Dallas — Films in concert, or showings of films with the score played by a live orchestra, are increasingly popular. The Dallas Symphony Orchestra, indeed, is performing three films in concert between now and Thanksgiving weekend. The first of these, launching the DSO’s new season, is Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back with conductor Constantine Kitsopoulos.
Even before entering the concert hall on Friday night it was apparent that these concerts are drawing new visitors to the Meyerson. Car after car mistakenly pulled into the musician’s garage rather than the public garage Friday night, only to be turned back by security. While no doubt vexing for the security guards, this issue demonstrates that these concerts are doing their job: selling lots of tickets (the house was nearly sold out) to folks who haven’t yet found a regular pops or classical series concert to be worth the price of admission.
And the audience was unusually diverse, wearing attire ranging from sweatpants and t-shirts to gowns and natty suits and varying in age from small to silver haired. I was a bit disappointed at how few audience members arrived in costume, but maybe Dallas’ most dedicated cosplayers are all in Atlanta for this weekend’s Dragon Con. Still, there were some special details: stormtroopers in the lobby providing photo ops for those willing to brave the line, and protoplasmic-looking lighting effects on the columns of the Meyerson’s lobby.
The orchestra, which has added 10 new full-time musicians to its roster this season and is returning from an eight-week summer break, is still sanding the rust off. But a slightly rusty DSO is still an excellent orchestra, and for the most part the evening was a delight. The orchestra played every note of John Williams’ score, and even began with the 20th Century Fox theme. Balance was sometimes an issue — in action sequences particularly, the orchestra was often too loud, and sound effects were nearly inaudible. Percussion, particularly, was uncharacteristically overwhelming. The film does lose a bit of its impact, after all, when we can’t hear the “pew, pew!” that so many of us imitated as kids. But overall, it was a joy hearing this fine score emphasized and enlivened. (And there is a LOT of music in this film. I hadn’t quite realized what a large percentage of the movie includes music.)
If you haven’t seen the movie itself recently, as I hadn’t — I saw it in the theater in 1980 and vaguely remember seeing it once in college, which if you’re doing the math you’ll realize was some years ago — you’ll find that some aspects don’t age well. Harrison Ford’s Han Solo is too pushy with Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia — no means no, my dude — and the special effects are, well, as dated as you’d expect from a film approaching its 40th birthday. Those tauntauns are NOT convincing, I’m afraid. But 40 years ago, this movie was truly innovative, and is now generally judged to be the best film in the Star Wars franchise. We meet Yoda for the first time here, as well as being introduced to Billy Dee Williams’ Lando Calrissian, who, remember, was groundbreaking in 1980 as a black character whose blackness goes unremarked, for good or for ill. The world Luke, Han, and Leia inhabit has a lot of problems, but at least in The Empire Strikes Back (we’ll save an analysis of Jar Jar Binks for another day), racism doesn’t seem to be one.
These films in concert are understandably popular. If the Star Wars franchise isn’t your thing, though, the other two films in concert this fall might be. On Halloween weekend, the DSO is performing Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, and at Thanksgiving, they’re playing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. If precedent is a guide, these concerts will sell out, so I do recommend securing your tickets sooner rather than later.