Also out this week: DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW and SUCK
What’s new in horror, fantasy, and science fiction on home video this week? Well, one of the summer’s blockbuster theatrical hits, IRON MAN 2, arrives in just about every format one could ask for: VOD to rent or own, 2-disc DVD, single-disc Blu-ray, and 3-disc Blu-ray and DVD combo. The movie itself was no match for its predecessor, but it has some entertaining elements; at least it might we worth a rental to check out the bonus features.
Also on the menu this week is a new Blu-ray release of KING KONG (1933). This is being touted as the “Blu-ray Book Edition.” It reprises the bonus features from the old DVD box set (documentaries, test footage, recreation of the lost Spider Pit sequence, and audio commentary by Ray Harryhausen and others, a) and adds a booklet with production photos, notes, and a background of director Merian C. Cooper. This one sounds like a keeper (although the existing DVD is so good that I will probably wait a will to upgrade, hoping for a bargain).
Horror fans can dig deeply into the gory horror presented n the Fangoria FrightFest series of titles, which include HUNGER, ROAD KILL, PIG HUNT, GRIMM LOVE, THE TOMB, DARK HOUSE, TH HAUNTING, and FRAGILE (the last with Calista Flockhart, directed by Jaume Balaguero). For those who prefer their scares a bit less violent – but still creepy – there is a new DVD release of DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW, an effective telefilm written and directed by Frank De Felitta, about a retarded man unjustly killed by vigilante justice, who may (or may not) have returned from the dead as a scarecrow. Bonus Features include audio commentary from De Felitta and a trailer for the original premiere.
Finally, there is SUCK, a direct-to-video title that sounds like a black comedy – about a failing rock-and-roll band that achieves success after encountering a vampire. Malcolm McDowell is on hand as vampire hunter Eddie Van Helsing (love that name), and shock-rocker Alice Cooper shows up as well.
It’s a special Labor Day edition of the Cinefantastique Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction podcast. Eschewing the usual round-up of news and reviews, Dan Persons, Lawrence French, and Steve Biodrowski provide their assessment on the best and worst that this summer had to offer. What tops the list: SPLICE, INCEPTION, PREDATORS, or IRON MAN 2? And what lies at the bottom of the barrel: JONAH HEX, PIRANHA 3D, THE LAST AIRBENDER, or FURRY VENGEANCE? Also explored are such riveting questions as: What film is most likely to forget its own title? Which actor took on the most challenging script? What was the worst pro-ecology movie?
Comedy has always been contrapuntal to chillers in John Debney’s career. The composer began in the early 1980s scoring Disney television and cartoon shows like SCOOBY-DOO and features such as JETSONS: THE MOVIE. These lighthearted scores were offset against Debney’s darker side, which revealed itself in such venues as the relentless horror music of THE RELIC and KOMODO, the vividly swashbuckling CUTTHROAT ISLAND, and the cataclysmic speculation of END OF DAYS.
Now, after many years during which he focused on comedy films, along with the occasional profoundly heartfelt drama such as THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, Debney has returned to heavy action and adventure with his scores to IRON MAN 2 and PREDATORS, both of which allow his more energetic expressiveness to come to the fore.
Debney was actually was considered for the first IRON MAN, since he had established a working relationship with its director, Jon Favreau, on the films ELF and ZATHURA. Circumstances didn’t work out on the first IRON MAN, but Debney was thrilled to be called in for IRON MAN 2.
“It was a joy to be working with Jon Favreau again,” Debney said. “I knew going in that IRON MAN 2 was going to be a different scoren and it was. IRON MAN 2 is a more complex, layered film than the first one, so the music had to play a different role. There were also many more characters and the music had to highlight these new characters.”
Following the lead, if not the themes, of Ramin Djawadi on the first IRON MAN, Debney’s score thunders with iron and steel – bolstered by heavy metal guitars and a thick, orchestral vocabulary, while also recognizing the beating heart within the metal. Debney’s music becomes the sheet-plated, iron-wrought, clamped-on metallic suit that gives the movie its life, just as the galvanized garb keeps Tony Stark’s heart beating and endows him with enhanced strength.
“I enjoyed the first score but the second score had to be different, per the film. The two scores share a common pedigree but are generally different,” Debney said. “They are different scores with different results.”
What they share is a similar pedigree of rock and roll which is powerfully integrated – like sizzling molten metal dipped into a smooth liquid fluid – through the role of the electric guitar, which continues to evoke the prowess of Iron Man and his metal suite, as it had in Djawadi’s score. Guitarist Tom Morello, best known from the bands Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave, came in to perform the shredding for IRON MAN 2’s soundtrack. The score integrates Morello’s electric guitars with Debney’s large-scaled orchestra and choir material to both evoke the characters and support the film’s action – while all the time leaving room for the AC/DC songs that were to be prominently displayed throughout the movie.
“Being a huge fan of Morello, I knew we had to work together on this film,” Debney said. “Jon is a friend of Tom’s and asked if I’d be interested in working with Tom. I, of course, said yes, and Tom was an absolute joy and wonderful collaborator. I’d work with him again in a heartbeat.”
The main challenge for Debney on IRON MAN 2 was to compose a theme that captured the duality of the Tony Stark/Iron Man character while providing an original flavor in view of the many large-scaled superhero movies produced recently, each of which needed very dominant, muscular themes.
“IRON MAN 2 was odd in that there were not a lot of places where a true superhero theme could be played,” said Debney. “Tony Stark is uber cool even as Iron Man, so, musically, we couldn’t state a full-blown superhero theme. The strains of Iron Man’s theme are heard only in a few spots by design. I’m hoping with future films, Iron Man might get his full-blown theme played aggressively.”
IRON MAN 2 was followed by an equally aggressive score for PREDATORS (2010). This sequel to the original 1987 PREDATOR used an array of instrumental flavors that includes Tibetan long horns, Shakuhachi flute, a battery of ethnic wooden and metal percussion, and a phalanx of specially-engineered synth sounds and voicings, providing textures of the truly alien and mechanical to this relentless battle music.
“The ethnic instruments create a tribal feel while the metallic sounding motifs represent the predators,” said Debney. “They are both alien yet tribal.”
Debney’s most important decision on this score was to include music from the first PREDATOR, integrating Alan Silvestri’s original conceptualizations and combining them with Debney’s own music to match director Nimród Antal’s vision of the story. The result is a unique partnership of musical ideas spread 23 years apart, yet seamlessly integrated into the sound design as if they were the product of a single composer.
“I knew going in that I wanted to incorporate Alan’s themes for this film,” said Debney. “PREDATORS is a true sequel in my opinion, and thus, I thought it right that we included Alan’s material. I wanted to pay homage to Alan Silvestri’s original PREDATOR score, but I also wanted to add my signature. Alan is a friend, and I feel he is also a brilliant composer.”
Debney said that he enjoyed extrapolating musical elements from Silvestri’s score, and creating his own vision of what the music should sound like for this new incarnation of the story.
“I love scores from the ‘80s and I felt we had a score without the highly synthesized, overproduced scores we sometimes get these days,” he said. “So by design, I wanted to harken back to the days of big scores and much orchestral fireworks.”
In recent years, a man epic action/super-hero/spectacular science fiction films have tended to follow (or composers have been asked to follow) the hybrid rhythm-based example established earlier in the decade by the music of successful films of Michael Bay, Jerry Bruckheimer, and the like. A composer even of Debney’s stature cannot help being mindful of this contemporary vogue even while seeking to proffer his own voice.
“There are a lot of truly unique scores out there and some that aren’t,” Debney said. “Of course for action movies, a film may be temp-scored with the type of score you describe. I like to listen to the temp for the emotion the director is trying to convey and, hopefully, write something that is unique. In the case of PREDATORS, I used an approach where I paid homage to Alan Silvestri’s original score as well as incorporated an original score.”
With nearly 140 film scores in thirty years, Debney has explored every genre and every style of music making, yet the fantastic genre continues to raise its growling head on his filmography almost every year.
“It is a joy to work on a wide variety of films,” he said. “If one does only one thing, it can get very stale. I love working in these non-comedic areas, as it is great to explore the darker side of my personality.”
Debney has gone on to add another action notch on the side of his baton with an iconic score for MACHETE, the feature film based on the faux trailer of the same name in the Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez collaboration, GRINDHOUSE, with Danny Trejo as an ex-Federale known for his coat of many scabbards, seeking revenge against his former boss. Another turn for Rodriguez will follow next year with SIN CITY 2.
Thanks to Ray Costa and Andy Perez at Costa Communications – and to John Debney for taking time out of an increasingly busy schedule to chat with me about these scores.
This time, Dan Persons, Lawrence French, and Steve Biodrowski take a can opener to IRON MAN 2, the successful sequel to the 2008 blockbuster, starring Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark. Does it live up to the original? Do the special effects give more bang for the buck? Can Tony Stark’s ego grow any bigger? And what’s up with Ivan Vanko’s teeth? Also on this week’s agenda: FURRY VENGEANCE, George A. Romero’s SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD, DAYLIGHT on home video, and the usual roundup of the week’s most newsworthy items.
A worthy if not spectacular successor, IRON MAN 2 recaptures all the wit and exhuberance of the original
Before 2008, who really cared about Iron Man, one of Marvel’s minor characters – perhaps best known for the Black Sabbath song heard so prominently in the film’s trailer. Who knew who director Jon Favreau was? Even Robert Downey Jr. – a respected and well-known actor – hadn’t achieved Hollywood blockbuster status yet. The release of IRON MAN changed all of this – not only earning almost $600 million at the international box office, but also becoming one of the most critically lauded comic book adaptations ever, one that demanded a follow-up.
However, when the inevitable cries for a sequel were heard, things quickly became troubled: Favreau’s unlikely to return as director; oh no, he’s back. Terrence Howard has been fired; he’s to be replaced by Don Cheadle. Emily Blunt’s been cast; oh wait, she’s off the project. With all the issues of casting, production schedules, and who got paid what, it’s a minor miracle that IRON MAN 2 even saw the light of day. Thankfully, the sequel has emerged from the other end of the tunnel with all the wit and exuberance of the original intact – a worthy, if not spectacular, successor to IRON MAN.
IRON MAN 2 picks up six months after Tony Stark’s revelation to the world that he is the metal clad hero of the title; in the interim, his ego has inflated to even larger proportions than previously thought possible. Meanwhile, Ivan Vanko, a criminal Russian physicist, is planning revenge against the Stark family, and rival entrepreneur Justin Hammer is growing tired of Tony’s media dominance. The film opens, somewhat strangely, with its worst scene: Vanko tending his terminally ill father in Russia. There is so much over-the-top Russian stereotyping (Vanko drinking vodka from the bottle in a snow drenched, crummy apartment building) and hammy acting (Mickey Rourke’s Darth Vader moment) that it’s embarrassingly bad. Fortunately, after this false start, the film quickly drops us headfirst into the Stark Expo, a sequence energized by the blisteringly sounds of AC/DC.
The original IRON MAN wouldn’t have been nearly as good if it were not for the characterisation of Tony Stark as a man with an egotistical, eccentric, yet brilliant mind, and Robert Downey Jr. was the perfect actor to embody that personality. The enthusiasm and maddening determination he brought to the role made the film, and the same is true for the sequel. Downey’s performance in IRON MAN 2 is ridiculously enjoyable to watch; he’s probably responsible for at least half the film’s entertainment value. That said, the new additions to the cast manage to grab their own share of the spotlight.
Don Cheadle, replacing Terrence Howard as Lt. Col. James Rhodes, outdoes his predecessor by miles – not just because his character is given more narrative prominence but also because Cheadle is the all-round better actor, bringing a greater sense of authority and, when needed, comedic charm to the character. Mickey Rourke (save for the aforementioned emotional outburst) adds just the right amount of weird to his villainous Vanko, delivering some of the script’s best lines. Sam Rockwell excels as the tragically comic Hammer, a man desperate to outdo Stark but without the necessary means, and Scarlett Johansson delivers a surprisingly kick-ass (and not so surprisingly easy on the eyes) turn as Tony’s new assistant, Natalie Rushman.
Favreau retains his knack for entertaining, kinetic action sequences. The director has always injected his fight scenes with a sense of humour, and these moments elevate IRON MAN 2 a level above just being men in robot suits smacking one another. It’s the first outburst of flames, during Stark’s eleventh hour decision to compete at Monaco, that really stands out, however. Vanko (in his new Whiplash persona) enters the course on foot, tearing up high-powered cars left and right with a thoroughly frightening sense of determination, all shot in brilliantly realised slow-motion. During this moment, we most fear for Stark, and it’s a truly breathtaking piece of cinema.
Later, Scarlett Johansson also gets in on the action, infiltrating Hammer’s facility. We watch as she effortlessly cuts through security guards one by one, like a hot knife through butter. It’s an impressively choreographed and memorable sequence, one that will leave audiences with their jaws resting firmly on the floor.
The special effects are also impressive. Although the CGI in IRON MAN was mostly up to the code, there were a few rough moments. With IRON MAN 2 this is no longer a problem: the technical and visual achievements rank among the best to date, investing every scrape, blow and explosion with believability.
This is not to suggest that IRON MAN 2 over-relies on pyrotechnics. The script is as sharp as ever. Stark’s witty banter with his detractors remains a highlight, especially when in two particularly hilarious scenes wherein Stark goes toe to toe against Senator Stern (Gary Shandling) and Nick Fury (Sam Jackson gets a lot more screen time round, and the film is all the better for it).
Pacing, on the other hand, is the weakness in IRON MAN 2’s armor. The narrative initially feels jet-propelled, but after Whiplash’s first attack on Stark the story becomes a little muddled, scattershot, and (dare I say it?) boring. At mid-point, there are several plot threads developing simultaneously, none of which are exceptionally interesting or well executed, and it begins to feel as if the second act is treading water in anticipation of the climax. When the battle sequence finally arrives, it’s highly enjoyable, but (just like the first film) it is over far too quickly.
This leads to my next criticism: lack of threat. There is one point, and one point only, during which the audience is in any real doubt as to whether Stark will make it out alive, and that is near the beginning. After that, IRON MAN 2 becomes very predictable: you realise that none of Iron Man’s opponents are going to put him in any tangible danger. Fortunately, these issues dim but do not destroy the overall impact of this amusing and exciting slice of blockbuster superhero cinema.
IRON MAN 2 (2010). Director: Jon Favreau. Writers: Justin Theroux (screenplay) and Stan Lee (original comic books). Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke and Samuel L. Jackson.
Once again the horror genre proves itself to be critic-proof as Samuel Bayer’s remake of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET is sitting atop the weekend box office with a respectable $32.2 million. The film currently holds a ‘rotten’ 15% rating at Rotten Tomatoes but that didn’t stop it from storming the box office and fending off other high-profile releases.
Rounding off the top three were two films with surprisingly strong staying power; HOW TO TRAIN YOUR earned another $10.8 million at second place and DATE NIGHT came in third with $7.6 million. Jennifer Lopez’ tax paying vehicle, THE BACK-UP PLAN, went from second place to forth with $7.2 million whilst new entry, FURRY VENGEANCE, couldn’t even muster up $7 million (it earned only $6.5). Seems the lure of Brendan Fraser being hit in the testicles by animals wasn’t enough for cinema-goers.
As for the last five, THE LOSERS came in at 6th, CLASH OF THE TITANS went down to 7th, KICK-ASS was 8th, DEATH AT A FUNERAL 8th and OCEANS, the new Disney sea documentary, rounds off the list at 10th. In related news, IRON MAN 2 was released on the other side of the pond and has already managed to drum up over $100 million.
These box office stats. come courtesy of Box Office Mojo.