Distant Worlds: Music From Final Fantasy – St. Louis 2012.03.24

Source: STL Symphony Web Site. Copyright 2012 by Square Enix Co., LTD.)

Living in the Missouri, you learn that it is rare when large acts visit. If a well-known band or performance visits St. Louis or Kansas City, it is advised you try to attend because who knows when the chance will come again. I’m still a bit disappointed I didn’t see Tom Waits during the Glitter and Doom tour, but the tickets were expensive.

This past weekend, the tour for Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy put on two shows in St. Louis. Conductor Arnie Roth (who is also a member of Mannheim Steamroller) and composer Nobuo Uematsu worked with the St. Louis Symphony for the performances. Each night had a different set-list, although many pieces were duplicated between the two. For my birthday, my wife had bought tickets to the Saturday night performance. This was the second time I have been to Powell Hall to see the St. Louis Symphony, the first being a tour of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The show was excellent. The audience was primarily made up of fans of the Final Fantasy series, so anticipation was high and listening was respectful. This wasn’t a performance where the audience paid money to sit and talk the whole time. My wife and I even saw a few costumes: one Sephiroth, a Yuna, and a half-hearted Squall (who only seemed half-hearted because he accompanied Yuna, who had done an excellent costume reproduction).

Each piece was accompanied by a video montage from the corresponding game. Obviously, the games from Final Fantasy VII and later included quite a bit of cut-scene material. The videos for earlier games either utilized gameplay scenes or production artwork by Yoshitaka Amano.

Highlights from the show included Dark World, in which Uematsu-san played synthesizer and Mr. Roth played a wonderfully melancholic melody on violin; Vamo’ alla Flamenco, which had some wonderful Spanish guitar work; and an encore of One Winged-Angel, which included audience participation on the choral parts as the choir only appeared in the Friday performance. Even though these were my personal favorites, there wasn’t a bad piece in the show. Despite being two and a half hours, I could have gladly listened for another hour. If you get a chance to attend a Distant World performance, you should take advantage of it, whether a fan of the Final Fantasy games or not. If you enjoy symphonic music, don’t let the video game origin keep you away.

Program list from 3/24/2012
Final Fantasy VII: Opening – Bombing Mission
Final Fantasy: Victory Theme
Final Fantasy I-III: Medley 2010
Final Fantasy X: To Zanarkand
Final Fantasy VIII: Eyes on Me
Final Fantasy V: Dear Friends
Final Fantasy IX: Vamo’ alla Flamenco
Final Fantasy X: Suteki da ne
Final Fantasy Series: New Chocobo Medley
Final Fantasy VIII: The Man with the Machine Gun
Final Fantasy VI: Dark World
Final Fantasy IX: You’re Not Alone
Final Fantasy XII: Kiss Me Goodbye
Final Fantasy VII: Aerith’s Theme
Final Fantasy VIII: Don’t Be Afraid
Final Fantasy XIII: Blinded By Light
Final Fantasy VI: Opera “Maria and Draco”
Encore: Final Fantasy VII: One-Winged Angel

Once Upon a Time – Skin Deep

Source: ABC.com. Copyright 2011 by ABC.

Written by Jane Espenson
Directed by Milan Cheylov

From ABC.com: When Mr. Gold’s house is robbed, Emma suspects he is planning to seek vigilante justice; Ruby, Mary Margaret and Ashley plan a night out on Valentine’s Day; Belle makes a deal.

Quite a few months ago, I wrote a review of the Jane Espenson-penned That Still Small Voice. I believed at the time, and still do, that the eponymous episode was poorly-written, formulaic padding. The strength of Once Upon a Time had been characterization, and That Still Small Voice did not rise to the high standards already exhibited by the series.

I feel that I must now offer apologies to Ms. Espenson. She has written two more episodes since then, and both have been excellent. Both have also made good use of Robert Carlyle, which only makes things even better. I have a belief that the quality of an episode of Once Upon a Time can be judged by the amount of screen time given to Mr. Carlyle. He never disappoints.

If you haven’t seen the episode, you can watch it or read the synopsis on the ABC website. It built upon the development of Rumpelstiltskin in a way that was believable. Initially, I was reluctant to see the show delve in to his background. I liked the idea of Rumpelstiltskin being a force of nature, a trickster who was mysterious. Any background information would take away the enigma. However, the show has done a good job of having it both ways. Whether due to the writing, Carlyle’s performance, or both, Rumpelstiltskin is one of the most fascinating characters on the show, and Skin Deep not only shows the internal struggle that rages within him, it shows an external struggle that had only been hinted at until now.

Based on this episode, it seems one of the major themes in Once Upon a Time, a theme that appears again and again in mythic storytelling, is the conflict between power and love. Wagner used it in The Ring Cycle. It is a struggle that constantly assails Christianity. It works out in the lives of the residents of Storybrook and the fairy tale world. Rumpelstiltskin was forced to choose between love and holding on to the power that he had gained. He is, arguably, the most powerful creature in the fairy tale world, a position which makes him a target of The Queen. Tricksters can be defeated, but only through trickery. If Rumpelstiltskin had chosen love, his powers—the result of a curse—would be gone. The Queen would win.

The Queen also faces this choice. In The Thing You Love Most, she must choose between her revenge and the love she has for her father. In the end, the power to take revenge trumps love for her. Even in Skin Deep, Regina chooses to confront Mr. Gold rather than continue to keep Henry and Emma apart. Facing her old nemesis was more important than controlling her son’s relationship (which is a perversion of love).

So it would seem, with this episode, one of the central conflicts is that of The Queen versus Rumpelstiltskin. We already knew of her fight against Snow White. This new revelation adds more depth to the show, but also gives us plenty of new plot threads. Can the writers handle them?

As We Move Forward: From the episodes I have seen so far, it seems the best deal with the conflicts mentioned above. Jiminy Cricket’s story felt like filler, as did Hansel and Gretel’s story. When the episodes give us more pieces that relate to The Queen, Snow, and Rumpelstitlskin, the show feels like it is going somewhere. I still like the idea of a season-long arc which resolves and ushers in a new story (possibly one not related to the curse) in the second season. I have no idea if the writers will go in this direction, but it seems, based on what we have so far, they could easily do so. It would be immensely satisfying.

Leitmotif White Paper

I continue to wait for 2Entertain to release (or at the very least, announce a release date) for The Ambassadors of Death. In the meantime, I have been focusing quite a bit on school. It seems that as one assignment is completed, another follows. As busy as I have been, I have enjoyed the opportunities to learn about other forms of writing. Unfortunately, much of the writing I have done in class does not fit the scope of The Edwardian Adventurer, so I won’t be posting much of the school work here.

Today is the first day of spring break, however, and I hope to write up a few entries to keep the blog going. I’m not sure how many will focus on Doctor Who, but I hope they will prove to be interesting nonetheless. Today’s entry is one of the few writing assignments that can be duplicated. I was to research and write a white paper. What is a white paper? I had never heard this term prior to my technical writing class. White papers are typically reports or information-based papers that are used to communicate ideas that may be too long or detailed for brochures. They are typically written with a specific audience in mind. White papers may be more jargon-based than brochures.

Source: New York Times website. Copyright 2009 by The New York Times

My white paper assignment was to pick a topic to research and write a 2-3 page paper. I chose to research leitmotif, and focused on the use of motif in Wagner and a few modern sources. The target audience was the music fan who has a passion for modern music but who may not be familiar with the concepts and forms of classical music. What is particularly fun is that Murray Gold uses leitmotif in his Doctor Who scores. Variations on I Am The Doctor have been used in series 5 and 6. Martha’s Theme reappeared again and again in series 3.

If you are so inclined, the white paper is below, in .pdf format.

Variations of a Theme: An Introduction to Leitmotif

Time and Relative: A Review of the Novella by Kim Newman

Source: Good Reads website. Copyright 2001 by Telos Publishing Ltd.

From The Reference Guide: The harsh British winter of 1963 brings a big freeze that extends into April with no sign of letting up. And with it comes a new, far greater menace: terrifying icy creatures are stalking the streets, bringing death and destruction.

The First Doctor and Susan, trapped on Earth until the faulty TARDIS can be repaired, are caught up in the crisis. The Doctor seems to know what is going on, but is uncharacteristically detached and furtive, almost as if he is losing his memory…

Susan, isolated from her grandfather and finding it hard to fit in with the human teenagers at Coal Hill School, tries to cope by recording her thoughts in a diary. But she too feels her memory slipping away and her past unraveling. Is she even sure who she is any more…?

First Line: “Hate, hate, hate! I hate Coal Hill School. I hate Year Four. I hate London. I hate pretending. I hate the cold.”

Source: The Doctor Who Reference Site. Copyright 2001 by Bryan Talbot.

Time and Relative chronicles an adventure of Susan Foreman during the winter of 1963, a few months before Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright started snooping around a certain junkyard. The novella is a pseudo-historical which involves an elemental monster called The Cold which, it turns out, is responsible for the Big Freeze of 1963. The Freeze was a particularly bad cold snap that took place in England. The Thames froze, as did parts of the sea surrounding the British Isles. In typical Doctor Who fashion, Time and Relative places the blame for this historical oddity on a prehistoric intelligence called The Cold. We learn that a combination of Communist Russian experiments and Alaskan drilling reawakened the dormant elemental which had evolved on Earth. As The Doctor says in the novella, The Cold is “one of Evolution’s first experiments with Intelligence.” It is only able to move and grow when temperatures drop below freezing, and the method it uses to dispatch humanity—which The Cold refuses to share the planet with—is an army of killer snowmen. I couldn’t help but envision Bad Mr. Frosty from the old Clay Fighter games, which rather killed the tension. There were a few places where Newman recaptured it, however, such as the snow rolling toward a military blockade, and the scene where Susan, John, Gillian, and company try to cross the Railway Bridge. The Cold proves to be a rather effective monster.

Less effective, however, were some of the secondary characters. The particular weaknesses were with Captain Brent and the Haighs, the former being a military captain and John’s father, the latter a religious husband and wife. It seemed these characters worked to espouse the idea that adults couldn’t handle the crisis, but children could. They insisted on pretending things were normal, while slowly going mad. I find this characterization hard to believe, especially having recently read Day of the Triffids, which created a nuanced and believable portrayal of humanity in a time of extreme crisis. The use of Brent and the Haighs in this way seems to be pandering to the idea that adults are uninteresting and boring and children are strong and resilient and superior because of their heightened imaginations. While I don’t have a problem with this idea, per se, it seems odd to include such an explicit child-empowerment message in a book that I believe was written for adults.

Source: Public Domain

Not all characters were poorly drawn. Susan and The Doctor fare extremely well, as do the supporting characters of John and Gillian (Newman is making a reference to the old TV comics here). I would argue, however, that Susan is portrayed too well. I find it difficult to believe that, having gone through this encounter with The Cold, the Susan of this novel would be the same Susan that would have an emotional crisis every other week once she and The Doctor left Earth. This Susan has more in common with the portrayal from The Sensorites and The Aztecs, which were some of the stronger performances from the show. In particular strength here is The Doctor, who debates whether or not to save the humans because The Cold has a stronger claim on the planet, and it is a more intelligent creature. Compared to The Cold, he says, humanity is like algae on a fish tank. When Gillian threatens to kill Susan if The Doctor refuses to help, The Doctor feels that his point has been made (about humanity’s barbarity), and is willing to allow Susan to die rather than interfere. His disregard for Susan in this instance is a bit at odds with The Doctor in the first season of Doctor Who, but his coldness (no pun intended) and disregard for humanity fits well.

I seem to be down on the book. I suppose I was disappointed. I had high hopes for the story, and even felt the beginning was strong. The book is narrated by Susan, using the conceit that she is writing in a diary in order to improve her grasp of English. This narrative device works quite well. Newman even has a few good observances/commentary about humanity. When discussing adult disdain for 1960s music, he writes, “It’s because adults are threatened. When music changes, it means we’re taking over. The young.” And elsewhere, when Susan is trying to remember her home planet and the Time Lords, she writes:

“This is standing outside a window, looking in, watching a child being beaten but not smashing through to do anything. Finding it interesting, but having no reason to change it, as if the whole universe were a big painting in a gallery, to be admired for its technique but which we should never think to add a brushstroke to, not even to repair damage or improve on a shoddy bit of work. Where we come from, all people are like that.”

These are some great moments in the narrative and some wonderful observations. It’s just a shame that the characters didn’t hold up consistently. This flaw hindered my enjoyment of the book.

Continuity? I mentioned the development of Susan in this book possibly being at odds with the Susan in An Unearthly Child. If I had to bet, I’d say Newman would respond with the following passage from The Doctor:

“‘Continuity, bah!’ Grandfather said yesterday or the day after. ‘Doesn’t exist, child. Except in the minds of the cretinously literal, like the singlehearts who clutter up this planet. Trying to sort it all out will only tie you up in useless knots forever. Get on with it and worry afterwards if you can be pinned to someone else’s entirely arbitrary idea of the day-to-day progression of events. Without contradictions, we’d be entirely too easy to track down. Have you ever thought about that? It’s important that we not be too consistent.”

Touché, Mr. Newman.

Final Verdict: This was a quick read and it had some great narrative moments. It is full of continuity jokes, which occasionally take one out of the story. If you are a fan of Kim Newman, you may have fun seeing how he plays in the Doctor Who universe. A lot of fans like this one, and it is one of the better novels. For me, however, it is average and I probably won’t revisit it.