Tag Archives: firestarter

Composer’s Corner: Nate’s Top Ten original scores from Tangerine Dream

The 80’s are coming back in a big way within film and television and with them comes the always awesome sonic synth sounds of that era. One of the pioneering musical influences and inspirations in this movement is German electronic group Tangerine Dream, consisting of group members Edgar Froese, Paul Haslinger and a whole host of others who contributed over the years. They literally have hundreds of albums due to the simple fact that they loved to experiment with sound and release all sorts of eclectic material, first on tactile vinyl and these days strewn across the internet like hidden treasure. They also worked heavily in film, lending their pulsating, ethereal, gorgeous and incomparable aesthetic to many genre cult films throughout the 80’s. They are my favourite film composers of all time and it’s hard to pick but I narrowed their work down to ten of my favourite original compositions for film! Enjoy:

10. Rainbow Drive (1990)

This is admittedly an unspectacular film, an L.A. noir starring Robocop’s Peter Weller as one tough cop caught up in your garden variety political conspiracy complete with extortion and murder. The score here is driving, grungy while still airy with just the right hints of menace and murky danger. Favourite track: the moody, slow crawling opening theme.

9. Flashpoint (1984)

Another noirish conspiracy flick, this is set in the New Mexico desert and sees two opportunistic border guards (Kris Kristofferson and Treat Williams) run afoul of dark forces headed by a cynically corrupt federal agent (Kurtwood Smith) and apparent ties to the Kennedy assassination. The work here is arid, dusty and atmospheric, accenting the remote, lonely locations well and swelling up portentously when danger looms over the sun n’ sand drenched horizon. Favourite track: Highway Patrol, a clap of rolling backroad thunder that suggests the danger to come.

8. Ridley Scott’s Legend (1985)

This old school fantasy is mostly remembered for a young Tom Cruise as the hero and Tim Curry as evil itself with a demon getup that puts the Devil from Tenacious D to shame. Dream composes a lyrical, melodic playlist here that holds the beautiful imagery and special effects onscreen nicely. Favourite track: ‘Loved By The Sun’, a particularly lovely passage of ambience.

7. William Friedkin’s Sorcerer (1977)

This fierce, arresting adventure film sees several lowlifes and hard-cases from around the world transporting giant trucks loaded with volatile nitroglycerin through the South American jungle. You can imagine the fun that Dream would have composing this score and they don’t disappoint, their score doesn’t properly kick in until we first see the trucks nearly halfway through the film, but when it does you feel it like a sonic boom. Favourite track: ‘Betrayal’, an intensely affecting, dark hued composition.

6. Michael Mann’s Thief (1981)

The elemental group goes decidedly more urban in Mann’s early career crime masterpiece about an expert safecracker (James Caan) taking one one last heist. The music is moody, dark and nocturnal to suit Mann’s blooming aesthetic we know so well today. Favourite track: ‘Final Confrontation’, a sweeping piece that plays overtop a blisteringly cathartic slow motion shootout and carries over into the end credits with epic grit and grace.

5. Mark L. Lester’s Firestarter (1984)

Drew Barrymore and David Keith battle nefarious government forces in this thrilling Stephen King adaptation, made more so by Dream’s rhapsodic score, which suits the supernatural, trippy tone of this story so perfectly. Favourite track: ‘Charley The Kid’, a layered, star speckled composition that has a forceful edge appropriate for the character but also a playful curiosity that reflects her childlike mind.

4. Steve De Jarnatt’s Miracle Mile (1988)

A film about a potential nuclear attack on Los Angeles seems like it would have a traditional Hollywood-esque score but this is the brilliant, unconventional cult classic that is Miracle Mile and it greatly benefits from the talents of Dream to make it so. Their proverbial surname fits like a glove here because there is an overall dreamy aura to this nocturnal neon nightmare, I’ve had a few dreams myself about impending, inevitable nuclear or otherwise inflicted disaster, probably why I connect so well with this material. The score may seem counterintuitive but there’s a momentous drive to it and lighter, brisk areas to underscore the very sweet romance at its core. Favourite track: ‘Running Out Of Time, which sets the ‘anything can happen’, pins and needles apprehensive mood just amazingly.

3. Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto 5 (2013)

Any hardcore GTA fan knows that the main musical component that everyone looks forward to and remembers are the car radio soundtrack choices, but there’s also original scores deftly layered into the action, missions and cutscenes. Everything from heists to shootouts to plane rides to car chases to boat derby’s and every spectacle in between is outlined here in a California-lite series of compositions that see Dream slightly evolve out of their 80’s synth sensibilities yet still retain the essential soul that says ‘this is our work.’ Favourite track: ‘North Yankton Memories’… because I couldn’t count the amount of times this brilliant piece kicks in the minute I do something naughty, that two star wanted level pops up and the LSPD come careening down the highway after me.

2. Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark (1987)

Atmosphere haunts this cult vampire western about a young cowboy (Adrian Pasdar) seduced by a gorgeous waif (Jenny Wright) and swept you in the brutal nomadic lifestyle of her roving clan. Desert sunsets, blood on chrome, choking smoke, hurtling police vehicles and the occasional moment of nocturnal solitude, it’s a rigorous, ravishing aesthetic and Dream gives it their all with an intermittently droning and ariose work. Favourite track: ‘Mae’s Theme’, a low key, hovering piece that accents the tragic nature of her character.

1. Michael Mann’s The Keep (1983)

This film is something of an artifact, hacked to pieces in the editing process by the dipshits at Paramount, causing Mann to disown the film and yank any distribution rights. One day he’ll cool off and we’ll get a decent Blu Ray. It’s a stunning piece of pseudo Lovecraft WWII supernatural horror and one of my favourite films. Dream’s score echoes throughout the halls of this Romanian structure as German soldiers, metaphysical warriors and Jewish historians try and piece together the meaning behind this ancient place. Favourite track: ‘Gloria’, a synth laden piece with orchestral strains and beautiful vocal work, full of mystery and reverence.

-Nate Hill

Firestarter 2: Rekindled

So, the sequel to Stephen King’s Firestarter is an interesting one.. more of a miniseries than an actual film and runs well up almost to three hours, is full of horrendous pacing issues and numbing filler and yet… I still kinda dig it. Maybe it’s the cast, maybe it’s the languid runtime that fills up an entire rainy afternoon or who knows, but I own this on its own DVD and in the two pack with the first one and I pop it in at least once a year.

What’s it all about? Well the clairvoyant Charlie who was first played by Drew Barrymore is now grown up and embodied by Marguerite Moreau, who has some great charisma and pulls it off quite well. When she was a kid her and her dad were on the run from all kinds of nasty characters, most of whom fell victim to her incredible but severely destructive elemental gifts. One who did not however is John Rainbird, the vaguely occult weirdo played by George C. Scott in the first and now given the diabolical essence of Malcolm McDowell this time round. He wanted her powers for himself and if that didn’t work he was prepared to kill her, an agenda that kind of went up in flames (weyy). Now he’s back with gnarly burn scars and has spent the decade tracking down other kids with similar powers as Charlie and training them to be his evil little work force, eventually hoping to track her down and… who knows, the guy is beyond certifiable. Charlie has kept off the grid and struggled with these demons from her past as well as an understandable confusion in her own self identity. She finds companionship in a young journalist (Danny Nucci) who tries to help her and another psychic from their collective past played by Dennis Hopper in a warm, compassionate extended cameo.

So, what works? Well, McDowell as Rainbird is the film’s strongest point. Stephen King wrote this guy as a Native American and Hollywood just had to do their thing in casting a white dude so there’s this weird stoicism that didn’t come across well in George’s work. Malcolm reinvents the dude and fares far better as a manipulative, Machiavellian sorcerer hell bent on chaos and he eats up the role tremendously. We see flashbacks to young Charlie again and this time instead of Barrymore it’s Skye McCole Bartusiak, the excellent child actress who passed away sadly and too soon a few years back. Hopper is always terrific even in an easygoing paycheque role. I appreciated the genuine interest in the filmmakers part on building this world further and exploring new ideas. There’s a super cool, explosive showdown between Charlie and Rainbird that takes place in an all but deserted western style town. Moreau makes the most of the role and carries it pretty effectively. So what doesn’t work? The thing is two fucking hours and forty five minutes long, which is just a big no no. This could have easily been a sleek ninety minute flick and been all the more effective by pulling up the narrative slack and cutting all kinds of droning filler. It’s clearly lower budget, made for TV and we don’t get that beautiful Tangerine Dream score as we did before. It ain’t a great film but for what it is, it’s pretty fun.

-Nate Hill

Stephen King’s Firestarter: A Review by Nate Hill 

Film versions of Stephen King novels can be a tricky thing. Often they’re half assed,  clunky miniseries (ever tried to sit down and watch The Langoliers??), and when they’re given the lofty cinema treatment, he has famously turned his nose in the face of Kubrick’s might. I feel like Firestarter escaped unscathed, and still holds to this day, if a bit achingly retro now. It’s a thriller perceived in a childlike manner by its young protagonist, Charlie Mcgee (Drew Barrymore). Charlie can start fires with her mind, and certain shadowy agencies just can’t wait to get their hands on her. Her father (David Keith) once participated in some scary drug testing related to telekinesis back in the day, and some of whatever altered his DNA has been passed on to her. He will do anything to protect her, as the two frantically race across the country to safety, pursued by forces working for Hollister (Martin Sheen), a spook with too much power and nasty ideas about what to do with it. Also on their trail is pseudo spiritual whacko John Rainbird, who wants to absorb Charlie’s abilities, man what a freak. Rainbird is a native American in King’s novel, so white haired yankee boy Scott is an odd choice, but he does a fine job all the same. Two things are what makes this one really stand out in a special way. Tangerine Dream provides yet another ultrasonic, elemental synth score that has since become legendary. It accents the story in an almost fairy tale like way, gilding the danger with a fable style sound, but never stamping out the real menace. Barrymore is the other leg of the table, giving one hell of a fierce and vulnerable performance for such a young girl, her childlike honesty a prism for the audience to see the evil around her through innocent eyes. It’s great stuff, and one of the most solid King adaptations out there. Now there is a sequel (not sure if the man wrote a second book?) called Firestarter 2: Rekindled, which pales in comparison and runs about 45 minutes too long (!), but it’s worth a look for the casting of Marguerite Moreau as a grown up Charlie, Malcolm McDowell taking over from Scott as Rainbird, and Dennis Hopper as well.