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Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian

Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian

One of the biggest concerns I’ve had about about the home video marketplace in the years since we started to transition from discs to online distribution is the decline in well-made behind-the-scenes supplemental material. We’ve seen some exceptions, like Beyond Stranger Things on Netflix, but bonus goodies of this sort almost seem like a vestige and little more, and they’re far too rare even at that.

 

I’m not sure if Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian is a full-blown reversal of this trend, but it’s certainly a welcome addition to the ever-growing library of content available on Disney+.

 

You know what? Strike that. To call this series a return to the glory days of behind-the-scenes documentaries that flourished during the DVD era would be to sell it short. Unlike far too many of those bonus features, this eight-episode exploration of the 

making of the first live-action Star Wars TV series doesn’t have a promotional or congratulatory bone in its body. Nor does it lean on all of the tropes that practically defined the making-of doc in decades past.

 

Few and far between are the stereotypical shots of creatives or performers answering questions in front of a green screen. In fact, one almost gets the sense that director Brad Baruh has never seen a behind-the-scenes documentary and is making up his own formula as he goes along.

 

That’s actually not the case. Baruh has been involved in the making of a few Marvel Cinematic Universe docs and even had a hand in a couple of the best “one shot” short films set in the MCU. But with Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian, he breaks the mold, structuring the series around a series of roundtable discussions, each focusing on a different aspect of the series or its legacy, rather than following the making of the series in chronological order.

 

The first episode takes a deep dive into the directors who worked on the show, and subsequent episodes explore its place in the Star Wars universe from a storytelling perspective as well as a pop-culture phenomenon perspective, along with the actual grunt work of production and post production.

 

But what really makes Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian 

such a joy is that it’s wildly unpredictable. Rambling discussions that would have been left on the cutting-room floor in the hands of a more seasoned pro instead become the centerpiece of an episode. Actors, directors, producers, and effects artists are allowed to take the conversations in directions that interest them, rather than simply pandering to the voyeuristic tendencies of the viewer.

 

(Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the trailer for this series, which seems intent upon cherry-picking the few shots and discussions in which it does gravitate toward tried-and-true territory, but oh well. Marketing people are gonna market. Don’t let that turn you off.)

The series even treats some of the controversies behind the making of The Mandalorian with unapologetic honesty—like the fact that star Pedro Pascal wasn’t really behind the mask of the titular Mandalorian all that much, and was instead played primarily by stuntmen Brendan Wayne and Lateef Crowder depending on the needs of the scene.

 

The best episodes of the series so far are those that focus on the technical wizardry that made The Mandalorian possible, like the advances in virtual set technology and the reliance on video-game engines for real-time rendering of backdrops that responded to camera movement. But at its heart, what makes Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian such a pleasure to watch is 

that every story it tells is ultimately a human story. While watching the series, my mind has been blown on several occasions to discover that things I thought were special effects actually weren’t, and things I never would have suspected to be special effects actually were. But instead of treating these technological wonders as the subject of interest in and of 

Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian

themselves, Baruh treats them as the efforts of creative humans solving problems in a way that no one ever solved them before.

 

And in a way, that’s a bit of a metaphor for Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian as a behind-the-scenes documentary. You’ve certainly seen bonus features that aim for the same end goals. But you’ve rarely seen ones that approach those goals in quite this way.

 

As I write this, three episodes have yet to air, and the last will hit Disney+ on June 19. Whether you dig in now or wait to binge the complete run of eight episodes is your choice, of course, but don’t sleep on this one. Even if you’ve never been a fan of supplemental material, this series is so original in its approach to deconstructing the creative process that you owe it to yourself to give it a shot.

 

And if nothing else, its title—not The Making of the Mandalorian, or Behind the Mask, or anything of the sort, but rather Disney Gallery—gives me hope that this isn’t a one-off, that indeed Disney+ will be home to future series of this nature, which maintain the spirit of old DVD making-of supplements by documentarians like Charles de Lauzirika, Van Ling, David Prior, and Laurent Bouzereau, but in a fresh new way that embraces the streaming era of home cinema.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Inside the Ultimate Home Entertainment Space

photos by Randall Michelson

Legendary designer Theo Kalomirakis and acoustician Steve Haas have collaborated on a number of cost-no-object home theaters, but probably none of those efforts has been as ambitious, versatile, or well-realized as the Paradiso. Seventeen years in the making, this Southern California gem is actually an entire home-entertainment complex built around an Italianate piazza. The reference-quality 15-seat home theater doubles as a fully-fledged concert hall. The nightclub features a hydraulic stage and can handle anything from a rock band to a jazz group. Next door to the club resides an arcade, containing the homeowner’s extensive collection of pinball machines and video games. There’s even a g-force flight simulator.

 

At a time when people are developing a new appreciation for what home entertainment has to offer, the Paradiso provides the ultimate example of what can be done when you venture outside the home theater box. I recently talked to Steve and Theo about the project’s genesis, execution, and legacy.

—Michael Gaughn

THEO KALOMIRAKIS: The client had been dreaming about doing a theater with me and asked me to do the basement of his house, which is next to where the Paradiso is now. It had a seven-and-a-half-foot ceiling, so it was only a modest room. I did it because I liked the guy very much. He was passionate about doing something, but there was not much I could do with the space. So he sensed I was kind of compromising.

 

One day, he called me and said, “Theo, I have good news and bad news for you.” I said, “What is the bad news?” He said, “I have to pull the plug on the theater downstairs because I cannot see myself working with you in such a compromised space.” 

“So, what’s the good news?” “I bought two lots next to my house, and I want to set you free to design whatever the hell you want. Let your mind soar. I trust you.” It was the best thing I was ever offered to do.

 

Since the house is located in an Italianate enclave, he said, “We need to do something that would be very much in keeping with 

the neighborhood.” Which is fine, but I realized the size I had in mind for the theater exceeded the one-story height that would be allowed there. That started our endless process of digging down to create a subterranean environment.

 

Originally, there were going to be two more floors below the piazza level, and he kept pushing. “Let’s dig some more. Let’s put the bowling alley there. Let’s have a restaurant for 30 people.” I said to him, “If we dig anymore, we’re going to reach China before we do the theater. So let’s put a stop on it.”

 

And then 2008 came. When the bubble burst, he called me and said, “There is no budget to excavate, so we have to scrap the basement. Can we limit the scope to make it into just the piazza level?” And of course, we redesigned the whole thing.

Inside the Ultimate Luxury Home Entertainment Space

click on the image to enlarge

The idea of adding multiple environments is an extension of what I have described in my book, Great Escapes, as my need to break away from the constraints of a very limited room where you only watch TV. I was dreaming of spaces where before you go into the theater, you have to go under marquees and through lobbies and other areas. And now, here I had the room to do it.

 

We ended up creating a city environment based on his desire to bring in Italian architectural influences. He sent me to Italy and I spent 10 days in Siena. I took about 2,000 photographs in nearby villages for reference. I came back and showed him some incredible charcuterie stores that sold cheeses, and pizzerias, and this and that, and he said, “Let’s do it.” The only things that were dictated by him were the arcade, because he had a very nice collection of pinball machines and video games, and the nightclub because he wanted to have gigs for jazz.

 

He basically gave me permission to go crazy. He didn’t ask me to do this village or do this or do that. I presented the ideas that he gradually grasped and accepted. It’s usually a collaborative effort. The client lets his imagination go to think about the things that mean something to him, and I put them into context.

 

Steve, you were obviously heavily involved in the theater space, but I would imagine you worked on the nightclub as well.

STEVE HAAS: We were involved in all the spaces, really, because acoustics and audio mattered in the pizzeria, the arcade, and even the lobby. For all of these, we provided general noise control, sound containment, and acoustic treatment, as well as audio system design and calibration. But the premier spaces were the cinema, the nightclub, and the pizzeria. This wonderful client was just so open in sharing his goals and desires. In addition to his love for arcade games, he also loved live music. His daughters were both learning to play string instruments, so he wanted the ability to have everything from a more formal concert environment to a loose hangout-type of club where you can have rock bands or jazz groups come and play. He can have a chamber trio performing in the theater and a rock band in the club with no sound bleed between them.

 

Somebody coming into the theater cold would think it’s just for watching movies, but it’s actually a fully-fledged performance space as well.

TK: I want to remind you, Mike, that the theaters that have inspired me over the years were never just for watching movies. The movie palaces were mixed-use spaces where you could have an orchestra and also acrobats or a comedy act or whatever, which is exactly what the Paradiso can do. So it’s not like we suddenly came up with the novel idea of using a

theater this way. This project brought us back, completed the circle to what the movie theaters were supposed to be.

 

Does the desire to be able to do live performances in a home theater come up very often with clients?

TK: Yes, but usually at a much more elementary level.

 

SH: It doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should. And, yes, that’s a biased perspective, but I think a lot of people just don’t realize what can be done. 

Inside the Ultimate Home Entertainment Space

And even if you don’t go to the nth degree like we did with the Paradiso, there are many ways to upgrade a theater space, and it starts with the layout. You have to have the space to be able to have one to four people be able to play and perform, and have a system that can support it—not just audio, but lighting, because that’s different from what you need for a home theater system.

 

TK: Because live performances require specific lighting, we brought in a very well-known lighting designer with a background in theater. This is probably the only project I’ve done in the US that incorporated so many different disciplines. It’s not just the clients who don’t realize all the possibilities. Even the designers cannot wrap their heads around how many wonderful things you can do in a space like that.

 

Steve, the theater had to have a traditional surround sound system for watching movies, but you also have your Concertino system in there for live performances. Are they two discrete systems or is there some overlap?

SH: I think we did share a couple of components. Maybe some of the subwoofers were relay switched back and forth, but inherently quite independent.

 

There was a lot of control programming. If you could see all the bells and whistles switching behind the scenes, it would be amazing. Almost a dozen processes switched in a sequenced manner to go just from theater mode to live concert and back, 

but the user interface was as simple as pressing a button for the initial selection and then there were custom presets within each mode.

 

What did the Concertino system bring to this project in particular, given what the client wanted to do?

SH: The Concertino, which is in the nightclub and pizzeria as well, expanded the ability to have various kinds of live music in an acoustically dry room. As Theo knows, we don’t design “dead” home theaters. However, even a mildly dry diffused home theater appropriate for cinema presentation doesn’t provide the right acoustic for many types of live music.

 

This acoustic-enhancement technology allows the performance space to become a true-sounding

concert hall, cathedral, or any other space you can imagine. So if they want to have a choir, string orchestra, or even a jazz group with a bit livelier sound, you can do that and then blend it with more traditional amplified sound as needed.

 

I’ve heard that people have been in that space and didn’t even know there was processing going on because it sounded so authentic, or is that an exaggeration?

SH: That’s exactly right. This is a world of difference from the Concert Hall and Cathedral modes you get in your car stereo or home receivers. This is recreating in the digital virtual electronic world exactly what a real hall of a different size, different shape, a different acoustic will do to enhance sound—the early reflections, reverberations in the proper timing and frequency manner. The technology can be described for days, but in the end it’s all about what happens when somebody presses a button and sits down and that string quartet, that cellist comes out, and just like, “Wow.” It’s just a great experience for performers and audience alike.

 

Theo, you weren’t here when Mike and I discussed how things are changing with music performances over livestream during the pandemic, but having spaces like this, whether it’s to this degree or even one or two degrees lower—I think a lot of affluent homowners are going to say, “You know what, I don’t want to be in a theater with 1,000 or 2,000 other people for quite some time. So why not create great-sounding spaces that will allow me to bring that type of experience home, literally, for not just movies, but for live music and other types of live entertainment?”

 

TK: I am hearing from people, “I don’t want to go to the movie theaters and catch a disease. I want to make my house be more like a theater.” This is an incredible new opportunity. And it’s up to us to capture it and relay the message that you can have this kind of theater space in your home.

 

SH: Am I hearing Theo saying he’s getting back into custom theaters again?

 

TK: I do want to do custom theaters but very, very selectively. If there is something of the caliber of the Paradiso, I will do it.

Theo Kalomirakis is widely considered the father of home theater, with scores of luxury
theater designs to his credit. He is an avid movie fan, with a collection of over 15,ooo discs.
Theo is the Executive Director of Rayva.

Steve Haas is the Principal Consultant of SH Acoustics, with offices in the NYC & LA
areas. He has been a leading acoustic and audio design & calibration expert for more
than 25 years in high-end spaces ranging from home theaters, studios, and live music
rooms to major museums and performance venues.

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Screwball Odds & Ends

When writing up the best classic screwball comedies and their modern counterparts, I knew I was likely overlooking some films that arguably belonged on the list. But how could I forget . . .

Screwball Odds & Ends
10

(1979)

This is the ultimate Blake Edwards screwball comedy. Most of Edwards’ comedies contain elements of classic screwball, certainly always slapstick. Films like The Pink Panther, The Great Race, and even Victor/Victoria qualify as terrific films that use the best of all comedy elements. Edwards even has a later film entitled Blind Date that is an over-the-top and dark screwball comedy. But 10 is a small masterpiece of insane comedy and slapstick.

Here, the beautiful girl causing all the trouble (by just being mindblowingly sexy with a corn-row hairstyle) is Bo Derek. And the slapstick prize goes to the film’s star Dudley Moore. By 1979, he certainly was an expert at this genre. (Let’s not forget the original Bedazzled!) And speaking of “Julie Andrews! Julie Andrews!,” Andrews herself is on hand, providing fine support. She also adds excellent contrast to Derek and some much-

needed rationality for Moore. This film also doubles as a classic sex comedy, but since sex doesn’t change much from generation to generation, this film holds up marvelously!

 

When listing the best recent screwball comedies, it’s easy to overlook a great favorite, so my apologies to Blake Edwards and Dudley Moore.

 

In fact, since Peter Bogdanovich’s re-introduction of the screwball comedy with What’s Up, Doc?, the last 50 years of cinema have been laced with all kinds of related comedies. Some are screwball-like, some are “drug comedies” or contemporary 

“sex comedies.” Some are great “genre spoof” comedies like Spaceballs, High Anxiety, or 21 Jump Street.

 

Here’s a comprehensive list of the many other truly wonderful screwball-comedy-like films that also deserve a mention:

 

Animal House

American Pie

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

Blast from the Past

Caddyshack

Clueless

50 First Dates

The 40-Year-Old Virgin

Groundhog Day

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days

In and Out

Isn’t It Romantic

Legally Blonde

Liar Liar

Napoleon Dynamite

Meatballs

My Super Ex-Girlfriend

Splash

Tootsie

Trainwreck

27 Dresses

Weekend at Bernie’s

Wild Child

Zoolander

All of the Mel Brooks genre spoofs like Young FrankensteinSilent Movie, and High Anxiety.

 

Eddie Murphy’s The Nutty Professor I & IIComing to America, and Bowfinger.

 

Will Ferrell movies like Talladega Nights, Anchorman, and Blades of Glory.

 

Chevy Chase movies like Funny Farm and the “Vacation” series.

 

And last but certainly not least . . .

 

Any of Tyler Perry’s “Medea” movies. They are all outrageously inventive and wonderful.

 

So, grab a “screwball” and a highball drink, and look at the world in a whole new and topsy-turvy way. Between all the great comedies from Hollywood’s Golden Age and the contemporary comedies of the last 50 years, you’ll have months and months of laughter at your disposal, so live, love, and laugh with the best!

Gerard Alessandrini is a Tony Award-winning writer/director of musicals, best known for the long-
running musical satire Forbidden Broadway and the Hamilton spoof Spamilton, both of which
have been performed in theaters around the world. He has been the lyricist (and sometimes
composer) for over a dozen musicals, including Madame X, The Nutcracker & I, Scaramouche,
and the Paul Mazursky musical of Moon Over Parador, and has won numerous accolades,
including two Lucille Lortel awards and seven Drama Desk awards. His voice can be heard in
Disney’s Aladdin (1992) and Pocahontas. He’s also written special-material songs for many
stars, including Angela Lansbury, Carol Burnett, Bob Hope, and Barbra Streisand.

Why We Love “Galaxy Quest”

Why We Love Galaxy Quest

Galaxy Quest was only a modest hit, partly because it was stupidly marketed as a kids film. But it has earned a steadily growing following from an incredibly diverse group of people in the 21 years since its release. That usualy doesn’t happen with something like a sci-fi comedy. But it happened here.

 

The point of this little opus is to give you a different perspective on the film, if you’re already a fan, or encourage you to check it out if you’ve never seen it before. Given that, anyone looking for a comfortable and considered take on GQ should make a beeline for Dennis Burger’s below-the-fold appraisal, while those willing to first take a swim through an acid bath are encouraged to begin with Michael Gaughn’s more prickly appreciation.

—ed.

Why We Love Galaxy Quest
Michael Gaughn: The Journey Continues . . .

I’m not a Trekkie. I’m not a Tim Allen fan, I’m not a Sigourney Weaver fan, I’m not really an Alan Rickman fan—although he is the only good thing about Die Hard. I am a Tony Shalhoub fan, but who isn’t? Had Galaxy Quest been a Harold Ramis film with Alec Baldwin in the lead, as originally conceived, I never would have gone within a million miles of a stinkburger that big.

 

My love for this movie began with one of those “I’ll give this thing five minutes and’ll probably just turn it off” decisions that sometimes yields gems. It turned out to have enough going for it, well beyond its sci-fi trappings, to keep me engaged for the duration. But I didn’t really begin to appreciate how great it is until it had some time to insinuate itself into my being.

 

Galaxy Quest is the Casablanca of sci-fi comedies—a movie much greater than the sum of its parts. Yes, it’s got an incredible cast—but how many incredible casts have gone down with their respective ships? The script—like much of the film, 

apparently—started out pretty goofy and was actively reinvented on the fly. Director Dean Parisot wasn’t exactly a name at the time—and hasn’t been much of one since, which is a bit of a mystery.

 

It’s not a particularly well made film—which is to say it’s as well made as any mainstream Hollywood movie, which isn’t saying much. There are some 

awkward edits and some equally awkward pauses in the performances, which were mostly smoothed over by cranking up the volume on David Newman’s accomplished but often overly insistent score. Which is another way of saying that what the film gets right—often thanks to that Casablanca type of zeitgeist-driven blind luck—helps divert your attention from its manifest flaws.

Galaxy Quest is one of those too rare phenomena where something exceptional gets made despite the system, the circumstances, and even the nuts and bolts of the film itself.

 

It’s definitely a comedy, but it’s not a relentless joke machine like the lamentable and indigestible Spaceballs. Its beauty is that it’s equal parts comedy, drama, and action. Everything is held in balance (somehow), and it all stems from character. The film rarely cheats.

 

Everything good about GQ is based in emotion—deep emotion. That puts it at the opposite end of the spectrum from such cold-blooded exercises as the clinical Airplane! and the smug, nasty Hot Fuzz (and A Million Ways to Die in the West and just about every recent comedy I can think of).

 

That emotion is probably the thing that’s caused GQ to stick with people and ultimately brought them to appreciate it. And it’s never cheap sentiment—the film earns every one of its affects. Which is why even though some films have aped its form, none of its descendants have come close to touching it in the intervening 21 years. (A case could be made for The Office, but The Office always sucked at real emotion. It always lacked the courage to go all the way there.)

 

Every comedian, good and bad, has a go-to Gilligan’s Island joke. It’s pretty much the working definition of a cheap laugh. But GQ’s Gilligan’s Island bit always gets a huge laugh despite its obviousness because it’s simultaneously really funny and deeply ironic and deeply wrenching. You can tell that the empathetic aliens truly feel the 

Why We Love Galaxy Quest
SO, WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH DEAN PARISOT?

Given its production pedigree, the caliber of its cast, and it’s ever-growing reputation, you’d expect to find out Galaxy Quest was helmed by a master of comedy with a solid string of hits to his name.

 

Nope. It was made by Dean Parisot, a director with a journeyman’s resume, but who’s shown enough command of his craft and demonstrated enough brilliance in his work that his oeuvre really should contain some gems besides GQ.

 

But it doesn’t, really. And it’s hard to fathom why.

 

Parisot directed “Arthur, Interrupted,” the second-best episode of the first attempt at a live-action Tick series. (For those keeping score at home, the best episode is “The Funeral.”)

 

“Arthur, Interrupted” stays true to The Tick’s core silliness but is the only time in the series’ unfairly truncated run Arthur even begins to feel three-dimensional. The gags are all motivated, instead of just pasted onto the action. And the performances are solid across the board—especially David Foley as the “licensed graduate student”-cum-superhero fetishist.

 

That episode would have been the perfect audition piece for Galaxy Quest—except Parisot directed “Arthur, Interrupted” three years after he made GQ. How do you go from creating one of the greatest movie comedies ever to doing a one-off episode of an unknown network sitcom?

 

Movie directors slum all the time, but they usually do it between big projects. For Parisot, there really haven’t been any other biggies.

 

I don’t have a neat way to wrap up this little sidebar because I couldn’t even venture a guess as to why his career played out the way it did. But I can’t help thinking of Terry Lennox’s lament in The Long Goodbye: “A guy like me has one big moment in his life, one perfect swing on the high trapeze.”

M.G.

castaways’ distress and have made their plight a centerpiece of their cobbled together culture. That one joke shows exactly how trusting, naive, and vulnerable the Thermians are—and how far they’re in over their heads.


A lot of people rightly point to the scene where Sarris tortures Thermian leader Mathesar as the movie’s pivot. But that moment goes well beyond setting up the final act to being the most extraordinary thing about GQ and the main reason it’s on 

Why We Love Galaxy Quest
NEVER SURRENDER

Galaxy Quest has long deserved a documentary that explains how a seemingly trite space comedy came to earn a reputation as one of the most substantial films of its era. Never Surrender (2019) isn’t that documentary.

 

It’s hard to tell whether the filmmakers just don’t get what makes the movie great or, in an age when everything has to pander to an agenda, couldn’t find a way to both suck up to GQ’s base and actually talk about the film.

 

The interviews with the primary creative forces are all pleasant enough. But they’re mostly gushing and superficial and tainted by the rank air of nostalgia. The absence of any discussion of the villain, Sarris, suggests the filmmakers were too focused on the light and fluffy to dig very deep into the film itself.

 

The greatest crime, though, is all the time wasted on the cosplay contingent. That phenomena is sad enough on its own, but by making it the documentary’s frame, the makers embraced exactly the wrong explanation for why GQ has endured.

 

Galaxy Quest isn’t a great sci-fi or fantasy film. It’s just a great film. Period.   

M.G.

its way to becoming a true exemplar of that much-abused word “classic.”

 

It’s played absolutely straight, and sublimely well. If Enrico Colantoni hadn’t been able to bring convincing depth to the squishy caricature Mathesar, Sarris didn’t come across as a legitimately menacing villain, Tim Allen hadn’t been able to reach way down beyond anything he’d done previously (or has done since), and Parisot hadn’t had the insight and fortitude to stage the scene as unalloyed drama, and hadn’t been subtly and carefully ratcheting up the emotional resonances throughout the film to reach that point, it would have been a disaster.

 

It’s not just dramatic, it’s emotional. And it’s not just emotional—it’s emotionally nuanced and complex. And it underscores the secret at GQ’s core—the reason why it works on its own terms, why it hasn’t just survived but thrived, and why its strengths have practically nothing to do with Trekkies, geeks, nerds, or any of the other arrested-development types who’ve inherited the earth.

 

Everybody in Galaxy Quest is vulnerable—in some cases, to the point of debilitation. And that vulnerability runs the gamut from an actor’s inevitable petty insecurities to the potential extinction of a race. The

film, thankfully, has no superheroes. Everyone in it is just doing the best they can. And the ones who are most armored, most heavily weaponized, most willing to revel in raw power turn out to be the most vulnerable of all. And nobody plays the victim card.

 

Which is why it could never be made today. Which is why GQ is emotionally rich, while virtually every recent film feels stunted.

 

Galaxy Quest deserves to be celebrated because, like its characters, it’s managed to endure despite the odds. But we should also consider what it means that it could very well be the last of its kind.

Why We Love Galaxy Quest
Dennis Burger: The Relevant Conundrum

If you’d locked me in a prison cell and offered me the key if only I could figure out the one movie for which Mike and I share an unbridled enthusiasm, I would have immediately pounded on the door and begged for clemency. I knew where our disparate musical tastes overlap (Bach, Randy Newman, Cake, and that’s about it). I could tell you where our politics intersect (way outside the mainstream, and I’ll say no more than that). I could even tell you in what ways our moral and ethical philosophies are simpatico (surprisingly, given that they’re both wholly our own). But when it comes to cinema, we’re Oscar and Felix. Statler and Waldorf. Martha and Snoop.

So it’s a little shocking (although perhaps it shouldn’t be) that one of the few films we both unapologetically adore is the 1999 sci-fi spoof Galaxy Quest. Like Mike, I don’t come to this film as a fan of the genre it parodies. I’ve only seen a couple of Star Trek films and accidentally caught a handful of episodes of the TV shows over the years. I’ve always been more of a fantasy geek than a sci-fi nerd, much preferring Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings and the like to The Next Generation and The Wrath of Khan and their ilk.

 

But that’s one of the great things about Galaxy Quest: It doesn’t lean too hard on shibboleths or obscure references. Instead, it takes the piss out of tropes so common they’ve permeated the pop culture consciousness. What’s more, it plays with those tropes lovingly, never veering into the cynical, mocking, or mean-spirited territory that would have been so easy to fall into.

 

That alone wouldn’t be enough to make Galaxy Quest a good film, though. We’ve seen other amiable spoofs about fandom—namely 2009’s Fanboys, which takes a shot at my own favorite franchise—fall flat for any number of reasons. What writer Robert Gordon and director Dean Parisot seem to understand that so few others in their position get is that even if your intentions are to have a bit of fun, you still need to make a good movie. And that’s perhaps the most

Where to See GQ

Galaxy Quest is available on all of the major non-subscription streaming services and for download from Kaleidescape. The best you can do, though, is 1080p with a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix. That makes this classic well overdue for a 4K HDR/Atmos upgrade. 

 

Amazon PrimeGoogle Play / iTunes
Kaleidescape /
 Vudu YouTube

Why We Love Galaxy Quest

surprising thing about Galaxy Quest—it takes itself seriously. The filmmakers and actors seem to grasp that levity is meaningless without gravity. As such, the film doesn’t strive for laugh-a-minute antics. In fact, it’s at its best when it gets really serious. More than anything else, though, what I love about GQ is that it’s actually about something. It strives to mean 

something. And that’s far more than I can say for the aforementioned Fanboys.

 

In his excellent but uneven collection of essays Bambi vs. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose, and Practice of the Movie Business, playwright/screenwriter/author/director David Mamet included Galaxy Quest on his very short list of four perfect films. And far be it from me to argue with Mamet, but I have to protest, if only mildly. Galaxy Quest does grasp that golden ring in only one pivotal moment. It’s a scene late in the film, in which Tim Allen’s character, Jason Nesmith, in a moment of heartbreaking vulnerability, must explain (to an alien who doesn’t comprehend the concept of dishonesty) why humans lie to one another in the process of crafting fiction. Nesmith fails to come up with a satisfying answer. And I can understand why this didn’t bother Mamet, because his fiction is full of characters who fail to recognize fundamental truths about themselves.

 

The thing is, though, Nesmith had already learned this lesson, and should have had a better answer. Because the entire point of Galaxy Quest—at least for me—is that we create such fictions to inspire one another. To motivate one

another. To give hope when there seems to be none. To get straight to the heart of truths about ourselves that non-fiction simply can’t uncover, at least not without seeming contrived.

 

Only one other tale—The Lord of the Rings—so effectively cuts to the heart of why we need fiction, why we tell stories to one another, why effective inspiration so often comes from seemingly the most trivial larks. And to be fair, that’s not even what The Lord of the Rings is about. But it’s a message that’s central to everything that makes Galaxy Quest work.

 

And aside from that one minor quibble, it’s why I think it actually is, very nearly, a perfect film.

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Spirited Away

Spirited Away

Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece, Spirited Away (aka Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi), makes me long for a time machine. Not necessarily so I could dial back the last 18 years and view the film again for the first time (although that would be a treat), but rather so I could capture my impressions after having just seen the film with fresh eyes.

 

I say this only because I come to Spirited Away with so much baggage that I find it difficult to discuss the film in and of itself. After nearly two decades of reading doctoral theses about linguistic symbolism, of devouring literary and film analyses, of falling down rabbit holes of spiritual, religious, and philosophical themes and the interconnections between those themes—

after all of that, it isn’t easy to simply sit back and consume the film as a self-contained work of art.

 

So I did the next-best thing. I sat beside my wife this weekend as she experienced this weird and captivating journey for the first time, unburdened by even cursory familiarity with its plot, much less its deeper meanings. Glancing out of the corner of my eye to see her giggle and applaud, weep and gasp, I was reminded of that first viewing. And I was also reminded that you don’t really need to know a damned thing about Spirited Away to appreciate it as one of the best animated films ever made.

 

But, then again, of course you don’t. After all, if it weren’t such a wonderful (and wonderfully made) adventure on the surface, would film scholars and critics and folklorists and pop-culture pontificators and linguists and PhD candidates still be struggling to deconstruct it in 2020?

SPIRITED AWAY AT A GLANCE

The anime classic is well served by the Kaleidescape download, which bests the Blu-ray release and provides both the original Japanese soundtrack and an excellent English dub.

 

PICTURE     

The 1080p presentation captures all of the details of the original animation.

 

SOUND

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix extends the world of the film out into the room, giving both weight and depth to the onscreen action.

So, forget all of the symbolism. Forget the film’s deep ties to Shintoism and Japanese cultural norms (some admirable, some deplorable). What makes Spirited Away work as a two-hour adventure that has the power to capture the heart even if you know no more about the concept of kamikakushi than you do about differential calculus?

 

The animation certainly helps. Not only is this Miyazaki’s most visually stunning work, it also represents perhaps the most artful (and subtle) marriage of hand-drawn 2D and computer-rendered 3D animation ever committed to the screen. The worlds of our ten-year-old hero Chihiro (both the material world and the spirit world) seem more real and more tangible than most cinematic settings captured in live action.

 

It isn’t merely the animation that creates this perception, though. What makes Miyazaki a master filmmaker (medium be damned) is that he understands how to lead the viewer through a story—and through the world in which it takes place—in such a way that it doesn’t feel like a passive viewing experience.

 

Perhaps the best example of this is the film’s denouement, in which Chihiro must travel to confront the twin sister of the sorceress who stole her name and employed her in a bathhouse for gods and spirits. (It sounds like gibberish, I know, but it all makes sense in the context of the story.)

 

In most films—especially fantasy films—Chihiro’s journey would have been written as an epic quest, fraught with danger and excitement. In Miyazaki’s hands, though, this journey is a quiet and contemplative train ride. This shouldn’t necessarily work, but it does, on two levels: It gives both little Chihiro and the viewer alike a chance to reflect, to contemplate, to catch our breaths together.

It’s a technique Miyazaki employs in most of his films, and one he describes using the Japanese word ma, which roughly translates into “pause” or “gap,” but which is probably best described as kinetic negative space. But no film—from the oeuvre or Miyazaki or any other filmmaker—makes such effective use of this technique as does this scene. And I think the reason it works so well here is that this ma doesn’t simply work on a narrative level. It isn’t simply a quiet, contemplative break from the action. It also gives the viewer the opportunity to revel in Spirited Away on the level of pure audiovisual experience. It may be the first time most viewers fully appreciate how seamlessly the 2D and 3D animation blend in this film. It may also be the first time you have room to truly meditate on Joe Hisaishi’s melancholic score. (Unfortunately, the clip above cuts this passage of the score short. Fortunately, you can enjoy this movement in its entirety here.)

 

I could go on, but to say more would be to rob you of experiencing—and indeed interpreting—this beautiful film for yourself. Then again, there’s so much to appreciate here even if you have no interest in interpreting a thing. Spirited Away has been likened to stories like The Wizard of Oz and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with good reason. It is, on one level, simply an amazing coming-of-age tale framed through the lens of the fantastical, the mysterious, the inscrutable, and at times even the grotesque. But despite all of that—indeed, despite its deep roots in Japanese mythology and folklore—there’s something uniquely universal about Spirited Away.

 

It’s a film that rewards further exploration, sure. But again, all of that would be pointless if not for the fact that it’s a film worth watching over and over and over again purely on its own terms, with its patently obvious themes about greed and kindness and the nature of the self. Force me to construct a list of films that demand to be owned rather than merely rented (or

borrowed by way of a subscription service like HBO Max, soon to be the temporary home of this and all of Miyazaki’s other animated films in the U.S.) and Spirited Away would be on it.

 

Thankfully, Kaleidescape’s download of the film is a wonderful way to own it. We’re presented with both the original Japanese soundtrack and the surprisingly good English-language dub (overseen by Pixar’s John Lasseter) in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The film defaults to Japanese with English subtitles, as it should. But if you’re watching with younger viewers (or simply refuse to read captions), just know that the English dub maintains the film’s delightful score, as well as its effective and atmospheric sound mix. Both versions use the surround channels and subwoofer alike to extend the worlds of the film out into the room, and to give both weight and depth to the onscreen action.

 

Kaleidescape does present the film without the bonus features found on both Disney’s 2015 Blu-ray release and the 2017 follow-up by GKIDS (after Disney relinquished distribution rights in the U.S.). But that’s honestly of little consequence. Those bonus goodies did little to enrich the film.

 

What’s more important is that the Kaleidescape presentation is superior to the 

Spirited Away

already excellent 2017 Blu-ray. You could, I suppose, complain that Spirited Away isn’t available in 4K, but this better-than-Blu-ray-quality 1080p presentation lacks for nothing in terms of capturing all the details of the original animation. There is, perhaps, a second or two here or there that might benefit from a wider color gamut, but without the ability to A/B this transfer against a hypothetical 4K re-scan of the film elements, I can’t say that for sure.

 

What I can say for sure is that this one belongs in your collection whether you’re a fan of Japanese animation or not. Just don’t be surprised if you find yourself so enraptured by Miyazaki’s magical worlds and his talents as a filmmaker that you end up exploring the rest of his catalog almost immediately. If you’re looking for a little guidance, I would suggest next diving into My Neighbor Totoro and Howl’s Moving Castle, both of which are also available on Kaleidescape, along with rest of Studio Ghibli’s long-form catalog.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

12 Music Streams for Every Taste

It may be the worst of times right now, but in an odd way it’s the best of times for home entertainment as a multitude of fascinating new live-entertainment templates are emerging. Musicians have been performing from their bedrooms and home studios, some even figuring out ways to collaborate all while staying in their safe spaces. Many organizations are opening their archives with previously unreleased recorded performances of plays, operas, and musicals. Heck, there are even global virtual music festivals happening!

 

Here are some current faves—some upcoming, others that may be archived. I’ve tried to focus on performances that offer higher production values but do recognize that in some instances you may well see and hear performers broadcasting via their cellphones! Amazingly, the results are often a lot better than you might expect and no doubt the performances are unique.

 

In each of these recommendations, click on the subhead to jump to the event link. (For those who want to dig deeper, I have written overviews of performances from the lockdown for Audiophile Review.)

12 Music Livestreams for Every Taste
THEATER

The Show Must Go On

Andrew Lloyd Webber, the musical force behind Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, and so many other hit Broadway shows, has a weekly program of free showings of one of his musicals. Called The Show Must Go On, each program is available for 48 hours, so you can tune in whenever you like over the weekend! I watched some of Cats and it looked quite wonderful. Judging from the quality of the trailers shown on the program’s YouTube page, I suspect most will be fairly high quality productions. There is also a full two-hour show archived from Webber’s Royal Albert Hall Celebration.

12 Music Streams for Every Taste
JAZZ

International Jazz Day

On April 30th, Herbie Hancock hosted an event bringing together the jazz music communities around the world called International Jazz Day Virtual Global Concert 2020. Literally featuring artists from across the globe, streamed live via jazzday.com, the concert includes performances by John McLaughlin, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Marcus Miller, Jane Monheit, John Scofield, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Joey DeFrancesco. I have watched some of this 720p video stream and it is a wonder. Generally, the fidelity is excellent and the video quality quite remarkable, especially when you see upwards of 20 musicians jamming together on screen from their homes. Even Charlie Puth performing on his keyboard through his computer from his bedroom sounds wonderful. One of my favorite moments is South Korean jazz singer Youn Sun Nah doing “My Favorite Things” on a kalimba (i.e., finger piano)—a wonderfully poignant performance.

 

SF Jazz Fridays At Five

San Francisco Jazz has started a new weekly subscription series called Fridays at Five, broadcasting one-hour Happy Hour concerts from their exclusive archives. The lineup looks impressive, with Friday May 8th including guitar wizard Bill Frisell and saxophonist Joe Lovano from 2019. I suspect these will be professionally shot high-quality productions and, having seen several shows at the venue, I can attest to its fantastic acoustics and lighting. Other scheduled shows include Wayne Shorter Celebrations (with Herbie Hancock, Terence Blanchard, Kamasi Washington, Terrace Martin, Danilo Pérez, John Patitucci, and Brian Blade), Chucho Valdés and Irakere 45, and Rhiannon Giddens and Francesco Turris. For the $5 entry fee, this seems like a great value and an excellent way to support the jazz community.

 

Jazz Foundation of America Live

Broadcast in conjunction with relix.com, this live concert is a benefit for the Jazz Foundation Musicians’ Emergency Fund. The virtual concert—called Jazz Foundation of America Livefeatures an incredible lineup, including Bettye LaVette, Sheryl Crow, Robert Cray, Elvis Costello, Milton Nascimento, Anjelique Kidjo, Stanley Jordan, and Ivan Neville performing form their homes and via archived previously recorded live concerts. The show was originally supposed to just be broadcast a second time but seems to be up on Relix’s YouTube page as one six-hour continuous program, so hopefully it will stay there for a while for all to enjoy and to continue benefitting this organization’s noble mission.

 

Tuck and Patti

This magnificent jazz duo performs regularly via Facebook through their computer, literally from their living room couch! Tuck and Patti feature Tuck’s gorgeous, rich jazz-guitar work and Patti’s remarkable vocals. Each show I have seen has been a joy, and you can contribute to their virtual tip jar as well (which you should!). Many of their performances are archived at their Facebook page. You can also reach them via their website

12 Music Streams for Every Taste
ROCK/BLUES

New York Guitar Festival

If you want some blues love, this series may be your virtual ticket. Currently focusing on the legendary Reverend Gary Davis, it includes stay-at-home/studio performances by some of the greatest blues/folk guitar pickers of our times. I first got introduced to Davis’ music via Jorma Kaukonen (Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna), who turns in a great version of “I Am the Light of This World” from his Fur Peace Ranch. The amazing duo Larkin Poe offer up a searing “Say No to the Devil” and Fantastic Negrito offers a wonderful “Candyman.”  Bill Frisell’s beautiful “Twelve Gates to the City” is ethereal and haunting, as one might expect from this artist. Much joy here, most of it streaming in 1080p quality on YouTube. Many of these artists have nice home studio setups so the sound is generally solid. The music is sublime.

 

The Rolling Stones’ Extra Licks

England’s once-newest hitmakers have announced their Extra Licks! weekly digital archive series on YouTube, which sounds quite promising. Tied in to YouTube’s #StayHome campaign, the Rolling Stones series began May 3rd with the acclaimed 2016 Latin America Ole! Tour video. Future programming will stream six concert films from throughout their career, including performances from the 1994 Voodoo Lounge Tour.

 

BBC Stay Home Live Lounge

The BBC has pulled together a big roster of artists from around the globe for its Live Lounge program. The Stay Home Live Lounge got off to a super wonderful start with some of the music industry’s biggest stars collaborating on a cover of the Foo Fighters’ “Times Like These” to raise money for charities. Net profits will go towards The Who’s COVID-19-Solidarity Response Fund. On this one video are not only The Foo Fighters themselves but cameos from more than 20 other stars from around the globe. It’s a wonderful performance.

 

The Mavericks’ Raul Malo: Quarantunes Playlist

Imagine hearing 20 joyous cover tunes done by The Mavericks’ glorious singer Raul Malo from his studio-enhanced home office. Now imagine him playing most of these songs on his Mellotron emulator with all manner of fun pre-programmed rhythm beds and you can imagine it’s a special brew of recordings. I won’t be surprised if he puts these tracks out as an album. But it is really fun watching his videos, which include covers of “All of Me,” “Besame Mucho,” “Ramblin’ Rose,” “Solamente Una,” and my personal favorite, “Brazil.” You can find the playlists on Facebook (link above) as well as on YouTube.

12 Music Streams for Every Taste
OPERA/CLASSICAL

San Francisco Opera

The world-renowned San Francisco Opera company has announced a special series of streaming performances, including Arrigo Boito’s Mephistopheles, Bellini’s The Capulets and the Montagues, Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s Moby-Dick, and Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia. With each performance, you’ll basically have all weekend to watch and no registration is necessary! 

 

Metropolitan Opera’s Nightly Streams

New York’s Metropolitan Opera company is serving up almost as much opera as you can consume, streaming a different performance every night! These programs appear to be streamed in as high quality a format as possible (probably varying dependent upon age of the source material) via The Met’s website. Included are gems like Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, Borodin’s Prince Igor, and Verdi’s Luisa Miller, as well as more contemporary, such as Nico Muhly’s Marnie. I watched some of the Prince Igor stream, and it looked and sounded quite wonderful! Seeing Joan Sutherland again performing her signature role of Lucia brought tears to my eyes. 

 

San Francisco Symphony: Music Connects

While I have not yet heard about any livestreaming full concert performances, the members of the San Francisco Symphony have not been idle during COVD-19 isolation. Via the SF Symphony’s website, I have found numerous solo and group performances that have been shared by the performers as a Music Connects stream. It’s also up on YouTube directly so you can just start the playlist of 23 performances—some are snippets but most are full performance pieces of individual compositions that will cycle through for your enjoyment in 1080p resolution. Look for the adorable moment where the xylophone player gets reprimanded by his young son for playing Bach!

 

 

Clearly, this is a moment where livestreaming is finding a powerful new purpose. I can see this continuing and growing long after the current crisis is over, especially for artists who can’t tour for health or budgetary reasons, especially as they learn how to deliver superior production values and a compelling entertainment experience. Livestreaming is a great opportunity for the arts community!

Mark Smotroff

Mark Smotroff breathes music 24/7. His collection includes some 10,000 LPs, thousands of
CDs & downloads, and many hundreds of Blu-ray and DVD Audio discs. Professionally, Mark has
provided Marketing Communications services to the likes of DTS, Sony, Sega, Sharp, and AT&T.
He is also a musician, songwriter & producer, and has written about music professionally for
publications including Mix, Sound+Vision, and AudiophileReview. When does he sleep?

Top Gun (1986)

Top Gun (1986)

The United States Navy could scarcely have crafted a better or more effective recruiting film for promoting naval aviation than if they had actually written, produced, and directed Top Gun. (The Navy was involved in the production, providing access to jets and pilots, allowing filming on an active carrier, and suggesting some script rewrites.)

 

Tony Scott’s fast-paced film introduced viewers to a world most have never heard of—a school where the top 1% of fighter pilots went to hone their craft—and does everything possible to glamorize the fast-paced, life-on-the-edge, alpha-male lifestyle that is being the best-of-the-best: A member of the Navy’s elite carrier-based fighter squadron. Beyond its huge 

success at the box office—and launching a bomber-jacket craze across the country—the movie actually led to a huge recruiting increase for the Navy, to the point where recruiters actually set up stations at some theaters showing the film!

 

Beyond establishing his bona fides as a big-budget action director, Top Gun was Scott’s first collaboration with the dynamic production duo of Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson. The film also features a host of young rising stars, including Tom Cruise in the lead role of something-to-prove renegade, Maverick; Val Kilmer as the mechanical, precise, and aloof Iceman; Anthony Edwards as Maverick’s RIO (Radio Intercept Officer, aka “back seater”) and wingman, Goose; and the too-cute Meg Griffin as Goose’s wife, Carole. (Also, keep an eye out for an incredibly young-looking Tim Robbins as Merlin on the carrier at the end when he removes his flight helmet.)

 

Released in 1986, Top Gun holds up remarkably well. (Except for the technology shown in the post-flight briefs, 

TOP GUN AT A GLANCE

The Tom Cruise mega-hit celebration of alpha-male fighter pilots gets a 4K HDR/Atmos upgrade that enhances its impact while staying faithful to its mid-’80s shot-on-film roots.

 

PICTURE     

Don’t expect the laser sharpness of contemporary digital photography, but do expect to see lots of detail, faithfully rendered colors, and punchy highlights.

 

SOUND

Atmos not only enhances the sense of being on the carrier deck and aboard the fighter planes but turns the climactic skirmish with the MiGs into a solid home theater demo.

which looks like a worn-out VHS tape badly in need of some head tracking!) Sure, some of the banter is cheesy, and there’s that random shirtless volleyball scene, but overall the film remains very entertaining, with enough of a plot and character development to keep you involved and caring about the characters until the next aerial dogfight. The numerous air-combat scenes feature actual planes opposed to the “let’s do it in CGI” world most effects films now live in. And the camera angles and pacing remain dynamic and exciting and offer a sense of what it is like to sit in the cockpit as you pull high-G maneuvers and go head-to-head against another jet with closing speeds exceeding 1,000 miles per hour. And the soundtrack is still every bit as catchy—and now better sounding!—as you remember.

 

Top Gun was filmed in Super 35 format (apparently because the anamorphic lenses were too large to fit inside the F-14 Tomcat’s cockpit) and comes to the home market with a new scan of the film taken from a true 4K digital intermediate. This release was likely designed to coincide with—and build excitement for—the upcoming sequel, Top Gun: Maverick, originally scheduled for theatrical release on June 24, now pushed to December 23.

 

As good as the film looks—which, without question, is the best it has ever looked—it isn’t realistic to expect it to have the same razor-sharp edges and micro detail of modern films shot digitally. The opening shots of the jets sitting on the carrier deck with the early morning light and smoke billowing around reveal a fair bit of grain and noise—as do some of the flying scenes taken in low-lighting conditions—but this is rarely distracting, and stays true to the film’s look instead of taking too heavy a hand with the digital noise reduction.

Top Gun (1986)

Edges are sharp and defined throughout, and closeups reveal tons of detail. For example, every star is clearly visible on the shoulder flag patches worn on uniforms, and you see the scratches, scuffs, and even seams in the detail tape used to decorate the pilots’ flight helmets. Tight shots on actors faces reveal every pore and whisker (including one distracting whisker Viper [Tom Skerrit] obviously missed while shaving near the end), along with Cruise’s unibrow, which has various stages throughout.

 

Something both my wife and I commented on was just how sweaty the actors are. Like, a lot. Faces are almost always covered, nay drenched in beads of sweat, even when there is apparently no reason for it. I mean, I’ve no doubt the US Navy Fighter Weapons School is an intense program, but actors frequently look like they have just finished a lengthy Bikram Yoga class. But these are the kinds of details the 4K transfer makes you aware of.

 

Colors are natural and lifelike throughout, with that orange-pink-purple color of West Coast evening sunsets looking very accurate and free of noise and banding—something difficult for a streaming service to do on a highly compressed delivery. The HDR gives some nice punch to the gleaming white T-shits, adds some nice brightness boosts to the Tomcat engines on full afterburners, and provides images with more overall depth and dimension.

 

The audio mix has been given a full Dolby TrueHD Atmos makeover, and while not as dynamic as a modern mix, it does a fantastic job of breathing new sonic life into this near-35-year-old film. Right from the start, Harold Faltermeyer’s “Top Gun 

Anthem” is given more space and room, then come the sounds of the mechanical noises aboard the carrier deck—the whipping winds, the ratcheting of gears and retracting chains, the roar as jet engines spool up for launch, and the steam from the catapult launch.

 

Once in the air, you can appreciate the increased dynamics of the high-powered jet engines, with jets streaking and roaring past overhead or ripping back along the side walls. Beyond the throaty roar of the engines, the missile impacts and explosions have a ton of bass output that will energize your room. The final scene, as Maverick and Ice hold off the Russian MiGs, sounds fantastic, and will likely become part of your home theater demo reel.

 

The soundtrack also does a nice job of delivering subtle (and not so subtle) atmospheric effects. For example, there is a completely different sonic quality when the camera is inside the cockpit, with the sounds of wind outside and breathing through the oxygen mask, compared to outside the jet. And when in the classroom, you’ll hear a variety of appropriate background sounds in the distance, including a variety of planes and helicopters, as well as a jet periodically ripping past overhead.

Top Gun

Top Gun is a classic for a reason, and it remains as much fun to watch now as the first time I saw it at a matinee back in the summer of 1986. Paramount did a wonderful job restoring the film, and this new 4K HDR version with Dolby Atmos audio is guaranteed to make your home theater feel the need . . . the need for speed!

 

(I was fortunate enough to do an overnight stay aboard a US aircraft carrier on deployment, and got to stand on the “foul line” and watch them launch and recover F-18s—a sound that feels like it is going to shred your ears and shake your body to bits! Click here to read more about my real-life adventure.)

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

6 Classic Time Travel Films

6 Classic Time Travel Films

Humans are fascinated by the idea of traveling in time, either to observe what happened in the past or to learn about future civilizations. Ever since H.G. Wells published The Time Machine in 1895, the concept has captivated both creative artists and audiences. It’s no surprise that vaulting across the decades or centuries is a recurring theme in movies. What is less expected is the different approaches filmmakers have taken, both in terms of how the time travel is achieved and what motivates the experiment. Among the following six movies, no two have the same purpose.

6 Classic Time Travel Films

THE TIME MACHINE (1960)

This is the granddaddy of all time-travel films, the first theatrical release to use Wells’ book as source material. It’s directed and produced by George Pal. Screenwriter David Duncan stayed true to the novelist’s two lofty reasons to explore time: Knowledge for its own sake and the wish to believe human society will improve in the future. The dashing Rod Taylor plays Wells, and Alan Young is his best friend, Filby, showing up later as his own son. Yvette Mimieux is Weena, a cringe-worthily vapid blonde many thousands of years in the future, when pretty, empty-brained Aryan types live a perfect existence, except for the pesky fact that they’re controlled by a horrible humanoid species called the Morlocks.

 

Pal’s Time Machine is rightfully cherished for its Oscar-winning special effects, mostly achieved with stop-motion animation. Some scenes are reminiscent of Ray Harryhausen’s horror and humor—keep an eye out for an atomic lava flow that buries a London neighborhood!—while some are charming or beautiful. As Wells tentatively tries out his machine for the first time, we see what he sees: Flowers blooming and dying within seconds, a candle 

melting in a heartbeat, the seasons passing before our eyes. It seems the representation of time as a tunnel is not yet in the film lexicon, so this made sense as the best way to show time passing at different speeds. The visuals are enhanced by the rich Metrocolor hues.     A / G / I / KV / Y 

 

 

THE TIME MACHINE (2002)

Knowledge for its own sake doesn’t really fly as entertainment in the 21st century. So, for this Simon Wells-directed remake starring Guy Pearce, a new impetus was needed. If you’re familiar with the Penny Dreadful Showtime series, you’ll know that writer John Logan is devoted to love and destiny as underlying themes.

 

At the start of this screenplay, Logan has Pearce’s Alex (no longer named Wells) witness the death of his fiancée, prompting him to devise a way to go back and try to save her. It doesn’t work, so he decides to explore the future instead, eventually 

losing control and ending up beyond the next Ice Age. The Morlocks still hold power in this version, but now the terrified surviving humans finally have some agency and pride (not to mention melanin in their skin). Samantha Mumba is intelligent and sympathetic as Mara, the far-future woman who befriends the temporally and emotionally lost Alex.
AC G / I  / V / Y

 

 

TIME AFTER TIME (1979)

And speaking of self-actualized female characters, writer/ director Nicholas Meyer made a point of baffling Wells (Malcolm McDowell) with the “women’s lib” movement when the inventor shows up in 1979 San Francisco. No Morlocks are needed in this story. Wells is on the trail of another

How to Do Some Time Travel

All six of the films here are readily available on non-subscription streaming services. If you’re looking for the best possible picture and sound, Kaleidescape has everything but the 2002 Time Machine remake (which is free on Crackle).

 

A = Amazon Prime / C = Crackle
G = Google Play / I = iTunes
K = Kaleidescape / V = Vudu
Y = YouTube

kind of monster, Jack the Ripper, who turns out to be a friend in 1893 London (David Warner), fast-thinking enough to borrow the time machine to escape police. In 1979, Wells enlists the help of a bank official (Mary Steenburgen) to find the serial killer.

 

The cutting-edge visual effects are by Richard F. Taylor, who would later design Tron, and you’ll notice early versions of some ideas that show up in that later movie. While Meyer doesn’t really follow through with the feminism angle—this was 1979 Hollywood, after all—his primary motivation is to show that, while there are horrible people in every age, kindness is also a constant.     A / G / I / KV / Y 

 

 

PROJECT ALMANAC (2015)

The previous films make overarching claims about the human species, yet they skate over the challenge of getting a time machine to work. Focus on that process makes director Dan Israelite’s Project Almanac one of the most satisfying in terms

6 Classic Time Travel Films

of hard science fiction. This is even more surprising given that it’s a YA story about nerdy teens. The choice to shoot the whole thing as if through the characters’ phone cameras is distracting at first, but eventually pays off.

 

Instead of letting teen energy derail the story, writers Jason Pagan and Andrew Deutschman capitalize on common traits of the adolescent psyche. No deep philosophy here. 

David (Jonny Weston) wants to complete the time machine he finds in his late father’s lab so he and his brainy friends can have fun. He misuses it because he has a crush on a girl (Sofia Black-D’Elia). And rather than dreaming of traveling a thousand years to find Utopia, these kids want to go back to yesterday to do better on a test at school. No villain is needed; teens are their own worst enemy.      A / G / I / KV / Y 

 

 

THE FOUNTAIN (2006)

If there’s a villain in Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain, it’s cancer. Tommy, played by Hugh Jackman, becomes obsessed with cheating death when his wife Izzy (Rachael Weisz) develops an inoperable brain tumor. Maybe this isn’t a time-travel movie at all; there’s no time machine. But whether it’s Tommy’s conviction to live until the end of the universe to find a cure, or Izzy’s tumor-induced vision of herself as a queen in Renaissance Spain with Tommy as her conquistador seeking the Fountain of Youth, the characters certainly experience many aspects of time.

 

This film is also astonishingly beautiful. The meditative score by Clint Mansell supports James Chinlund and Isabelle Guay’s breathtaking designs inspired by Mayan art and ancient Indian mandalas. Don’t expect a linear story; just let the temporal shards wash over you, and the pieces will come together.     A / G / I / KV / Y 

6 Classic Time Travel Films

12 MONKEYS (1995)

In the era of COVID-19, movies about pandemics are more popular than ever. Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys doesn’t show one moment of the disease itself, but instead jumps between its aftermath a generation later, when surviving humans must live underground, and the years leading up to the 1996 outbreak. Written by David and Janet Peoples, the screenplay is an expansion of Chris Marker’s 1962 short, La Jetée.

 

James Cole (Bruce Willis) is sent from the future to trace the origins of a virus that kills five billion people. He shows up too early, landing him in a mental institution, where he’s treated by Dr. Railly (Madeleine Stowe) and encouraged to escape by the manic Jeffrey Goins (Brad Pitt, in a career-altering role), who happens to be the son of a famous virologist (Christopher Plummer). The top-notch plot twist tells us that studying history is just a long game of Telephone; even the best scholars’ conclusions about the past may be hilariously and tragically wrong. No one can show the slime and grunge of disintegrating society quite like Gilliam, who makes a point of conflating the post-viral dystopia with the nightmare always lived by the world’s homeless and unwanted.     A / G / KV / Y

Anne E. Johnson

Anne E. Johnson is a freelance writer in Brooklyn. Her music journalism appears
regularly in
Copper Magazine, Classical Voice North America, and Stereophile. She’s
also the author of several novels and over 100 short stories, mostly science fiction
and fantasy. Learn more on AnneEJohnson.com.

Once in a Lifetime Sessions with Nile Rodgers

Once in a Lifetime Sessions with Nile Rodgers

Like so many of us, when using Netflix or some other streaming service I tend to browse to find something to watch rather than zeroing in on a particular show. Since my tastes run to music, I usually seek out music-related documentaries and concert films. So I somewhat semi-randomly stumbled upon this episode of a Netflix series called Once in a Lifetime Sessions, a documentary series featuring musicians talking about their careers and performing live in concert and in the 

recording studio—including a live-to-vinyl session! If you’re looking for a “history of the band”-type documentary, this isn’t it—but it is an insightful look into Nile Rodgers’ career, life, and flat-out incredible musical chops.

 

Rodgers is the co-founder of Chic (along with bassist extraordinaire Bernard Edwards), a band that burst upon the disco and pop music scene in 1972 with hits like “Le Freak,” “I Want Your Love,” and their signature, oft-sampled mega-smash “Good Times.” Rodgers is also an extremely successful producer—a small sample of songs he’s been behind the board for include David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge, “Upside Down” and “I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross, and a little thing you might have heard recently—Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.”

 

He is also known as one of the best rhythm guitarists of all time, with a distinctive funky propulsive style that, while 

NILE RODGERS AT A GLANCE

The Chic co-founder, hitmaker, and legendary rhythm guitarist dissects his most famous tracks, talks about his life, and stages a super-tight club performance with his bandmates. 

 

PICTURE     

Attractive and direct documentary-style visuals mercifully free of gimmicks.

 

SOUND

Clean, rich sound, with plenty of bass and with each instrument clearly heard—but in a mix so lacking in stereo spread it borders on mono.

deceptively simple-sounding, no one else can quite duplicate. Think of that opening riff to “Good Times.” You’re probably hearing that unstoppable guitar groove in your head right now, along with Edwards’ iconic bass line, maybe the greatest electric bass riff ever.

 

Naturally I wanted to know—how did he do it? The documentary answers that question and a whole lot more, featuring plenty of interview footage at Angel Studios, London, where Rodgers tells exactly how he did it. An engineer pulls up individual tracks from the master tapes so you can hear each musician’s parts while Rodgers explains the creative process of how and why the players came up with them. For a musician like me, fascinating, and even if you can’t play a note you’ll learn a lot about the process.

 

Rodgers goes into rich detail about how he and others wrote the songs. Just one of many quotes: “As musicians, we want our voices to be heard, right? That means we want hit records . . . We knew that we had to come up with our own formula for making hits, and we knew that the chorus somehow was what people always wanted to get to . . . So we thought, well, what if we just started with the chorus? That way we give people the dessert first!”

 

He doesn’t just talk about the song-creation process, though. The interviewer draws plenty of life experience from Rodgers, whose parents were drug-dependent. As a result, the family moved a lot and he was the only black kid in a lot of the schools he wound up in. “I didn’t fit in and I was bullied a lot.” Rodgers is unblinkingly candid about his bouts with alcohol and drug

use and falling into the vortex of the 1970s and 1980s partying lifestyle. He thought he was young and invincible and could sustain that level of excess (it worked, for a while), but after it started to affect his playing, he just stopped cold and has been clean ever since.

 

But, for me, the highlight of Once in a Lifetime Sessions with Nile Rodgers

is the live performance footage. Rodgers and his musicians and singers are incredibly tight. I mean, unbelievably tight. I mean, ridiculously superhumanly astoundingly tight. Watching them is a master class in how to play together, how to lock in as musicians, how to groove. As a musician, I can tell you it’s tough to just play through a song without hitting a “clam” (wrong note), let alone play with any kind of feel and swing and togetherness.

 

In this respect, watching Chic play together is in the true sense awe-inspiring and more than a little humbling. In both the concert footage (actually a club somewhere in the UK) and the in-studio performances, these guys and gals are killing it. Nailing it. Destroying it! Every musician is remarkable, and singer Kim Davis-Jones is hair-raisingly good, just an absolute complete knockout. I don’t care if your thing is folk, rock, hip-hop, whatever—if you’re a musician, consider this required viewing.

 

The sound quality is extremely good—clean, rich, and with plenty of that all-important bass and kick drum, and every instrument can be clearly heard. Yet the sound is somewhat mono-ish, lacking in stereo spread. Although I’m usually a sonic purist, I tried various modes on my old but great-sounding Harman Kardon A/V receiver and found the music most enjoyable while listening in surround, particularly Harman Kardon’s Logic 7 Music mode.

 

The visuals are fine—pretty much straightforward. I mean, how much “production” can you do with interview filming that wouldn’t ultimately be distracting? And the concert footage is refreshingly direct, alternating between shots of the band and the individual players with a lack of distraction and gratuitous effects. (We’ve all seen way too much of that sort of thing.)

 

Rodgers concludes the documentary by talking about his “insane” work ethic, something he’s never let go of. For him, hard work and life are one and the same. The 67-year-old Rodgers states, “I always say that I have 10 good years left. I’ve been saying that since I was 20!” Amen, brother.

Frank Doris

Frank Doris is the chief cook & bottle washer for Frank Doris/Public Relations and works with a
number of audio & music industry clients. He’s a professional guitarist and a vinyl enthusiast with
multiple turntables and thousands of records.

“The Hunger Games” and “Catching Fire”

The Hunger Games

Never mind that they’re categorized as YA (Young Adult) fiction, Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy—The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay—was a must-read between 2008 and 2010. Now, nearly 10 years after the last book in the trilogy, Collins is bringing readers back to Panem with a prequel novel titled The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, which takes place about 50 years before heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is born and will follow Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland) long before he rises to power as President.

Several weeks ago, Dennis Burger wrote about his and his wife’s annual tradition of watching The Lord of the Rings trilogy, returning to the films much like comfort food. The Hunger Games has a similar quality for me and my wife. When browsing through the onscreen cover-art display on our Kaleidescape system, one of the four titles in the tetralogy is bound to pop up, prompting us to say, “Oh! The Hunger Games. I’d totally be up for watching that again!”

 

I can’t say just what it is I love so much about these movies. Perhaps it’s because the films—particularly The Hunger Games—do such a wonderful job of staying true to the fantastic source material. Perhaps it’s because even though the first film revolves around an almost entirely teenage cast, it never treats it as a kid’s story. Perhaps it’s because with all the films clocking in at over two hours—with the first two just shy of two and a half—it’s because they have plenty of time to develop, giving you an opportunity to actually care about these characters and their life-and-death struggle. Perhaps it’s the fantastic acting, including the role

GAMES AND FIRE AT A GLANCE

With a Hunger Games prequel novel about to hit stores, now is an ideal time to revisit the film adaptations of the original book series. The first two movies—The Hunger Games and Catching Firehaving been shot on film, especially benefit from the 4K/HDR treatment.

 

PICTURE     

HDR adds depth and dimension to the shots, and punch to brighter elements like flames, fireballs, and Caesar’s smile.

 

SOUND

The Atmos mixes feature tons of immersive atmospheric effects, hard-directional cues, and generous use of the height channels.

that turned Lawrence into a superstar and Woody Harrelson’s perfect take on former Games winner now mentor Haymitch Abernathy.

 

For those not familiar with the story, I’d urge you to first visit the novels, as they do help to flesh out some bits that will increase your appreciation for the series. If reading isn’t in your future, then I’ll offer a spoiler-free summary.

 

In a dystopian future, the nation of Panem is divided into 12 districts. Rebellion nearly tore the nation apart, and as the opening titles inform, “In penance for their uprising, each district shall offer up a male and female between the ages of 12 and 18 at a public ‘Reaping.’ These Tributes shall be delivered to the custody of The Capital. And then transferred to a public arena where they will Fight to the Death, until a lone victor remains.”

 

Hailing from District 12—one of the poorest in Panem—Katniss volunteers as Tribute after her younger sister’s name is initially selected for participation in the 74th annual Hunger Games. Katniss and fellow District 12 Tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) are then whisked away to the Capital, where they are given makeovers along with time to train and to hone their skills, both in order to survive the Games and to hopefully impress viewers in an effort to curry favor with wealthy sponsors who can potentially save a Tribute’s life by sending gifts into the Games.

 

If you like to draw parallels between films and our country’s current political situation, there are elements here between the charged climate in Panem and our national divide, should you want to look for them. Panem is pretty clearly divided between the haves of Districts 1 and 2 and the have-nots of everyone else, which can be a nod to the 1%-ers. There are also those who support and love the Capital and those who want to start a rebellion against it. The tenuous role of Gamekeeper—kept alive and in position at the whim of President Snow—could also be compared to the current administration’s revolving Chief of Staff position.

The Hunger Games

Of the four films—the final installment of the book trilogy, Mockingjay, being split into two parts—The Hunger Games is my favorite. Getting to know Katniss, Peeta, Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Haymitch, Effie (Elizabeth Banks), and over-the-top host Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) establishes and draws you into the series.

 

Taking place almost a year 

after the events of The Hunger Games, the second film, Catching Fire, uses the Quarter Quell to turn victors’ lives upside down—“What we game makers like to call ‘a wrinkle.’” It also tells you far more about life in the Capital and sets the spark of the rebellion that occurs in the final two films, both of which take place almost immediately after the second film ends.

 

With 24 teens fighting in The Hunger Games until a “lone victor remains,” you’d expect a lot of death, and the filmmakers handle this in a PG-13 manner without shying away from it or glorifying it. By far, the most action happens at the Cornucopia at the very start of the games, but this is filmed in a frantic, handheld style with quick cutaways and edits that give you the sense of what is happening—and who is dying—while sparing you the gore.

 

All four films are available in both UHD Blu-ray and via Kaleidescape in full 4K HDR. The first two were filmed in 35mm and were taken from a 2K digital intermediate for home release, while the final two were shot on ArriRaw at 2.8K and taken from a true 4K DI.

 

The filmmakers frequently push in tight on actors, often with a face almost filling the screen, and you can appreciate the terrific detail here. Every pore, scar, and stray hair—even Effie’s pancake makeup—is clearly on display. You can also see all the texture and detail in clothing, with the jackets worn by Katniss and Rue (Amandla Stenberg) having fine single-line detail on the shoulders that is sharp and clear. The only artifacting I noticed was some jaggies in the shadows of fallen spears at the 42 minute mark in the first movie.

 

Longer shots in The Hunger Games are softer, however, with the leaves and trees in the forest not having razor-sharp edges. Also, there is a large tree in Catching Fire that is pretty obviously CGI that looks soft in the 4K transfer.

 

Night plays a key role in the first two films—it’s the best time to move around undetected when you’re being hunted or to hunker down and sleep—and while blacks were deep with nice low-level detail, there is a bit of noise in parts of the first film I didn’t notice in the second. Also, there’s a tad of grain in some of the shots in the first film, but it’s not distracting.

 

HDR’s enhanced contrast adds depth and dimension to the images, and gives additional punch to things like roaring flames, fireballs, or even Caesar’s enhanced smile. It also creates a wonderfully natural image in the second film when some characters are talking next to a fire with their faces lit with a warm glow from the flames. You can appreciate the wider color gamut and HDR in Catching Fire, where you see the elaborate costumes at the Capital party, the glowing lights on Caesar’s 

set, or Katniss’ “girl on fire” dress with colors that burn off the screen.

 

All four films feature Dolby TrueHD Atmos soundtracks, and while the mixes for the first two aren’t overly aggressive, they certainly do a great job of putting you in the action, with tons of immersive atmospheric sounds, hard-directional cues, and generous use of the height speakers when appropriate.

 

During the many outdoor scenes, the room fills with the sounds of insects buzzing, leaves rustling, and birds chirping. The room also fills with the sounds of Caesar’s roaring crowds, or the buzz and hum of machinery and lighting inside the Game room. There are also a couple of moments where 

The Hunger Games
Catching Fire

you’re alerted to someone behind you by the snap of a twig from the rear or the angry bzzzzz of a tracker-jacker nest. PA announcements are mixed into the height speakers to good effect, making it sound like the voice is booming into the arena.

 

The couple of moments in Catching Fire that feature gunfire are loud, sharp, and dynamic, and when there is a moment that calls for deep bass—fireballs crashing into trees, trees crackling and splintering, the cannon boom announcing the death of a Tribute—the soundtrack delivers.

 

Dialogue remains well presented and clear no matter the action, making sure you never miss an important exchange between characters.

 

The Hunger Games series has great replay value. It’s entertaining from start to finish, whether you’re watching it for the first time or the tenth. (Seeing the first two movies for the first time even inspired my 13-year-old daughter to go read the books.) If you haven’t watched it presented in full 4K HDR with the Atmos soundtrack, now is the perfect time to get ready for your return to Panem when Collins’ new book arrives on May 19.

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.