Peter Jackson

January 7, 2014

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

RESURGENCE

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – Resurgence

Two films down, one to go.  Peter Jackson’s second epic trilogy where he re-visits Middle Earth continues as Bilbo Baggins and his gang of dwarves travel ever closer to The Lonely Mountain and their encounter with the fire-breathing dragon, Smaug.  In “The Desolation of Smaug” you see glimpses of what Jackson did with “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.  There is a resurgence if you will, in this penultimate film that features some great action set pieces, and little more dwarf history, and the best performance by a dragon you’ll see all year.

“Smaug” is a vast improvement over the first film, “An Unexpected Journey” which was a slave to having to re-create a world where there was no fellowship, no imminent danger, and for lack of a better term, no real protagonist that you can relate to.  Granted, it might be hard to relate to a reluctant king, an elf princess, or a hard drinking dwarf, but at least there were recognizable characters that you could root for.  To be honest, I have a hard time remembering any of the dwarves in Thorin Oakenshield’s company outside of the aforementioned dwarf leader.

I think one of the traps this trilogy has fallen into is its reliance on fanboy love.  The beauty of “LotR” was the fact that even if you didn’t read the books, or knew little of J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings, the story was strong enough to bring moviegoers who were dying for an epic three-part adventure, that for my money, still can’t be beat.  “The Hobbit” trilogy lacks what made “LotR” magical.  At times it lacks any originality for the most part where you find yourself visiting many places you saw before, and the pacing is painful at times.  However, Jackson certainly learned his lesson from his first film in the trilogy, and while it might piss off die-hard fans of the book, he;s made “Smaug” a far more entertaining watch.

First of all, the action is pumped up quite a bit.  While the escape from The Goblin King and his minions might have been exciting in “Journey” it was the highlighted action piece.  In “Smaug” there is the wine barrel chase, a ton of hot Elf-on-Orc action, you get to see Gandalf be a bad-ass again, and of course all of the scenes with Smaug, voiced excellently by Benedict Cumberbatch.  The film also marks the “return” of Legolas and the introduction of a new character, Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lilly.  People have been pissed about the addition of these two, but I’m trying to understand why.  Legolas brings something to these “Hobbit” films; nostalgia, whereas as Lilly brings a little sex appeal to the proceedings, and I might add, she does make a sexy elf and I wouldn’t be surprised if “female elf” is one of the top Halloween costumes in 2014.

The biggest gripe that many people have is the fact that Jackson strayed too far away from Tolkien’s material.  I’d respond with “Thank God!”  Without these additions to the film, I might go as far as saying these films are pretty unwatchable.  They are tedious exercises in exploiting a beloved book while trying to extort more money from nerds who can’t get enough of The Shire and Hobbit feet.  You might think, “Matt!  I thought you liked this film better than the first one?!”  I do like “Smaug” better than “Journey” but that still doesn’t make either one great.

All in all, “Smaug” is the shot in the arm the trilogy needed.  It finally introduced the aforementioned Smaug with all the bravado that it deserved, and it ended in a way that will FORCE people who have already invested over five hours of their time into investing another nearly three hours later this December.  “The Hobbit” films might have their problems and shortcomings, but at least Jackson got this one right, even if he had to piss some book fanboys off in the process.

Fun Fact:  Published in 1937,  many critics believe that Tolkien’s novel, “The Hobbit” was based on his experiences in World War I.   

December 10, 2013

Hobbit Countdown: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

BALLS

The Fellowship of the Ring – Balls

One of the biggest no-no’s of pop culture is not messing up anything that beloved by a group of nerds.  And before I get nailed to a cross, I myself am a nerd and I use that as a term of extreme affection, I mean I married a Harry Potter nerd so I’m entitled to use the term nerd as often as I want.  As I digress, directors, writers, and actors have to tread carefully when trying to replicate a favorite fictional character because one bad line utter, one extra action acted upon, or one minor detail too much or too little can lead to the Internet banding together to destroy said director, writer, or actor.  It’s a tough gig to replicate things that are held in such high regard.  Now, back in 2001, a director from New Zealand, more famous for horror and gross-out fare such as “Meet the Feebles” and “Dead Alive” decided he was going to recreate something that everyone said could never be done; that tiny Kiwi, Peter Jackson, was going to recreate Middle Earth from J.R.R. Tolkien’s seminal series “The Lord of the Rings.”  People thought, “The balls on this guy.  The closest he’ll ever get to a Hobbit would be to look in the mirror!”  Well……Jackson did have balls, and with a little help from the Brothers Weinstein, he has able to create Middle Earth, in grand spectacle I might add, in the first of three fantasy epics, starting with “The Fellowship of the Ring,” a film that not only changed the way film was made, but the way people thought about fantasy films as a whole.

I keep going back to the word balls.  As is in selling real estate, you have to have brass balls to sell an epic three-part series of films to Hollywood executives.  If you’ve ever seen or heard anything about either Bob or Harvey Weinstein, I would be crapping myself before my pitch.  Especially if I’m a short New Zealander with only a few films to my name and having never helmed a big-budget film before.  Balls……

Needless to say, the series was greenlit, and under the guidance of Jackson, it propelled him to instant fame.  Jackson was able to create a lived in world that included The Shire, the Mines of Moria, Rivendale, and the White Tower of Isengard.  “Fellowship” is the first part of Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” films that tells the story of a Hobbit named Frodo Baggins, who embarks on an epic adventure to destroy a ring of pure evil.  With three other Hobbits in tow, Frodo must avoid evil Ring Wraiths hunting for The Ring, and at the same time trying to avoid the temptation of The Ring itself.  Deciding that Frodo will need more than his fellow Hobbits to complete his task, a Fellowship is formed that includes a bow-weilding Elf, a stout axe-swinging dwarf, Gandalf the Grey Wizard, and two men, including one who might be the long-lost King of Gondor.

At heart, “Fellowship” is the obligatory opening film from a trilogy that grows in size and scope with every film.  You can see Jackson’s typical dream-like style plays heavily in the first film that reminded me a lot of “Dead Alive” minus a lawnmower used to plow down dozens of zombies.  His action scenes are a little wonky and sometimes the action gets lost in the details, but you can still see the makings of a director still finding his bearings.

The gritty battle scenes of “Fellowship” are a stark contrast to another fantasy series that was also getting underway in 2001; the “Harry Potter” series.  While “Potter” was written with a younger demographic in mind, the allegories and vision of Tolkien captured the imagination of a more mature, and older, audience.  I’m not here to knock “Potter” heads, but “LotR” has to be considered the more intellectual of the two series’, and that’s all I’ll say before I’m ripped apart by “Potter” fans.  But if they want to bring it, I’m here to answer the Horn of Gondor.

What made “Fellowship” such a success was the fact that Jackson made the impossible, possible.  He actually created Middle Earth by using New Zealand as the fictitious backdrop of a world of Elves, Hobbits, Orcs, and Trolls.  I mean, people travel to New Zealand to visit sets that still stand to this day.  The amount of detail still amazes to this day, and Jackson’s reliance on practical effects (for the most part) is something that Hollywood is sorely missing in this day and age.

Needless to say, the gamble had paid off for the Weinstein’s and New Line Cinema after “Fellowship.”  Of course there are some nit-picky things I can point out about the film, but it’s a fantasy film, and not all things make logical sense in a world filled with non-existent creatures and items.  What needs to be concentrated on is how a dream can come try and how one guy, with balls the size of the small island nation he hails from, was able to a film that still dazzles to this day.  That film is “The Fellowship of the Rings,” a not long required fantasy film to watch, but a necessary FILM to watch.

Fun Fact:  1800 Hobbit feet were made for the production of “The Fellowship of the Ring.”

April 2, 2013

Sneak Preview: Evil Dead (2013)

Evil Dead – Ode

*I’d like to thank aintitcool.com for putting on this sneak preview of the film down in Miami, FL, and of course for bringing Bruce Campbell.*

I’m not one for April Fool’s pranks. I find them annoying, stupid, and most of the time, ridiculous.  But there are times when one happens, and its wonderful.  It’s even better when you are going to see one of the most classic horror films of all time, 1981’s “The Evil Dead” with Bruce Campbell in the audience introducing the film and conducting a Q&A after the film.  It’s even better when the film starts, gets about a minute in, and the film breaks, revealing the trick, which I had a sneaking suspicion was coming.  April Fool’s, you’re not here to watch “The Evil Dead” ’81, you’re here to watch “Evil Dead” 2013.  Truly, truly awesome, and now I’m lucky enough to bring you kids a review of the as-of-yet-unreleased “Evil Dead” remake, which is an ode to everything wonderful and right with horror remakes.

Everything you’ve heard about “Evil Dead” is warranted; it’s a brutal, bloody, gory, sick, twisted, squirm-inducing nightmare.  In the best way possible.  While, as a rule, horror remakes are usually unnecessary, I really thought “The Evil Dead” was in need of a tune-up.  Coming out three years after “Halloween” and merely a year after the genre game-changer “Friday the 13th,” “Dead” made it’s mark as The Ultimate Experience in Grueling Terror.  It was low-budget, gritty, and a new take on the slasher genre.  It had the demonic spirit of “The Exorcist” but the wink-wink-nod-nod of “Friday the 13th” and even some old Herschel Gordon Lewis films.  However, if you look at “Dead” now, it seems dated.  You can tell that it only took them about $300,000.00 to make the film.  Still, I believe in keeping a classic, a classic, and not messing with a good thing.  Come some 30 years and two sequels later, a new vision of “Evil Dead” is about to be unleashed nationwide, and with the blessing of Sam Raimi and Mr. Bruce Campbell, I can honestly say we got a winner.

While keeping with the spirit of the original film, we follow five teens who have decided to head out to the middle of nowhere to a cabin in the woods.  The added twist this time around is that they are there for an intervention for Mia, played by Jane Levy, who could be America’s newest Scream Queen, a heroin-addict who just suffered an overdose.  I liked the fact that the teens are in the woods for a reason, because in films like these you always get a lot of red herrings, namely the Necronomicon, which is unnamed in this version, but you should know what the Necronomicon is at this point, where you have to suspend disbelief nearly the entire film, and don’t worry, you’ll have to do it anyway for most of this movie, in a good way.

While the story is reasonably strong for the genre, the violence and gore is ramped up to 11, and it’s wonderful.  The gore effects are great, and I was surprised to see that WETA was behind some of the work, and it makes sense, because some of the effects are right out of “Dead/Alive,” before Peter Jackson got all Hollywood on us genre fans.

As a horror film, “Evil Dead” is fine, a bloody-romp in the vein of what most people are used to out of the horror genre these days, as a remake, one of the best ones made.  And while I use the term “remake,” “Dead” is more like a re-imagining of the original.  There are various odes to Raimi’s masterwork, including our heroine wearing a Michigan State sweater, to the old car that she is also sitting on.  We even get some chainsaw, yes, a chainsaw, what would an “Evil Dead” movie be without some chainsaw.  With all that being said, if you’re a purist, go into “Evil Dead” with an open mind, and have fun with it; there are plenty of odes to the original, and if you’re new to the world of Ash and the Deadites, do your homework and watch “The Evil Dead,” “Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn” and “Army of Darkness” (the primitive screw-head next to me kept calling it “Evil Dead 3.”  I wanted to tell him to go home because his mom called, and he had chores to do, plus it was a school night).  2013’s “Evil Dead.”  In a world full or remakes and bad ideas, its nice to see they got something right.  Hail to the King, baby…..

Fun Fact:  Look closely at the car Mia is sitting on and you’ll notice that it’s an Oldsmobile Delta Royale 88, the same car used in the original “Evil Dead” trilogy. Which begs the question, could this possibly be a sequel as opposed to a remake, or just coincidence?

December 20, 2012

Crap/Happy Holidays: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Experimental

The hub-bub of the holiday season is “The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey.”  Yes, you get to return to Middle-Earth to see all of your favorite Middle-Earth friends, well, some of them, not the ones that you really care about however.  But this time around Middle-Earth looks a little different, of course that all depends on how much you intend on spending at your local cineplex, but more on that later in the review.  I digress, yes, “The Hobbit” is a movie that is nearly a decade in the making and while it does give fans of the books and the previous trilogy what they want, director Peter Jackson is still two movies away from the big payoff, and with his experimental new vision of The Shire and beyond, we are left to wonder if the experiment will change how we view movies in the future.  I hope this isn’t the case.

Onward and upward, let’s get into “The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey” the first of three planned films to tackle the classic J.R.R. Tolkien novel from 1937.  I’m not much of a reader, but I’ve attempted to read “The Hobbit” or “There and Back Again,” and the three “Lord of the Rings” books, I really tried, but I just couldn’t do it.  I would think it would be the same thing if I tried to read any of the “Game of Thrones” novels.  I much prefer something visual and I’ll stick with the Cliffs Notes versions of the books.

“The Hobbit” follows Bilbo Baggins, the uncle of Frodo, our hero in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.  A younger Bilbo is commissioned by Gandalf the Grey and sets out with a company of 13 dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield, who is out for both revenge and to take back his family’s home in The Lonely Mountain.  The only problem is that a deadly dragon, named Smaug, had taken up residence in the mountain.  If you weren’t into the original “Rings” trilogy I don’t expect any new converts to this new “Hobbit” trilogy.  There is a lot of walking, a lot of fantasy-speak, and long dialogues of exposition.  That’s no indictment to the film, I actually enjoyed it quite a bit, but I can see why people have problems with the “Rings” franchise.  Another thing that seasoned Middle-Earthers might find alarming is the lack of fighting.  There are a few scenes where you get to see that dwarves are formidable warriors, but they are mostly running away for their enemies, which include goblins, trolls, and orcs, especially Azog the Defiler (truly a bad-ass name).  The lack of hand-to-hand combat is a bit troubling, but I hope for more swordplay in the coming sequels.

Ashamed to say this, I was actually falling asleep within the first 45 minutes of the film.  It prodded along, many of the jokes fell flat, if they fell at all, and aside from the exposition in the beginning explaining the dwarves’ plight, there was no action to really speak of.  After I got a wake up call, right when Bilbo had decided to make a decision that would change Middle-Earth forever, I was able to finally get into the film. As I journey further into this review I feel like I’m forgetting the elephant, or troll, in the room; both the 3-D and 48 frame per second element of “The Hobbit.”

*A disclaimer:  If you haven’t seen “The Hobbit” yet, and decided to see it in the theater, deciding which version of the film to see in and of itself is an adventure.  There is a standard 2-D version, a 3-D version, a standard 2-D version in 48 fps, and a 3-D version in 48 fpsKnowing is half the battle.  Go Joe!

I’ll start with 3-D; no need for it in this film, or any film in my opinion.  In any type of fantasy film, you have to suspend disbelief, it’s a must if you are going to enjoy anything from the genre.  However, there are points where the 3-D really takes you out of your zone and you realize that the CG is poorly super-imposed over a real backdrop of clouds, valleys, and mountains.  Think anything at Disney World, EPCOT, or the former-MGM Studios park (ironically enough, MGM was one of the distributing companies for “Hobbit”).  I noticed this more near the end when the CG was obvious.

Now, the bigger controversy; 48 frames per second.  How can I describe this method of filmmaking?  I’ll hand it to Peter Jackson, he has balls of New Zealand granite to try this experimental method of filming.  It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, unless you own a TrueMotion TV at your house.  Tarantino was right, this is truly TV in public.  Benny Hill fans will appreciate some of the scenes where it looks like someone in the projection booth set the fast-forward button to x1.5 and forgot to turn it off.  It’s painfully obvious during scenes with a lot of action where characters are running or fighting.  You are left to wonder, what is the purpose of this technology?  Why do we need TrueMotion in movie theaters now?  We’re all aware that 3-D is a fad, but hopefully this doesn’t become the newest fad to hit our films in the future.

Aside from my gripes, I did enjoy “The Hobbit” once the paced picked up.  While the sword-fighting lacks, the action set-pieces are well done and keep you on the edge of your seat.  There were times during the movie that I had a hard time picking the CG from practical effects, including Azog the Defiler and his pack of roving orcs.  The return of Gollum is great, and is once again brought to stunning life by Andy Serkis.  The game of riddles segment is probably the best scene in “The Hobbit.”  It will take time to get used to the larger “fellowship” this time around, and the lack of a Legolas or Gimley-type character is hard to swallow, but with the sequels in the pipeline I’m sure I’ll gain an appreciation for my new dwarf friends.  Add in the plot line of a necromancer, Bilbo obtaining the One Ring, and Smaug the Dragon, and we have some wonderful adventures ahead of us the next two years.

Fun Fact:  Talk about a flip!  While both Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins) and Benedict Cumberbatch (Necromancer) appear on a collision course in “The Hobbit,” they are quite the contrary in the BBC’s “Sherlock,” where they play Watson and Sherlock Holmes, respectively.

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