Wolf Trap presents ‘La La Land’ and ‘Jurassic Park’ live with NSO Pops

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone appear in "La La Land" (left), while a tourist sign in Hawaii shows the filming location of "Jurassic Park." (WTOP collage via AP)
WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'La La Land' & 'Jurassic Park' at Wolf Trap

Jason Fraley

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WASHINGTON — “Hold onto your butts!” It’s time to watch the “City of Stars” under the stars.

This weekend, Wolf Trap presents “La La Land” at 8:30 p.m. Friday and “Jurassic Park” at 8:30 p.m. Saturday. Both will feature live accompaniment by the NSO Pops as the movies are projected on two big screens, one inside the Filene Center and another outside on the lawn.

“Movies have become this new way of presenting summer concerts,” conductor Emil de Cou said. “When you’re watching a film at home or a movie theater, [the music] gets obscured. … Only at these Wolf Trap film concerts can you hear absolutely every detail that these [composers] lavished hours and hours over, to hear it the way they heard it in their head.”

‘La La Land’ (Friday, Aug. 4)

On Friday, check out “La La Land” under the glow of moonlight. (See what we did there?)

Winner of six Academy Awards, including Best Director (Damien Chazelle) and Best Actress (Emma Stone), the acclaimed musical follows the romance of two Hollywood dreamers: Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress rejected from auditions, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a struggling pianist hoping to open his own jazz club. Can their love coexist with their dreams?

“I conducted ‘La La Land’ last month in Salt Lake City, one of the first performances after the Hollywood Bowl, and we had a huge response,” de Cou said. “It’s a real niche film, but it just exploded! Now, you have singalong ‘La La Lands’ in theaters and a live concert franchise. It’s just amazing that people have embraced a new movie with a quasi-old-fashioned premise.”

Not only is the film a love note to Los Angeles, it’s also a nostalgic celebration of Golden Age musicals from both Hollywood (“Singin’ in the Rain”) and France (“Umbrellas of Cherbourg”). Along the way, we get an Oscar-winning score by Justin Hurwitz filled with whimsy (“Another Day of Sun”), melancholy (“City of Stars”) and inspiration (“Audition: The Fools Who Dream”).

De Cou skipped from song to song as he studied the score, but as he conducted it live on stage recently in Las Vegas, he was surprised how much he was drawn into the story.

“I hadn’t actually seen the movie before,” de Cou said. “I’m just watching the parts that had the songs, then I’d skip ahead because there are chunks of time with dialogue I don’t need to watch. So I’m conducting it last month and seeing the film for the first time, and I’m just bursting out laughing at some of these incredibly funny scenes, but also how touching it is.”

De Cou was most impressed by the film’s visually artful, emotionally bittersweet finale.

“What’s most remarkable that really struck me is the very end, when you have the film retold in about five minutes, [seeing] what could have been or just how people remember things in the best possible way,” de Cou said. “That was a stroke of genius, inserting this retelling of the entire story you’ve already seen in a totally different way [with] magical, French, primary colors, bright, cheerful. Then, it ends just with a single piano playing ‘Mia and Seb’s Theme.'”

As Seb’s musical teardrops hit those ivory keys, there won’t be a dry eye at Wolf Trap.

‘Jurassic Park’ (Saturday, Aug. 5)

Next, you can return to Wolf Trap on Saturday for a movie 65 million years in the making.

Steven Spielberg turned Michael Crichton’s novel into the blockbuster smash “Jurassic Park” (1993), following aging imagineer John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), who extracts dino DNA from mosquitoes to create living dinosaurs for his new theme park. However, before the park can open, Hammond must court the endorsements of a team of lawyers and scientists.

Paleontologists Dr. Grant (Sam Neill) and Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) arrive alongside chaos-theorist Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) and Hammond’s grandkids, Lex (Ariana Richards) and Tim (Joseph Mazzello). They meet the park employees: a chain-smoking computer guru (Samuel L. Jackson), a safari hunter (Bob Peck) and the corrupt Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight), who kills the power to steal embryos, only to set the creatures loose for a nightmarish night.

“It’s a roller-coaster ride of a film to conduct,” de Cou said. “It’s an amazing score.”

John Williams’ Grammy-nominated score has become part of our cultural lexicon, including the soft violins of the main suite, “Theme from Jurassic Park,” which de Cou says is “more like a hymn [that] reflects the awe and excitement of scientists seeing live dinosaurs for the first time.” Equally famous are the rousing horns of Williams’ “Welcome to Jurassic Park.”

“You get the big ‘Welcome to Jurassic Park’ theme the first time when the helicopter is coming,” de Cou said. “You see this huge waterfall, which was filmed on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. … You have to hit the cue when he says, ‘There it is,’ and they turn and the camera immediately cuts to the waterfall. You have to have that theme exactly to the second.”

Sometimes, the absence of music is just as powerful, mining suspense from the silence.

“I was really surprised that in the most famous scene — the T-Rex scene — there’s seven minutes with no music, which is a very long time,” de Cou said. “I thought that’d be the one thing he’d go bananas over and have all sorts of crazy [notes], but the silence of it! The foot pounding of the T-Rex, then the horrible roar and his face going into the car, just in silence.”

The music picks up for the climatic raptor chase in the visitor center. Once again, it’s a challenging musical cue for him to hit, as well as one that poses a comical logical question.

“At the very end, where the T-Rex bites the raptor, the thing I don’t understand is … how does a T-Rex sneak into the room without them knowing?” de Cou joked. “You see the T-Rex, and when he turns, you have to hit that theme. Then he takes the raptor and flings it into the T-Rex skeleton, which collapses. That’s when you get the ‘Welcome to Jurassic Park’ theme.”

As the T-Rex roars behind a fluttering banner (“When dinosaurs ruled the earth”), it’s the perfect time to wear your dino swag, from T-shirts to backpacks, for a night of family fun.

“I conducted it in San Antonio last year,” de Cou said. “I thought the kids would be afraid … but the kids were great! I always walk around to see who’s coming to the show, just to see what our audience is like. Tons of families, kids with dinosaur T-shirts and people with little play dinosaurs. They made a whole event of it, and I know our audience at Wolf Trap will as well.”

Click here for event information. Listen to our full chat with NSO conductor Emil de Cou below:

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