The Lord of the Rings

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.”

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