10 Underappreciated John Williams Film Scores

As both a lover of film and music, I consider myself generally knowledgeable when it comes to film scores.  Of course, one can hardly have a discussion about film scores without bringing up one of the most famous film composers in modern history:  John Williams.  Everyone knows his most famous works, like Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Jurassic Park, but the sheer number of projects Williams has done over the course of his career is astounding, and some of them often get the short end of the stick.  Here, I hope to shed light on some of these scores, which I feel deserve more credit than they often receive.

The Cowboys (1972)

Movie poster advertisement for The Cowboys © 1972 Warner Bros.  Digital Image.  Wikipedia.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cowboys_1972.jpg

This 1972 John Wayne film has all the makings of a true Western, and John Williams’s score is certainly no exception.  The film was admittedly met with mixed reviews.  It won the Best Theatrical Motion Picture “Bronze Wrangler” from the Western Heritage Awards, but received varied reviews from critics, some of whom questioned the way the film portrayed boys becoming men.1  Despite the criticism, however, one thing that the film was consistently praised for was its score.  The sweeping strings and triumphant brass lend to a distinctly Copland-esque sound, perfect for any American Western.2

Superman (1978)

Official film poster © Warner Bros.  Digital Image.  Wikipediahttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superman_(1978_film)

In 1978, Richard Donner directed one of the first films in a genre that has now taken the world by storm:  superhero movies.  His version of Superman, starring Christopher Reeve in the title role, was praised both critically and commercially.  The film was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Original Score, and won the Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media.3  While the “Main Title March” certainly gets its fair share of performances at John Williams concerts, the rest of the score does not get the attention it deserves.  From the delicate strings and twinkling celesta in “The Fortress of Solitude,” to the quirky and off-kilter tuba solo in “The March of the Villains,” and the beautiful soaring melodies in “The Flying Sequence,” some of the lesser-known themes definitely deserve more credit than they often receive.

Photo credits L to R: Official film poster © Warner Bros. and Amblin Entertainment.  Digital Image.  Wikipediahttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empire_of_the_Sun_(film); Official film poster © Paramount Pictures.  Digital Image.  Wikipediahttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabrina_(1995_film); Promotional poster by Drew Struzan.  Digital Image.  Wikipediahttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hook_(film)

Empire of the Sun (1987)

Released in 1987, Empire of the Sun tells the story of Jamie (Christian Bale), a young boy who faces incredible struggles during the Second World War.  As a whole, the movie is considered one of Spielberg’s more underappreciated films, and John Williams’s score is no different.  It was nominated for many awards, including several Oscars, but only won three (Best Cinematography, Best Sound Design, and Best Musical Score) at the 42nd British Academy Film Awards. Having only just recently discovered this score myself, I can’t understand how I’ve never come across it before.

Williams’s quintessential soaring string melodies are certainly present, but it is the angelic sound of the children’s choir (a sound not usually found in other Williams scores) that sets it apart for me.  This is a score that I will most definitely be adding to my regular listening.

Hook (1991)

Hook is a film that is close to my heart.  This sequel to the classic Peter Pan story tells of an adult Peter (played by the late great Robin Williams) who has forgotten who he is.  Captain Hook, looking to draw his old nemesis out of hiding, kidnaps Peter’s children Jack and Maggie.  Peter then embarks on a journey of rediscovery as he returns to Neverland in order to rescue them.  The film experienced box office success but mostly negative reviews from critics, and Spielberg himself has admitted it’s certainly not one of his best.5  But despite some of its criticism, the score is one of the film’s highlights.  The main theme has all the whimsy and fanfare needed for any fantasy adventure, and some of the softer themes in tracks like “Remembering Childhood,” and “You Are the Pan,” have enough soulful melodies to melt any heart.  Hook is, by far, one of my favorite John Williams scores, and definitely worth a listen for any fans of his music.

Sabrina (1995)

This 1995 film, starring Harrison Ford, Julia Ormond, and Greg Kinnear, is a remake of a film by the same name released in 1954.  The film did not fare well at the box office, and received mixed reviews from critics, many of whom compared it unfavorably to its predecessor.6  Despite the film’s failings, John Williams’s score does not disappoint.  The heavy use of piano and hint of 1950’s cool jazz creates a feeling of intimacy appropriate to the film.  Even still, Williams can’t resist the swelling string melodies that make his music soar.  Regardless of whether or not you like the film, the score definitely deserves more recognition.

Amistad (1997)

Amistad is another of many John Williams and Stephen Spielberg collaborations and tells the story of the Spanish slave ship La Amistad, which was captured by the cargo of African slaves it was transporting off the coast of Cuba.  While criticized by some for its historical inaccuracies, the film was considered a general success for telling such a difficult story with sensitivity.7  The score sounds quite different from the music Williams usually writes, but is gorgeous nonetheless.  The sound is more wide-ranging in nature, utilizing many different sorts of percussion instruments and flutes, and the use of vocals is chillingly effective.  I highly recommend giving this one a listen. Photo credit: Official film poster © DreamWorks Pictures.  Digital Image.  Wikipediahttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amistad_(film)

The Patriot (2000)

While this film is set in the backdrop of the American Revolutionary War, the story it tells of American colonist Benjamin Martin being reluctantly dragged into the war is (mostly) fictional.  The Patriot received average success at the box office and similar reviews from critics, but was mired in controversy regarding some of the historical aspects of its story.8  Nevertheless, its score is most certainly spot on.  Fiddle-like solo violin, militaristic snare drum, and flurries of fife melodies accompany Williams’s quintessential sweeping strings and fanfaric brass, adding a distinctly colonial sound to his music. Photo credit: Official film poster © Columbia Pictures.  Digital Image.  Wikipediahttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Patriot_(2000_film)

The Terminal (2004)

This 2004 film tells the story of Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks), who becomes trapped inside John F. Kennedy International Airport after being refused entry to the country, and his home country Krakozhia is taken over in a military coup.  The film was generally well-received by critics and the public as a fun, feel-good movie, and Williams’s score is similarly light and cheerful.9  The clarinet solos littered throughout add an air of mystery and playfulness.  The clarinet features so prominently in this score that Williams later released a solo clarinet piece “Viktor’s Tale,” featuring music taken from the film, and Spielberg insisted that clarinetist Emily Bernstein, who recorded all the solos, be listed in the film’s end credits.10  If you’re looking for a mysteriously playful score to listen to, make sure to add this one to your list.

Photo credits L to R: Theatrical poster © Columbia Pictures.  Digital Image.  Wikipediahttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memoirs_of_a_Geisha_(film); Official film poster © DreamWorks. 
Digital Image.  Wikipediahttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Terminal; Theatrical poster © Touchstone Pictures.  Digital Image.  Wikipediahttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_Horse_(film)

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)

Based off of Arthur Golden’s book by the same name, this film tells the story of Japanese Geisha pre-World War II.  The film received mixed reviews, partially influenced by controversy regarding the casting of three Chinese actresses in the leading roles.  It was also criticized for Westernizing and misrepresenting Japanese culture.11  Regardless, the score is a true masterpiece, with solos by famous violinist Itzhak Perlman and world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma only adding to Williams’s epic musical storytelling.  No matter how you feel about the film, if you consider yourself a true John Williams fan, this score is a must-listen.

War Horse (2011)

Yet another Spielberg/Williams collaboration, War Horse was adapted from a 1982 novel of the same name by Michael Morpurgo.  The story tells of a young British boy and his horse, who is later bought by the British Army for the ensuing conflicts of World War I.  It was generally well received by the public and critics alike, and has been characterized as a cross between Saving Private Ryan and E.T.12  Williams’s accompanying score is both playful and heartfelt, soaring in some places and heartbreaking in others.  Speaking personally, I have only seen the movie once, but I have listened to the score countless times and will surely listen to it again countless more.  I strongly encourage you: don’t miss out on this hidden gem. KE

Honorable Mentions:

Home Alone (1990)

Schindler’s List (1993)

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

Catch Me If You Can (2002)

Kathryn Edom is a composer and aspiring music librarian in her first semester of IU’s MLS (Library Sciences) program.  She previously attended Sacramento State University and University of Oregon where she received her BM and MM (respectively) in music composition.  On top of her courses, she currently juggles three different library jobs, and in her limited spare time, enjoys reading, writing music, playing Animal Crossing, and watching Oregon football.

Sources:

1”The Cowboys.”  Wikipedia.  25 September, 2021.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cowboys

2”About John Williams’ The Cowboys Film Score.”  Parker Symphony Orchestra.  20 April, 2016.  https://parkersymphony.org/john-williams-the-cowboys

3”Superman (1978 film).”  Wikipedia.  30 September, 2021.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superman_(1978_film)

4”Empire of the Sun (film).”  Wikipedia.  18 September, 2021.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empire_of_the_Sun_(film)

5”Hook (film).”  Wikipedia.  2 October, 2021.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hook_(film)

6”Sabrina (1995 film).”  Wikipedia.  23 September, 2021.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabrina_(1995_film)

7”Amistad (film).” Wikipedia. 2 October, 2021.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amistad_(film)

8”The Patriot (2000 film).”  Wikipedia.  23 September, 2021.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Patriot_(2000_film)

9,10 “The Terminal.”  Wikipedia.  18 September, 2021.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Terminal

11”Memoirs of a Geisha (film).”  Wikipedia.  1 October, 2021.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memoirs_of_a_Geisha_(film) 12”War Horse (film).”  Wikipedia.  30 September, 2021.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_Horse_(film)

Gender-Queer Media Representation

For those unfamiliar with the term, the gender-queer community includes anyone who does not identify as male or female, but rather as another gender entirely, such as agender/genderless, nonbinary, intersex, genderfluid, etc. They are generally considered to fall under the transgender umbrella.

Just like individuals of any gender identity, gender-queer people choose the pronouns that they feel suit them best. Their pronouns could be gendered pronouns, like she/her or he/him, or gender neutral, like they/them. There are also neopronouns such as xe/xem/xyr or ey/em/eir, that are gender-neutral pronouns created for those who do not feel the pronoun options available are applicable. Any combination of pronouns can be used based on what someone decides suits them best. For example, I’m agender and use a combination of she/they pronouns, which means anyone referring to me can use they/them and she/her pronouns as well as “female” or gender-neutral honorifics (Mx., Ms., etc.).

Below I have compiled below a guide to some of the media titles we have here at IU Bloomington that have canonically gender-queer characters whose identities are acknowledged on screen.

TV Series

Good Omens (2019)
Pollution, they/them & Crowley, he/him

L: Promotional Image of Lourdes Faberes as Pollution. Digital Image. LGBTQ Characters Wiki. https://lgbtqia-characters.fandom.com/wiki/Pollution 
R: Screenshot of David Tennant as Crowley. Digital Image. http://www.david-tennant.co.uk/2018/05/david-tennant-talks-good-omens-crowley.html

Neil Gaiman, one of the authors of the book that the TV series Good Omens is based on, has confirmed that all the angelic and demonic characters are nonbinary. In the TV series, this is mainly shown through the recurring character Pollution and a main character Crowley, who are both acknowledged as nonbinary within the context of the series3. Pollution uses they/them pronouns as well as the he/him honorific Sir2. Crowley uses he/him pronouns, and has a fluid gender presentation across the series, meaning that the gender he chooses to present himself as changes depending on how he is feeling at that particular time.

The Good Place (2016-2020): Janet, she/her

Screencap of D’Arcy Beth Carden as Janet. Digital Image. Wired. https://www.wired.com/story/the-good-place-janet-optimistic-ai

Janet, one of the main characters in The Good Place, identifies as genderless/agender and uses she/her pronouns2,3. Janet’s identity is frequently acknowledged on-screen, generally when she corrects those who misgender her by mistake. The most common occurrence of this during the series is when she reminds other characters that she does not use any gendered terms to refer to herself (e.g. “woman”, “girl”, etc.), and that she identifies as genderless, a fact that is not negated by her use of she/her pronouns.

Star Trek Discovery (2020): Adira Tal, they/them

Though they don’t come out until the third season, Star Trek: Discovery has a nonbinary character, Adira Tal, who is played by nonbinary actor Blu del Barrio2. The character Adira and the actor del Barrio use they/them pronouns. Photo credit: Screencap of Blu del Barrio as Adira Tal. Digital Image. ScreenRant. https://screenrant.com/star-trek-discovery-adira-admiral-tal-trill-twist/

Feature Films

The Kings of Summer (2013): Biaggio, he/him

Main character Biaggio in the film Kings of Summer tells his friends during a scene in the woods that he doesn’t see himself as necessarily having a gender. Biaggio doesn’t use the agender/genderless label explicitly, but he does express feelings that coincide with a gender-queer identity. Photo credit: Screencap of Moises Arias as Biaggio. Digital Image. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2PCqEuSpLE

John Wick 3 (2019): The Adjudicator, they/them

Screencap of Asia Kate Dillon as The Adjudicator. Digital Image. Villains Wiki. https://villains.fandom.com/wiki/The_Adjudicator

The third John Wick film has side character The Adjudicator who identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns. The Adjudicator is played by actor Asia Kate Dillon who is nonbinary as well and also uses they/them pronouns. Dillon has also portrayed several other gender-queer characters in media including Val(entina) Romanyszyn on the animated show Gen:Lock who is gender-fluid and changes their pronouns and name depending on their current gender presentation, and Taylor Mason on the TV series Billions who is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns3.

XXY (2007): Alex, she/her

Screencap of Ines Efron as Alex (right). Digital Image. Wikipedia. https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/XXY_(film)

The main character of the film XXY is a teenager named Alex who is intersex and uses she/her pronouns1. The film focuses on Alex’s experience with questioning her gender identity before the surgery her parents scheduled to have her “male” sex organs removed6.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001): Hedwig, she/her

Screencap of John Cameron Mitchell as Hedwig. Digital Image. FrameRated. https://www.framerated.co.uk/hedwig-angry-inch-2001/

Hedwig, the titular character of the film Hedwig and the Angry Inch, identifies as genderqueer and uses she/her pronouns1,2,3. The film takes place after her botched gender change surgery that didn’t fully remove her “male” sex organs, hence the “Angry Inch” in the title7. Her actor John Cameron Mitchell, who also doubles as the writer/director of the film, described Hedwig in an interview as “more than a woman or a man. She’s a gender of one”7, as Hedwig considers herself to be beyond gender.

Video Games

Borderlands 3 (2019): FL4K, they/them

FL4K is a player character in Borderlands 3 who identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns2. Their character design shows them with a pin on their gear with “no” symbol (🚫) in the colors of the nonbinary pride flag8. The pin can be seen right above the bright green pin on FL4K’s jacket collar. FL4K is an AI, but the creators don’t ascribe that to FL4K’s gender identity as FL4K is fully sentient and chose to identify as nonbinary because that is what felt right to them8. Photo credit: : FL4K’s Nonbinary Pin. Digital Image. Twitter. https://twitter.com/flailmorpho_/status/1173692242638209024

IU Resources About Gender

The LGBTQ+ Culture Center at IU has a house on campus for in-person discussions, programs, etc. Through the house they have a library, which is comprised of films and books related to the LGBTQ+ community. In addition, they have compiled a list on their website of resources at the local, state-wide, national, and international level, as well as resources they’ve created regarding education and support for a wide variety of LGBTQ+ matters, including gender identities.

Culture Center: https://lgbtq.indiana.edu/

Resources Compilation: https://lgbtq.indiana.edu/resources/index.html

Sources

1“Other-Gender Representation in Film.” iMBD. 19 Jun., 2012. https://www.imdb.com/list/ls009788538/

2”Nonbinary Gender in Fiction.” Nonbinary Wiki. https://nonbinary.wiki/wiki/Nonbinary_gender_in_fiction#Movies

3 “List of Fictional Non-Binary Characters.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fictional_non-binary_characters

4Kenny, Lisa. “A Short(ish) Guide to Pronouns and Honorifics.” LinkedIn. 26 Jan., 2021. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/shortish-guide-pronouns-honorifics-lisa-kenney

5Gaiman, Neil [@neilhimself]. Twitter. 14 Jul., 2019. https://twitter.com/neilhimself/status/1150428978475409408

6”XXY (2007).” iMBD. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0995829/?ref_=ttls_li_tt

7Ouzounian, Richard. “John Cameron Mitchell to Host Hedwig and The Angry Inch Sing-Along in Toronto.” Toronto Star. 18 Jun., 2014. https://www.thestar.com/entertainment/stage/2014/06/18/singalong_hedwig_and_the_angry_inch_comes_to_lgbt_film_fest.html

8Stevenson, Leo. “Gearbox Confirms that FL4K is the Franchise;s First Non-Binary Character.” PowerUp Gaming. 15 Aug., 2019. https://powerup-gaming.com/2019/08/15/gearbox-confirms-that-fl4k-is-the-franchises-first-non-binary-character/

Student blogger Cas Regan (she/they) is a Junior at IU in the Earth Science B.S. program with minors in Chemistry and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). In addition to classes and working for Media Services, they are also the VP of the Beekeeping Club at IU and spend their free time caring for the club’s hives at IU’s Hilltop Gardens.

Five Binge-Worthy Favorites at Media Services

If you are as weary as I am of watching another eight or so bucks deduct from your bank account every month just so you can see the end of your favorite classic sitcom, then you have two options available to you: a) get a gullible friend or relative to lend their streaming passwords to you (this works wonders, but gets awkward when you accidentally log out and have to ask a second time…plus, you know, laws) or b) take advantage of the resources provided by your local library. This blog post is totally above board and therefore about the latter.

The collections at Herman B Wells Library’s Media Services department contain all manner of art films and educational documentaries, which are frequently used by instructors in all manner of courses in many different fields. But the holdings in our collections are not all obscure, “highbrow,” or educational, as much as those types of films may thrill some of our patrons.

L: Bergman, Ingmar. Senses of Cinema. Digital Image. https://www.sensesofcinema.com/2002/great-directors/bergman/. R: Federico Fellini. Wikipedia. Digital Image. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federico_Fellini#/media/File:Federico_Fellini_NYWTS_2.jpg.

In fact, many films in our collections are iconic classics and recent blockbusters. One of my personal favorite sections is our television series section, which boasts more than 50 TV series, most of them complete, from the early days of the medium to recent titles. If you have not visited us yet, here are five potentially amazing TV binges we have at Media Services for you to check out!

The Office

The Office (US version) is like the “Sweet Caroline” of TV shows; when it first came out it wasn’t bad but also wasn’t very popular until years later. In case you’ve been living under a rock, this mockumentary sitcom based on the British series by the same name is about an awkward, eccentric paper manufacturing regional manager (Michael Scott, played by Steve Carrell) and his employees’ experiences in the workplace. This show’s comedic writing and interesting characters launched it into the mainstream after its availability on Netflix, and since then has become a cult classic and a quotable cultural cliché. You won’t regret watching or re-watching such a classic hit!

The Office  cast on set. Digital Image. Thrive Global. https://thriveglobal.com/stories/mindful-communication-lessons-from-the-office/.

Game of Thrones

The HBO masterpiece that needs no introduction, Game of Thrones is a cinematic, 8-season show based on the book series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. Critically acclaimed (with a 92% average on RottenTomatoes.com), some fans will argue that the series only devolves as it progresses.

Game of Thrones Promotional Artwork. Digital image. Digital Spy. https://www.digitalspy.com/tv/ustv/a33833081/game-of-thrones-an-oral-history-of-the-greatest-tv-show-of-our-time/.

Others argue that the creative directions in the middle and final seasons were unexpected and therefore fascinating. However, no one will argue that the story and world that is experienced by watching Game of Thrones will keep you hooked and begging to know to whom does the throne end up with at the end of the game.

Photo credit: Game of Thrones. Digital Image. IMDB.com. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0944947/mediaviewer/rm3519114752/

Arrested Development

Arrested Development (2003) Cast. Digital Image. Den of Geek. https://www.denofgeek.com/tv/why-you-should-watch-arrested-development/.

Arrested Development is about Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman), a man who is forced to inherit his father’s company, built on criminal activity, all the while rebuilding his eccentric family’s reputation and fortune and his relationship with his son. But what’s more interesting than the story of Arrested Development is the story behind Arrested Development. When the show first aired on the Fox network in 2003, it got pretty good reviews and developed a loyal fanbase, but by 2006 and after three successful seasons, the creator felt that he had told the story he wanted to tell. Those are the three seasons that are available at Media Services, but the remaining two seasons, released in 2013 and 2018-19, were only released as Netflix exclusives. Fortunately, the seasons we do have are considered the best by loyal fans, so let’s just say we did that on purpose.

Arrested Development (2013) Cast. Digital Image. The Verge. https://www.theverge.com/2017/5/17/15653446/arrested-development-netflix-fifth-season.

Avatar: The Last Airbender

The show that was there for a whole generation of children, Avatar: The Last Airbender mastered the formula of the kids-show genre. It does this by mixing traditional elements like good morals and a simple plot with more complex storytelling and worldbuilding. The fantastic world of Avatar tells a story of what it means to have a destiny or a purpose, and what it means to value life itself. Not only that, but it tells the story set in a magical world where people have the ability to control either fire, water, air, or earth, but only one hero can master all four elements. That being is known as the avatar, and Aang (Zach Tyler Eisen), the next avatar, must travel the world with his friends to master the elements and stop the evil fascist Fire Nation from enslaving the rest of the world! A simple story with high stakes, all three seasons of ATLA are a must-watch!

ATLA Characters. Digital Image. Common Sense Media. https://www.commonsensemedia.org/tv-reviews/avatar-the-last-airbender.

Boy Meets World

Last but not least is Boy Meets World, an appropriate series for those who are inching closer to graduation year and starting to look back on your educational experience. This 90s sitcom is about the life of Cory Matthews (Ben Savage) and the lessons he learns as he navigates a life of middle school, high school, and eventually college. Along the way, Cory learns life lessons about love, family, work, society, respect, health, and a myriad of other themes that would be featured on an after-school special, and it wouldn’t be inaccurate to call Boy Meets World an extension of exactly that. Although the 90s humor and morality-grounded plot may get monotonous, those who already love the series will love to know that Media Services has every season of Boy Meets World! Even if you’ve never seen it before, this timeless series is definitely worth a binge!

Boy Meets World (1993) Original Cast. Digital Image. Vulture. https://www.vulture.com/2012/11/5-things-the-boy-meets-world-sequel-needs-to-do.html.

All of the shows mentioned above are very different, with completely different storylines, plots, settings, themes, and overall vibes. But there are two things each of these series do have in common: they are all incredibly good classic TV shows that are hard to tear away from, and they are all available to check out for free at Media Services! BC

Student staff blogger Brandon Carr is a recent graduate of IU Bloomington with a BA in Psychology and a double minor in Counseling and Japanese. He has worked at Media Services since 2017, and he also likes to play video games in his spare time. This summer is Brandon’s last with Media Services, and we are so grateful for his many contributions to the department over the years. We wish Brandon the very best in his next chapter and will miss his fun spirit!

Nostalgic Games That Will Make You Feel Like It’s 2006 Again

Media Services desk staff member Brandon Carr, a recent IU graduate in Psychology, shares his gaming-as-coping experiences during Covid.

While the world is finally (seemingly) returning to that lukewarm, slightly-less-terrible state of yore, it’s time to reflect on what got us all through these tumultuous times. Some people got really into politics, some people finally caved in and downloaded Tik Tok, and others even baked a mildly satisfying first attempt at banana bread. I, however, like many introverted geeks, turned to old video games.

I played some games for the PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, I got a Steam account to play some PC games, and I finally began taking advantage of those online memberships my relatives got me for my birthdays and what-not. For a while, I was satisfied in the modern world of digital entertainment. But the realer-than-life graphics and polished soundtracks became dull and monotonous after a while, and my attention shifted from my PS4 to the PS2. I traveled back twenty-odd years to video games that, for their time, represented the vanguard of gaming entertainment, games that are coincidentally among the holdings of the IU Media Services Department. So for my fellow gamers out there, here are some classics for the PS2 and Microsoft Xbox to revisit and rediscover.

For Playstation 2

God of War (2005)


God of War (2005) Cover Art. Digital Image. Ocean to Games. www.oceantogames.com/god-of-war-1.

Released in 2005, this game was an instant hit for Western audiences and solidified the classic hack-and-slash, level-up system in the modern gaming era. The high-intensity soundtrack keeps you constantly on your toes, the puzzles leave you stumped between areas and force you to use your mind over your swords, and the bloody, gory battle scenes with waves of enemy hordes are horrifically addictive. The first installment of the series and my personal favorite, God of War incentivizes carnage, an appropriate theme for a vengeful Hellenic warrior on a quest to kill the ancient Greek gods themselves!

Kingdom Hearts (2002)

Imagine the videogame lovechild between the Disney and Final Fantasy franchises, injected with some spiky-haired original characters with spiky hair and parents we never see, with a web of confusing, tangled plots and backstories that make the Game of Thrones look like a kids’ show, and you have yourself the glorious, and frustratingly difficult, mess that is Kingdom Hearts.

As strange as that may sound (and it’s admittedly not everyone’s thing), the mixed-up jumble of elements coalesce better than you might expect, with a compelling combination of action and role play, and the soundtrack is great. The game was a commercial and artistic success and won numerous awards upon its debut. Photo credit: Kingdom Hearts (2002) Cover Art. Digital Image. CNET. https://www.cnet.com/tech/computing/kingdom-hearts-and-when-judging-a-game-by-its-cover-goes-so-right/.

Jak & Daxter (2001)

Jak and Daxter. Digital Image. Games Radar. https://www.gamesradar.com/jak-and-daxter-the-precursor-legacy-anniversary-making-of/

Jak & Daxter and the Precursor Legacy has neither the confusing storylines of Kingdom Hearts nor the mind-teasing puzzles of God of War. Instead, you are faced with the dreaded world of… early 2000s platforming! The blocky platforms are hard to reach and made even worse by the game’s lack of momentum control. That said, the game is truly a fun experience and not that hard once you get the hang of it. So if you’re a fan of the Mario series or other games of the genre, then you’ll love the original and colorful world of Jak & Daxter! This game transports you to a fantastical land with a simple mission; to save the world with your furry best friend, and to find the mystery behind the life force known as Eco.

Shadow of the Colossus (2005)

This game puts the cinema in cinematic. Released in the same year as God of War, Shadow of the Colossus is a familiar tale about a boy on a journey to rescue a princess. With minimalistic yet impactful atmospheres and a heart-wrenching story that immerses you into the perspective of the protagonist, SOTC is also action-packed, full of boss fights with gargantuan enemies.

This revolutionary title is often cited as one of the best games ever made and won awards for its soundtrack, design, and quality as a whole (IGN.com). So if you are looking for a compelling story and immersive experience rather than violence and combat, then bare your blade, and dare to strike down the beasts of gods! Photo credit: Shadow of the Colossus (2005). Digital Image. Team Ico Wiki. https://teamico.fandom.com/wiki/Shadow_of_the_Colossus

For Microsoft Xbox

Halo (2001) and Halo 2 (2004)

Halo (2001) Cover Art. Digital Image. Games Radar. https://www.gamesradar.com/how-combat-evolved-halo/

Widely regarded as one of the most well received and successful video game franchises ever, the Halo series had its humble beginnings on the Microsoft Xbox. Before its release, games of the “first person shooter” genre were blocky, and often required a great deal of skill, luck, or both. However, upon its release, Halo was the first game of its time to successfully utilize dual stick controls, and it introduced the video-game industry to several amazing new improvements. Snapping crosshairs allow for the player’s camera to lightly stick to the enemy as they move. Friction and acceleration mechanics sped the camera up when no enemies were present, but slowed it down in the presence of enemies to increase accuracy. Magnetism allowed for the player to successfully hit enemies as long as their aim was “good enough” rather than extremely precise, as in previous titles.

Halo 2 (2004) Cover Art. Digital Image. Fully PC Games. https://www.fullypcgames.org/2013/09/halo-2-game.html

What is most iconic about Halo and its sequel, however, is that the control layout that was used for the original 2001 game is the layout that has generally been adopted by every single game of the genre since. For those who are unaware, a control layout is the range of actions that the game will let you input, as well as which buttons they correspond to on the controller (e.g., the bottom button is often used as the jump button). The series introduced crouching, melee attacks, grenades, and more controls to the genre that had not been conceived of prior, and the execution of these novel options was exceptional. If you’re familiar with the new Halo games but have never tried the original, then check out what made the series so iconic!

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003)

Knights of the Old Republic (2003) Promotional Artwork. Digital Image. Steam Store. https://store.steampowered.com/app/32370/STAR_WARS__Knights_of_the_Old_Republic

Based on the Star Wars universe crafted by George Lucas, this game takes place several millennia before the events of the first trilogy. Knights of the Old Republic was developed by the same creator as the Dragon Age series, known for its superior storytelling, combat systems, and character creation; luckily, this game also has all three! Although the character creation isn’t as detailed as, say, Dragon Age: Inquisition, and although the only names available for players’ characters are randomly generated, you can’t help but feel like you yourself are a Jedi in a galaxy far, far away. The best part about this game is that you don’t need to know much about the canon of the Star Wars universe in order to play, making this the perfect game for nerds and newbies alike.

Fable (2004)

Lastly, the cult classic whose sales were overestimated for years before its release in 2004, the one and only Fable. Although the creator of Fable was extremely proud of his product and advertised the game as something the world has never experienced before, its initial release was met with mixed reviews. Photo credit: Fable (2004) Alignment Art. Digital Image. Pinterest. https://www.pinterest.com/stgower10/fable/

In an embarrassing turn of events, the creator was forced to apologize for the difference in promise and execution. Luckily, an extension to the original game was eventually made and distributed, and the game was ultimately considered a success. Most notably, the game had a dynamic morality system that the protagonist aligned on, and throughout the game, depending on the player’s decisions, their moral alignment would shift. This interesting component compensates for the lack of character customization and personality for the protagonist. Players even get a sweet halo or a wicked pair of horns! If you want to experience a classic RPG, then check out Fable, and become a legend!

Even though we should appreciate all the new things this crazy year has taught us, it’s nice every once in a while to look back on those games we used to play and draw comfort from them once again. Photo credit: Family Playing Video Games. Digital Image. Common Sense Media. https://www.commonsensemedia.org/

And if you don’t have a PlayStation 2 or Microsoft Xbox at home, Media Services have you covered! You can check out our PS2 and Xbox consoles for use within our department Media Rooms for as long as four hours. Photo credit: ONLINE Museum of Old Video Games. Digital Image. RetroGames. https://www.retrogames.cz/

We have additional consoles as well: Xbox 360/PS3, Super Nintendo, N64, PS4/XB1, Switch, and more! All of the games above are also available for checkout at Media Services (unlike the consoles, the games can be checked out to play outside the department) at no cost with your campus ID. BC

Student staff blogger Brandon Carr is a recent graduate of IU Bloomington with a BA in Psychology and a double minor in Counseling and Japanese. He has worked at Media Services since 2017, and he also likes to play video games in his spare time. This summer is Brandon’s last with Media Services, and we are so grateful for his many contributions to the department over the years. We wish Brandon the very best in his next chapter and will miss his fun spirit!

Electronic Ambient Scores in Science Fiction Thriller Feature Films

Science Fiction is the genre in which the widespread use of electronic scores in feature films was pioneered. The sound effects and ambient scores that are created within this genre have an incredible impact on the fantastical worlds that SciFi films absorb their audiences into by emphasizing otherworldly and alien aspects using tonal effects. Electronic instruments are able to create unique vibratos, glissandos, portamentos, and timbres that combine to build up a completely unique atmosphere for a film.

First Image: MiniMoog. Digital Image. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minimoog 
Second Image: Jeffrey Tobin Playing the Theremin. Digital Image. Indiana Gazette. https://www.indianagazette.com/news/white-township-man-plays-theremin-with-symphonies/article_ce689220-419e-56a0-a905-326f7545bbaa.html. See vintage footage of Leon Theremin playing his own instrument here.

Electronic music is a broad genre that is only really constrained by requiring the use of some kind of electronic instrument, including theremins, synthesizers, Ondes Martenots, and MiniMoogs. Many electronic instruments were originally developed in attempts to win the race to invent a working telephone. Tweaks in the methods used to send out signals may not have worked as a telephone, but they did make instruments with beautiful otherworldly tones that could be made to express the intense subtleties of human emotions. Listen to a theremin being played and take note of the impactful expression of emotion in the music through each subtle shift in tone, or think back to hearing a synthesizer in a song and how the tones expressed an indescribable feeling.

The following list is composed of SciFi movies that use electronic music to create stunning ambient scores that pull their audience into the “other” and “alien” worlds imagined in the films.

The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)


The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) Movie Poster. Digital Image. WRTI. https://www.wrti.org/post/story-behind-really-creepy-sound-film-score-day-earth-stood-still. Listen to The Day the Earth Stood Still, “Prelude and outer space” performed on the theremin here.

One of the more common electronic instruments, the theremin, was used in this soundtrack to generate the sound effects for the aliens in The Day the Earth Stood Still. The enchanting and alien tones composed by Bernard Herrman built the suspense and curiosity in the film, making the audience feel as mystified by the alien arrival as the film’s characters. At this point in film history, electronic music was rarely, if ever, used, mostly to create brief sound effects of fearful unknowns or alien concepts and creatures instead of full scores. Upon the film’s release, the effect of Bernard Herrmann’s soundtrack on audiences was huge compared to the orchestral sound design that was typically used, and the effect of its other-worldly mood endures for present-day audiences as well.

Forbidden Planet (1956)

Forbidden Planet (1956) Movie Poster. Digital Image. LetterBoxd. https://letterboxd.com/film/forbidden-planet/. Listen to excerpts from the Forbidden Planet soundtrack here.

Forbidden Planet’s score composers, Bebe and Louis Barron, are heralded as pioneers and innovators of electronic music. This was the “first major motion picture to feature an all-electronic film score … predat[ing] synthesizers and samplers” (Stone). The Barrons had to invent their own instruments from cybernetic circuits and magnetic tape that they would manipulate to generate the “ring modulated warbling” (Lynne) tones heard in the film. This was such a unique and new way of creating a score at the time that the American Federation of Musicians refused to allow them to call it music or to be named as composers in the credits. The Barrons were instead credited as creators of “electronic tonalities” (Lynne). However, the dismissal of their work at the time did not diminish the emotional impact that their work had on the film, nor the influence their work would have on the whole genre of SciFi. Bebe Barron herself is quoted as saying that “the sounds which emanate from the electronic nervous systems seem to convey strong emotional meanings to listeners” (Laudadio), and they do so in a way that is fantastical and alien, but still conveys an emotional context that audiences can understand and relate to. The tones that are generated set audiences on edge and plunge them into the same unfamiliar alien world as the characters in the film, fully immersing them into the titular forbidden planet, Altair IV, and the strange and mysterious events that unfold upon it.

Blade Runner (1982)

Blade Runner (1982) Movie Poster. Digital Image. L.A.Mag. https://www.lamag.com/culturefiles/the-essential-movie-library-21-blade-runner-1982/. Click the links to hear Memories of Green, Tears in Rain, and the main title theme from Blade Runner.

Synthesizers (or “synths,” for short) were used in the soundtrack of Blade Runner in a way that could only have emerged from the 80’s. The composer, Vangelis, created the enticing sound design that drew people into the film and cemented Blade Runner as an essential classic film in the SciFi genre. The score created the otherworldly atmosphere of futuristic noir necessary to the storyline. That air and environment was masterfully evoked in the sweeping emotional charge in each track, from the melancholic tonal drawls in the track “Memories of Green”, to the emotional but still uplifting warbles in “Tears in Rain”, to the futuristic awe from the synthetic wails of the main title. The score pulls the audience along through the shifts in emotions from the development of Blade Runner as the story travels along.

Run Lola Run (1998) Original German title: Lola rennt

Run Lola Run (1998) Movie Poster. Digital Image. Sony Pictures. https://www.sonypictures.com/movies/runlolarun. Hear the excerpt Running Two.

Run Lola Run delves into the more techno-pop/rave subgenre of electronic music, and while it leans more towards thriller than SciFi, the track is too beautifully done to ignore. The score, composed by Reinhold Heil and Tom Tykwer, embodies the anxiety that the titular Lola is feeling from the life-or-death situation the film’s plot forces her into. The film is fast paced and second-hand stressful to the audience watching Lola’s day devolve, and the score matches that energy perfectly. The overall vibe of this soundtrack and film can be gleaned from a line from the track “Running Two” that says “just go, go/and never, and never think/just do, do” which is exactly how this score makes the audience feel as Lola does whatever she can as fast as she can to save the lives of herself and her boyfriend. The techno pulses reinforce the stress of the film’s action and set the audience on edge right alongside Lola, so that they can feel exactly what she feels and be fully immersed in the film-watching experience.

Ex Machina (2014)

Ex Machina (2014) Promotional Image. Digital Image. RedShark News. https://www.redsharknews.com/creating-the-real-out-of-the-unreal-for-exmachina-sound-production. Click the links to hear Watching and Ava.

The score for Ex Machina, composed by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury, creates an unsettling atmosphere for the full duration of the film that makes the audience feel put off and anxious. Barrow and Salisbury had an interesting way of evoking these feelings, creating an almost minimalist-feeling soundscape that draws the audience in, the intriguing sounds keeping them guessing about what could be coming up next in the plot. There are eerie, haunting trills in some of the tracks like “Watching,” which incite a sense of curiosity that gets counterbalanced with deep rhythmic pulsing that feels like a subconscious warning. But there are also sounds that embody the exciting spirit of innovation and the desire to learn new things. The composers manifest this spirit with echoing chimes that feel light with their uplifting lilts, such as in the track entitled “Ava”. Overall, the electronic tones in this soundtrack dance between emotions in an elegant way, using the intricate tones allowed by electronic instruments.

Annihilation (2018)

Annihilation (2018) Movie Poster. Digital Image. Medium. https://medium.com/@zach.vecker/annihilation-2018-movie-review-4a6e72d7a41. Listen to The Alien from the film’s soundtrack.

In Annihilation, another Barrow/Salisbury soundtrack, the composers chose to develop the electronic music as the plot progresses and the environment changes to become more and more alien. The opening of the film has a more traditional orchestral score and even some acoustic elements, but by the time the final act comes the music is almost entirely electronic. In one of the final tracks “The Alien”, there is no dialogue or sound occurring in the film other than the soundtrack itself, so the composers turned the score into a direct vehicle for conversation and plot development. In that track, they create tones that sound like electric trombones having a conversation, during which they come to a consensus with one another, leading to the resolution of the film. By drawing the ambient soundtrack to the forefront over the course of the film, Annihilation‘s composers communicate the developments that unfold during the surreal final act.

Upgrade (2018)

Upgrade (2018) Movie Poster. Digital Image. IMDb. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6499752/. Click to hear the Jed Palmer score.

Jed Palmer is responsible for Upgrade’s score, and he created it in a way that cultivates the cyberpunk aesthetic of the film and emphasizes the actions and evolutions of the artificial-intelligence implant, called”STEM”, as the film progresses. The haunting echoed tones throughout tracks such as “Aftermath” evoke a feeling of dystopian bleakness that connects the audience with the deeper themes of grief, revenge, and the dark side of technological advancements that come from the perspective of the main character, Gray. It’s those electronic echoes that set the tone throughout the entire film and pull the audience into the setting of a technologically advanced urban metropolis. The tones can also shift though, to provide the hard energetic lilts that drive the audience through the more eventful scenes such as “Run Gray Run”. The design of the electronic elements in the score complements the emotional shifts in Upgrade and deepens the understanding that the audience has of the film.

Though technological advances in electronic and computer music have changed the craft of soundtrack creation over time, it is fascinating to hear composers use the new technologies to find new ways of conjuring what are often timeless human emotions. CR

Do you have thoughts on how electronics have influenced soundtracks over time? Have you ever seen a favorite film with different music playing over the visuals? Do you tend to notice the soundtrack of a film, or does it only affect you subconsciously? What is the best/worst/scariest/funniest electronic soundtrack you have ever heard? Let us know in the comments section!

Media Services student staff member Cas Regan is a Junior at IU in the Earth Science B.S. program with minors in Chemistry and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). In addition to classes and working for Media Services, they are also the VP of the Beekeeping Club at IU and spend their free time caring for the club’s hives at IU’s Hilltop Gardens.

Sources:

Laudadio, N. “What Dreams Sound Like: A Brief History of the Electronic Musical Instrument in Film and Song.” University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Department of English. http://www.trifectapress.com/text/ElectronicInstruments.html 

Lynne, B. “10 Unforgettable Electronic Movie Soundtracks.” Shockwave Sound. 18 May, 2021. https://www.shockwave-sound.com/blog/10-unforgettable-electronic-movie/ 

Stone, S. “The Barrons: Forgotten Pioneers of Electronic Music.” NPR. 7 Feb., 2005. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4486840

Jungle movies

King Kong. Rotten Tomatoes. 25 June 2021, https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1011615-king_kong. IUCAT record: https://iucat.iu.edu/catalog/6431804

In Hollywood, the Jungle is a setting which has often been used to connote danger and intrigue, a setting used to generate tension. For American audiences, the jungle is a place which is foreign, isolated from civilization, and wild.

The history of the jungle in cinema is a long one, with white audiences having gained exposure to the setting via 19th-century exploration and imperialism, especially as those subjects were portrayed in novels. As early as 1918 in Tarzan of the Apes, an adaptation of a novel by Edgar Rice Burrows, literary fascination with the jungle translated to film, and the “jungle movie” was born. Over the next century, the jungle would be used in a variety of different films, some which delighted audiences, others…not so much. Regardless, the jungle has remained a relevant, popular setting in film from its first appearance one hundred years ago to the present day. Though the essence of the jungle as an ecosystem has remained relatively constant (despite severe climate change threats), its cinematic treatment has changed considerably.

In the 1930s, as film began to evolve from short, silent moving pictures into something with which we are more familiar today, a number of jungle movies enjoyed great popularity.

In the 1950s, jungles continued to be used in horror settings. Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954), used many of the same tropes as King Kong to make a monster movie that audiences wouldn’t forget. Photo credit: Creature from the Black Lagoon. Rotten Tomatoes. 28 June 2021, https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1004906-creature_from_the_black_lagoon

Between the 1910s and 1970s, Hollywood produced a huge number of Tarzan films, which took up a big portion of the ‘adventure’ side of the jungle movie genre. Still, other light-hearted jungle movies were produced at this time, notably Disney’s The Jungle Book in 1967. Photo credit: Bomba The Jungle Boy. Rotten Tomatoes. 28 June 2021, https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/bomba_the_jungle_boy

Such ‘light-hearted’ films were more common in the late 50s and 60s, with most of the jungle movies of those decades being Tarzan or Tarzan-esque creations.

Apocalypse Now. Rotten Tomatoes. 28 June 2021, https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/apocalypse_now

In the 70s, the horror aspect of the genre returned to some degree with Apocalypse Now (1979), a Vietnam War movie which plays the madness of the wilderness against the madness of war, and mankind.

Throughout the 80s and 90s, the jungle was used time and time again as a backdrop for horror and adventure movies.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Predator (1987), and Jurassic Park (1993) are all examples of films which use the jungle to convey excitement and/or danger to an audience.

Photo credits, L to R: Raiders of the Lost Ark. IMDb.com. 28 June 2021, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082971/; Predator. IMDb.com. 28 June 2021, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093773/; Jurassic Park. IMDb.com. 28 June 2021, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0107290/

Since the turn of the 21st century, jungles have continued to be used in action/horror blockbusters, despite some critical complaints of over-reliance on outdated stereotypes. This was particularly noticeable in Peter Jackson’s 2005 King Kong, which was criticized for its portrayal of the ‘natives’ of Skull Island. Photo credit: King Kong. IMDB.com. 28 June 2021, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0360717/

Today, the jungle remains a setting which conveys isolation, and all the danger that may accompany it. Characters that live in the jungle are often either nature-wise and wary, or pagan natives that will either see white people as gods, or special sacrifices. While the real-life jungle shrinks, it’s cinematic presence will remain in the public sphere for years to come, warts and all. Photo credit: Jumanji. IMDb.com. 28 June 2021, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7975244/.

Guest blogger Sarah Bull just started in Media Services during Summer 2021. This is her first post for the department.

Digital or practical effects: Which fake looks better? You be the judge.


Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). Dir. Guillermo del Toro. Warner Bros. Pictures. IMDb.com. 27 May 2021, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0457430/mediaviewer/rm2110357760/

There’s an old adage that the magic of Hollywood is just smoke and mirrors. But don’t be fooled: that smoke and those mirrors cost millions of dollars and can turn a bad script into a mega-million dollar blockbuster hit. Since the beginning, set design and effects were an important cornerstone in creating a great film. To this day, people have to get creative with effects to capture a sense of realism within a film, yet effects have changed drastically over the last 100 years. Before the digital age, art designers and sculptors would come together to bring worlds alive with whatever they had on hand. Whether it was common household items or industrial-grade steel, effects artists had to create within and despite constraints.

Jump to modern times and it’s a night-and-day difference from what had to be achieved decades ago. Computers can now generate explosions, people, monsters, and even entire worlds in just a matter of hours. Things that couldn’t have been done using only practical effects can now be brought to life digitally on the big screen. But despite the technological advances, from a qualitative standpoint questions remain: Which style of effects is better, practical or CGI? Both have their strengths and weaknesses, but can one trick the eye better than the other? You be the judge! In this post, we’ll briefly discuss examples of great practical and CGI effects. Some films that will be discussed will have sequels and modern remakes in which the effects are different from the original.

Blade Runner (1982) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Above: Blade Runner. IMDb.com. 27 May 2021, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0083658/mediaviewer/rm3431104768/. Below: Blade Runner 2049. IMDb.com. 27 May 2021, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1856101/mediaviewer/rm679884032/

The Blade Runner franchise is one of the most beloved and respected sci-fi franchises in cinema. From the 1980s to now, the franchise has stunned the world with its groundbreaking set designs and impressive worldbuilding. In age, these films are decades apart and both hold up well against each other. As far as production budget goes, Blade Runner 2049 is blowing its 1982 counterpart out of the water with an approximately $185 millions dollars spent ($201,554,299.93 with inflation), while the original had a budget of $41.5 million dollars ($114,847,056.99 with inflation). A major difference between the two productions is the type of effects used. In the 1980s, CGI and computing technology were very far from what is possible today, and a major part of the budget had to be directed toward the practical sets and costumes. The artists really had to bring dystopian Los Angeles to life, and it was no easy feat. This article delves into the delicate art of miniatures, which were used to great effect in Blade Runner. In Blade Runner 2049, the production team blended practical effects (including miniatures) and CGI; it is done in such an intricate way that it’s hard to tell what is practical and what is computer-generated. When all is said and done, both of these films have pushed the boundaries of their times as well as reaching back to time-tested techniques, and they will continue to be excellent examples of what filmmakers are able to do with their creativity.

Star Wars: Originals vs. Prequels*

*IUCAT links provided at the end of this post

Star Wars. IMDb.com. 27 May 2021, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0076759/mediaviewer/rm2583643392/

Speaking of beloved sci-fi franchises, Star Wars is by far the most popular on the planet. Star Wars films have been entertaining generations of filmmakers, families, and sci-fi fans for over forty years. However, there is a divide within the greater fanbase about the trilogies. Depending on who you speak to, the original Star Wars trilogy is held in an almost god-like esteem in the film world. When the first film came out in the late 1970s, people had never seen sci-fi on such a large scale. Sure, we had Star Trek and Dr. Who, but from an effects standpoint, neither of those franchises were as sophisticated and innovative as the 1977 film. Star Wars enticed fans with an innovative story, an elaborate and never-before-seen style of set design, and iconic costumes. From the outset, Star Wars was an instant classic and paved the way for the summer blockbuster culture.

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. IMDb.com. 27 May 2021, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120915/mediaviewer/rm3935189504/

After Return of the Jedi in 1983, George Lucas put the franchise on hiatus until 1999 when Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was released worldwide. New and old fans of the franchise were beyond excited to get a new trilogy from LucasArts. However, actual reception was underwhelming. The film was met with poor to mediocre reviews and fans were not happy with the story. A large part of the criticism involved the new CGI effects in the film. A lot of the set designs and non-humanoid characters of the film were digitally rendered and seemed flat and lifeless, a complete contrast to the films of the 1980s. I personally feel the franchise went in reverse as far as effects quality is concerned, and similar assessments were expressed throughout the media, as they are here. However, there is still a huge fanbase for the prequels, and they contain some of the franchise’s best lore.

Which style of effects do you think is better? Do you prefer the tangible realness of practical effects or the otherworldly effects of CGI? Maybe you refuse to settle for either or and want films that have the best of both worlds. Whatever the case, both of these practices have been the cornerstone in cinema for over 100 years and continue to be the source of great creativity for each new generation of filmmakers.

Do you have any favorite films whose effects thrilled you? Let us know in the comments!

Guest blogger Donovan Harden is a filmmaker and an avid film fan. He has enriched the Media Services with his film knowledge for a number of years and is now off to film-related adventures in New York and beyond. We will miss Donovan and appreciate the many animated conversations about film as well as his many other contributions to the department.

Example of films with great practical effects that are available in Media Services (not all films are suitable for all audiences):

Examples of films with great CGI/digital effects that are available in Media Services (not all films are suitable for all audiences):

Star Wars films:

Original trilogy (1977-1983): Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope; Star Wars, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back; Star Wars, Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Prequel trilogy (1999-2005): Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace; Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones; Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith\

Sequel trilogy (2015-2019): Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens; Star Wars, Episode VIII: The Last Jedi; Star Wars, Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (this title unavailable at Media Services)

Pandemic Pics I: Why now is the perfect time to watch Sátántangó, Béla Tarr’s epic 7-hour look into the futility of life

Singleton, Julian. Catching Up with the Classics: SÁTÁNTANGÓ (1994). cinapse.com. 3 December 2019, https://cinapse.co/catching-up-with-the-classics-s%C3%A1t%C3%A1ntang%C3%B3-1994-5c7e0aabee71. Accessed 28 May 2020.

Editor’s note: Our guest blogger, Simone Bassett, submitted this post at the height of the pandemic. I admit I was concerned about people watching futility-of-life pics at that time. For those of you who would have been up for it during the deepest darkness, I hope the delay will not decrease your interest. For those, like myself, who needed some hints that we were emerging before taking on such themes, please enjoy Simone’s post now. And though we just finished Mental Health Awareness Month in May, a reminder that it is important to prioritize your mental health year-round. If you or anyone you know is struggling with a mental health concern, IU offers support and resources for students (https://www.indiana.edu/hoosier-life/health-wellness.html) and staff/faculty: (https://hr.iu.edu/benefits/eap.html).

Picture this: You feel like your country and maybe the entire world are crumbling all around you. The monotony of your regular life stretches days into months before your very eyes. You complete meaningless labor only to continue your pitiful existence, dreams of greatness or even just fulfillment long lost to the weathers of time. If this at all sounds like your day-to-day life in America in the 2020’s, you may find yourself relating to the downtrodden protagonists of Sátántangó.

Set in Hungary during the fall of the USSR, the movie unfolds on a group of people stuck in a country without a government that was once run entirely by the government. Squatting in the desolate ruins of a collective farm, they eke out a generally miserable existence on very little money, until the charismatic Irimiás seemingly returns from the dead with promises of helping them escape to a better life. To say anything more would do a disservice to first time viewers, so I implore you not to read the Wikipedia plot summary.

Of course, the 7 hour 19 minute runtime is in the kindest terms a daunting length for a film. Sátántangó ranks as the 13th longest narrative film of all time, and the length can be palpably felt in the editing as well: there are less than 150 cuts in the entire movie, which averages to an astounding 3 minutes per take, with some of them lasting upwards of 10. However, social lives are at an all-time slump, and once the initial shock subsides it starts to become unlike any other film. The villagers’ long walk to an abandoned building in the middle of the film that would traditionally be at most a ten-second sequence is turned into a ten-minute journey, and the audience ends up wondering along with the characters what got them into this predicament and what could possibly be awaiting them ahead. The meditative pace adds a profound depth to the comically non-heroic protagonists, and you will find yourself wishing for just one thing to go right for them in this wasteland. My only warning is that you probably won’t feel any less downtrodden after the credits fade off into the top of the screen.


Pandemic Pics II: Feeling listless and unsatisfied in quarantine? Feel listless and unsatisfied in bustling 1960’s Paris in Cléo from 5 to 7.

Continuing the trend of existentially sad and temporally realistic films set by Béla Tarr’s Sátántangó, a second pandemic pic is French auteur Agnes Varda’s Cléo from 5 to 7. Made in 1962, Cléo displays the distinctive youthful and carefree attitude of the French New Wave made famous by Jean-Luc Godard, who also stars in a meta-cameo role. Over its 90-minute run time, the film shows in almost real time two hours in a young Parisian woman’s life.

100 Essential Movies Every Serious Film Fan Should See. (updated 7 January 2021). collider.com. 28 May 2021, https://collider.com/top-100-best-essential-movies/.

The film follows the eponymous Cléo, a selfish and shallow singer whose air of aloofness is thrown off by a possible diagnosis of malignant cancer. After an especially ominous tarot reading at 5:00 PM, we see her wander around with various friends who continually fail to cheer her up as she waits for the test results at 7:00. As 7 o’clock approaches, Cléo starts to wonder about what would happen were she to die and be forgotten, and how long her fame as a singer could possibly last. If you need a film to remind you that life is just a short gasp for air in an infinite ocean, Agnes Varda might have made the right feature for you.

Guest blogger Simone Bassett has been part of the Media Services Desk Staff team for several years. Among other subjects, Simone studies film and Japanese, and she has studied abroad in Japan through Indiana University as well. Simone is a Spring 2021 graduate and as such will no longer work at Media Services. We warmly thank her for her many contributions to the department over the years and wish her the very best in her next adventures!

Bring on the Music, Part Two: Life Lived Live

B., Laura. Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii. Sortiraparis.com. 14 Sept. 2020. https://www.sortiraparis.com/tips/free-activities/articles/228174-listen-pink-floyds-live-at-pompeii-for-free-at-the-grand-palais-auditorium/lang/en

Live music is one of the best forms of spiritual sustenance. Much smaller in scale than music festivals, these more intimate performances let artists exhibit their performance in a more exclusive manner. This can be seen especially clearly in the stage design on the Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense and in Pink Floyd’s Live at Pompeii, where there is collaboration between the visual and sonic aspects of the performance.

Stop Making Sense. RogerEbert.com, 5/4/21.
https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/stop-making-sense-1984

Live concerts

Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii

Conceived by the French director Adrian Maben as “an anti-Woodstock film,” Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii was shot in October 1971 in a vacant, 2,000-year-old amphitheater, a venue chosen to accentuate the grandeur and spaciousness of the band’s Meddle-era music. This disc contains a new, 90-minute director’s cut as well as the original 60-minute concert film, whose production and effects feel inescapably dated. Maben’s cut goes to great lengths to lend the film a more contemporary feel, but it’s the earlier version that makes this disc such a gem, being more focused on the music and more holistic in vision.

Pink Floyd Live. Wikipedia. 29 December 2018. Accessed 29 May 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Pink_Floyd_Live.jpg.

The anamorphic, 16:9 director’s cut interweaves the Pompeii performances with fascinating but distracting interviews and music snippets filmed later (mostly during the recording of Dark Side of the Moon). The movie was originally prepared in a 4:3 aspect ratio, however, and the widescreen version crops perfectly framed images like the nine-square mosaic of drummer Nick Mason in “One of These Days.” The original offers plenty of closeups of fingers on frets and keys, with shots that are often luxuriously long in duration. And the picture quality from Pompeii is revelatory: outstandingly sharp and clear, rich in subtle grades of light and color.

Sade Live

Sade. Lovers Live. Wikipedia. Accessed 29 May 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lovers_Live#/media/File:Sade_-_Lovers_Live.png

Live is the first video album and first live release by English band Sade, headed up by Nigerian-born British singer Sade Adu (given name Helen Folasade Adu). It was released on 22 November 1994 on VHS by Epic Records, followed by a DVD release on 20 February 2001. It was filmed during the last two shows of the band’s Love Deluxe World Tour at the SDSU Open Air Theatre in San Diego, California, on 2 and 3 October 1993.

The inimitable Sade, 80s queen of the elegant, cool ballad. Photo credit: Benjamin, Isis. “The Legacy of Sade Adu.” Black Music Scholar. Accessed 29 May 2021, https://blackmusicscholar.com/student-work-spring-2018/isis-benjamins-work/11659-2/

Talking Heads: Stop Making Sense

Director Jonathan Demme captures the frantic energy and artsy groove of Talking Heads in this concert movie shot at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre in 1983. The band’s frontman, David Byrne, first appears on an empty stage, armed with only an acoustic guitar, and is gradually joined by bassist Tina Weymouth, drummer Chris Frantz, keyboardist Jerry Harrison and a cadre of backup singers as they perform the band’s hits, culminating in an iconic performance featuring Byrne in an enormous suit.

Hart, Ron. Talking Heads’ ‘Naked’ at 30. billboard.com. 26 March 2018, https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/rock/8260956/talking-heads-naked-album. Accessed 25 May 2021.

Fela in Concert

Photo credit: Anton Corbijn. Adénẹ́, Ayọ̀. “Fela, wetin you go sing about?” Blog post. zammagazine.com. 23 October 2018, https://www.zammagazine.com/perspectives/blog/762-fela-wetin-you-go-sing-about. Accessed 25 May 2021.

Nigeria’s explosively charismatic superstar was at his very best in this historic concert recorded in Paris. Fela’s Afro-Beat music is inspired by Charlie Parker, Bob Marley, and Miles Davis, fusing funk and jazz with traditional African music. His multi-instrumentalism is punctuated by the tribal dancing performed by fifteen of his wives.

Photo credit: Anton Corbijn. Adénẹ́, Ayọ̀. “Fela, wetin you go sing about?” Blog post. zammagazine.com 23 October 2018, https://www.zammagazine.com/perspectives/blog/762-fela-wetin-you-go-sing-about. Accessed 25 May 2021.

Artist Portraits

Some of these names have been forgotten, which is an offense to their legacy. These influential artists not only redirected entire genres/scenes of music through their own sounds; their music comes from a very profound and spiritual place that connects with listeners on deeper levels. Although artists like Sun Ra and Arthur Russell sounded absolutely nothing like their contemporaries, their music impacted the hearts of its listeners and the sounds of its musical successors.

Wild Combination: a Portrait of Arthur Russell

Wild Combination. New Zealand International Film Festival, 5/4/21
https://www.nziff.co.nz/2008/archive/wild-combination-a-portrait-of-arthur-russell/

Wild Combination is director Matt Wolf’s visually absorbing portrait of the seminal avant-garde composer, singer-songwriter, cellist, and disco producer Arthur Russell. Before his untimely death from AIDS in 1992, Arthur prolifically created music that spanned both pop and the transcendent possibilities of abstract art. Now, over fifteen years since his passing, Arthur’s work is finally finding its audience. Wolf incorporates rare archival footage and commentary from Arthur’s family, friends, and closest collaborators—including Philip Glass and Allen Ginsberg—to tell this poignant and important story.

Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man

Photo credit: thequietus.com. Accessed 25 May 2021, https://thequietus.com/articles/00966-len-s-laughing-as-hallelujah-flogs-a-million

Filmmaker Lian Lunson interviews the prolific Canadian songwriter about his rise to fame and his retreat from the music business. Rufus Wainwright, U2, Nick Cave and others take part in a musical tribute to Cohen at Australia’s Sydney Opera House. Songs include “If It Be Your Will” and “Tower of Song.”

Leonard Cohen, free-spirited songwriter for the ages. Photo credit: Istvan Bajzat/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images. Leonard Cohen. brittanica.com. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Leonard-Cohen. Accessed 25 May 2021.

Sam Lightnin’ Hopkins

Lightnin’ Hopkins. concord.com. 25 May 2021, https://concord.com/artist/lightnin-hopkins/

Provides a close look at the work and creative philosophy of Sam “Lightnin'” Hopkins, who has been singing and playing the blues for over fifty years. Recreates, through the many songs he sings, a picture of “Lightnin’s” life. Includes segments of his on-campus performances at the University of Houston and Notre Dame.

Sun Ra: a Joyful Noise

Robert Mugge filmed jazz great Sun Ra on location in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. between 1978 and 1980. The resulting 60-minute film includes multiple public and private performances, poetry readings, a band rehearsal, interviews, and extensive improvisations. Transferred to HD from the original 16mm film and lovingly restored for the best possible viewing experience.

These are but a few of the many concerts and musicians you can explore in the Media Services collection. As Sun Ra says, “The earth cannot move without music.”


Duncan Hardy is a longtime Media Services student desk staff member. 2021 will be his last summer, and this is his last blog post series for the department. We are so grateful to Duncan for his outstanding contributions to the department blog, his warm collegiality, and his devotion to department patrons. We will miss Duncan’s presence, but we wish him all good things in his future endeavors!

Bring on the Music, Part I: Music Festivals

Jimi Hendrix. by Ray Stevenson. Rockarchive.com, 5/4/21
https://www.rockarchive.com/news/2017/jimi-hendrix-monterey-pop-festival

Last month, I went to the Jazz Kitchen in Indy to see my professors’ band play jazzier arrangements of Joni Mitchell’s music. It was the first time I had seen live music performed in person — not over a YouTube or Twitch livestream — in over a year. The performance was phenomenal; the musicians were enjoying themselves and putting their heart into the music. Plus, the atmosphere had that empathic quality often felt at jazz shows, wherein you could really read the room around you and feel the impact of the music upon it. I realized afterwards how much I had missed live music, both the humanely-generated sounds themselves and the healing atmosphere congregated listeners create. And although we might not be able to go out as much as we used to, shows are being organized with more and more regularity as our collective social confidence increases. To keep myself satisfied until my next chance to attend a live performance, I have collected a series of DVDs from Media Services’ shelves that either showcase famous performances or create a portrait of the music and the artists behind them. Although this list is just a taste of our entire collection, hopefully you will find some performances that resonate with you, shed new light on an artist’s work, or carry you over until the next concert you are able to attend. Part I is focused on music festivals. Stay tuned for Part II which covers live concerts and documentaries on such artists as Pink Floyd, Sun Ra, Sade, and Fela Kuti!

Music Festivals

These historic music festivals spotlight the culminating shows of one of the most exciting eras for music, and they represent a time when people made an effort to come together in the names of “peace and music”. For just a few days, some of the world’s most accomplished musicians and bands would come together in a little village with thousands of fans. Given the chance to reach such a huge and dedicated audience, these artists offered their spectacular performances. A few of my favorite sets from this section are Miles Davis at the Isle of Wight, Otis Redding at Monterey Pop, and Joni Mitchell’s appearance in The Last Waltz.

The Complete Monterey Pop Festival

Live with Otis, Janis & Jimi. WNYC. Documentary of the Week. 16 June 2017, https://www.wnyc.org/story/live-otis-janis-jimi/

On a beautiful June weekend in 1967, at the beginning of the Summer of Love, the Monterey International Pop Festival roared forward, capturing a decade’s spirit and ushering in a new era of rock and roll. Monterey featured career-making performances by Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Otis Redding, but they were just a few of the performers in a wildly diverse lineup that also included Simon and Garfunkel, the Mamas and the Papas, the Who, the Byrds, Hugh Masekela, and the extraordinary Ravi Shankar. With his characteristic vérité style—and a camera crew that included the likes of Albert Maysles and Richard Leacock—D. A. Pennebaker captured it all, immortalizing moments that have become legend: Pete Townshend smashing his guitar, Jimi Hendrix burning his, Mama Cass watching Janis Joplin’s performance in awe. The Criterion Collection edition presents the most comprehensive document of the Monterey Pop Festival ever produced, featuring the films Monterey Pop, Jimi Plays Monterey, and Shake! Otis at Monterey, along with every available complete performance filmed by Pennebaker and his crew and additional rare outtakes.

Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music

Ebert, Roger. Back to the Garden, Again. 22 May 2005, https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-woodstock-1970

In 1969, 500,000 people descended on a small patch of field in a little-known town in upstate New York called Woodstock. In this documentary, the iconic event is chronicled in unflinching detail, from the event’s inception all the way through to the unexpected air-delivery of food and medical supplies by the National Guard. The film contains performances, interviews with the artists and candid footage of the fans in a defining portrait of 1960s America.

Message to love: the Isle of Wight Festival

In 1970, 600,000 people descended on the Isle of Wight in England to watch a three-day music festival headlined by the Who, the Doors and Jimi Hendrix. Shot during the festival but only completed 25 years later, Murray Lerner’s documentary is equal parts nostalgia and critique, contrasting the festival’s classic-rock performances with its chaotic planning and financial failure. This film shows this collision between ideals and commerce at the end of an era of change.

Miles Davis performing live onstage at the Isle of Wight festival. by David Redfern/Redferns. The Guardian, 5/4/21
https://www.theguardian.com/music/2011/jun/17/miles-davis-isle-of-wight-festival

The Last Waltz

Seventeen years after joining forces as the backing band for rockabilly cult hero Ronnie Hawkins, roots rockers The Band call it quits with a lavish farewell show at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom on Nov. 25, 1976. Filmed by Martin Scorsese, this documentary features standout performances by rock legends such as Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchell, and Muddy Waters, as well as interviews tracing the group’s history and discussing road life.

The Band, Richard & Garth’s house above the Ashokan resevoir, infrared film, Woodstock, 1969. Photo By ©Elliott Landy, LandyVision Inc. Robbie Robertson, Richard Manuel, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Levon Helm. Fear, David. “Why the Band’s ‘The Last Waltz’ Is the Greatest Concert Movie of All Time.” Rolling Stone Magazine, 25 November 2020, https://www.rollingstone.com/feature/why-the-bands-the-last-waltz-is-the-greatest-concert-movie-of-all-time-104637/

Part II of this blog series will cover great live concerts by soloists and bands along with some of the most compelling documentaries available on influential musicians.

Duncan Hardy is a longtime Media Services student desk staff member. 2021 will be his last summer, and this is his last blog post series for the department. We are so grateful to Duncan for his outstanding contributions to the department blog, his warm collegiality, and his devotion to department patrons. We will miss Duncan’s presence, but we wish him all good things in his future endeavors!