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In rather a departure from my normal posts, here’s a review of the epic concert held at the Royal Albert Hall in London last night (20th October 2017) to celebrate the 50th birthday of film, TV and videogame composer Michael Giacchino. 

With the deaths in recent years of Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner (the latter sadly so untimely), Giacchino, together with probably Alexandre Desplat and Hans Zimmer, are the three people in my mind to ultimately take the throne of ‘film composer maestro’ from John Williams, now 85, who must surely want to retire from film music at some point. Giacchino grew up as a Spielberg-like film obsessive in the Edgewater Park suburbs near Philadelphia, grabbing his Super 8 camera to film his own versions of movie epics of the day. But it was music that brought him fame in the movie world, first through a lucky break in being picked to score Spielberg’s “Lost World” video game (the raptor theme from that interestingly emerges in “Jurassic World“) and then the classical orchestral music for “Call of Duty”. JJ Abrams saw his potential and hired him to score his TV show “Alias” and, of course, then “Lost”.  

Giacchino is clearly a highly personable and much loved guy, in that he can count a gallery of current ‘new-kid’ directors, producers and actors as good friends:  good enough to up-sticks from what they were doing around the world and fly into London to celebrate his birthday. I’ve no idea what they were “paid” for their appearances, but the introductions to all of the concert pieces were both impressive and informative.

Piece 1 – “The Incredibles”

Giacchino’s breakthrough to film came from Pixar’s Brad Bird who chose him to score “The Incredibles”: and this film’s score launched the evening’s concert. The evening’s host – Adam Savage, special effects wizard and host of “Mythbusters” on the Discovery Channel – introduced the piece dressed as Mr Incredible.  

Conducted by Ludwig Wicki, the Cinematic Sinfonia hammered through the fast paced action track with gusto, with specially edited film excepts being projected on the screen.  A great start.  

Piece 2 – “Medal of Honor”

The orchestra was joined in this piece by the English Chamber Choir to deliver an impressively full sound with the glorious acoustics of the Albert Hall. Reminiscent of William’s “Hymn to the Fallen” from “Saving Private Ryan”, this is an impressive piece of music – given it was for a video game – and one I’d not heard before.

Piece 3 – Arranged Marriage from “Jupiter Ascending”

The Wachowski Brothers (Sisters!) film from 2015 was neither a commercial nor a critical success, and the music similarly lacked much impact on me. Played to static images of Jupiter, this was the low-point of the concert for me personally.  

Piece 4 – “Jurassic World”

Host Adam Savage returns to the stage in a Tyrannosaurus costume to welcome Colin Trevorrow, director of “Jurassic World“, to introduce the track – a clever reworking of the mood of William’s original classic while never feeling like being plagerism. Again, the orchestra and choir combined to produce a goosebump-inducing sound as the film’s main theme swelled. It’s a shame that the only movie video on offer to accompany the music was the snippet with the T-Rex doing it’s final roar across the island:  presumably this is down to copyright restrictions, but it would be nice for these film companies to “loosen up” a bit at events like this.

Piece 5 – “Marvel Suite”

Enter onto the stage actor Benedict Wong, who played “Wong” in “Doctor Strange“, a role he is to reprise next year in “Avengers: Infinity War”. He introduced this next piece, a medley of Giacchino music (to date) from the Marvel universe. Giacchino of course wrote the music for the new Marvel Studios production logo that starts every film, and this thrilling and urgent theme, played at great speed, opened an excellent combination of Giacchino’s music from “Doctor Strange” and “Spiderman: Homecoming“, played again against specially edited footage of the films. I can’t say that I’m a massive Marvel fan, but this was an exciting addition to the evening.

Piece 6 – “Rogue One”

Enter stage right the dark forces of the Empire, bringing in chains to the stage “Rogue One” director Gareth Edwards. Anyone who owns Giacchino’s soundtrack albums knows that the composer has a quirky habit of naming his album tracks (this started with his 10 disks worth of soundtrack music from “Lost”, which I am glad to say I own!). Edwards amusingly recounted his cutting Giacchino off at the pass from calling the “Rogue One” tracks things like “Transmission Impossible” and “Live and Let Jedi”. He also described how Giacchino had only 4 weeks to compose the music (after schedule delays meant Alexandre Desplat could no longer do it), but that as a lifelong Star Wars-nut Giacchino willingly embraced the late nights to become a part of Star Wars history (although he also played a stormtrooper in “The Force Awakens“). 

Gareth Edwards, describing how he stopped Michael Giacchino going rogue on the track titles.

Rogue One” is another classic score for orchestra and choir, played again to some great excerpts from the film, and the dramatic finale (with the big wave) brought a tear to my eye.

Piece 7 – “LOST – Parting Words”

Another glorious highpoint of the night. Words can’t describe how much “Lost” became a part of my and my wife’s lives during its six year run. Although it had its good and less good series, the cast became like relatives to us. This music, introduced by “Lost” writer and producer Carlton Cuse, rounded off the first series, where members of the team set sail back to civilisation (no… actually… not) on their home-made raft. 

Stormtroopers had found a reluctant conductor hanging around backstage, and dragged him – a Mr Giacchino – to the podium to the delight of the audience. (What? Working at your birthday party? But he was clearly loving it!)

The Empire strikes black (tie).

It’s a stirring piece, played to the original video, and the combination of the live music and the on-screen presence of our long-lost “relatives” reduced both my wife AND I to tears.  (I’m a real man… I can cry!). 

My only criticism is that it cut at the end of the raft bit, rather than finish with the dramatic ‘John Locke hatch scene’ which I would have loved to have heard played. 

Piece 8 – Married Life from “Up”

After the intermission, the orchestra was joined by the “Bond Quartet” – four ladies who on violin and cello merrily fired off the “happy” introductory music from Up. Those of you who know this film well, will know where this goes: fortunately, the scene was not shown on screen, else the tissue supply would have been utterly exhausted! 

Piece 9 – “One Man Band”

(I think this one was introduced by legendary Simpson’s animator David Silverman… but I may have got that wrong). “One Man Band” is an extremely amusing Pixar short about two ‘One Man Band’ musicians competing for the coin of an indecisive young girl.  Giacchino composed the music throughout, and the short was played in its entirety accompanied by the live orchestra. An audience pleaser.

Piece 10 – “John Carter From Mars”

Pixar alumni Andrew Stanton introduced this one. As well as his acclaimed direction on “WALL.E”, “Finding Nemo”, “A Bug’s Life” and “Finding Dory” and writing and producing on a range of other Pixar films, Stanton took a career diversion into live action on Disney’s 2012 Sci-fi epic “John Carter from Mars”. This was – erm – not an unqualified success!  I normally find Americans tend to be quite po-faced and quiet about career set-backs like this. Not Stanton! He delightfully and disarmingly took the piss out of both himself and the film declaring it a “film no-one had seen featuring a soundtrack CD that no-one had bought”. He read from the CD liner notes (opening a shrink-wrapped copy from presumably a large crate full of shrink-wrapped copies! … Nice touch!) about how Giacchino’s music was a return to the epic orchestral sweeps of the 1970’s Sci-fi movies. And listening to the orchestra’s rendition, I would agree! Excellent stuff. Mr Stanton, if you happen to be reading this, I’d love one of the others from the crate! 

By the way, Stanton gave the CD copy – signed by both himself and Giacchino – to anyone on the front row who’d seen the film. Very amusingly, only one guy put his hand up!       

Piece 11 – “Ratatouille” Jazz Fantasia

Jazz is jazz – not always to everybody’s taste – and the Ratatouille music is jazz in spades.  Loud, brash and often very atonal at times, it is certainly never dull and this piece reminded my of the ride at Disneyland Paris, where I recently went with one of my grandkids…. not surprisingly, since Giacchino was the musical supervisor for the 3D attraction.

Piece 12 – “Tomorrowland”

This feature was due to be introduced by director Brad Bird – another Pixar alumni – and Raffey Cassidy who plays Athena in the film. Unfortunately Brad Bird’s flight never left the US (United Airlines was named and shamed!) so after a written apology and Giacchino tribute from Bird it was left to young Raffey to introduce the piece alone:  quite a challenge for a 15 year old in such a huge venue, but she did very well. 

The piece was pleasant enough, but not tremendously memorable. 

Piece 13 – Roar!

Roar! is from the film “Cloverfield”. “Wait a minute!”, you say;  “there is no music in “Cloverfield””.  That’s true, but Giacchino wrote this standalone piece to play over the closing titles.

I’m sure this was technically brilliant: atonal, chanting choir, etc. It wasn’t so much to my personal taste though. Moving on… 

Piece 14 – “War for the Planet of the Apes”

Back onto high ground again. Matt Reeves, the director of both “Cloverfield” and “War for the Planet of the Apes“, introduced it. Again, another really personable and eloquent director: this new breed are a force to be reckoned with. 

War for the Planet of the Apes” was one of this summer’s most memorable blockbusters, and will feature prominently in my “Films of the Year” this year. Giacchino’s score – which he returned to conduct – is both epic and brilliant, and the showing of an edited showreel of the film made me certain to put the DVD (released at the end of November) on my Christmas list.  

Piece 15 – “Star Trek” Suite

Onto the stage came JJ Abrams, to great applause. As JJ and Giacchino talked – by the way, are they seriously both trying to ape Spielberg with their facial hair?? – they were interrupted by Gonzo the Great from The Muppets, voiced by the original creator Dave Goelz. Gonzo and Giacchino, rather awkwardly, sang “I’m Going Back There Someday” from the first “Muppet Movie” – one of Giacchino’s all time favourite songs. This interlude felt rather like a “It’s MY birthday party and I’ll put on the entertainment I WANT!” moment…. but, he’s right, it is!  And he can! 

A curious interlude: Gonzo the Great in conversation with Michael Giacchino (left) and JJ Abrams.

“Star Trek” features fantastic music, and although I didn’t personally think this rendition by the orchestra was *quite* as good as the version I heard here during the live showing of “Star Trek: Into Darkness” a couple of years ago, it was still memorable. This again was shown with a montage of scenes from all three reboot films, made poignant by the appearances of the late Anton Yelchin and Leonard Nimoy. 

Gonzo the Great reappeared, roping in (literally) Giacchino and Pete Docter – Director of the Pixar classics “Up”, “Monsters Inc” and “Inside Out” – to try to “fire him through a cow”. Again, this was great fun (who doesn’t love the Muppets?) and ably reflected Giacchino’s wacky and anarchic sense of humour!  

Piece 16 – “Super 8”

Probably the highlight of the night. As I said at the start of this piece, Giacchino has many similarities to Spielberg in spending a large part of his childhood filming his own “MGG Productions” from behind a Super 8 camera. This piece then was set against a video montage of scenes from this footage: Star Wars, Marvel, ET, Raiders – all were attempted with various levels of success!  

This piece shows Giacchino’s relentless focus on quality. Due to a technical problem with his “click track”, he had to start and resume this piece four times before it was to his satisfaction. And boy, was it worth it. Bravo sir! 

Encore 1 – “Alias”

Giacchino again returned to his roots with the exciting music from his JJ Abrams’ spy TV series “Alias”. Quite reminiscent to me of the “Man from Uncle” and “Mission Impossible” themes of my youth. Very good.

Encore 2 – “Coco”

Giacchino teased us with a beautifully Latin-orchestrated piece from the new Pixar feature “Coco”, which I believe is out later this year. Only stills were shown, but very beautiful and entertaining it looks to be sure. Can’t wait! 

Encore 3 – “Speed Racer”

The tickets weren’t cheap:  quote of the night… “Only Michael could throw a birthday party and get away with charging everyone £50 to attend!”But you can’t deny you didn’t get value for your money, Giacchino cemented his reputation as being the Ken Dodd of the music business (UK readers will probably understand that comment!) by throwing in a third encore, much to the alarm of some of the audience who were worried about their last trains home!  This was from the 2008 “Tron”-like Jack Black feature “Speed Racer”, again shown to footage from the film. 

My personal view here was that it was perhaps better to leave the audience on the high of “Coco”.   

Final Thoughts… 

… or “Parting Words” you might say. 

One thought this concert prompted was that last night there were gathered together an impressive new “brat pack” of young directors who clearly like and respect each other. JJ Abrams is clearly the high priest, and Giacchino is their in-house DJ!  But perhaps we haven’t seen since the days of Spielberg/Lucas/Scorcese such a close knit team of allied skills who can bounce off each other and improve output. The quality of US movie output is perhaps on the up as a result.

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A gathering of talents: from left to right, David Silverman; Carlton Cuse; Andrew Stanton; Adam Savage; Matt Reeves; Pete Docter; Colin Trevorrow; Gareth Edwards; Raffey Cassidy; Benedict Wong; JJ Abrams; and Michael Giacchino.

Overall this was a truly excellent concert featuring a broad spectrum of Giacchino’s brilliant repetoire. I was personally disappointed that music from “Mission Impossible” wasn’t included, and – although “Parting Words” was wonderful – a complete “Lost” medley would have suited me down to the ground.

Mr Giacchino:  I’m sure you’re not reading this (if you are, please comment!) but a very happy birthday to you! Please consider repeating the exercise for your 60th… London will be glad to welcome you back. 

Fad Rating:  FFFFf.