Saturday, July 29, 2006

Back from the Beach

My family and I returned from the beach yesterday, and I have to say it was a welcome break from just about everything. I’d thought my wife and I might do a lot of writing while there, but work in any form wasn’t on the agenda. We got there and realized we wanted to do just one thing: rest.

Things started off pretty eventfully, unfortunately. We seem to have a habit of courting disaster on all of our vacations. This trip proved no exception. I never got to sleep before we left (I had worked overnight), and we left hours later than planned, because my wife got held up at work. Our car didn’t even pull out of the driveway until somewhere close to 2:30pm. Oh, and to make matters worse for my sleep-deprived self, I am incapable of sleeping in a car, no matter how exhausted I am. So with me desperate for sleep, we didn’t reach the beach house until 10:15pm, and in less than fifteen minutes we were on the road again… searching for a hospital.

My little boy Liam learned why it’s a bad idea to run through an unfamiliar house. He fell and struck a small table. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that much blood spill out the side of my son’s face. My wife gets the credit for realizing first that we needed to go to an emergency room (a decision the doctor confirmed was most definitely the right call).

I’ve included a few pictures of our trip, mainly the best pictures. The first shows off my boy’s “war wound,” two days after the incident. You’ll see how lucky he really was. A little further left, and he could have lost an eye. As it is, he ended up with two stitches, a popsicle from the hospital staff for being brave and some rather successful practice at flirting with nurses (That’s m’boy!). By the way, I finally got to bed about 2:30am, and slept close to twelve hours while my even braver wife dared a first trip down onto the beach with both kids in tow.

There’s a picture of Frank in here, too. I’ll save the rest of his adventures at the beach for future entries, and I promise they’ll be worth the wait.

HIGH NOTES: Die Another Day

This month’s “High Notes” entries are focusing on scores from movies that feature “cool guys with swords,” one of my wife’s favorite movie styles. My previous two entries highlighted “The Last Samurai” and “Gladiator,” both of which easily fit the previous description. So how does a “James Bond” film like “Die Another Day” find its way into this list? I’ll come to that, but first some of the “high notes” about this score.

“Die Another Day,” the blockbuster that turned out to be Pierce Brosnan’s last outing as secret agent 007, offered fans David Arnold’s third mission into the franchise. With his first Bond film, “Tomorrow Never Dies,” Arnold set a tough standard to beat. I don’t think his third score matched that work, but he still delivers a great score that capitalizes well on the traditional “Bond” theme song. Some have faulted Arnold for relying too heavily on this theme, but I don’t share this complaint. Arnold relies on this theme but finds as many different ways as possible to employ it. Those quick to criticize Arnold should recall Eric Serra’s failed effort with “Goldeneye” which made the even greater mistake of ignoring the main Bond theme.

Arnold delivered some great pieces here. Perhaps the most rousing action cue comes early on with “Hovercraft Chase.” One of the most interesting things Arnold did was take elements of the music he’d written, have it performed backwards and then play it back in its proper order. This gives some of the music a staccato effect that works better than I’d have expected.

This score is just full of fun stuff. Another standout piece on this score: “Welcome to Cuba.” Arnold gives the Bond theme a Latin twist, and it works great. For someone wanting a more rock ‘n roll take on the Bond theme, Arnold combines his efforts with Paul Oakenfold for “James Bond Theme (Bond vs. Oakenfold).”

Perhaps the only controversial element to this movie’s soundtrack is what Arnold didn’t contribute: the title song. Let is suffice that Arnold is more than up to the task of crafting a kickass Bond theme song. One of his previous labors of love before landing the role as composer of choice for the Bond films was “Shaken and Stirred,” an album of James Bond songs updated and in many cases improved. So when Madonna was hired for the title song to “Die Another Day,” along with a bit part in the film, this wasn’t a snub overlooked by Arnold’s fans and rumor had it he was a little miffed about it, too. Let us hope this slight isn’t repeated with “Casino Royale” later this year.

I can say that I’m already excited to hear what Arnold will create for “Casino Royale.” In doing my online research for this “High Notes” entry, I came across an article on the James Bond fan site “MI6.” Arnold has said he will unveil a new sound for Bond within the new film in keeping with the new Bond, Daniel Craig. Thenew film promises to offer a darker, grittier Bond, and I suspect much of the new sound will be tailored to these attributes.

Other Scores by David Arnold:

Now, I did promise to explain how this movie best known for its hi-tech gadgets, chase scenes and fast women, could possibly qualify as a “cool guys with swords” movie. This movie features not only one but two good sword fight scenes. We’re treated to one with the coolest of the cool James Bond (played by one of my wife’s favs Pierce Brosnan) and the film’s bad guy Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens). This one runs through a fencing club in London, and I have to admit that it’s a really good sword fight, especially from a film series not known for them. The second features the good and bad Bond girls, Jinx (Halle Berry) and Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike). With the combo of swordfights and Pierce Brosnan, it’s probably little surprise this was a Bond film my wife, who doesn’t typically care for Bond films, actually liked.


Perhaps one of the weakest contenders in this month’s “Dust Jackets” entries devoted to “orphaned” books is Cold Hit by Linda Fairstein. This isn’t meant as a slight against Fairstein or her book. Rather, this is one case where I simply can’t recall what prompted me to set aside this novel.

In true “Joe Friday” fashion, let’s stick to just the facts. I purchased Cold Hit from the bargain books section of the Barnes & Noble where I was working back in 2001. We’re given a promising start in this murder mystery. Police find a woman’s body tied to a ladder on the northern tip of Manhattan. Not merely a whodunit… Cold Hit initially offers readers a “whoisit” as the victim starts off as a Jane Doe. The victim’s identity leads assistant district attorney Alexandra Cooper into New York’s art world where plenty of possible suspects are on display.

Fairstein offers some impressive credentials. Those creds include a lengthy career as head of the Sex Crimes Unit for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office (a title shared with her book’s main character). Even within the brief portion of this book I read, I could see she was drawing well on her own experiences to give the story credibility.

What frustrates me as I write this entry is my inability to remember why I stopped so short a way into this book. Honestly, I can’t even recall if I made my aborted attempt while still a Barnes & Noble bookseller or if I’d just begun my own employment within the law enforcement community as a communications officer. What’s perhaps most important is this fact: despite my intention to return to this book and give it another go, I never did. It’s among those books I’ve even sold off from my collection. That’s not to say I won’t ever give it another try, but the list of books ahead of it is too long to allow for another go anytime soon.

Fairstein deserves some praise for building this into a successful series. Her latest Alexandra Cooper mystery, Death Dance, was released this past January and marks the eighth book within the series. The ninth book, Bad Blood, is already scheduled for release next January.

Other Books by Linda Fairstein:

For my part, I find myself rather curious about Fairstein because of her ties to Virginia mystery writer Patricia Cornwell. The two are good friends. Cornwell even dedicated her 2000 novel, The Last Precinct, to Fairstein. Fairstein has a few ties to Virginia of her own, graduating from the University of Virginia Law School in 1972. She also shares an obvious passion for Edgar Allen Poe, the father of “detective fiction.” She included quite a few references to Poe in her novel Entombed. Her website also offers links to the Poe Museum (located here in Richmond, Virginia) and several other Poe related websites.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

HIGH NOTES: The Last Samurai

Hans Zimmer is best known for delivering some powerful music. He comes right out with the kind of music that pretty much goes perfect with action-adventure. With his score to “The Last Samurai,” we’re treated to something quite different. The first track we’re given “A Way of Life” opens with a gentle piece of music, contemplative. You typically crank up the volume with Hans Zimmer to embrace the loudness, but with the opening to “The Last Samurai,” you turn up the volume just so you can hear it.

This might well be the most beautiful score Zimmer has done to date. You can hear some subtle touches that draw on his previous work with movies involving Japan, such as “Black Rain” and “Pearl Harbor.” That work was good, but with “The Last Samurai,” he really delivers the goods. You get the feeling the other films were just practice.

We finally get to some percussion and action music within the second track (almost ten minutes into the CD), but it’s short-lived. That’s not a bad thing. Zimmer’s score recognizes this isn’t an action film. “The Last Samurai” is a spiritual journey, first with the main character played by Tom Cruise and second with the country of Japan as it makes a bloody entrance into the modern world. That said, Zimmer delivers what might well be the best piece of action music he’s done for any film.

“The Way of the Sword” gives me goose bumps every time I hear it. This eight-minute track accompanies the climax of the film. This song is both heroic and tragic. The action comes within the first three minutes, and if I had to make a complaint, then it would be I just wish this part was longer. Good as this piece is, it’s best when listened to along with the two tracks before it, “Ronin” and “Red Warrior.” Those two pieces provide the perfect buildup. As Zimmer’s scores are notorious for extremely long tracks, I’m surprised he didn’t at least merge “Red Warrior” and “The Way of the Sword” into one track. I’m glad he didn’t, though, because I often skip ahead to this part.

Zimmer finishes this score with a song just as powerful as “The Way of the Sword,” but where the one is explosive, “A Small Measure of Peace” relies on subtlety with a lot of low strings. It’s a great close.

One of the most interesting stories behind this score is how Zimmer was recruited for the film. You can attribute this happenstance to a little thing called “alphabetical order.” Director Ed Zwick and Zimmer were attending one of the pre-Academy Award functions in which nominees were introduced. These introductions were done in alphabetical order based on last names. This placed these two men beside each other for quite a while. As they chatted, Zwick mentioned his project “The Last Samurai” and Zimmer said he’d be interested in scoring the film. Years went by and Zimmer forgot about the film, assuming the project had simply fallen apart. He said he failed to consider how long it takes to organize all the pieces to a historical film of this scale. Sure enough, when the time arrived to get a composer, Zwick remembered his discussion with Zimmer and called him. This was an interesting departure for Zwick, since James Horner has scored most of his historical films. These films include “Glory” and “Legends of the Fall,” some of Horner’s best work.

Other Scores by Hans Zimmer:

I don’t often get my hopes up for a film or score when it comes to the Academy Awards, but this was one film I wish had received more nods. I felt this score deserved a nomination, at the least. Sadly, that didn’t happen. Even though this was “pre-Oprah couch,” I think the film got hammered because of the “Cruise effect.” Oscar just doesn’t seem to like him, and this was a film in which I think he deserved a nomination. While the film itself is pretty inaccurate in its portrayal of the Samurai (in real life, they were essentially the bad guys), Cruise delivered a great performance that makes this film very believable. In a lesser actor’s hand, this could have smacked of cliché, despite a strong script. I was at least glad to see Ken Watanabe nominated for supporting actor. Some of the best scenes are the ones between Watanabe and Cruise’s characters.

Perhaps one of the most interesting things for me personally about this score was that my wife was the one who insisted on getting this CD. She saw the film before I did and couldn’t wait to get the music.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

DUST JACKETS: The Elfstones of Shannara

Perhaps one of the best books I’ve never finished is The Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks. The book came to my attention, because I found it in the most unlikely of places. As you might expect, a 911 center can be a stressful place, so the one in which I work has a room set aside for when things just get too stressful. We call it the quiet room. This room probably gets more use as a place for a quick nap during a break, but we also have a small bookshelf in this room. The majority of its contents are motivational books and procedure manuals, but shortly after I started here, I discovered two of Brooks’ “Shannara” books.

The Elfstones of Shannara is actually the second book within this popular fantasy series. Having never read the first book, The Sword of Shannara, I can’t really make any specific comparisons or speak on how the characters and reality have evolved. What I can say is that Brooks does a nice job of introducing one very well-developed really. Even without reading the first book, I found no trouble in following this story. He makes references to events in that first book, and I sensed we were dealing with a sequel focused on the next generation of characters within this world, but I can’t say that with certainty.

Within this book, the magic that has protected mankind from hordes of demons is failing. A rare tree called the Ellerys, the source of this power, is dying and must be rekindled. The demons are already making their way into the world of men and the bodies pile up fast. A young man named Wil Ohmsford is the one who possesses the aforementioned elfstones, and he’s charged with guarding a young elven girl who is the only one capable of fulfilling their quest of planting a new Ellerys.

I remember the most interesting thing about this book was that I found myself wondering if this was a book set in in Earth’s future. While I don’t recall seeing any advanced technology, references to the world’s history almost give the impression of a post-apocalyptic world. I found this an interesting twist on the traditional fantasy, but I’ve never progressed enough within the series to learn if this impression is accurate.

For anyone who loves traditional fantasy, Brooks proves himself a master of the genre. He does a nice job of building the tension, and even though I only read this during my breaks, which aren’t that long, I managed to make it halfway through this 564 page book within a few months.

So how did such a good page-turner lose my interest? The answer is “stress.” The quiet room was designed for an escape during stressful times, and at one point in my training, I definitely felt this stress. The police radios are notorious for breaking our new hires. Even those who easily complete their training on the 911 phone lines find themselves unable to follow all the activity on the police radios. Without delving into too much detail about that, let is suffice that I made it through that radio training by the skin of my teeth. Somehow, I associate that stressful time with this book, and it basically killed my interest. In the back of my mind, I’m well aware of this book and the fact it’s still sitting on the shelf in that quiet room, but I’ve never been able to pick up the book. The interest just isn’t there, because it’s like revisiting a bad memory. As I write this, I can’t help but think to myself how ludicrous my explanation sounds.

I sometimes wonder why we even have this bookshelf within the quiet room, because I don’t think I ever see anyone reading in there or taking something from the bookshelf to read. I think the dry nature of the reading selections doesn’t help. I do find it interesting that two fantasy novels have snuck in there, and I sometimes wonder how they got there. That probably makes The Elfstones of Shannara an orphaned book twice over. Another interesting note about this book. As you can see by the picture of the book held open, the makeshift bookmark I put there more than four years ago is still keeping my place.

Other Books by Terry Brooks:

I’ve not read any other books by Brooks, but that might soon change. He’s got a new book entitled Armageddon’s Children coming out later this summer, August 29th to be exact. His website is giving away thirty copies of the advanced readers copies. I’ve entered the contest, and if I win a copy, then you’ll seeing a review of it in the Wildcat’s Lair quite soon. Keep your fingers crossed!

"You're just jealous, because the voices in my head are only talking to me" (WW? #24)

I’ve neglected my blog quite a bit this past week, a fact owed to a lot of overtime at work which has left me more sleep-deprived than I think I’ve ever felt. My vacation is coming up this weekend, so I’ve got a lot of blogging to do this week, if I’m going to finish all I planned for this month. You can probably expect two or more entries a day for the rest of the week because of that.

Speaking of neglect, I’ve gone too long without doing one of Jess’ Writer’s Weekly Questions. So now that I’m back in business, let me answer her latest one.

Writer's Weekly Question #24:

What is your experience with characters? Do they come to you "full grown out of oblivion" or do they come in pieces and only share a bit of what you need to know them? Do you hear their voices, or do you develop them? What makes them real for you?

Characters really do take on a life of their own. Many of the ones that run around the inside of my head have enjoyed that space for more than a decade. Some are probably going on two, but just how many of them are really alive to me? More than I care to admit!

A young knight named Mikhael Bek hasn’t been in my head the longest, but I can’t think of a better example of a character that has taken on a life of his own. Just this past week, I actually felt guilty about the things I have happen in his life. In The Last VanDaryn, my wife and I write some terrible things into his life. What’s ironic is that he’s there at all, because the idea of creating a traditional fantasy was pretty low on my list of goals when I first started writing.

Mikhael was originally born as a character named Michael Collins. Michael existed within a different reality, an alternate Earth. He went from a superhero to a CIA analyst. Then I got involved in online roleplay within AOL’s chat rooms. I needed a character to play, and as a shortcut, I basically borrowed Michael’s persona to create a vampire-hunting knight. Mikhael turned into my favorite character to play. There’s a lot of me in him, but elements of the original Michael remained.

I started “writing” with Mikhael in posts on message boards, something like serialized adventures. Then things got more complicated. I recruited other players to do an epic serialized adventure, something I hadn’t seen others do up to that point. Eventually, I worried that playing Mikhael was taking too much away from my real writing, and it was. I stopped doing the roleplay for a while, but I couldn’t bring myself to stop playing with him. His time online ended with a failed romance, after which he decided to return to his home country and rededicate himself to his duties. I wanted to know what happened to him, what the next chapter in his life would be. I started writing with him, but this time as a character within a book, and this was probably where he started to become real.

The years since then have seen a lot of changes in Mikhael. In a weird way, I don’t think he’s so much changed as I’ve just gotten to know the real character that’s always been there. I enjoy the little things the most. He loves to drink hot tea, and he almost never drinks alcohol. He likes to end his “day” by watching the sunrise while sitting in his favorite wooden chair. I saw him as being rather straight-laced and religious. The more I wrote with him, though, the more I realized he had some personal demons I’d never expected. He made a living hunting violent killers, and I finally realized a man can only manage to do that well if thinks like them. That led to Mikhael’s more violent nature and the frightening realization that, on some level, he takes pleasure in this, a fact that frightens even himself when he dares to dwell on it.

I don’t tend to think on his voice too much, his or any other character’s. The voices usually come pretty distinctly to me from the start. Mikhael’s has gone through some changes, though. Years ago, I wrote one of his adventures in first person, and to my surprise, he displayed more wit and sarcasm than I’d have expected. Until then, I’d always just assumed his manner of speaking would be too stiff and dull to work as first person. Even though I’m not using the first person style with Mikhael these days, the experience made me realize I’d underestimated him. How I imagined his inner voice was a lot more interesting, so I’ve forced it forward a bit over the years.

He’s not the only character that’s alive to me. I’ve more than I can count. What’s frustrating is to find such a character and then have nothing to do with him or her. These characters haunt me as images of their lives drift through my imagination, and I wonder what I can and will do with them.

Some characters spring to life so easily, and yet others just never seem to work at all. I can gift them with all the quirks I want, but they’re never right. I hope none of those ever find their way into print.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

All in the Way it's "Said"

The previous James River Writers Conference took place about nine months ago, but I’m going to revisit it and open up debate among the Lair’s readers about one little word: said.

One of the most impressive guests speaking at last year’s conference was Pulitzer Prize winner Edward P. Jones, author of The Known World. The man himself proved interesting to me for his eccentricity and his seeming befuddlement at his success. I don’t expect anything I ever write to match the literary level of Jones, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t take his advice to heart. If any of his advice impressed me most it was in regards to the word “said.” Jones said that’s basically the only word he uses when he has to attribute dialogue to a character. I’ve read similar advice in the past and taken that advice with a rather heavy dose of doubt. Hearing Jones discuss it made me reconsider my opinion on this bland word.

Some might argue it’s foolish to limit your writing to that one word when so many more colorful choices exist. After all, words such as “griped,” “instructed” or “replied” can attribute dialogue just as well as “said” and convey another aspect to the dialogue. Jones offers a great counter-argument. He just uses “said” and relies on the dialogue itself to convey its added meanings. I still wasn’t sold after hearing Jones say this at the conference, but then I read through some of my own writing. In almost every case, when the dialogue was good enough, it made those more colorful cousins of “said” unnecessary. Consider the following:

Griped? If the character doesn’t already sound as if he/she is griping, then it’s not very effective griping, now is it?

Instructed? If a character says, “Hold your sword by the hilt and stick the pointy end into the other man,” do you really need to point out this is instruction? The dialogue makes that pretty clear by itself.

Replied? If the character is replying to another character’s previous dialogue, then it’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?

After reading through enough of my previous work to wince at all of the redundancy, I was a convert. Do I think there’s room for any words other than “said?” Yes. Hard as I try, I can’t think of a way to convey a “whisper” without using that word to attribute the dialogue.

Also, should I ever use anything other than “said,” then limiting most of my writing to the word “said” makes the use of any other word that much more powerful.

Disagree with me on this one? Do you think making “said” the only choice is tiresome and unoriginal? Maybe you even believe that “said” is the last word you should use. Now, it’s your turn. Make your case.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Happy Anniversary (A Day Late)!

Yesterday marked the first anniversay for my blog, and I’m rather amazed at how much it’s changed in that time. If you’ll indulge my vanity, let me spend some time taking a look back on the first year of “The Wildcat’s Lair.”

If I’ve learned anything from my first year of blogging, it’s that these blogs take on a life of their own when given enough time and passion. Look at my first blog entry, and you’ll see my original intent was nothing more than to keep a record of the books I was reading and to occasionally add in a movie score review. I also suggested I might include some graphic artwork. Little did I know how busy my own little "cat in the hat" would keep my art program, eh?

Perhaps the most unexpected thing that came out of doing this blog was Frank. I created him on a whim. This past October, I invited the readers of the Lair to write entries about their favorite monster novels. As I made a banner for this, I discovered a black cat in a variety of poses (five, to be exact) within my art program, Paint Shop Pro 7.0. Frank needed a touch of blue to really fit within the Lair, and once I gave him his stripes, he just took over the place. He’s made what started as a stuffy book blog into something much more entertaining and interactive. Perhaps the most fun I’ve had is in creating his little comic strips. I love them for a lot of reasons. I get to exercise my graphic art skills, but finding ways to include my kids in these online comic strips just makes them even more fun. There have been other benefits, of course. Let’s face it. How else could I manage a legitimate reason for visiting Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Online?

What’s funny is that Frank nearly got beat out for my blog’s mascot by my pet dog. Allow me to introduce Page. Her name isn’t misspelled. We figured this an apt name for a pet to two writers, me and my wife. Of course, that name would have also made her perfect for my blog’s mascot. There’s just one small problem. Page is the most camera shy dog I’ve ever known. In fact, this picture of Page is about the only one for which she’s ever willingly posed. I’ll tell you more about Page and this picture later this month. I can tell you that Page will be joining in a few of Frank’s online adventures in the near future. I’d like to do more of those comic strips with Frank, but they take quite a bit of time to create.

I think I can safely say Frank is the ultimate highlight of my blog’s first year. When I think back on this past twelve months, my favorite entries almost all include him. Whether it was “The Wildcat’s Café Mocha Adventure,” our “Bracket Battle” this past March or my pet wildcat’s take on the quantum law of “Schrodinger’s Cat,” he’s managed to bring a lot of humor to a blog that would have greatly lacked it otherwise. Since his first appearance, I’ve manufactured a lot of new poses for him, and I even built a vast family for him for this past Christmas. We’ve not yet been treated to his parents or his older sister (even though they’ve been mentioned). Whether we’ll get to see his immediate family in this second year of The Wildcat’s Lair is hard to say, but I do hope to introduce them at some point. Considering how much I enjoy these comic strips with Frank, I probably need to do them more often and that’s one of the goals for my blog’s second year.

So, if Frank was the highlight, then what is my blog’s lowlight? Well, at first I wasn’t sure I could think of one, but then I realized what an easy choice this was. It all centers on the number 1,250. Yes, being the “genius” I am, I set what turned out to be an impossible goal of writing 1,250 words every day. If not for two kids, a full time job (with vampire’s hours) and a lot of overtime put in to pay the bills, I might have managed this. The goal turned out very unrealistic, and despondent at my inability to meet this goal, I neglected my blog and very nearly closed it down altogether as revealed in my follow up entry, "Writer's Guilt." Some kind advice from David L. Robbins (The Assassins Gallery) made me realize how foolish I was being to consider an end to my blog, and I’ll always be grateful for that advice (I’m sure Frank will be, too!).

My blog has also turned out quite a few surprises for me, one that didn’t involve Frank. I promised to reveal which entry has demonstrated the greatest longevity. Well, this past December, I decided to focus my reading on children’s books. Among those books was one entitled Vampire Plagues, London, 1850. The book, sorry to say, didn’t receive one of the kindest reviews from me, but even as recently as this past June, the entry has received new comments. The book does hold a special place in my memory as it led to the creation of my “sub-blog series” called “Wordslingers.” The writer Ben Jeapes (operating under the pen name of Sebastian Rook for this children’s series) and I have exchanged quite a few e-mails thanks to that book, and that’s been a treat. I recently e-mailed him to let him know how that entry was still receiving attention from people online, and he mentioned I should probably read the rest of the “Vampire Plagues” trilogy to see what I think. I doubt I will get to that this summer, but I think after the dust settles on this fall’s James River Writers Conference, I’ll revisit this series to finish it.

One of the biggest changes for my blog came this past May with the creation of my parallel blog on Blogger. This wasn’t some whim. I’ve come to realize that Blogger has a strong community of novelists, and as important as connections within the publishing industry can be, I decided it foolish not to tap into that resource. There’s also the benefit of comments from people not limited to AOL or AIM, as my AIM blog is. I must confess that it’s not easy running the Lair on two blogs. I’ve streamlined the process quite a bit, but whether I can maintain both is something only time will tell. Sadly, I think the AIM blog would be the first to go, but my sentimental nature makes me loathe to abandon it completely for the Blogger version.

If you’ll allow me one last bit of vanity for today, let me close this anniversary entry by pointing out some of my favorite entries from the past year:

Favorite Book Review Entry: The Assassins Gallery, because it’s my first preview of a book. This one still hasn’t come out yet, but it will on the 24th of this month.

Favorite “Dust Jacket” Entry: Blue Latitudes, because the current format of my blog entries first started to take form here. That and it’s such a different book from what I normally blog about.

Favorite “High Notes” Entry: “The Last VanDaryn.” It’s a shameless bit of self-promotion for the book I’m writing with my wife. What more need be said?

Favorite Entry with Frank: “Wildcat’s Bracket Battle.” I found a lot inspiration with Frank this past March thanks to the NCAA Basketball Tournament, so I’d say this month offered some of my favorite work with him. I also think I became more efficient at creating these comic strips that month.

Favorite Entry About My Writing: “How to Write with a Spouse (and Not Kill Each Other)” was easily my favorite entry about my writing and perhaps my favorite entry from the entire first year. I saved this one for a long time, and I knew it would be a special entry for me even long before I wrote it.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank the Lair’s loyal followers throughout this first year. I think it’s starting to gain a greater following thanks to the move to Blogger. Still, if not for a lot of the folks I first met through the AOL/AIM journals, I don’t think I’d have found an interest in maintaining the Lair this long.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

HIGH NOTES: Gladiator

When you think “cool guys with swords,” a film style my wife and I both love, the music to “Gladiator” might seem to fit that description but it’s actually a much more subtle score than you’d expect. That’s likely why it won an Academy Award.

The movie itself doesn’t deserve a stereotype as an action film. In many ways, I think this film feels very Shakespearean in its script, and the score reflects this. We’re given an ominous open with “Progeny.” This two-minute piece accompanies the opening credits which includes a brief setup. That opening text actually paints a positive picture of the future, promising the end of war should Rome win the film’s opening battle. The music is what cues the moviegoer that all is not well in the Roman Empire. “The Wheat” continues this ominous start to the film, and it’s not until we get to “The Battle” that we’re treated with the real fireworks for this score.

“The Battle” delivers some of the best battle music Hans Zimmer had done to date. The DVD to Gladiator included a mini-documentary on the score, and for a fan of movie scores such as myself, this was a real treat. The most fascinating thing was to learn that the battle music is actually a cleverly disguised waltz. For the purpose of editing the film, Zimmer gave the editors several variations on this waltz/battle music to let them know how the music would fit in with the other elements of the film.

Now, you do get some repetition in this score, and typically, I can just listen to the first three tracks I’ve mentioned and feel as if I’ve heard the entire score. The exception to this is the closing credit piece “Now We Are Free.” This sorrowful song does a great job of capturing the right tone for the end of the film. Yes, the ending is sad but with hope.

Other Scores by Hans Zimmer:

I think this score, more than any other, made my wife a Hans Zimmer fan. I had long ago been sold on Zimmer’s talent thanks to scores such as “Crimson Tide,” “Drop Zone” and “Broken Arrow.” Sheri still says if our book should ever find its way into film that Zimmer is the one she’d want to do the score. Can’t say I’d be upset about that either. Thankfully, we’re seeing a greater number of talented composers for Hollywood’s scores these days, and quite a few of them have ties to Zimmer.