A Quick Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (dir by Peter Jackson)


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It seems kind of weird to do a quick review for a 144 minutes film that not only serves as the end of one epic trilogy but also as a prequel for yet another epic trilogy.

Well, so be it.  I hate to admit it but I really don’t have that much to say about The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies beyond the fact that I saw it on the day after Christmas, I enjoyed it, and I thought Aidan Turner was really hot.  It’s not a perfect film but then again, The Hobbit has never been a perfect trilogy.  As opposed to the Lord of the Ring films, The Hobbit told a story that could have easily been told in two films.  As a result, whenever you watch one of The Hobbit films, you’re aware of all of the filler that was included just to justify doing three films.

But so what?  The Hobbit films are fun.  Despite the cynical economic reasons behind turning The Hobbit into a trilogy, director Peter Jackson’s love for the material always came through.  In the title role, Martin Freeman was always likable.  Ian McKellan and Christopher Lee made for properly enigmatic wizards.  Though apparently his inclusion caused some controversy among purists, it was nice to Orlando Bloom as Legolas.  I also liked Evangeline Lilly’s elf character, even if everyone else seemed to dislike her and her love story with Aidan Turner.  And then there was Benedict Cumberbatch providing a perfectly evil and self-satisfied voice for Smaug.

I have to admit that, with the exception of Aidan Turner, I was never a big fan of the dwarves.  They were all so surly and bad-tempered and it didn’t take me too long to get tired of Richard Armitage showing up as Thorin and acting like a jerk.  However, in the final part of the trilogy, Armitage’s surly performance started to make sense.  As Thorin grew more and more paranoid, I saw that The Hobbit was actually using both the character and Armitage’s performance to make a much larger point.  Power corrupts and most conflicts are ultimately all about money and property.  It was a good message.

When the Battle of the Five Armies started, I was shocked to discover how little I remembered about the previous two Hobbit films.  It took me a while to get caught up on who everyone was and why they were all fighting over that mountain.  As opposed to the LoTR films, it’s not always easy to get emotionally invested in The Hobbit films.  But, Jackson is a good director and he’s a good storyteller and, even though it took me a while to get caught up, I was still often enthralled with what I was watching on screen.  The images were so stunning and the battle scenes were so spectacularly done that I could handle being occasionally confused.

Battle of the Five Armies is a fitting end for the Hobbit trilogy.  It’s not a perfect film but it is exciting and fun and that’s really all that matters.  At the end of it, the audience in the theater applauded, not just for the film but in recognition of everything that Peter Jackson has given us over the past 14 years.

It was a good way to spend the day after Christmas.

Trailer: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Teaser)


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It hasn’t been received as well as Jackson’s own The Lord of The Rings trilogy, but The Hobbit did hit it’s stride with 2013’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. People still haven’t bought into Jackson’s decision to film the prequel trilogy in the 48-frame rate format which gives the films an ultra-definition look that anyone with an HDTV will recognize when watching with the anti-judder effect on.

Yet, this is The Hobbit and any flaws and ill-timed decisions made still hasn’t diminished it’s hold on those who have read the book and on those who were pulled into the cinematic world adapted by Jackson. We now see the final film in the Middle-Earth cinematic universe about to come down on audiences this 2014 Holiday. This weekend at the Comic-Con saw the first teaser trailer air at Hall H to the delight of those in attendance.

Warner Brothers has seen fit to release a shorter version of the teaser shown at Hall H, but it still shows that all the set-up and slog through the first film will have an epic pay-off with the final leg of this trilogy: The Battle of the Five Armies.

Trailer: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Sneak Peek)


The Hobbit - The Desolation of Smaug

“The lord of silver fountains,

The King of carven stone,

The King beneath the mountain

Shall come into his own!

And the bells shall ring in gladness

At the Mountain-king’s return,

But all shall fail in sadness

And the lake shall shine and burn.”

Today, over in NYC a special fan event for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug was held which introduced a new one-sheet poster (look above), but also premiere a 3-minute sneak peek trailer to the second entry in The Hobbit Trilogy.

To say that this extended trailer is a vast improvement to all the previous teasers and official trailers for this second film in the prequel set would be an understatement. It still shows the film as being much more darker in tone than the book source it’s being adapted from, but it definitely shows a film that looks and feels much more put together than the first film (still just an assumption, but I have hopes I’ll be correct).

We see more of Luke Evans as Bard the Bowman who looks to fit in rather well instead of looking “too modern” as some feared he would look. I like how the trailer uses the poem, “The King Beneath the Mountains”, but in an altered form to make it sound like it was a prophecy. I know purist will probably rail and scream to anyone who will listen that this wasn’t how Tolkien wrote the poem. If they haven’t figured out by now that these film adaptations have been altering the written work to better fit the story then what have they been watching over the past decade.

I, for one, can’t wait for this middle film in the trilogy to finally come out and come out it shall on December 13, 2013. I saw the first film in every format and watch it in all format I shall for this one as well.

Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (dir. by Peter Jackson)


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It’s hard to believe that’s it’s been 11 years since Peter Jackson released The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring on the masses in 2001. There were much trepidation from Tolkien fans that Jackson (who had been known mostly for low-budget splatter horror-comedies) wouldn’t be able to handle the monumental task of adapting what many consider the greatest novel ever written in the 20th century. Tolkien’s epic fantasy became the standard by which fnatasy epics would be compared to for decades to come and still do. To say that Jackson succeeded in this epic task would be an understatement. The Lord of the Rings trilogy would hoard awards from 2001 to 2003 and also box-office receipts to make any dwarf-lord green with envy.

It’s now 2012 and we finally have the release of Jackson’s next trip into Middle-Earth as he adapts another of Tolkien’s beloved novels. This time he tackles The Hobbit which for some Tolkien fans remains their favorite of the author’s works. It’s a novel that might not have the epic scope and breadth of The Lord of the Rings, but what it lacks in that department it more than makes up in being a fun, adventure tale of a curious hobbit named Bilbo Baggins, a wizard named Gandalf the Grey and a fellowship of twelve dwarfs led by one Thorin Oakenshield of Erebor.

The Hobbit was originally written as a children’s book, but in later years Tolkien would retcon some parts of the novel to better fit with his magnum opus in The Lord of the Rings.It’s this revised version of that children’s story that Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo Del Toro would adapt for the big-screen. Initially a two-film set that would tell the story of Bilbo and his merry band of adventurers, but it has since been expanded to become a trilogy as Jackson and his writers take a page out of Tolkien’s bag of tricks and try to tie-in this latest trilogy to the Lord of the Rings which precedes it by a over a decade.

The first film in this new trilogy is called The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and we begin by returning to sometime before the beginning of the first trilogy’s first film. We see the aged Bilbo reminiscing of his adventures 60 years hence and deciding to put it to pen and paper as a sort of memoir of that adventure to reclaim the lost dwarf-hold of Erebor. It’s in this opening that we get to see Frodo once more (played once again by Elijah Wood who doesn’t seem to have aged) prior to him taking up the One Ring.

Bilbo recounts to Frodo the realm of Erebor deep inside the Lonely Mountain east of the Shire to Frodo and how it’s wealth in silver, mithril, gold and precious gems became well-known throughout Middle-Earth. Yet, as Bilbo warns, it’s the very sickness of avarice by Erebor’s Thror the King which seals the dwarf-hold’s doom. We learn that hoards of wealth does more than light up the dwarf king’s eyes with greed but also brings the attention of one of the very last dragon’s in Middle-Earth. The arrival of Smaug to Erebor signals the death of not just that dwarf realm, but the surrounding human town of Dale. The surviving dwarfs of Erebor flee in a massive diaspora towards any safe haven willing to take them in. What was once a proud and powerful realm has now been sundered and it’s afterwards that we get to the meat of the film’s story.

Martin Freeman as a younger Bilbo Baggins was more than just great casting but one which the film needed if one was to believe that this young Bilbo would grow old to be the Ian Holm one fans of the first trilogy have come to know well. His performance as Bilbo Baggins of Bag End becomes the anchor from which the rest of the company would revolve around. When we first meet Freeman as Bilbo he’s not the adventurer that he would become, but a hobbit that’s respectable and one not for doing anything foolish like going on adventures. Yet, his lot in life changes as Gandalf maneuvers the situation so that he becomes embroiled in the quest by Thorin Oakenshield (played by Richard Armitage) to retake his ancestral lands of Erebor and it’s massive wealth from Smaug who has taken it for his lair.

While many would think that a film called The Hobbit would focus on Bilbo I thought the way the film unfolded that this story was all about the dwarfs with extra focus on the single-minded Thorin who comes off initially as both condescending, superior and dismissive of poor old Bilbo. The film never fails to show how much Thorin thinks so less of Bilbo yet throughout the film’s two and a half and more running time we see cracks in Thorin’s ice-cold demeanor towards the young hobbit. By film’s end we see just how wrong Thorin has been of Bilbo’s worth and it makes for one of the film’s more emotional scenes when Thorin realizes this as well.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is not just about a brooding dwarf prince and his motley band of dwarfs getting into one trouble after the next once they’ve left the Shire with Bilbo. The film also brings on a parallel storyline which tries to lay down the foundation that would tie this new trilogy with the first one. It’s the storyline of the Great Necromancer that Gandalf and a fellow wizard, Radagast the Brown, suspect might be the Great Enemy returned. We learn soon enough during the White Council in Rivendell (attended by Gandalf, Galadriel, Elrond and Saruman the White) that this so-called Necromancer might be Sauron looking to regain his former strength and gather an army to him.

It’s this second storyline that get’s sandwiched within the Thorin Oakenshield Fellowship quest that comes off a bit awkward in the film’s overall narrative flow. Where the film is all about fun adventuring and camaraderie when the dwarfs and Bilbo are on the screen, when they’re not and the film tries to tell us about Sauron’s eventual return the film slows down. These scenes are not uninteresting. On it’s own these sequences bring back the epic tone of the original trilogy and brings it into this film, but it’s that very grandiose theme that seems out of place in what is simply a “men on a mission” story.

Fortunately, we don’t spend too much time dwelling on this side-story. The final third of the film is all about Thorin and company needing to escape from one goblin lair and orc ambush to another. The last 45 minutes or so flies back swiftly after a very uneven first two hours that would make more than a few theater-goers look at their watch. The wait is worth it as we see that Jackson hasn’t forgotten how to choreograph and stage fantasy action scenes. While the use of CGI might be more evident this time around than the previous three films they’re still small compared to other blockbuster films of it’s type. It’s still all about WETA practical effects, make-up and costumes that combine to create a world that’s become familiar yet still have a sense of newness to them as we see new areas of Middle-Earth only mentioned in brief passing in the original trilogy.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a wonderful return to the world of Middle-Earth. It is not without it’s missteps and flaws, but it also gets saved by some great performances from the ensemble cast which makes up the dwarfs. The aerial shots of the New Zealand’s eclectic geography shows just how much cinematographer Andrew Lesnie has become such a major component of making Middle-Earth come alive. Even the return of Howard Shore as the film’s composer was a welcome that brought more than a few smiles.

There’s no way of talking about The Hobbit without bringing up the stylistic gamble Peter Jackson has taken in filming this film and the rest of the trilogy in 48fps instead of the traditional 24fps (frames per second) that filmmakers have been using for almost a hundred years now. It’s an aesthetic choice that gives the film a overly realistic look akin to watching a stage production live. Everything looks too perfect and the High-Frame Rate (HFR) takes away some of the cinematic look which many have grown up seeing every time they watch a film. This new filming style works in certain areas like wide shots of the outdoor scenes. Whether it’s the emerald green rolling hills of the Shire to the snowcapped Alpine peaks of the Misty Mountains, these scenes in HFR came out beautiful. It’s when the film switches over to a much more enclosed and personal space within rooms and halls that we get the unusual “soap opera” look some have complained about. It takes a bit of getting used to, but some make the adjustment quickly enough while others may never make the adjustment.

Yet, it is when the film shows a CGI-created sequence that the HFR fails. While the doubling of the frame rate during filming has made the 3D in the film come off smoothly it did make some of the CG-effects come off as too video game-like. A sequence earlier in the film where we see a flashback of Thorin and the dwarfs of Erebor trying to retake another fallen dwarf hold in Moria (Khazadum in dwarfish) looks like a cinematic cutscene as a dwarf army charges and battles it out with an orc and goblin force which had taken Moria as it’s own.

All the scenes where HFR fails to come off as believable turn out better when The Hobbit was seen in traditional 24fps. I actually think that downscaling the film from it’s original HFR to a more traditional film frame speed of 24fps gave the film an even more magical look than the original trilogy. Jackson and his team of filmmakers have two more films to release and hopefully take some of the criticism this first film has received about HFR that they tweak and work on making the new style much more believable instead of taking the audience out of the film’s narrative.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey doesn’t come off as grandiose as the original trilogy and for some that might come as a disappointment. Yet, as an adventure film it more than does it’s job to fully entertain it’s audience while, at the same, time reminding it’s audience how much this film and this trilogy will lead into The Lord of the Rings. I recommend that people just see the film and decide on their own whether it’s a worthy addition to the Middle-Earth saga as seen through the eyes of Peter Jackson. I, for one, think it is and with two more films left we shall see whether Jackson’s return to Middle-Earth has been a triumphant one or not.

Trailer: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2nd Official)


It just a littleunder 3 months before Peter Jackson takes us back to Middle-Earth with the first of three films that will make up The Hobbit trilogy.

There’s not much else to say other than this latest trailer for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journeyjust continues to whet the appetite for all things Middle-Earth. It’s much more action-packed with some nice new scenes instead of just rehashing what was in the original teaser trailer from year ago.

Enough words. Just watch the trailer below and decide for yourself whether another trip to Middle-Earth (before all the War of the Ring brouhaha of the first trilogy) is worth your monies.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey premieres worldwide on December 14, 2012.

Quickie Review: 30 Days of Night (dir. by David Slade)


30 Days of Night is pretty much a siege movie with heavy elements of horror and gore. Siege movies always succeed and fail depending on whether the tension and dread built up from the beginning of the film suspends the audience’s disbelief. Siege films like The Thing and Romero’s Living Dead trilogy works well because right from the get-go we see the tension build not just on the location the cast are put in but within the besieged survivors as well. Survival becomes that much more difficult due to human frailties and an inability to work together bringing the whole group down. The monsters outside are bad enough, but sometimes it’s the survivors themselves who must share the blame.

David Slade’s (director of the excellent Hard Candy) movie does a very good job of bringing the initial tension and dread the comic brought to life in its first chapter. The story takes place in Barrow, Alaska which happens to be located within the Arctic Circle. This location allows it a very peculiar yearly event of having pitch-black night which lasts for a period of an entire month. The movie begins just as the town of Barrow prepares for this month-long prolonged night. Most of the town decide to move down south for the month where the night doesn’t last as long, but enough stay in Barrow to give it a semblance of life and activity.

The build-up of the characters in 30 Days of Night marks one of the weaknesses in the film. There’s barely much characterization in distinguishing one Barrow, Alaskan from another. The lack in character development from all the characters whether human or vampire doesn’t invest the film with anyone we want to see make it out through the night and into dawn. Even Danny Huston, a very underrated and overly capable actor in past films fails to elevate his lead vampire character Marlowe beyond it’s genre trappings. Known only as The Stranger in the credits, Ben Foster’s Renfield-like character edges between caricature and genuine creepiness in his performance. Foster knows he’s in a genre movie and has fun with the character. He’s the only one to truly take on his character and roll with it.

I now get to the subject of the vampires themselves. Most vampire movies seem enamored in portraying the vampire as some sort of seductive, fashion-obsessed, or in the case of the Anne Rice-type anachronistic in their dress, with an unnatural immortality they either live as hedonistically as possible or bemoan their cursed existence. Then there’s the more recent trend that Twilight has brought into the vampire mythology and it’s not good.  There’s never been a true portrayal of the vampire as a pure, hunger-driven monster with an appetite to match their status as one of folklore and legend’s top-tier boogeymen. Slade goes for speed and agility in his vampires instead of hypnotizing and mesmerizing their victims. The vampires in this movie owes much to the frenetic and over-amped infecteds of 28 Days Later.

The attack itself and the subsequent siege worked well enough in the early going. There were some great overhead shots of the town’s people losing it’s fight during the initial feeding frenzy as the camera shoots the scene high overhead. The only thing Slade had a misstep in terms of the siege itself was after those first couple of nights. The rest of the 30 days didn’t seem to show enough desperation on the faces and bodies of the last few survivors. Really, the only way the audience even knew a couple weeks have passed were the caption telling them how many days into the month-long night has passed. I think with some better editing and a better sense of structure in the middle section of the movie to show time actually progressing the movie would’ve been better on so many levels.

All in all, 30 Days of Night was just good enough to be a fun watch. The premise itself was original and put a new spin on the vampire genre that has rarely been tapped. The performances were pretty average with no one bringing the whole film down with a misstep performance or raising the bar with a great one. The final product had a chance to be something great, but just ends up being a good and original take on the vampire story with elements of Night of the Living Dead.