Tag Archives: Fantasy

Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: Theatrical Edition

Director: Peter Jackson
Year: 2013
Score: 6/10

Toilet Dwarf™, the perfect accessory for any rustic restroom. Make your own King Under the Mountain!

Toilet Dwarf™, the perfect accessory for any rustic restroom. Make your own King Under the Mountain!

The Two Towers is my least favourite entry in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, suffering as it does from middle film syndrome (lacking both the joy/wonder of introducing us into the world and the catharsis of ending the story), so it makes sense for me to have similar feelings about The Desolation of Smaug. Of course, I won’t know for sure until the release of The Battle of the Five Armies later this year, but I’m guessing I’ll enjoy that more than this.

Many of my criticisms of An Unexpected Journey apply here too: over-length, unnecessary action sequences, padding the story out with extra bits that don’t add enough, and sticking too closely to the formula established in the previous trilogy. There are also some more specific criticisms to be made: the opening scene lacks ‘oomph’; the ending is weak, lacking even a semblance of finality, let alone resolution; the Kili-gets-injured-and-winds-up-in-a-love-triangle subplot is entirely superfluous and irritating, especially since the two other members of the triangle (Legolas and a female elf created for the movie and played by Kate from Lost) aren’t supposed to be in the movie at all; in the motion-captured-character-redeems-movie’s-final-act stakes, Smaug is no Gollum; the entire Lonely Mountain sequence is muddled; and Thranduil’s arseholishness, with no real redeeming features, quickly grates.

Having said all that, there are still some fairly enjoyable parts (the barrel sequence, for instance), and all the usual elements worthy of praise in a Peter Jackson Middle-Earth movie (action, visuals, music, casting, etc.) are still there too. As for acting, Orlando Bloom continues to think that squinting is the sole form of emoting available to him, Stephen Fry overdoes it a bit as the Master of Laketown, Sir Ian McKellen is solid as ever but seems to be overusing the move-bags-under-one’s-eyes-to-indicate-drama technique, and everyone else is fine.

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Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Extended Edition

Director: Peter Jackson
Year: 2012 (theatrical version) / 2013 (extended edition)
Score: 7/10

The real reason for the extended edition, of course, was so we finally get naked dwarves. The fans... go... wild.

The real reason for the extended edition, of course, was so we finally get naked dwarves. The fans… go… wild.

I’m a big fan of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and my initial viewing of the theatrical (non-extended) version of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, in 48fps 3D, left me quite impressed but a tad concerned. It was an immensely fun ride, with Jackson’s familiar brand of humour-infused action, constant winks at the fans, a largely excellent cast (both new and returning), and a brilliant adaptation of the novel’s crucial ‘Riddles in the Dark’ chapter in the final act. Mostly it was just great to be back in Jackson’s immersive world; it isn’t quite Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, but it’s equally impressive in its own ways.

I did, however, have reservations about the film’s length, the sense that many of the action sequences were shoe-horned in to pad it out as the first part of a trilogy (case in point: the entirely unnecessary rock-monster boxing match scene), the decision to split a fairly short children’s book into three lengthy films, and the often slavish beat-for-beat recreations of moments/sequences/arcs from the original trilogy. In a sense all of these concerns come down to the fact that this isn’t just a film adaptation of the novel; it’s very specifically JACKSON’S adaptation, in the style, vein and scope of his Lord of the Rings. That means we lose the childish frivolity and lightness I remember from the novel, and instead get a dose of Sauron-y seriousness and a bunch of extra bits, all designed to create parity with the original trilogy so this (together with the next two movies) will serve as a stylistically and narratively cohesive prequel trilogy.

I can't decide if the Great Goblin's chin testicles are as bad as or worse than Peter Griffin's.

I can’t decide if the Great Goblin’s chin testicles are as bad as or worse than Peter Griffin’s.

Watching the extended edition in preparation for the release of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, I had roughly the same response but if anything my concerns grew: this is, after all, an even longer version – 13 minutes of additional footage! – of a movie I already regarded as bloated. For some reason I disliked the Great Goblin character (portrayed by Barry Humphries) more this time round. On the other hand, I found the emotional climax (Bilbo finding his courage and being accepted by Thorin) considerably more affecting, though I don’t recall any changes to the scene in this version that would have made it so. I also noticed and enjoyed the dwarves’ theme music, within Howard Shore’s excellent-as-always score, more than I previously recall.

For anyone choosing between the theatrical and extended versions, the bottom line for me is this: when I watch the trilogy in the future, I’ll be putting aside my concerns about length and unnecessary action set-pieces and ill-advised movie-splitting, so I might as well take the completist route and watch the extended version; the extra bits aren’t by any means fatal to the overall length, and they tend to play OK in a home cinema environment. Or maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment.

Review: The Seventh Seal

Director: Ingmar Bergman
Year: 1957
Score: 7.5/10

Chess was the knight's idea. Death, who likes multiplayer Euros rather than 2-player abstract strategy games, would have preferred The Settlers of Catan, if for no other reason than that its original German title begins with the word 'die'.

Chess was the knight’s idea. Death, who likes multiplayer Euros rather than 2-player abstract strategy games, would have preferred The Settlers of Catan, if for no other reason than that its original German title begins with the word ‘die’.

Iconic Ingmar Bergman existential drama remains interesting if not wholly profound. Bergman uses the metaphor of a knight playing a game of chess against Death (who cheats, of course), and a medieval setting full of death and injustice and apocalyptic panic (or in some cases, nonchalance), to explore questions of the existence of God, his silence in the face of suffering, the meaning (or meaninglessness) of life, and the inevitability of death. Though I enjoyed much of the film, particularly the exploration of these questions and themes, I didn’t find it emotionally engaging; it didn’t move me, which is precisely what a movie with this premise and ambition should do. Still, there’s some excellent work from Max von Sydow (as the knight), Bengt Ekerot (as Death, a performance that continues to influence how personifications of Death are portrayed to this day) and Gunnar Björnstrand (as Jöns, the knight’s squire), some memorable images, and occasional flashes of solid black humour.

Review: It’s a Wonderful Life

Director: Frank Capra
Year: 1946
Score: 9/10

The title is a lie.

The title is a lie.

Uplifting, life-affirming, joyous fable about the life of George Bailey – played brilliantly by James Stewart – and his family and town and momentary suicidal crisis. It’s a true fantasy, not just because of the inclusion of a guardian angel with the ability to conjure up an alternate reality, but because everything about the vivid world of Bedford Falls and George’s wonderful life is inherently fantastical. Donna Reed is great as The Perfect Wife™. Perhaps my only criticism (aside from a slight grumble about over-length) is that George’s period of disillusionment and anger – necessary, of course, for the final act to work – seems to come on too quickly, to the extent that it jars a little and feels out of character for longer than it should. Regardless, this is now officially my favourite Christmas movie and the oldest movie to make me cry. Those last few minutes are truly magical and just thinking about them to write this is enough to make me tear up again. Glorious.

Review: Ninja Scroll

Director: Yoshiaki Kawajiri
Year: 1993
Score: 6/10

And that's why you always leave a note! (Seriously, what's with arms getting cut or torn off in every single anime I watch?)

And that’s why you always leave a note! (Seriously, what’s with arms getting cut or torn off in every single anime I watch?)

The third and weakest of the anime films I sampled. Rather than the futuristic sci-fi settings of the others, this one’s set in a version of feudal Japan with some fantasy elements. There’s a plot, to be sure, but mostly it seems to just be an excuse for over-the-top ninja action scenes – some quite good – featuring bucketloads of exaggerated gore (don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with gore and I recognise that showing it in an exaggerated way can be a legitimate stylistic choice; I’m just not convinced it adds a lot in this case). Ridiculously, the key romance is between a female character who inadvertently fatally poisons anyone who kisses or has sex with her and a poisoned male character who is told the only way to cure himself would be to have sex with her. On reflection I think this story and this world might appeal to young boys, but there are too many elements that aren’t age appropriate. The strangest line of dialogue would have to be this one: “Don’t let it cross your mind that I wouldn’t mind raping a dead girl”.