This is actually about music, folks. I promise. However, in order to get to the music side, we have to go through all the other modes of Disney business.
Ah yes, Disney. The owner of everything, from 20th Century films and Pixar, to Marvel and Lucasfilm, to National Geographic, if you have treasured memories from your childhood, chances are that Disney is trying to accrue residuals off them.
Meanwhile, their core operations have been complicated and compromised. We’ll set aside the hit their theme parks have taken this summer, given that Florida and California have both languished in temps above 110 F. We’ll even set aside their endless campaign of remaking their classic animated films into “live action,” because even though more than half of those efforts are shockingly poor in quality, many still make money, so next on the block will be Moana, redoing a film that’s less than ten years old. One fact that must be etched in the pink recesses of your brain…the most dangerous place on Earth is the space between a dollar bill and Disney Corp. Remember that because we’ll get back there, believe you me.
Disney recently announced it was jacking up the price for the non-ad tier of its Disney+ subscription, the second in just six months, and maybe not the last. The company had a rocky couple of years with shows crawling to finish lines such as The Book of Boba Fett, Obi-Wan Kenobi, She Hulk, and most recently Secret Invasion (R.I.P. Maria Hill). It also had a legitimate “must-see” show in Andor, which many apparently did not “must-see.”
It has not been well-served by the theatrical side in 2023 either. Aside from films that did pretty well – the live-action Little Mermaid remake and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 – you also have Marvel’s Antman and the Wasp: Quantumania and The Haunted Mansion. The latter looks to be an entertaining family movie based on the theme park ride and is itself a reboot of the I.P. after the Eddie Murphy attempt in 2003. But in the spirit (no pun intended) of making really bad strategic decisions, the Mouse House released the movie at the beginning of hot, sweaty August and not late-October near a holiday like, oh, I don’t know…Halloween. They’re playing 4D Chess, by gum, even though it is a Candyland board sitting on the table.
And then there’s Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.
THE John Williams
There was a lot of controversy surrounding Lucasfilm’s latest Indiana Jones entry, too. Directed by James Mangold (Logan, Walk The Line, Ford V. Ferrari) and not Steven Spielberg, Dial of Destiny was concocted to clear the legacy of the character after the bad taste left in the mouth by Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. After a disastrous showing at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, critics and several longtime fans piled on. “Woke,” they cried. The movie cost a lot of money to make and will not make it back.
But is it any good? I don’t know. The crosstalk did the trick. I did not see it in the theater, but will watch it when it hits Bluray. Yet, there is one thing about it I know is good, and it is the sure bet that I have made for nearly my whole life, and that is John Williams’ score.
Nerd? I wear that proudly, and if you love movies, there’s a flavor of John Williams’ music playing in your head just for you. Me? It’s that Jaws theme, it is original trilogy Star Wars. I have been known to choke up a little with the score for Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the track “The Search for the Blue Fairy” from A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Maybe for you it is the theme from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial or Harry Potter. Maybe you thrill to his music for the Olympics and never knew he wrote that.
I say this cautiously because, while I hope that, like Mel Brooks and Dick Van Dyke, Williams has drunk from that special fountain of legend, the one guaranteeing many more years and much more music from him, the man is 91 years old. He’s seemingly a very healthy 91 years old, staving off the Reaper and a global pandemic at the same time, but we know what we know.
There’s a real chance that Dial of Destiny will be his last fully realized score. The man has given us decades of dessert. The past ten years and on have been a wonderful extra, the whipped cream and maraschino cherry, you might say. How does Disney handle this rather precious resource? Put it on streaming, of course. You have to live in the real world, and streaming is the dominant method of music delivery.
Then you put it on vinyl LP, which makes sense, I suppose. In the U.S., vinyl outsells CDs 2-to1, although it is widely reported that modern vinyl is never played and hardly ever even freed from its shrinkwrap. It is a collectable more than a music format. But there is a demographic that still loves and appreciates compact discs. Can you guess what that demographic is?
People of a certain age that love film music, that’s who. People like Michael Mattessino, Jeff Johnson, and Lukas Kendall, who have been in and out of the business of film music preservation, restoration, and distribution over the years. Labels like Intrada and LaLaLand Records. People who know that as cool as vinyl can be, orchestral music is not just about when the orchestra plays, but when they don’t, and those quiet passages are made for compact disc.
So Disney Music Emporium did a few things. They made the Dial of Destiny physical copies exclusive to their site. You can still pre-order the vinyl LP at an eye-popping price. The CD? The thing that fans of this music prefer and will put money down for? They had a limited edition of 1,000 or 1,500 and they’re gone now. Not only did you need to seek it out from an outlet that wasn’t advertising it widely, but you’ve already missed out on it. Sucks to be you.
Was it spite or strategy, since the movie did so poorly at the box office? To me, it doesn’t matter. This is John Williams, potentially working in the sunset of his years. You make the score available on CD, at the very least on Amazon.com. You’ll never get Taylor Swift numbers, but it seems like potentially 1,500 people in the know didn’t sleep on it. That says something. That says “return on investment.”
I hope it was spite. I hope it was Disney brass weighing the low ticket receipts and deciding to stop the bleeding.
If it was strategy, then a very cynical person could envision the eventual passing of Williams and the subsequent reissue of the album to commemorate the maestro. Maybe worse, it would be a multiple disc collection of all the Indiana Jones scores, which would include almost exclusively the Dial of Destiny music…which would be gross.
Either way, we’re lucky to have lived in the era of John Williams and I hope that era still has many more spins around the sun to come. It’s not impossible. But I doubt Disney feels the same way, instead content to leave what is widely regarded as the best part of this movie to lay in that weird position in the deadliest place on Earth.