Do dragons ever TRADE or BARTER with other creatures for unique and rare FEDORAS? What kind of items or services might a dragon exchange for such headwear?
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In this episode, Carl King examines Bernard Herrmann’s “The Dragon” (1958) + Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (2023 Movie)
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SHOW NOTES / LINKS
Bernard Herrmann / The 7th Voyage of Sinbad
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves
Christopher Rouse / Gorgon
A Guide To The Good Life by William Irvine
I get a LOT of questions about Dragons here. And the two questions I’m asked more than any other are: One: Do dragons ever TRADE or BARTER with other creatures for unique and rare FEDORAS? And Two: What kind of items or services might a dragon exchange for such headwear?
So this week, I’ll answer both of those questions. We’ll examine Bernard Herrmann’s “The Dragon” which is an orchestral cue from the 1958 film The 7th Voyage of Sinbad + Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (2023 Movie). Understanding Dragons is useful, so here we go.
I’m Carl King, and this is The Carl King Podcast, where EVERY WEEK, we learn about music, filmmaking, and creativity. If you like this show, head over to Patreon.com/carlking, and join for just $1 or $5 per month.
Or send a tip through PayPal or Venmo to username CarlKingdom. Special thank you to my Illusionist $51 level patrons, both Hank Howard III and Chewbode.
Quick shout-out to my music endorsements: Vienna Symphonic Library, Fractal Audio, Ernie Ball Strings, Toontrack, and Millennia Media. Now let’s get this episode Beginned!
CARL KING THE HUMAN UPDATES
Just a few Carl King The Human Updates, and then we will officially get beginned.
1 – This week I’m releasing some new Vienna Symphonic Library video shorts. One of them is about Fantasy / Adventure Chords, and the other is about The Hitchcock Chord. And here’s a quick audio preview from the Fantasy / Adventure Chords.
Wow. Be on the lookout for those new videos VERY SOON.
2 – In response to my previous episode, someone shared a complaint on Facebook that Mike Patton hasn’t done anything “good” since Mr. Bungle’s Disco Volante. Since posting on Facebook feels like “throwing away content,” I figured I’d also share my response here:
1 – Mike Patton is just a some dude making whatever music he wants to make. Would you say these things to him in person?
2 – He’s not obligated to make more music in the style you liked almost three decades ago when you were a teenager. It’s probably not useful to expect that.
3 – If you think you can make “better” music than him, you’re free to do it. He’s not stopping you.
There’s so much great music in the world to listen to and study. We’re both wasting time.”
And that reminds me of a quote from “A Guide To The Good Life” by William Irvine:
“The key to having a good life is to value things that are genuinely valuable and be indifferent to things that lack value.”
In other words, if someone makes music you don’t like, just be indifferent to it. Go listen to music you actually like. Or, as I’m doing in the second segment of this episode, you could study something you don’t like as a creativity exercise.
And with that, and with this, let’s get into This Week’s Analytical Music Theory Analysis of the Week.
BERNARD HERRMANN: THE DRAGON
This Week’s Analytical Filmmaking Analysis of the week is THE DRAGON, an orchestral cue by Bernard Herrmann, from the 1958 film, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.
There are at least two versions of this score out there. One is the original, conducted by Bernard Herrmann himself. And the other is a re-recording in 1988, conducted by John Debney. But why they re-recorded it, I have NONE idea.
“The Dragon” is a 2 minute, 15 second orchestral cue. And we are going to look at TWO elements of it. Number 1, The Dynamic “Wave” Pattern, and Number 2, The Heavy Metal Riffs.
1 – Dynamic “Wave” Pattern
Up first, that Dynamic “Wave” Pattern.
The opening of this cue has a pair of chords. The first one fades in, and the second one fades out. And it continues like that. Fade in, fade out. Like waves on the beach.
And that is trademark Herrmann. You can hear this exact dynamic pattern happening all over his music. Another obvious example being the opening of The Day The Earth Stood Still. It’s like an Inhale and an Exhale. And in this cue kinda sounds like a sleeping Dragon doing some snoring.
2 – The Heavy Metal Riffs
Now let’s move on to the SECOND feature of this cue, The Heavy Metal Riffs.
The tonal center of this piece is D… for DRAGON.
There are 3 sections or Themes, and we’ll look at them one by one.
The opening “Theme A” is in 3/4.
And it can be reduced to two voices starting on D and moving in opposite directions. The lower moves down a half step to Db and the upper voice moves UP a half step to Eb. Which creates the interval of a major 9th.
By the way, these can be considered as Lower and Upper Leading Tones. And that implies a V chord.
It does that 4 times, each time adding a bit to the orchestration. And the 4th time, with a faster rhythm, increasing the urgency.
The THIRD and FOURTH of these, are higher dynamic. So it goes quiet, loud, quiet, loud. The quiet chords are played by 2 Clarinets, 2 Bass Clarinets, and 2 Bassoons. The LOUD chords are played by the Contrabassoon, 3 Trombones and 2 Tubas.
And in those LOUD 9ths, some of them are in a low register, creating quite a bit of dissonance.
Then it moves to Theme B. And this is VERY heavy metal. It resembles the opening track Black Sabbath, from the album Black Sabbath, by the band Black Sabbath. Because apparently you can never have enough Black Sabbath.
Now in this Bernard Hermann Heavy Metal THEME B riff, there’s a bar of 3 and a bar of 4, both of them repeated. Making this theme a total of 7 beats.
The notes are A, E, D#. Which would be 1, 5, #4. Or flat five, but it’s good to use a different name for each note when possible.
But it’s a little confusing the way the phrase was written and accented with those bars of 3 and 4, and it’s easy for the feel of it to get turned around.
Theme C is a fast, heavy, thunderous Timpani riff using TWO different Timpanists. One guy could probably play both parts, if you wanted to surround him with SIX timpani. But the parts were placed on two different STAVES, so it was probably meant for two players.
The first set of “timpani” play the notes D-E-F in the rhythm:
Followed by Timpanist TWO playing the same thing an octave down. And by the way, that implies a D minor tonality.
In the 1988 version, the percussionists are really beating the crap out of those Timpani. Reminds me of Gorgon by Christopher Rouse, which is like the death metal of classical music. If you haven’t heard that, I’ll put a link in the show notes.
Also, on the downbeats of each of those Timpani riff measures, there’s a huge bass drum hit. And even though the score I found is written as “1 and” like this (Play example) it actually sounds to me like “and 1.” (Play example.)
But it seems several changes were made from that written score, to arrive at the performances on the recordings.
If you haven’t checked out Bernard Herrmann before, he is available at your local public library. One of my favorite Bernard Herrmann albums is The Twilight Zone, conducted by Joel McNeely in 1999. It’s a double-disc album, and you can find it on streaming platforms. But you also can’t go wrong with the score from The Day The Earth Stood Still.
And NOW, let’s get into This Week’s Analytical Filmmaking Analysis of the Week!
DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: HONOR AMONG THIEVES
This Week’s Analytical Filmmaking Analysis of the Week is Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. Directored by and Screenwrited by Too Many Cooks.
In my own totally subjective personal opinion, I did not like this movie. But instead of just complaining, I’ve decided to use some Positive Reframing, and turn it into a creative writing exercise. I’m going to point out what I see as 3 major writing problems, and do my best to offer 3 Solutions.
And yes, I know. I’ve never written a $150M movie under the bureaucratic pressure of a corporate studio. But here’s what Carl King would do differently, if I were somehow solely in charge of making this Dungeons and Dragons movie.
And one more thing: what we are talking about here is an intentionally “Type 1” work of art. So everything I am calling a “problem” might only be considered a problem within the confines of that “Type 1” style.
1 – The Teaser Problem
Teasers are the Opening Scene of a movie or TV show. They’re meant to HOOK you, convey the genre and tone, and make you want to watch more. So, an adventure story should probably have an adventurous teaser?
But the teaser here is a half-orc being loaded into a maximum security prison. And it has NOTHING to do with the rest of the story or plot. It’s slow, and it goes on for 3 minutes, which is very bad in the context of a type 1 movie. The only action that happens is at the very end of the scene: Michelle Rodriguez suddenly breaking his legs.
With a $150M budget, they spent on average, $1.1 Million dollars on a minute of movie. So that scene theoretically was worth $3.3 Million dollars. To introduce a Half-Orc character who never shows up again. Was that the best possible idea? Probably not.
So what’s a possible Solution? I would consider spending $3.3 Million dollars on an opening scene that is high-energy, plot-related, and genre-appropriate. I might try to make it all about those Red Wizards casting the Beckoning Death spell, killing the main character’s wife, and setting the story in motion.
2 – The Frame Story Problem
After that 3 minute teaser, and another 1 minute scene that didn’t seem to accomplish much, we get Chris Pine telling a story that happened somewhere else. And oh boy, it’s 8 MINUTES of Narrated Exposition over a montage flashback.
That’s right, the interesting stuff worth telling… isn’t happening in the present, in the room, where the main characters actually are. For me, that’s always a writing red flag.
In his famous memo to the writers of The Unit, David Mamet said:
“ANY TIME TWO CHARACTERS ARE TALKING ABOUT A THIRD, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF S___.”
I try to remember… that if what’s happening “now” isn’t interesting enough, maybe the story is about the wrong thing or just started in the wrong spot.
So, if the most interesting stuff happened a long time ago, maybe set the story… a long time ago. Because once you go back in time, the story loses urgency and momentum.
So because of that structure, the Inciting Incident here happens at 28 minutes 33 seconds. Chris Pine says: “We have to get into that castle and take her out ourselves.”
There it is. The plot has been stated.
Now, the total length of this movie is 2 hours 15 minutes. So almost 1/4 of the movie has already gone by — with nothing much happening in the here and now, except a lot of talking.
But this is a Type 1 movie, which means it’s all about the PLOT. And it unfortunately takes a half an hour to get the plot in motion.
Compare that to, arguably the most successful medieval adventure movie of all time, The Big Lebowski. A movie that’s only 18 minutes shorter than Dungeons & Dragons. The Inciting Incident in that movie occurs in the SECOND SCENE! Only 3 Minutes and 45 seconds in. By 9 minutes and 45 seconds, The Dude already decides to take action.
Back to Dungeons and Dragons: we’re HALF AN HOUR in, and Act Two begins, and NOW they assemble the team. And it’s like storytelling quicksand. “Where are we going to find a thief? I know one. Where are we going to find a druid? I know one.”
I wonder… if you really want to have that many characters, what if they already knew each other? There would be no need for all the “go here, go there. Who am I, who are you?” This whole 2nd act is less like a story, and more like a list of errands.
The flashback problem happens again later on, when the Paladin character narrates the back story of the evil red female wizards. Why not have that happen in the present? Maybe the Red Wizards are currently going from City to City and devouring souls with the Beckoning Death stuff. As I said, make that the opening.
SOLUTION: For a Type 1 story like this, I would try to condense it down to a shorter timeline. Rather than referencing things waaaay in the past, maybe write it so that the major events all take place in as short of a time as possible.
Use the trauma to give the story immediacy. If main character’s wife is killed, make that happen today. Not two years ago, as it happened in the actual movie. I would connect it with the Red Wizards and their Spell. Start on that. Hit that Inciting Incident early-on, and keep things moving.
3 – Implausibility Problems
The first one: If she’s really so evil and powerful, why didn’t the red wizard lady just kill the main characters right there the first time she dealt with them?
Instead, she tells her idiot guards to take them out back into an alley and do it. But, of course, she couldn’t do that, because the movie would be over. It’s like those villains who always leave the room after setting a timer for James Bond to die. And surprise, he escapes, and the movie continues.
The second implausibility problem: When defeating the evil wizard lady, the MAGE says he countered the Time-Stop spell. So that Chris Pine’s daughter could put the “anti-magic bracelet” on her.
But why didn’t she use the bracelet and invisibility trick earlier, BEFORE the evil wizard lady could even cast the time-stop spell? And why didn’t the evil wizard lady use the TIME-STOP spell earlier? Why waste so much time?
Maybe because the fight scene needed to be a spectacle, with lots of special effects. And of course, for the sake of making the movie last longer, characters sure do procrastinate on solving their problems.
And the third implausibility problem: When the heroes escape the underwater cave, there’s no way they could have been swimming UPWARDS out of the roof of the cave with a whole ocean of water rushing downward into the opening. They would have been pushed all the way to the back of the under dark, along with the chubby dragon.
The fourth implausibility problem: This is the most absurd of all. When they’re sneaking into the castle, the Mage gets the toe of his FOOT STUCK. On a brick floor. Now how is that physically POSSIBLE? They show a close-up, and it makes no sense at all.
You might say, Carl. This is a FANTASY movie. There’s magic and stuff. It’s not meant to be realistic. Well, I’m about to address that.
H.G. Wells once wrote, “As soon as the magic trick has been done the whole business of the fantasy writer is to keep everything else human and real.”
This is known as Wells’s Law, and I’m a believer in it. It basically means: All supernatural and magical elements aside, everything else in the fictional universe should obey the laws of everyday physics and psychology.
The problem is, there’s no easy solution. Those scenes would need to be entirely cut out, or rewritten to be plausible. My suggestion is to spend more time and think these things through.
As a writer, maybe put yourself into that physical and psychological situation. If this happened, could THAT really happen? Ask yourself, would a person really SAY those lines of dialogue, or behave like that?
But, this is what happens in Plot-Driven, Type 1 movies, when the writers paint themselves into a corner. They need to get the characters from A to Z, and they end up with a bunch of scenes in-between that aren’t plausible. But maybe Type 1 audiences don’t care anyway, because they’re used to implausibilities by now.
Well, now I’m confused.
OK, that’s the end of this Episode of the Carl King Podcast. Remember to subscribe on Spotify, Apple, YouTube, or anywhere else you listen to these dang podcasts.
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And as always, special thank you to my $51 a month Patrons, at the special Illusionist level, Chewbode and Hank Howard III. And thank you to ALL of the Very Good Friends of Carl King for listening, and as I always say: (looks confused) .