at a time I was available.

Spidey

My day started out with more time in Artist’s Alley. Then I met a friend for a photo op before heading to my first panel: America’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers. This panel was intended to feature this year’s volume of the America’s Best series for speculative fiction. Guest authors on the panel included Carmen Maria Machado, Charlie Jane Anders, and Maria Dahvana Headley. Guest editor N. K. Jemisin and series editor John Joseph Adams rounded out the group.

Moderator Matt Kressel led the panel in a discussion of the process of choosing the stories for the anthology, the specific stories by the authors in attendance, and general questions about writing. I haven’t been reading many short stories lately, but I may need to check out this book.

The last panel that I attended was the Science or Fiction panel. This was advertised as a discussion of sci-fi movies, focusing on which aspects were science-based, and which were pure fiction. The guests on the panel included the members of the Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast, as well as Bill Nye (the Science Guy).

I had seen Bill Nye last year, so I wasn’t desperate to get into this panel to see him specifically, but I was interested in the subject. Apparently everyone else also was, and it was a packed room. I was one of the last people to make it in!

Delorean

It turns out that the podcast regularly discusses science in popular media, and they rate movies on a system based around the film Prometheus. While many people liked this movie, I thought that it was so bad that I couldn’t even finish watching it. I agreed wholeheartedly with their system of ratings.

Several movies were mentioned in this panel: Gravity, The Martian, 2001, Interstellar, Armageddon, Star Wars, and Arrival. After the panel, I was able to pick up a copy of the panel’s new book, and had it autographed by all of them.

Overall, I felt like I was able to see most of Comic-Con this year, even though I only had tickets for two days. It helped that I was already familiar with how the even was run. I didn’t take as many cosplay photos this year, and I probably bought more books than I needed. But I’ll be back again next time.

NY Comic-Con 2017 Summary

Oh hey! I never managed to finish up my New York Comic-Con posts! I’ll start with some links to articles I wrote for BSCKids. After that, check out the best of my cosplay photos from the weekend.

  • Kid Brooklyn – a new comic series created and written by a kid from Brooklyn.
  • The Gifted panel – I got into the main stage for this discussion with all of the cast from this new show set in the X-Men universe.
  • The Shannara Chronicles panel – The main players were on hand for this sneak peek at season 2.

Cosplay photos:

 

Image

The Shannara Chronicles Recap – Episodes #1 and 2

So I’ve decided to write up a brief recap or review for season 2 of The Shannara Chronicles because: 1) it’s a fun show, 2) I read the books a long time ago, 3) I like to write things, and 4) I love Game of Thrones, but there are already plenty of sites that write about it (and really, there’s not much to cover for it between now and 2019).

KirstyGriffin-02.09.17_Shannara_S2_202_unit-1509

Photo courtesy of Spike TV.

Season 2 starts off quickly with the episodes Druid (#1) and Wraith (#2). The first episode shows us Eretria in the immediate aftermath of season 1 before jumping ahead to events a year later. We see that Eretria has found a new place in the world and a new lover, Lyria, yet she still wonders why Wil and Amberle never came looking for her.

Wil has also found a new life, training to be a healer with the gnomes. Trouble starts when a stranger comes seeking healing, but turns out to have other reasons for seeking out a Shannara.

By the end of the first episode, the show has already set up two antagonists. General Riga is an elf who believes that magic is too dangerous and wants to rid the world of magic-users. The other enemy is one of pure magic, as Bandon, corrupted by an evil sword, tries to resurrect the Warlock Lord, originally destroyed by Wil’s father in the book, The Sword of Shannara.

The action moves quickly as Eretria and Lyria are kidnapped by rovers, who are then interrupted by a bounty hunter, Garet Jax. Wil is pursued by Mord Wraiths, summoned by Bandon to seek out the Warlock Lord’s skull, necessary to bring him back. Interesting associations start to take shape as more is revealed about the new characters.

KirstyGriffin-02.15.17_Shannara_S2_202_unit-2075

Photo courtesy of Spike TV.

Lyria is revealed to be a princess, daughter of Queen Tamlin, ruler of the human kingdom of Leah, while Wil’s companion is Mareth, who can use some type of illusion magic and claims to be the daughter of Allanon. Where is that pesky druid, anyway? Well he’s been busy running back and forth to everyone trying to keep the world safe. He flees Skull Mountain to meet with King Ander before ending up back in Leah with most of the rest of the cast.

All together, the season is off to an intriguing start. The show is just as beautiful as season 1 was, both in the locales, special effects (I really like the fiery Mord Wraiths), and costumes. And like season 1, The Shannara Chronicles doesn’t shy away from killing off characters we like in season 2 either.

What were your favorites scenes so far? What do you think of the new characters? Let me know in the comments below!

NYCC 2017 – Day 4 (Sunday)

Well, Comic-Con is over for another year and Sunday was a more relaxed day for me as I had already seen most of what I had come to see. However, I still found plenty to keep myself occupied.

Every time I had tried to browse Artist’s Alley, it had been too crowded to really enjoy it. But I went through on Sunday morning, and it wasn’t so bad. I was finally able to wander and see the art on display. I picked up a couple more comics as well (couldn’t help myself).

giftedpanel

The only panel I attended on Sunday was for The Gifted – a new television series on Fox, set in the X-Men universe. I had watched the first episode, so at least I was oriented to the series. Fans got to watch the beginning of the second episode and then hear from the cast. I’ll have more on this panel posted over at BSCKids later in the week.

scooby

I spent some time people-watching, taking photos, and then met up with friends for an after-party. NYCC was an amazing (but exhausting) weekend and I’m looking forward to doing it again next year.

NYCC 2017 – Day 3 (Saturday)

Whew, day 3 went fast! I felt better today, despite two previous days of riding the train, walking to the Javits Center, and exploring Comic-Con while carrying a bag of camera stuff, comics, and books.

artist alley

Today I had two must-see panels: The Shannara Chronicles and Star Trek: Discovery. I made sure to get in line in plenty of time for Shannara, which meant that I also saw the preceding panel: The Tick.

I used to watch The Tick animated show years ago, so I wasn’t unhappy to get to see that panel, even though I was not familiar with the television show. All the panels were fun and entertaining again today. I was able to get a sneak peek of the upcoming seasons/episodes for all of them.

shannara.jpg

I wish that I had had a chance to watch more of Star Trek: Discovery before attending that panel, but there are only so many hours in the day, and I just didn’t get to it. Despite that, the panel was fun, and Michelle Yeoh made a surprise appearance at the end, sneaking in as an attendee who was there to ask a question.

Of course I again spent some time wandering through the main exhibit hall and Artist’s Alley. To finish out the day, I went to The Museum of the Moon – an exhibit outside of the official Comic-Con activities. This was a promotion for Andy Weir’s new book, Artemis, but was not far from Javits. The museum features “props” from the book, such as a space suit, a collection of contraband, and Gunk – a flavored algae product that the poorer inhabitants of Artemis must eat. At the center of the exhibit was the moon. This was a 3-dimensional representation of our moon, made of high-resolution digital images of the surface, and incorporating the elevations on the surface.

the moon

There’s one more day to go, and I’m through. That’s okay though. I’m not sure my feet can handle much more.

NYCC 2017 – Day 2 (Friday)

Well day two is over, and I survived. It was another grueling day of walking, lines, panels, walking, and more lines. Although I think that moving some of the larger panels off-site has helped to reduce the crowds.

wwcar

There weren’t any must-see events for me today, so I spent some time wandering the show floor. I managed to snag a pre-release copy of Andy Weir’s new book, Artemis by using a tip from one of my friends (it involved a secret phrase).

Square Enix had a large booth, so I stopped by to investigate their offerings. I trialed some of their video games and then moved on to shop for comics. I picked up two more volumes of Saga and the first two Walking Dead comics. (I’m still working my way through Bone and recently bought Watchmen, so I have a bit of reading to do!)

robot

Finally I made my way to panels later in the day:

  • Hulu and Seth Rogen’s Future Man
  • SYFY Wire Fangrrls Presents: Badass Women of Sci-Fi

Both were good, but I was too tired to stay for more after that. Another long day awaits me on Saturday!

Thoughts on The Bastard Executioner

The Bastard Executioner is a new television show on FX, and I had a chance to watch the two-hour pilot last night. While it isn’t billed as fantasy, but rather historical fiction, there are certainly some mystical elements at play.

The Bastard Executioner -- Lee Jones as Wilkin Brattle.  Cr: Ollie Upton/FX

The Bastard Executioner — Lee Jones as Wilkin Brattle.
Cr: Ollie Upton/FX

FX provides this description:

The Bastard Executioner is a blood-soaked, medieval epic that tells the story of Wilkin Brattle, a 14th century warrior, whose life is forever changed when a divine messenger beseeches him to lay down his sword and lead the life of another man: a journeyman executioner. Set in northern Wales during a time rife with rebellion and political upheaval, Wilkin must walk a tight rope between protecting his true identity while also serving a mysterious destiny.

Guided by Annora, a mystical healer whose seeming omniscience keeps Wilkin under her sway; manipulated by Milus Corbett, a devious Chamberlain with grand political aspirations; and driven by a deepening connection with the Baroness Lady Love, Wilkin struggles to navigate political, emotional and supernal pitfalls in his quest to understand his greater purpose.

The Bastard Executioner starts with a series of dreams that give the viewer a vague idea that the main character, Wilkin, was once a soldier who was badly injured in battle. Now retired from whatever cause or lord he fought for, he is dwelling in an idyllic village in Wales. His days are spent teasing his pregnant wife, teasing another peasant about his sheep, carrying water, and riding his horse around the countryside with the other men of the village.

** SPOILERS TO FOLLOW **

THE BASTARD EXECUTIONER - "Pilot" Episode 101/102 Pictured: (front) Lee Jones as Wilkin Brattle. CR: Ollie Upton/FX

The Bastard Executioner – “Pilot” Episode 101/102 Pictured: (front) Lee Jones as Wilkin Brattle. CR: Ollie Upton/FX

All of this is very nice (and the CGI shots of the village were some of the nicer ones), but the story drags until a conflict arrives in the form of a greedy baron who needs to collect more taxes.

Clearly, Wilkin’s happy pastoral life could not continue, so the first hour of The Bastard Executioner culminated in a predictable gory village burning and peasant stabbing reminiscent of Braveheart.

Now that Wilkin and his friends found motivation to do something more exciting, the show became more fun. The greedy Baron is pitched against the rebellious peasants. Swords clash in battle in some fight choreography that I didn’t completely hate. Like most battle scenes nowadays, there were plenty close-up shots (this is the part that I hate) where you can only see a blurry arm fly by or a bloody spurt. I get it – it’s easier to choreograph and easier to film – but I want to watch the larger view of the swordplay. The Bastard Executioner did pan out for a few nicer glimpses of this.

Although The Bastard Executioner brings some interesting ideas and the richness of a historical setting to it’s production, it tries too hard to emulate both Game of Thrones and Braveheart by throwing in random nudity and sex, a white-blond girl followed closely by a vision of a demon (looks a bit like a dragon), a witch who makes mysterious prophecies, a baroness (who I predict will fall suddenly in love with our bastard executioner in upcoming episodes), and a unique dagger (let’s guess where the blame where by placed).

I’m not sure that I like Lee Jones’ (Wilkin) emotional portrayal in the second half of the pilot. For a lot of it, his facial expression doesn’t change and he simply appears confused. Many of the characters were a little over-the-top and no one really surprised me in terms of breaking expectations. I hope that the Baroness redeems herself in this respect now that she’s a widow, and I’m interested to discover what will happen politically and whether she will be able to maintain power.

The plot had some holes as the show progressed, but they didn’t completely take away from my enjoyment of the second half. I’ll keep watching for at least a few more episodes.

Did you watch The Bastard Executioner? What did you think?

Ash vs Evil Dead

I found this the other day and thought it may be worth watching this fall:

Ash vs Evil DeadHere is a description:

“Ash vs Evil Dead” is the long-awaited follow-up to the classic horror films The Evil Dead.  The 10-episode half-hour series is executive produced by Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, and Bruce Campbell, the original filmmakers, and Craig DiGregorio who serves as executive producer and showrunner.

Campbell reprises his role as Ash, the stock boy, aging lothario, and chainsaw-handed monster hunter who has spent the last 30 years avoiding responsibility, maturity and the terrors of the Evil Dead.  When a Deadite plague threatens to destroy all of mankind, Ash is finally forced to face his demons –personal and literal.  Destiny, it turns out, has no plans to release the unlikely hero from its “Evil” grip.

And here is a link to the trailer!

“Ash vs Evil Dead” premieres Saturday, October 31st at 9:00pm ET/PT exclusively on STARZ with a 10-episode season.

Previous Older Entries

Follow Blog via Email

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 319 other subscribers
%d bloggers like this: