Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Star Trek at the Hollywood Bowl: Boldly Going Where Many Men Have Gone Before

There’s nothing quite like the Hollywood Bowl on a midsummer’s evening. When the stars are twinkling overhead, it’s a remarkable place from which to soar into space with Star Trek.  The Bowl is a magical venue: 17,000 Angelenos can dine under the twilight sky, then listen to lilting classical music or lively pops while watching the Hollywood Sign fade into oblivion as the sun descends. Because of its location and its landmark status, the Bowl (which opened in 1922, but has been subject to countless re-models) has been featured in a good many movies.

In recent years, the Bowl has also played host to a number of movie screenings. Some of these events have been kitschy, like the inevitable Sound of Music singalong. But, in a city where classical musicians often moonlight recording scores for movie studios, it’s also logical that the Bowl salute the work of great film composers. This past week, the hometown band in residence was the estimable Los Angeles Philharmonic, which uses the Bowl as its summer residence. During two popular screenings of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the L.A. Phil was on stage playing John Williams’ majestic score. I missed that, but took advantage of the weekend to have fun with the 2009 Star Trek prequel. David Newman, a busy film composer in his own right (son of  Hollywood’s  musical great Alfred Newman and cousin of Randy) conducted the stirring score by Michael Giacchino, who was present to introduce the film.

Giacchino’s movie credits are impressive: he’s provided the music for a host of Pixar films (Ratatouille, Up) as well as entries in the Mission: Impossible and Jurassic Park franchises. Speaking to an appreciative crowd, he told a charming story about his own childhood fascination with movie soundtracks. When he was a kid, he saw in theatres such child-friendly blockbusters as Star Wars, The Sting, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. He came home wanting to see them again and again, but in a pre-VCR era this wasn’t often possible. That’s why he looked to soundtrack albums to help him relive the pleasure he’d found on-screen. No wonder he became a composer of film scores.

In addition to the big screen descending from the band shell on the Bowl stage, there are also a several strategically-placed smaller screens, so that no one in the cheap seats can complain about missing out on a good view. It was on these multiple screens that Star Trek director / producer J.J. Abrams addressed the crowd. He noted the loss in the recent past of two important Star Trek personalities: the great Leonard Nimoy (who left this earth in February 2015) and young Anton Yelchin (Chekov in the prequel), who was killed in a freak accident less than a month ago). Fortunately, some Star Trek heroes live long and prosper: the ubiquitous and ageless George Takei was in the house, and enjoyed a big hand.

I got a kick out of the film, especially in the first half when cocky young hellraiser James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and deep-thinking young Vulcan Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) definitely failed to see eye to eye. Both of course experienced personal tragedy early on. Then it got all mystical, with the appearance of an aged Spock (Nimoy) and some mumbo-jumbo about time travel. Obviously my Trekkie credentials are not in order, but at least I didn’t share the confusion of some in the cheap seats between Star Trek and Star Wars. Anyway, we cheered for the reconciliation of  Spock and Kirk, and a good time was had by all.

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